Dee Snider is a prolific polymath. The Twisted Sister frontman is also a radio host, actor, and musical theater performer and composer, among other things, and this year he became the author of his first novel, “Frats” (Red Penguin Books, $24.99), and the co-author and star of the autobiographical graphic novel “He’s Not Gonna Take It” (Z2 Comics, $24.99), which comes out Tuesday..
The latter chronicles his journey from bullied teen to outrageous rock frontman who takes on the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC), a political group that attempted to censor rock music, at Senate hearings in 1985. “Frats” is a fictional take on a Snider-like teen who gets involved in the world of the violent high school fraternities that wreaked havoc on Long Island in the 1970s. Both should please fans of the famed rocker.
Calling Newsday while vacationing in Belize, Snider, 68, discussed both projects. Fun fact: He delivered Newsday as a kid growing up in Freeport and Baldwin.
“Frats” feels like what would happen if Dee had joined a gang. Were you thinking about that when you wrote it?
I wasn't in one of the frats. I was a big, weird dude trying not to get my butt kicked. Frats were a big conversation piece at lunch every day, as outsiders. I was one of the nerds, one of “the Bretts” [from the book]. I was on the outside looking in and watching these guys. My publishers were very intrigued by the toxic masculinity of the story, and I didn't really think about that. But the toxicity is so intense, and that's the ‘70s. It's carried forth in through us, the kids of that time. I became very hard and tough growing up in that environment, and I didn't want my children to experience that.
One theme that emerges in both of these books is bullying. Fronting Twisted you had to be confrontational to deal with rough crowds.
Look at the picture on the [“He’s Not Gonna Take It”] cover. It’s not that unrealistic. Up until about 62 years old I was ripped to shreds, and you see the way they draw me as this perpetually angry guy. But I really was that for a very long time. Only recently, in the last five or so years, I've [said to myself], “You don't have to be angry anymore. You're successful, you achieved your goals, you're recognized, you're appreciated, you're respected.” There's no reason to carry this chip on your shoulder that I walked around with for such a long time. Always ready for someone to start with me. That came from being exposed to this bullying world, and even in my own household [with] a very heavy-handed and intimidating cop veteran father.
The other theme that shows up is disappointment. In “He's Not Gonna Take It”— wanting to impress people or change things and then being disappointed with people’s reactions. And in “Frats,” your bad alter ego, Bobby, is often disappointed in himself and the choices he makes. Were real-life disappointments fueling your anger over the years?
Boy, you're very eloquent. I haven't given these the same analysis. But certainly, I am frustrated and disappointed a great deal when people misunderstand my messages, and to see that we haven't grown or come as far as we thought. It seems we're going backward. “Frats” is set when I was growing up. I was there at the first Earth Day [in 1970], cleaning up abandoned lots with my teenage friends. The Vietnam War ended, Roe v. Wade came to be, all when I was in high school. These were momentous things. The last actual war we were in, the draft ended. Women had a right to choose. People's eyes were opening to the environment. Change was happening — the anti-war movement, the Civil Rights movement. Now, here I am in my 60s and stuff’s being undone, turned on, unraveled, and rolled back. It's incredibly disappointing.
In “He's Not Gonna Take It,” artist Steve Kurth got the surprised look on your face just right when John Denver was testifying at the PMRC hearings between Frank Zappa and you. And not only were you more eloquent than they could have imagined, but John Denver blindsided them being on your side about free speech.
I didn't meet John, but Frank and I were backstage in one of the offices talking, saying, “What do you think John's gonna do?” We knew what he should do, but fame and fortune changes people. And at that point in John's career, he was having those yearly Christmas specials and movies. He was literally coming to the hearings from NASA, where he's being interviewed to be the first musician in space. It never happened, but this is where he was at in his life. But fortunately, John stood tall that day.
I watched you do a signing at New York Comic Con. Did you meet a lot of Bretts at the Comic Con signing?
There's a lot more Bretts at Comic Con than there are superheroes. But interestingly, superhero movies have transcended the nerd genre. You're seeing more and more jocks and regular people, not necessarily geeks, who are intrigued and embracing it. The graphic novel is great because it's always been an adult comic book. My favorite early graphic novels were the comic book versions of major books. So I could do a book report on the classic comic, rather than that actually reading the book. Sort of the Cliffs Notes.