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The House is rockin'
Dee Snider's House of Hair rocks it old school
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When millions of MTV viewers first met Dee Snider back in the early 80s, he was decked out in smeared mascara and torn fishnet stockings, sporting impossible hair, and belting out “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as the lead singer of his band Twisted Sister. Little did we know then that Snider had something that many of his hair-sprayed glam-metal peers didn’t: a future in the music business. Even back then, Snider’s interviews hinted at brains behind the make-up, and his no-nonsense humor kept him in the public eye long after the metal era faded. These days, one of Snider’s many projects is House of Hair, a syndicated radio show that plays on Sunday nights on Z94 in Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne Reader: Tell us about House of Hair
Dee Snider: House of Hair plays the best of hair bands, hard rock, and heavy metal. People think it’s a lot of 80s, but there’s a lot of Nugent, Kiss, Aerosmith, Rush as well. It’s fun. I’m wisecracking and having a good time, and people enjoy the show not only because of the music, but because I’m having fun doing it. I don’t live in the past, but it’s nice once in a while to throw on the stuff and just rock out old school. It’s in its 7th year. It’s been nominated twice for Billboard Awards. It hasn’t won yet, but one of these days. I don’t want to be the Susan Lucci of syndicated radio. (laughs) As the 80s retro movement grows, the show has been growing with it.
FWR: Why do you think this stuff is sort of becoming cool again?
DS: I’m very honest. Don’t let this be a negative reflection towards House of Hair or the music I created in the 80s. I’m certainly a fan, but I’m a realist. It’s oldies. If you look throughout history, the nostalgia craze runs in a 20-year cycle. When I was in high school in the 70s, it was all 50s stuff, it was Happy Days and American Graffitti and Sha Na Na. I was a Zep-head and an Alice Cooper freak, but I used to go see the Four Seasons and Jay Black and the Americans, cause that’s what 17-year-olds did back then. In the 80s, you had kids walking around with Beatles and Doors jackets on. In the 90s, you remember the Eagles were out and CSN, and the disco resurgence. Well, now it’s the 2000s. Do the math. 20 years ago, Twisted Sister and Motley Crue reigned supreme, so it’s all nostalgia, and now it’s just our time. The scary thing is, by 2010, it’s going to be the freakin’ grunge retro. Imagine that! Grunge will be oldies!
FWR: I get the impression that a lot of younger people are into this music, too.
DS: Absolutely! When in high school, I was going to see the Four Seasons. I was buying Four Seasons greatest hits records, and greasing my hair back. I had to choose between joining a doo-wop band and Twisted Sister. I think I made the right choice. But the point is, yeah, it’s nostalgia, and the kids look back and think “wow, it seems so much cooler than what’s being played today.” And in a lot of ways it is cooler. But also, they have a romanticized version of the way it was. I keep talking about the 50s nostalgia. Looking back on the 50s from when I was in high school in the 70s, the greasers seemed so cool. But if you do your history, the greasers were outcasts. They weren’t popular. Just like me in the 70s. Until I got in a rock band, I was just some weirdo with big hair.
FWR: I even hear it coming back with new bands, like that one British band…
DS: The Darkness! Yeah, well, the Darkness is a kind of a goof. They’re fun. If anyone thinks they’re serious, just look at the song titles. What’s that one song? “Keep Your Hands Off My Woman.” No serious band has song titles like that. That’s a real Spinal Tap thing. But hey, they’re having fun, and they’re digging on the whole 70s and 80s vibe. So you’re seeing a lot of the newer rock bands, like Andrew WK, or Jet, they’re going away from the darkness of contemporary metal and rock, and going for a more upbeat, fun, rebellious feel.
FWR: Is that “fun” part of the appeal, as opposed to modern hard rock, which is all dark and “I hate my parents…”
DS: Yeah, well, I hated my parents, too. But there was something about 80s rock that was bigger than life. The guys on stage did not look like they just bagged your groceries or pumped your gas. For me, I wanted to go see something different from what I was experiencing at home. That’s why I wanted to see bands like Alice Cooper. There was a rejection of that in the 90s, and I understand that because it got played out and became a parody of itself. But now, people seem to be saying that they’re tired of seeing guys up there in baggy jeans. I want to see something that says there’s something more than what’s going on in my freakin’ high school.
FWR: When I’ve seen interviews with you, you seem to have a very practical outlook on the music business
DS: Well, it hurt me for a while, but now it’s helping me. In the 80s, my peers used to give me grief — “Oh, he’s not real. He’s married. He doesn’t get high. He’s got a kid.” I’ve always been inconsistent in the way I was. To me, that’s what rock n’ roll is all about: living your fantasy. The odd thing was, at some point I found that people were trying to dictate to me how I should be. Here by being in rock band I was rejecting the idea of being forced to be a certain way, and now my peers were saying “Hey, man, you’re not a rocker. You’re clean and sober.” Doesn’t it matter that I kick a** on stage and everyone sings my songs and loves them? So I felt very rejected by my peers. But I just stuck to my guns. My thing was, if I’ve got to act like them to be accepted, that’s just like my parents trying to make me do what they want. At some point, it turned a corner for me. All of a sudden, I became the go to guy for MTV and VH-1. I started to do radio… People started to say “hey, we like this about Dee. We can trust him, because even when it wasn’t cool to be honest, he was. He’s not Kevin DuBrow (Quiet Riot singer), telling us he was drinking ice tea out of his whiskey bottle on stage.”
FWR: How did you jump from music to radio?
DS: Oddly, I give full credit to Howard Stern. I went to college for one year, majoring in communications at the behest of my then girlfriend and my parents, who said “You need a safety net in case you don’t make it in rock n’ roll.” Dropped out after a year when I realized that if you have a safety net, you’ll use it. I became friends with Howard Stern and started doing his radio show before he was nationally syndicated. I was on about a hundred times, and he was always telling me I’d be great on radio. He reawakened my interest in radio. About 10 years ago, maybe more, my agent said “Great. But you don’t walk off a concert stage into a six-figure gig.” So I started doing a local metal show, midnight to 2 AM, running the board, doing the whole thing, getting paid minimum wage. But I did it for a year until people realized I was serious about this. Then I got the House of Hair.
FWR: How has the music business changed since you started? It’s a big question…
DS: The business changed because of MTV, and it just continued on. We didn’t realize that when MTV started, that it was going to change the way records companies dealt with bands, change the way audiences perceive bands. Record companies aren’t interested in careers anymore. They’re really interested in exploiting a band, maxing them out, and moving on. Think of that band Nine Days, with that “Story of A Girl” song. They didn’t even do a follow-up album. Know why? Because 99/100 those bands don’t sell. So the company said, “let’s just cut our losses. We got a hit record. We sold a million copies. Next band.” So there’s this cycle of burn-out with bands. You’re desperate to get on there, but once you are, your goose is cooked. I’ve always said that Kiss wouldn’t be the band they are today if MTV had existed. When Kiss came out, you only heard about them by word of mouth. You saw still photos, you heard a live album, but you couldn’t experience Kiss live unless you went to the show. When Twisted came out, MTV played a concert of our Stay Hungry tour 18 times in one year! So now, you get to see the band without going to the concert. Plus there’s DVD, videos, bootlegs… So, MTV has changed the business. For better or for worse? I don’t know. We sold 10 million records. Could we have sold that many without MTV? I can’t say. So, I don’t begrudge them, it’s just the reality that it’s not the same music business.
FWR: What do you think when you look back at the old pictures and videos?
DS: Hey, man, it’s funny. A few years ago I was interviewed by Metal Edge magazine, and they asked “What do you think when you see photos of yourself in the old days?” I’ll hold off on what I said. But I get the issue, I look at it, and everybody is apologizing! “It wasn’t my idea…” Know what I said? “I think I look cool.” I was the original hair former. That was not hair spray, dude, that was my hair! Twisted Sister formed in 1976. We were the forefront of the glam/metal movement. Motley Cure had my early singles, I didn’t have theirs. Poison came to my concerts… So, I was more influenced by Alice Cooper and bands like that. I look at it fondly. I’m never embarrassed by it ever. And I was sober. I knew what I was doing.