In the eyes of Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider made offensive music that needed a warning label. To fans, he was a rock 'n' roll icon who made it OK for teens to rat their hair, wear makeup, and rock out. Now the singer is pushing his cuddlier side, narrating the self-penned musical "Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale." I chatted with Snider about the show, getting on the wrong side of the Gores and Howard Stern, keeping his family together, and the app that helps him escape his most-dreaded super fans.
What can you tell us about your show?
I've written a holiday musical called "Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale," which is playing on Broadway in Chicago through January 4. It's a Christmas musical about a struggling rock 'n' roll band that, in a last-ditch effort to find fame and fortune, try to sell their souls to the devil but find the magic of Christmas instead. There's a lot of Twisted music, some new stuff, and it's a comedy. I play the narrator of the story of Daisy Cutter and their struggle to sell their souls. It's got a conjuring and an exorcism, but you actually walk away feeling Christmasy. It's a great family show. We hope it'll come to Broadway in 2015.
In your new documentary, "We Are Twisted F--- Sister," you say that people always come up to you, telling you they're such major fans, but all they know is "I Wanna Rock" and "We're Not Gonna Take It." What do you want people to know about your band?
I guess the biggest thing I like that the documentary is exposing is that it wasn't an accident. We weren't a flash in the pan -- some construct, put together to capitalize on the growing hair-metal movement that didn't even exist at the time. We had five different demo tapes that we kept shopping and getting rejected, but never taking no for an answer. We went to England to find our first deal and break in reverse out of the UK to the United States. It was really persistence to the point of stupidity, to spend eight and a half years to achieve stardom. I could have been a doctor in that time, and I would have had much more guarantee of success. When I talk to people and they find out about that -- that this band pre-exists every hair-metal band -- they're literally stunned. This is what I hope people come away with.
Earlier this year you appeared in a hilarious Radio Shack commercial with many of your fellow '80s icons. What was it like on set?
Because it takes me almost two hours to get ready, my call time was before everybody else's. So I arrived, and no one was there yet. I went to my trailer and immediately started the process of getting my stuff on. When I stepped out two hours later in full regalia, I walked into this bizarre world of Cliff Clavin, Kid 'n Play, Hulk Hogan, Mary Lou Retton, Erik Estrada, and extras, and everyone looking authentic. I remember going, "What the f--- parallel universe is this?" It was certainly one of the most surreal things I've done. I thought I'd kill for a photo of me, Mary Lou, and John Ratzenberger, just sitting there having a normal conversation about kids and day-to-day stuff. It would just blow up the Twitterverse. It was truly a bizarre experience.
Radio Shack's 2014 commercial features Snider and many other '80s icons:
In 2010 you and your family had a reality show called "Growing Up Twisted." With all the couples who break up doing reality shows, how did you and your wife manage to stay united?
We've certainly heard people talk about the reality show jinx. You're not wrong; our relationship has gotten stronger and stronger over the years. It's funny, because I've never said this before. But our relationship was a little a-- backwards. It didn't start so hot and heavy, whereas most relationships start with intense bursts in the beginning. She was 15, and I was 21. I stalked her. She caved. Her family threatened to kill me. She had this Catholic upbringing, so there was this real mental thing about being a good girl. She had snuck into the club and looked exactly the same at 15, by the way. I said, "Come here," and she said, "I'm a good girl." I said, "OK, what's your name?" So our relationship has burned in reverse and gotten hotter over time, which is bizarre but a way better way to go. I think that my reality show work has been about taking my family out from beneath the shade of my stardom and shining the light on them. I haven't tried to make it about me; I've made it about them. I am so proud of them that I want people to see and know what I have. I really make it about the family, which is something you don't see in other shows. Some people say, "I miss your show," and I say, "It's alive and well, just not being televised."
Why was the show cancelled?
The ratings were solid, and we were following "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" and holding Gene's numbers. There were two things going on. This is speculation, but certain parties weren't crazy about having another rock star family on the same network. The other thing is we, in retrospect, regret doing it, because of the effect on our daughter. Everyone wanted to do it, but the reality is, was a 14-year-old girl capable of making that decision? And was she emotionally ready for that? The production people were really kind to her, but she was really impacted and winded up doing home tutoring, because the attention at school became too much. Looking back, that was a miscall on our part. It wasn't the best thing for her at that time.
In 1985, when you were testifying before the US Senate about the evils of music censorship, was there a moment where you felt like you had gotten in over your head?
When I watch those video tapes and see myself walking in there, I think, "God, you were one cocky motherf---." I did put on mascara before I went down and walked in there in a cut-off T-shirt, denim vest, and snakeskin boots, and pants so tight you could tell I was circumcised. But when I sat down and looked up, it hit me the significance and intensity of where I was, and I started to shake. If you look closely, you could see my hands shaking on the paper. I was like, "Holy f---." Then the other boys said, "Get it together, man," and I did, and then we were gone. There was also a post-appearance testifying moment, weeks later, where I found out my phones were being tapped, my mail and packages were being checked -- I was under surveillance. At that moment, I was like, "What the f---?" I speak out, it makes some people look bad, and now I'm being investigated.
And this was all because of Al and Tipper Gore?
Al Gore was the most dangerous man in Washington, because back then he was an ultra-conservative wearing liberal's clothing. Back then, if he could have taken me out and had me shot, he would have, because he was furious. I embarrassed him. I said his wife had a dirty mind, because she said my song, "Under the Blade" was about sadomasochism, and I said it was about a throat operation. He was livid, livid, livid, so I guess afterwards he had all my s--- checked.
A lot of conservatives and liberals were threatened by your music. Is there a musician today that you find threatening?
Twisted was always about fun, but there was an ominousness to us at the same time. We were big, and we were threatening. We were making demands and powerful statements in the way we did in the bars coming up. It was, "F--- you, we're going to look this way -- like Raggedy Ann on acid -- and there's nothing you can do about it." Marilyn Manson is not only brilliant and a fan of my band, but he's sustained that rebellious, terrifying thing. He never became cartoonish, although now he's drugged out and f--- up and not producing the quality he once was. He still remains disturbing, however. Anything can happen when Marilyn's on stage.
Have you seen Al or Tipper Gore since testifying before the US Senate?
No, I have not.
I've read that you and Howard Stern have been on the outs for years now. Any update on that?
First, let me say, I love this guy. He saw more in me before anyone else did, supported me, and got me my literary and radio agents. He said, "This guy is way more than a couple of songs." He was a champion of me, and I'll love him forever. We were great friends for a long time, but I am currently not in his good graces in a very big way. In an extensive interview with a local magazine, I was asked about not being at his wedding. I said [my wife] Suzette and I were really good friends with him and [previous wife] Alison, so I am not surprised, and besides, he's hanging out with people now that he wouldn't have given the time of day to before. That quote got blown up, and his fans erupted, and they said, "Finally, someone said it." Howard got really upset and sent me a terse email and said he's breaking up with me. I tried calling and emailing, but he wouldn't answer. This is the second time it's happened, and he's very reactive. Suzette has said, "If he wants to go out with you again, you can't go out with him. It's like having another woman in the relationship. He broke up with you again." When he's mad at you, he talks about you on the radio. But when he's really mad at you, he doesn't mention you at all. So people don't know he's mad. So "America's Got Talent" reached out and said they wanted to surprise him with one of his friends, and I said, "Boy, will he be surprised." I came out, and he was gracious, the first one on his feet, cheering. We talked backstage for a few minutes, but our lives have gone down such different paths. We met as family guys on Long Island, but our lives are not the same, and our careers are not the same, because mine fell apart. I was humbled -- he's never been -- and it does something to you. Losing everything gives you incredible perspective. He's never had that. I love him and owe him -- he championed me to the point of taking meetings to pitch me just to get me on the radio. I owe him for that forever.
Do you have hope for a reconciliation?
I hope so, because I hate for bad feelings to be out there. I even got a copy of the interview and sent it to him, and said, "Please listen to this interview." I was speaking about him in glowing terms, but when asked about one thing, I made an offhanded comment I shouldn't have said, because it wasn't fair. There's a certain degree of judging. I said, "Truth be told, I didn't care that we weren't invited to your wedding," but maybe a part of me did care. Howard never called me about it. Howard gets passive aggressive, and he'll only discuss it on the air in a roundabout way, 'cause he knows you're listening. It just got to be a weird relationship.
What are your top mobile apps?
Flixster for the movies. I love MyRadar, because when I go different places, I like to see what's coming or what the future is going to be. WorldMate keeps all of your flight information, and then it updates you on the connections and maps of the airports and keeps all the information. I tend to have practical apps like Skype, and, of course, Twitter is always huge. But then there's the Fart Cushion app, which never gets old for some reason. That's time well spent. Just put that on, and everybody rolls. There's an app called Fake a Call, so when people approach me and won't leave, I get a fake phone call. I just hit the button, and it says Home, and there's a pic of my wife and kids. I say, "Excuse me, I gotta take this call," and I start talking. There's a woman's voice saying basic stuff, and I say, "It's my wife. I gotta take this," and I walk away. I found it when I got trapped in an airport lounge by a woman who would not leave, and I thought that there's got to be an app for this type of situation.