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Authors: Dee Snider

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Shut Up and Give Me the Mic (4 page)

BOOK: Shut Up and Give Me the Mic
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Popularity = attention.

Attention = socializing.

Socializing = the end of motivation.

It’s a fact: popularity kills creativity and drive. Why sit in your room working on your craft if you can be out getting laid? Show me truly great-looking entertainers and I guarantee that for some
reason they weren’t popular and partying and were, instead, holed up in their bedrooms and practicing their craft.

My favorite example of this is the time I met an eighties Canadian pop/rock sensation on
The Howard Stern Show
. I used to spend a lot of time in the mid to late eighties hanging out on Howard’s show, and this guy came in one morning to promote his new record. He had striking, James Dean good looks, so, during an extended commercial break, I asked him what had happened in his youth that kept him from using his “handsomeness” to hang out, party, and get laid. His face dropped and he looked at me as if I had psychic powers.

“How did you know?” the heartthrob asked, truly unnerved by my query. I quickly explained my theory to him, and he spilled his guts.

When he was just six years old, dead in the middle of a brutal winter, he was invited to the birthday party of a girl in his class; all of his classmates were invited.

He was excited about going, especially because his mom had bought the girl a cool gift: a live, baby painted turtle, completely set up in a bowl with gravel, a rock, and a fake plastic palm tree. Though illegal to sell in many places now, back in the sixties this was pretty much the ultimate gift you could get a kid. His mom wrapped the bowl—turtle safely ensconced inside—and dropped him off at the party. When he entered the house, the little girl’s mom took the gift and put it with the others,
on top of the radiator.

The party was going great, and when it finally came time for the birthday girl to open her gifts, all of her classmates gathered around to ooh and aah. His classmate finally got to his unopened gift, and he pushed through the crowd to the front, proudly exclaiming, “That one’s from me! That one’s from me!”

The excitement in the room was palpable as the little girl excitedly tore off the wrapping paper, revealing the turtle bowl . . . with a dead baby turtle hanging out of its shell inside. The blazing-hot radiator had cooked the poor thing alive.

Well, the birthday girl screamed, children cried, and from that moment on, he was known to all as Turtle Boy. He grew up an outcast and the brunt of jokes, and no matter how handsome he got,
no matter how talented he was or what he did, he was always just a loser to the kids in his town. So, he sat in his room alone and . . . you know the rest. Lack of popularity = creative development and ambition.

Meanwhile, back at my personal humiliating, life-defining moment, my popularity was crushed like Hammy’s fingers, and I sank further into my dreamworld of becoming a rich, famous rock ’n’ roll star.

Funny how things work out.

2
 
“this boy can sing!”
 

W
ith the options of being the tough kid, the cool kid, or the popular kid removed from my class-hierarchy choices, I opted for another position . . . class clown. Mildly disruptive and at times entertaining, this job gave me some needed attention (albeit often negative), and the girls kind of liked it. Plus, it beat the hell out of being a nothing.

To add insult to my new school injury, the Baldwin school district was at that time one of the top-rated school districts in the country. My effortless A’s in Freeport turned into effortless C’s in Baldwin.
My parents were less than pleased.
One of the few ways I could get special attention from them had dried up. I had to struggle to get decent grades pretty much the rest of my time in school. It wasn’t that I wasn’t smart, I just didn’t want to “apply myself” (as just about every one of my report cards stated).

Early in my sixth-grade year, auditions were held for a solo in the glee club. I had always sung in music class, but so did everyone else. This was the first time I had to audition for something. Like all the others, I went down to sing for the glee club conductor, Mrs. Sarullo, who was also my teacher. A dark, mothering Italian woman, Mrs. Sarullo was easy to like and knew how to handle her class. She was a lot of fun, but nobody’s fool. She nicknamed me “Hood” because of my pointy shoes and obvious desire to look like a dirtbag. It was a hell of a lot better than “Snots.”

I walked into the “cafe-gym-itorium” for my audition, Beatle boots clacking loudly on the floor. Mrs. Sarullo sat at the piano, awaiting her next victim. I don’t remember if I was nervous or not (I probably was. Who isn’t?), and I don’t remember what song I sang. All I remember is Mrs. Sarullo stopped the song halfway through and exclaimed, “This boy can sing like a bird!”
I can?
“Hood, you’ve got a beautiful voice!”

And just like that, my life was changed.

I not only got the glee club solo, but Mrs. Sarullo smiled her big, toothy smile down upon me, and I was the center of attention . . .
in choir.
Which is where I remained for all my school years. It was the one place where people thought I was special. Add to that, I now knew I brought something to any rock band:
I was a singer!

CLICK.
(Sound of a tumbler in a combination lock falling in place.)

Each year the school had a Spring Concert, and of course the sixth-grade glee club’s was the featured performance. The plan was for the choir to sing first, then I would enter for my solo on cue. The glee club headed down to the stage and I had a bit of time to kill. I made my way to the side of the stage for my entrance. When I heard my cue, I walked out onto the stage to unusually wild applause and cheering. I was blown away! I hadn’t even sung yet.

It turned out I was late, and the choir had for several minutes been repeating my musical cue over and over, waiting for me. Be that as it may, the audience reaction when I walked out on the stage changed me forever. This was what I wanted. This is what I needed. I had to experience that rush of audience reaction again and I wouldn’t stop until I did.

WHEN I MOVED TO
seventh grade the following year, Mrs. Sarullo—for reasons unbeknownst to me—moved up to the junior high school as well. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, and a lack of room in the class, I was unable to get into Concert Choir, a daily class for singers. Bummer.

A few days into the school year, I ran into Mrs. Sarullo in the hall and she asked me how choir was going. While she handled both
general education
and
glee club as a teacher in elementary school, as a junior-high-school teacher she was solely relegated to teaching social studies. I told my “choral fairy godmother” I wasn’t in the choir, and she became enraged. “We’ll see about that!” she said as she stormed off down the hall.

The next day I got a note from the office saying my schedule had been changed and I was now in Concert Choir. As I said before, there I remained until the end of my school days. There I was special. There I was somebody. I don’t have fond memories of school—no glory days for me—but I loved singing in choir. It was my only solace. Thank you for that, Dolores Sarullo, wherever you are. Thank you for recognizing and championing my talent. Thank you for making me feel special when I needed to feel special. I couldn’t have done it without you. You were a great teacher.

AS I REFLECT ON
these pivotal moments in my life, the realization sets in that relatively few life experiences make us who we are, define us as individuals, and set the course by which our lives will be guided.
It’s terrifying.
Not that I wasn’t aware of this before, but setting it down in words makes me painfully aware of the arbitrariness of it all and how the slightest change in any of these events could have had me careening down some other path, in a completely different direction. Then again, I can’t help but feel when you want something badly and life events occur that continually push you toward your goal . . . exactly how arbitrary were they? Was it fate? Is a higher power guiding us? Are we subconsciously causing our own experiences, thus guiding ourselves? Take the CPO debacle, for example.

When I was in sixth grade, a fashion trend swept my school: CPOs. Standing for “chief petty officer,” they were shirtlike light jackets that absolutely everybody was wearing. They came in navy blue or maroon and I desperately wanted to get one. I had to fit in.

Now,
fashionable
and
clothes
were mutually exclusive words in the Snider household. With eight mouths to feed, clothe, and take care of, my dad was working two, sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. Thanks for that, Dad. We always had three meals a day, though we didn’t have meat on the table every night (and when we
did, organ meats such as liver, kidney, and tongue were not uncommon; yikes!) . . . and we didn’t have fashionable clothes. It was not unusual for my family to shop at the Salvation Army. There’s no shame in that, but for a young boy desperately trying to fit in, it wasn’t really cutting it.

Christmas was coming, and traditionally my siblings and I could expect one “frivolous” gift—something that we really wanted—and a bunch of other practical things we needed, such as socks and such.
Party.
I decided I would campaign for my one gift to be a CPO.

Because I was the oldest of six, my parents worked extrahard to keep me in the dark regarding “the truth” about Santa, for fear that once I knew, I would either deliberately or unintentionally spill the beans to my younger brothers and sister and ruin Christmas for everyone. The smarter and more suspicious I became, the more intense my parents’ machinations got to keep me a believer. When I noticed the wrapping paper on all the gifts was the same, they asked in disbelief, “You didn’t actually think Santa wrapped every gift in the world himself, did you?”
What an idiot!
Of course parents needed to help. When I stumbled on all the gifts under my parents’ bed, weeks before Christmas, I was mocked, “You really thought St. Nick delivered all the gifts in the world in one night?”
I guess I’m a moron!
Obviously he would have to spread his deliveries out. On and on it went, my parents capitalizing on a child’s insecurities inherent to not believing. Of course, if all else failed, they had their fail-safe: “Well, children who don’t believe don’t get presents.”
I believe! I believe!
That is, until one Sunday at church when I was twelve . . . and the news was broken to me in an awkward way.

My mother taught the sixth-grade Sunday-school class at my church. A devout Christian woman, born and raised Roman Catholic by her Swiss parents, she went to church every Sunday of her life . . . until the day she married my formerly Jewish dad. I say
formerly
because my baseball-playing cop father, upon being bar mitzvahed at fourteen . . . quit. Hey, they did say “Today you are a man.” A man can quit his faith if he wants to, right?

Proclaiming that Judaism is a belief, not a nationality (He would say, “Show me ‘Jewland’ on a map!”), my father became an agnostic and set his sights on gentile girls. Well, I’m not sure he actually set
his sights, but he met my
goy
mother in high school, fell head over heels in love, and eventually proposed.

Since the Catholic Church doesn’t accept love as an excuse for blasphemy, the priests refused to marry my parents and told my mother she was no longer welcome in the Church and was going to “burn in hell.” (Good title for a song, don’tcha think?) So my parents had a civil ceremony and were married at town hall by a judge. For the record, they’ve been married ever since.

BOOK: Shut Up and Give Me the Mic
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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