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One of the most immediately recognizable figures in pop music during the 1980s, Dee Snider delighted young fans and left parents aghast as the howling, heavily made-up frontman for the metal group Twisted Sister. Snider and bandmates rose from obscurity in their native New York to the forefront of the burgeoning pop-metal scene on the strength of teenage rebellion anthems like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." The band's time in the limelight was remarkably short-lived, but Snider successfully segued into a career as a radio DJ and voiceover artist. Like most '80s hair bands, Twisted Sister experienced a wave of nostalgic revival in the late 1990s, which found Snider in fine voice and still willing to don his outlandish outfits for diehard fans. He soon added reality television personality to his growing résumé as the star of "Growing Up Twisted" and a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), among other onscreen projects. His ability to remain faithful to his music while adapting with the times made Dee Snider one of rock music's more resilient and eternally recognizable figures.Born Daniel Snider in Astoria, Queens, NY on March 15, 1955, he was raised in the town of Baldwin...
One of the most immediately recognizable figures in pop music during the 1980s, Dee Snider delighted young fans and left parents aghast as the howling, heavily made-up frontman for the metal group Twisted Sister. Snider and bandmates rose from obscurity in their native New York to the forefront of the burgeoning pop-metal scene on the strength of teenage rebellion anthems like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock." The band's time in the limelight was remarkably short-lived, but Snider successfully segued into a career as a radio DJ and voiceover artist. Like most '80s hair bands, Twisted Sister experienced a wave of nostalgic revival in the late 1990s, which found Snider in fine voice and still willing to don his outlandish outfits for diehard fans. He soon added reality television personality to his growing résumé as the star of "Growing Up Twisted" and a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ), among other onscreen projects. His ability to remain faithful to his music while adapting with the times made Dee Snider one of rock music's more resilient and eternally recognizable figures.
Born Daniel Snider in Astoria, Queens, NY on March 15, 1955, he was raised in the town of Baldwin in Nassau County, where he began singing in his church choir. By his preteens, Snider was dividing his time between singing in his school's chorus and fronting a Black Sabbath cover band. After graduating from Baldwin High School in 1973, Snider began casting about for singer duties with a rock band. He found his match in Twisted Sister, a glam outfit fronted by guitarist John Segal, a.k.a. Jay Jay French, who drew heavily from the outrageous pansexual look and punk-R&B hybrid sounds of bands like the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper. Twisted Sister had gone through numerous lineup changes since its inception in 1972, but with the addition of Snider, who soon billed himself as Dee Snider at French's urging, the band began to gain momentum. Snider brought an imposing presence that combined high camp theatrics with street tough credibility and a voice like an air raid siren, as well as a wealth of original songs, which supplanted the band's staple of Led Zeppelin covers. The addition of Mark "The Animal" Mendoza from the garage-punk group The Dictators lent a heavier rhythm to their sound, which hewed closer to proto-metal outfits like Slade than their glam origins.
All of these elements helped to make Twisted Sister a top audience draw in New York clubs, where they frequently set attendance records that remained intact almost three decades later. They began recording material as early as 1978, which they released through their own label, TSR, but struggled to connect with a major record company. In 1982, the group lit out for the U.K., where they signed with Secret Records, an independent label which released their debut album, Under the Blade (1982). The LP's heavy sound won over the U.K.'s notoriously stringent metal underground, as did the group's striking image, which was epitomized by Snider's heavy makeup, shock of frizzy blond hair and clothes that suggested a fashion sense informed by "The Road Warrior" (1982) and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975). Such a potent combination of sound and vision attracted the attention of Atlantic Records, which signed Twisted Sister to a record contract in 1982. Their major label debut, You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll (1983) yielded a minor U.K. hit with the title track, as well as the first of several music videos that displayed a penchant for slapstick humor that would become the band's trademark.
The success of fellow metal bands like Quiet Riot spurred Atlantic to throw their promotional weight behind the band, which in turn made their third LP, Stay Hungry (1984) a huge success. The album featured Snider's anthemic "We're Not Gonna Take It," which broke the Top 40 singles chart, and "I Wanna Rock," both of which were aided greatly by their music videos featuring actor Mark Metcalfe of "Animal House" (1978) fame as strict authority figures who received their cartoonish just desserts at the hands of the band. An appearance as themselves in Tim Burton's cult favorite "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (1985) further broadened their appeal to metal and comedy audiences alike. But no sooner had Twisted Sister scaled the heights of success than they began their inexorable slide to obscurity. The band had become perilously over-exposed due to endless promotional appearances and round-the-clock airings of their videos on MTV. The increased coverage made Snider's songs a target for the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a watchdog group formed by government spouses Tipper Gore and Susan Baker to increase control over media they deemed too explicit for young audiences. Though Snider surprised many by delivering an eloquent defense of his music and his rights before a Senate committee, the appearance had a galling effect on the band. Its dedicated fans, whom Snider dubbed the "Sick Motherf*cking Friends of Twisted Sister," saw Snider's gesture as capitulation to the PMRC, while detractors were further turned off by his confident and defiant stance.
By the time the band released its fourth album, Come Out and Play, its audience had largely evaporated. Part of the blame was placed on MTV's decision to ban the video for the single "Be Chrool to Your Scuel," but most critics insisted that the problem was the decision to take a more mainstream pop approach to the songs. A subsequent tour was fraught with disaster, and a rift between Snider and French over the direction of the band sent the singer in search of his own musical project. But Atlantic refused to release the LP unless it was billed as a Twisted Sister album, which resulted in their fifth record, Love is for Suckers. The ruse fooled no one: fans knew that the musicians behind Snider were a crack team of session musicians and not the original band members, which consigned the record to the bottom of the charts. Snider left the band shortly thereafter, and Twisted Sister called it quits in January 1988.
Snider returned to music in a reduced fashion as frontman for such late '80s and early '90s metal outfits as Desperado and Widowmaker, neither of which made much of an impact on the charts. He found a more lucrative second career as a radio personality on syndicated and satellite radio, as well as a voiceover artist and on-air host for the likes of the New York State Lottery, VH1, and MSNBC, as well as the animated series "Spongebob Squarepants" (Nickelodeon, 1999- ). In 1998, he wrote and starred in the horror film "Strangeland" (1998) as a psychopath who used the Internet to seek out his victims. A modest hit on cable and home video, it spawned plans for a sequel. Meanwhile, the independent label Spitfire began re-issuing Twisted Sister's back catalog, as well as previously unreleased recordings dating back to the group's earliest incarnations in the 1970s. The albums generated renewed interest in the band, which spurred Snider and French to put aside their long-standing differences. In 2001, a reunited Twisted Sister performed at a post-9/11 benefit. The group was soon a staple of classic rock festivals around the world, and returned to the studio for a number of music projects, including a re-recorded version of Stay Hungry in 2004. In 2006, they found themselves back on the charts with A Twisted Christmas, a metal-flavored collection of holiday songs that brought them national attention.
That same year, Snider returned to radio as host of Fangoria Radio on the Sirius Satellite network. Like many aging metal frontmen, the unusually articulate Snider also began making inroads into reality television, where his self-deprecating attitude and oversized personality made him an audience favorite. He was a contestant on CMT's "Gone Country" (2008-09), then earned his own show, "Growing Up Twisted" (A&E, 2010- ), which followed his day-to-day life with his wife and four children. Snider soon segued into a lengthy run with the '80s-themed musical "Rock of Ages" on Broadway before joining the cast of "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ) for its twelfth season in 2012. Snider had previously appeared in the previous year's finale, where he appeared in his Twisted Sister makeup and outfit to aid country singer John Rich's winning advertising campaign.
By Paul Gaita
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CAST: (feature film)
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