Authors: Dee Snider
Tags: #Dee Snider, #Musicians, #Music, #Twisted Sisters, #Heavy Metal, #Biography & Autobiography, #Retail
Harlequin was a classic, self-indulgent seventies power trio with a vocalist (me) that was very impressed with itself. Roger Peterson (guitar), Joe Moro (drums), Don, and I homed in on being loud and heavy for the sake of being loud and heavy. In my first true metal band, I was finally playing music I totally loved.
Until the early metal bands arrived, tremendous unity existed among rock fans. Just look at the bands on the bill at the original Woodstock: The Who, Richie Havens, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Mountain, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, Sha Na Na, Ten Years After, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana—what a confused mishmash of genres! And the audience cheered equally for all of them.
Not me. I liked the heavy bands and hated the light ones. I was into Mountain, Cream, and Hendrix, bought the first Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records when they were released, and purchased Grand Funk Railroad’s
the very day it came out. Hell, in ninth grade I was in a band that
played Black Sabbath. For me it was “Helter Skelter” not “Blackbird,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” not “Angie,” and I didn’t want to “mellow out,” I wanted to rock!
In 1972 I remember being at a high school party and Don Mannello and I nearly coming to blows with Phil Knourzer (yes, my ex–bass player) and his hippie friends over negative comments they made about Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple. The Woodstock Nation was crumbling and I was swinging a heavy-metal sledgehammer!
Harlequin played out more than my other bands and rehearsed more, too. I improved my vocal and performing chops. We were locally popular, and for the first time I felt I might be in the band that would take me to the top.
Then I received the phone call from Peacock.
I DON’T REMEMBER HOW
they heard of or found me, but a working cover band called Peacock approached me about singing for them. They had just canned their vocalist and needed a replacement. I went to see them perform and was less than impressed. They had the worst introduction I’d ever heard. “We’re Peacock!
! Those of you on the left can see the
, those of you on the right can see the
They were a human jukebox, playing “the rock hits and nothing but the rock hits, so help me God” adequately enough, but I was in a badass heavy-metal band with virtuoso musicians; this was definitely a step down. As I stood there watching, the memory of Doug Steigerwald’s voice rang in my ears: “The minute you stop moving forward, you are done.”
Harlequin was struggling to get into the club scene, getting only an occasional lousy booking and playing outdoor shows in county parks. Peacock was working five nights a week, every week. This was an opportunity not only to make my living playing music, but also to develop my chops and be seen. Peacock wasn’t
band might be out there watching.
I knew it was going to take everything I had to make it in music, but I also knew this about myself: if I had a safety net (going to college) . . . I would use it.
It’s too easy to allow yourself to fail when failure “isn’t that bad.” When failing means complete and total self-destruction, you work much harder to succeed.
At least that’s how it is for me. The choice for me needed to be succeed or die . . . so away the net went. Once again, being the least asshole I could, I left my friends in Harlequin (including my longtime best friend and bandmate Don Mannello), broke the news of my leaving school to my parents, and joined Peacock.
PLAYING FIVE NIGHTS A
week did help me get my act together. I moved out of my house (and into my grandfather’s basement apartment in Flushing, Queens) and became a professional musician. I clearly remember riding home in the band truck (they had their own
equipment truck!) before sunrise my first night with the band, hanging out the truck window, and screaming, “I love this!” Playing in a working band, being a rock ’n’ roll vampire, is all I wanted to do. And I did.
During my time with Peacock I learned a few things. The biggest being “always bring your A game.” Doing five sets a night (forty minutes on, twenty minutes off) meant starting early with a sparsely filled club and ending late with a near-empty club. The middle set was the most crowded, and the second and fourth were the build up and the build down. The guys in Peacock wore stage clothes and such, but only really put on a show for the middle sets. They adjusted their dress and performance to the number of people in the club. Weekday nights were slower, so they did less (if it was really slow, we didn’t dress or put on a show at all), while weekends were packed, so they kicked it up. What a stupid concept.
The fewer people there are, the
you have to work. You want those people to stay, tell their friends, and come back next time to see that incredible band that kicked ass to four people! When I joined Twisted Sister (the next working band I was in), I made sure that every set, no matter how empty the place was, got 110 percent of what I had to offer. I firmly believe that
is the attitude that helped Twisted become a tristate club phenomenon and to this day one of the greatest live performing bands ever. Ask anyone who has seen us in concert.
And, no, none of the other members of Peacock ever did anything significant with their music careers.
The other major thing I learned was more lifestyle-related. I lived in the basement apartment alone and kept traditional musician hours: go to bed at sunrise, get up in the afternoon. Well, one winter night I got back to my apartment around 4:00 a.m. It was still dark out. I was exhausted, so I hit the sack immediately. When I woke up, it was still dark out, so I checked the clock and saw it was a little after five. At first I thought,
Oh, I’ve only been asleep for an
but I didn’t feel tired at all. Confused, I finally realized that it was after 5:00
p.m. . . . and I wasn’t even sure what day it was!
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I was freaked. I turned on the TV and figured out that I’d been asleep for over thirteen hours. The concept boggled my mind. I sat there realizing how an entire day had gone by. People had gone to school or work and come home, the stock exchange had opened and closed, major events had been held, etc. I didn’t know if it had been sunny or cloudy because I had slept a whole day! I vowed that, even though my profession of choice was a night job, from that day on I would never sleep the day away again, and I would wake up early on my days off and get the hell out of my apartment. There was more to life than just playing in the band. (Did I just say that?) Maybe not the most stunning revelation, but it was the start of an understanding of balance that would affect my life and career.
I had a few other epiphanies while I was in Peacock. The first was with my grandfather. Moving into the basement apartment at my mom’s dad’s house served two purposes. First, it got me out of my parents’ house and closer to Peacock’s home base in Queens. I couldn’t stand living at home anymore. My life choices were a constant source of friction between my father and me, I had no privacy, and I couldn’t stand suburbia. I shared my room with my two younger brothers, Mark and Doug (then thirteen and eleven years old), with only a Peg-Board divider to section off my cell-like space and give any kind of privacy. We were living on top of one another, and when I’d blast my heavy music, my little brothers would beg for mercy.
I guess it wasn’t easy on them either.
At times, life in the Snider household got to be so maddening, I’d get in my car, drive somewhere, park, and just sit there, blasting my music, with the heat on high (Dad kept the thermostat at home set to a chilly sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit to save money), and read comics. It felt great to have my own little space.
To make matters worse, I found suburbia to be absolutely suffocating. The congestion of Baldwin, the monotony of tract housing,
and the cookie-cutter existence of everyone there drove me nuts. I knew there had to be more to life than this out there somewhere. Early in the morning, before the cacophony of sound that was suburbia kicked in, I could actually hear a waterfall somewhere in the distance. In all my years of living and wandering around my neighborhood, I had never seen one, but I could clearly hear it. Just knowing of something nearby as beautiful as a waterfall brought me joy and inner peace. I used to sit on the front porch early in the morning, drinking coffee, and just listen. It made me smile.
One morning, I was outside so content, just listening and smiling, when my dad came out. “What are you doing?”
“Listening to the waterfall.” Even he couldn’t ruin that.
Dad stopped, listened for a moment, then laughed. “That’s not a waterfall. That’s the sound of the cars on the parkway, stupid!” With that, he walked off. He had other dreams and fantasies to destroy. I was devastated.
The other reason for moving in with my grandfather was to keep him company. My grandmother had recently passed away, leaving him alone for the first time since he was a young man. My parents figured just having another person’s energy in the house would be good for him during the transition.
I really liked my grandfather, and from time to time he would cook and we’d have dinner together. One night he opened up to me and changed my life forever. Grandpa was a tool-and-die man in his day, making specialty, precision mechanical pieces for machinery. He actually made parts used on the first lunar landing. Grandpa had worked extremely hard his whole life and provided well for his family, but he told me how he had allowed himself to be taken advantage of by his fellow workers, often doing their work without getting the credit, accolades, and advancement. Frank Schenker (my grandfather) was a great guy and a good worker, but he was a sucker and a pushover. His next words to me fell hard on a nineteen-year-old whose life lay ahead of him, like so many blank pages waiting to be written. “Danny, don’t be wishy-washy like I was,” my eightysomething-year-old grandfather warned. “Don’t let people walk all over you.” I understood what my grandfather was saying to me. Thank you for that advice, Grandpa.
I never did.
The life lessons were mounting during my less than one-year
stint in Peacock. But the biggest—about relationships—I came to on my own.
Being single in a working rock band meant there was no shortage of girls. It doesn’t matter if you are in a good band or bad, unknown or famous, rich or poor (of course the better and more famous the band, and the more money you have, the hotter the girls you will get), there will always be girls out there who want to be with guys in bands. It’s without a doubt the most common reason you will hear for guys joining bands in the first place: to meet chicks. A different club every night meant a different girl every night, and while that certainly has its appeal, for me something was lacking.
One miserable winter day, I had a bad cold and was alone in my apartment. It was rainy and I was staring out of the little basement window at the grayness outside, the cold radiating through the glass. I felt terrible and badly wanted someone to be with, but what “rock chick” would want to hang with a sick rocker with a runny nose, a fever, and a cough? And what rock chick would I want to be with when I felt like this? At the ripe old age of nineteen, I clearly remember thinking to myself,
Will I ever meet someone who will be with me all the time?
I already knew that the traditional rock-star life would not be for me.