Friday, July 31, 2015

Dee Snider: Shut Up And Give Me The Mic (A Twisted Memoir)

Post #314

Dee Snider has lived quite a memorable life in the world of rock n' roll and heavy metal music. In his 2012 autobiography, Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, he tells his tale, and that of Twisted Sister, with an often humbling honesty born from clear-minded, 20/20 hindsight of a career that was a rock n' roll roller coaster ride. I know that sounds cliché, but there are few more-accurate analogies to make!
Dee's childhood and teen years from his middle-class suburban New York upbringing are covered with enough detail that you get a sense that you knew a kid like Dee at some point or other in your life. As he began to pursue his passion for rock music by singing in local bands, his reputation and natural talent eventually led him to audition for Jay Jay French's band Twisted Sister.

Years of building a cult following on New York's club scene, and a reputation as the hardest working band in the city would eventually pay off as they were finally signed to a major label in the early '80's. However, the circumstances and details of the contract, management at the record company, and promotional support (or lack thereof) would each be key ingredients of the band's fall from grace a few years down the road.

First, however, there was their unprecedented rise to the top of the heavy metal music scene. A couple albums into their career Twisted Sister hit the jackpot. Stay Hungry was their 3rd album, released in 1984, and featured their first genuine hit, "We're Not Gonna Take It". It broke open many doors for the band; international touring, commercial success, multi-platinum album sales... Heck, the entire genre of Glam-Metal (AKA 'Hair Metal') probably got its image from Dee Snider's hair! But one of the biggest keys of Twisted Sister's, and Dee Snider's, success as a cultural phenomenon was their success on MTV.

The band jumped into the MTV music video business with true flair. Dee himself had a specific vision of a semi-scripted mini screen play that would serve as an intro to the actual song. The resulting video was of course, "We're Not Gonna Take It". If you look into the history of music videos, you'll find that this was the first ever music video to feature an extended, scripted segment preceding the song, acting out a story-line that sets the mood for the song, and continuing the plot throughout.

For the next year or so the band enjoyed the success of rock-stars, as their stereotype expectations of a dream-career as rock musicians actually came true... But an unfortunate set of circumstances that would doom their career was just around the corner.

Ironically, the cultural phenomenon that Twisted Sister and Dee Snider had become would also play a role in their downward spiral as the parents of this generation of metal fans would make them an example of the 'evils' they believed lay in the music's themes and lyrics. The Parents Music Resource Center (aka P.M.R.C.) originated at about this time as a crusade of sorts against profanity and violence in music. They sought to demand that music which contained certain offensive lyrics and imagery be labeled with Parental Advisory stickers to make consumers aware of their content. This concept quickly brought up the first amendment and the right to free speech.

Dee was invited to give a statement at the senate hearing for the PMRC's proposed parental warning labels for rock music packaging.
(I.E. the 'Parental Advisory-Explicit Lyrics or Content' labels that are now found on a great many album covers- this is where that practice began, and the artists were against it for the most part...) What the PMRC expected was a wasted, unsophisticated, profanity-spewing, blasphemous, high school drop-out, whose demeanor would incriminate itself and become an example of the exact thing they were against. But what they got was Dee Snider: a 100% clean and sober, composed, intelligent, family man who happened to be the lead singer for one of the most popular rock and roll bands of that era. I could describe Dee's speech in detail, but it's easier to just see it for yourself here:

To put it in a nutshell: The PMRC were unprepared for Dee's logical arguments and defense of his craft. Before they knew what hit them, it was all over, and the pompous politicians and their wives were stuck in a perpetual verbal back-pedal, and having difficulty defending or justifying their own words that Dee Snider had quoted to them.

The down side? There was no social media back in 1985, and the masses who would have been educated from hearing this speech didn't get the chance. Coverage in most media outlets was limited to a couple of paragraphs in a newspaper, or 30 seconds on the nightly news. And each reporter was able to put their own spin on the debate, or the spin they were told to put on it by the company they worked for... in 1985... in the height of the Republican's wave of conservatism... at the peak of Reagan's popularity.

Sure, nowadays, every metal-head who is worth their weight in denim and leather will champion Dee for taking a stand for metal music, and representing the artists with dignity, respect, and composure. But what difference did it make back then? Well, do you see those parental warnings on the cover-art for your cutting edge artists? And even more relevant to this specific review: can you name a top-40 Twisted Sister hit AFTER 1985??? In the fallout from the PMRC's demonizing of heavy metal in general, and Twisted Sister (and Dee Snider) specifically, record stores cut their promotion of their music, parents wouldn't let their kids buy their albums, and MTV even banned their high-budget music video from their follow-up album from their network! That song was 'Be Chrool to Your Scuel', and it featured a guest-appearance by the one and only Alice Cooper, but it was never aired! (Of course now it is available on youtube, you'll see I've posted it below...)

For Twisted Sister, their rise and fall has been a mixed bag of blessings and curses, with one often tied-to or wrapped in the other. Dee recounts all of these circumstances with humble clarity, and foreshadows what's to come as the proverbial dominoes are set up right in front of his face, only to be tumbled down in a collapsing house of cards. By the end of the 80's, Twisted Sister was dead in the water, and for all the ambition, creativity, and side projects that Dee could muster, it was years before he was able to find other successful in-roads back into the entertainment business.

Overall, I have found Shut Up, and Give Me the Mic to be one of the most enjoyable and insightful memoirs of a heavy metal artist I have read yet. I am grateful to Dee for taking the time to write this book, and tell his own side of his life-story. I find I am more appreciative of the music he has made because of my understanding of the work that went into creating it, and circumstances that surrounded it. I sincerely hope I am able to catch Twisted Sister live in concert before they hang it up for good. Even if they remain a nostalgia-act, performing just their hits from the 80's, I would still appreciate the chance to see the hardest working band in show business.

In closing, I'll leave you with links to Twisted Sister's trilogy of classic music videos... (well, 2 classics and the 'controversial' banned-from-MTV 3rd video), followed by some recommended tracks that give you a good slice of Twisted Sister's legacy...

Recommended tracks from Twisted Sister:
-Under the Blade
-Bad Boys (of Rock N' Roll)
-You Can't Stop Rock N' Roll
-I Am (I'm Me)
-Burn In Hell
-Stay Hungry
-The Price
-I Wanna Rock
-Be Chrool to Your Schuel
-We're Not Gonna Take It
-Heroes are Hard to Find

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