Released: 2012, Gallery Books
There has been a huge amount of activity from the Twisted Sister camp in these past 12 months. Seven reissues, half a dozen DVD’s, and a book! This month I’m going to look at a few more the Armoury Records Twisted Sister ‘Remaster Series’ reissue campaign, including YOU CAN’T STOP ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH and CLUB DAZE VOLUME II. To top it all off we look at Dee Snider’s autobiography SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE MIC. Enjoy this twisted blast from the past!
It’s no surprise that the autobiography of the ever verbose, ever eloquent, Dee Snider has no ghost writer and comes in huge at well-over 400 pages. Dee probably sat down one Sunday afternoon and wrote this beast cover-to-cover, start to stop, no coffee breaks, no spelling mistakes. Then on Monday morning he rode his Harley into some ivory tower in New York, kicked down the door, slammed the manuscript down on the huge, mahogany desk of the balding, overweight, cigar-chomping publisher and yelled, “Take It Or Leave It!” and then stormed off on his next adventure be it Broadway, reality TV, radio shows, charity events or more Twisted Sister concerts. Really. I’m quite sure that is how it must have happened even if his literary agent says otherwise.
SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE MIC has been one of my most anticipated books of recent memory. Growing up in the late 70’s early 80’s, Twisted Sister and Dee Snider was always a great teenage flashpoint for me. He was strong-willed, rebellious, just a little crazy but beneath the make-up you could always tell he was not just ‘another dunderheaded rocker’. This is his story.
Dee doesn’t pull any punches. Right at the beginning of the book, (Page One no less!) he takes a couple of thinly veiled shots at Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue implying that Sixx’s book is a ‘scam’ and that Snider’s book is authentic and the real deal. While I enjoyed THE DIRT and THE HEROIN DIARIES, Snider has a point. How many 'real' drug addicts keep diaries? Snider also warns us that if the readers want a conventional sex, drugs and rock and roll story you aren’t going to get it in the pages of SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE MIC. Dee’s self-proclaimed clean life-style is one of the mixed blessings of this book. His lifestyle (and lack of a rock and roll lifestyle) mean that at times this book really isn’t that that shocking or revealing, meaning that it stands apart as unique but also at times lack grit and punch.
Dee is to say the least very…how do we put it politely…self-assured… confident…possesses a healthy sense of self-realization? Hell…call a spade a spade. The guy is an egomaniac. And he admits it. Often. His entire drive for success was driven by his ego and a desire to prove others wrong. Thriving on the negativity of others he grew into the wild-haired, teeth-sharpened, profanity spewing, larger-than-life, tatterdemalion that we all know and love. But how did he get there?
Dee’s book like all autobiographies starts with a hook and this time it’s Dee Snider putting flyers on cars in the rain in 1993, unemployed, broke, miserable and wondering, ‘How the hell did I come to this?” The traditional linear growing up in the suburbs story starts in 1955 the year he was born and follows Dee through a conventional coming-of-age story with an unremarkable and relatively content period of youth. Dee by his own admission never really fit in anywhere but was never outrightly rejected either. Decent at sports and academics like most post-war suburban kids he had a desire for more than living the 9-5 dream of his father and the white picket fence. Music became his calling. In a clever twist Dee admits he was one of the only people on the planet who did NOT see The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9th, 1964. I’m so sick of that story how every young person of that era saw that broadcast and instantly wanted to be a ‘rock star’. I suspect the number of people who actually saw the Ed Sullivan show, compared to those who just think they saw it or and absorbed the legend by musical osmosis is significantly different. The population of the USA in 1964 was just under 191 million so to say that 70 million people watched that show that night (one in three roughly) seems like an exaggeration. At least Dee is honest and says he didn’t see the show but he heard about it and saw the ripple effect it created on rock culture. Dee took a shine to singing and performing and admits that in the beginning he wasn’t a good song-writer (but got better) and as time went on he realized he wasn’t that good of a singer as years of smoky bars and shouting killed his natural gift.
In addition to honesty, Dee takes the highroad and really doesn’t dish any dirt or even reveal too many personal details about former band members. In fact one ex-member (an early drummer) who, he stills carries a massive grudge towards, doesn’t even get named by name at all. Dee carries grudges against former employers, former friends, and others and seems to delight in giving them the proverbial middle-finger. His memoirs really are about him, there is not as much detail about Twisted Sister as one might expect which leaves lots of room for future biographies and autobiographies. I’d be very curious to read Jay Jay French’s autobiography and compare. Dee has an underlying current of anger in his writing. There is anger at band members, managers, lawyers, record store employees, producers, teachers, former employers, his father and especially at himself. He seems pretty hard on himself for some of the mistakes and failures of Twisted at the height of their power. It takes a big man to admit that he made some pretty bad decisions and take blame for it.
On a more positive note, it is well-known that Dee has been married for many years and a good part of this book talks about his relationship with his long-suffering wife Suzette. It was a bit surprising to read that Dee started obsessing over her when she was only 15. It seems a bit creepy and he admits as much. Her role in the band is larger than many realize, even if it was just to keep Dee grounded and on track. Her role as consultant, fashion designer and at times artistic director really show how the bands image evolved thanks to her. They say ‘behind every great man is a woman’ and I think their relationship epitomizes this sentiment. He never cheapens his marriage by discussing fights or sex, at all. In fact, Dee’s lack of addictions, infidelity, or criminal tendencies make for a bit of a dull read, if that is what you were looking for. Dee bad habits seem to extend to having a temper, an ego, excessive profanity and being a poor money manger. Bad boy of rock ‘n’ roll indeed! His love for his wife and children supersede everything else, which is perhaps how it should be.
The narrative winds through the early days of the band, the now infamous tri-state areas gigs, the countless label rejections, the trips to England, the legendary gigs in London, the triumphant return to America, and the phenomenal rise to fame that Dee now looks back at with a mix of fondness and bitterness. There are lots of good stories, video shoots, big concerts, the PMRC hearings and much more that will be familiar to most Twisted Sister fans. The main narrative comes full circle with Dee, broke and unemployed putting flyers for his wife’s business on cars on that fateful rainy afternoon.
I had one huge disappointment with this book, namely the lack of detail past 1993 or so. In all fairness, Dee clearly states that he has skipped the last two entire decades of his life. Dee ain’t dumb either. I’m sure he has negotiated a two-book deal, that if SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE MIC does well (and I’m sure it will) the publisher will exercise the option for a second book chronicling his post Twisted Sister years. As it stands I’m still profoundly disappointed that he skipped massive amounts of his life story. All the post Twisted stuff is what I really wanted to read. Much of the Twisted stuff has been documented to a degree unlike all his other projects. As a loyal fan I wanted to hear more about Desperado, Widowmaker and his solo stuff, the Strangleland movie, and more.
Dee is a consummate storyteller and despite the lack of traditional sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll aspects, and lack of recent detail about his life, SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THE MIC is extremely engaging and readable. I hope this is just he second of his many books to come.