Part memoir, part motivational material, Lessons From My Life in Rock ‘n’ Roll dives deep into the life of Twisted Sister guitarist (and one time Rewind It Magazine interviewee) Jay Jay French and what ultimately lead him to rock stardom, falling into obscurity, then rising to the top again.
From start to finish, it’s a fascinating look at a life that once started ordinarily enough, and it’s easy to relate to his years as a rebellious teenager in New York, taking and dealing drugs, and causing unrest for teachers and authority figures alike.
And his path to rock warrior status was far from the easy route that most would expect; French (with the help of Farber) details how it was a long, hard fought road, filled with numerous ups and downs along the way. But he shares his learned experiences and wisdom with readers in hopes of just maybe enlightening some of them a little.
Although I might not see eye-to-eye with him on every issue (at least not as far as politics are concerned), French is someone I do have great respect for. His book goes to show, that although you may think you know the performer you see on stage every night, there’s sometimes far more to them than simply what meets the eye.
The name Dee Snider will forever be synonymous with Twisted Sister, the ’80s hair metal group whose sound he largely helped cultivate after joining in 1976. But unlike his previous, more pop-oriented outfit, Snider’s solo work is more akin with more traditional styles of heavy metal, featuring blistering guitar work, group sing-a-long’s, and headbanging-induced breakdowns. On his latest solo effort (his first since 2018’s For the Love ofMetal), he does not let down in any of these departments.
Album opener “I Gotta Rock (Again)” was the typical expected first single aiming at his core audience who can’t see pass his Twisted days. But as soon as that’s out of the way, the fun really starts. The track is immediately followed by one of the album’s best songs in the form of “All or Nothing More,” which is followed by a couple more hard-hitters before Snider truly reaches his peak midway through, screaming his heart out on “Silent Battles,” possibly his best work in years.
Some other highlights include “Crying For Your Life” and “In For the Kill” (the latter feeling ideal for the next Call of Duty game). There’s even a surprising “duet” of sorts featuring the guttural vocals of Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher in the form of latest single “Time to Choose.”
I’ll admit, I was definitely skeptical at first after hearing said initial first single. But without the Twisted Sister banner behind him, Snider is finally fully able to realize his creative abilities that were likely waiting to be unleashed for quite some time. I was lucky enough to see him perform live once with his former band back in 2006 before they eventually threw in the towel (and before drummer A.J. Pero’s untimely passing). But I’d be just as inclined to see him do a solo set knowing much of the material would be as good as what’s found on here.
With renewed interest in the decade of decadence continually growing each year, there’s no shortage of various media information on ’80s hard rock (a.k.a. ‘hair’ or ‘glam’ rock) and heavy metal out there these days. But this new book by rock journalists Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock (with a brief forward by Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) is truly the new bible on ’80s hard rock and heavy metal.
Largely tracing it’s roots back to the influence Van Halen had on the movement in the mid to late ’70s, here the two authors put together a collection of interviews that includes numerous musicians, producers, promoters, magazine editors, and the like, to help tell the tale of arguably one of rock’s greatest eras. Various key members of such staple acts as Motley Crue, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Dokken, L.A. Guns, W.A.S.P., Poison, Cinderella, and Warrant, – as well as numerous Rewind It Magazine interviewees from over the years – including Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister, Jack Russell of Great White, Brian Forsthye of Kix, and Rachel Bolan of Skid Row (among many others), are just some who help recall the foundation of the genre that changed it all in great detail.
The perspective is unique and fresh, despite some of the stories already found in other published works (many of those involved have previously published their own individual biographies). There’s even a brief but brilliant collection of many never-before-seen photos included as well. In short, Nothin’ But a Good Time is a rollercoaster ride of literature from start to finish, and one of the best of it’s kind currently available on the subject. It simply ‘don’t get better than this.’
When The Karate Kid sequel series Cobra Kai first emerged in 2018, the world wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness that was so unexpectedly unleashed upon it. It instantly united pop culture nerds across multiple medians, bringing back ’80s nostalgia in full force for the young and old alike.
In season one, we were re-introduced to the characters Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who are thrusted back into each other’s lives more than three decades later. Daniel has since gone on to become the owner of a successful car dealership, while Lawrence stayed the same beer-chugging, metal-loving loose cannon he always was. Things shake up when Johnny decides to take a leap of faith and re-open Cobra Kai, which in turn re-opens some old wounds in the process.
Season two focused more on the two old enemies each operating their own respective dojos, with new conflicts arising from their new students (and old mentors). Unlike the first season, more emphasis was put on the rivalries between newcomers Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) and Robby (Tanner Buchanan), as well as Sam (Mary Mouser) and Tory (Peyton List). It also brought back John Kreese (Martin Kove) in a more extended and sinister role, and included a bittersweet, albeit brief tear-jerking reunion with some of the other original members of Cobra Kai (which would unfortunately prove to be Rob Garrison’s final portrayal of Tommy before his passing in 2019).
Naturally, season three takes over directly where the second one left off, with everyone dealing with the repercussions of the final battle that saw Miguel seriously injured and put into a coma. There’s still plenty of unresolved wars between multiple factions, as each character grapples with what happened and tries to return to some sense of normalcy.
And of course, there’s plenty of surprises along the way as well; Elizabeth Shue finally returns as Ali (now actually Dr. Ali Mills Schwarber) after Johnny’s attempt to reconnect with her via social media in the previous season. And even familiar Okinawan faces from The Karate Kid Part II, including Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomito), and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) return, leading to some tense moments between Daniel and the latter before ultimately bringing some closure. Even former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider manages to squeeze in a brief cameo, too.
But what makes us invest so much time into shows like Cobra Kai has got to be the reflections of ourselves we’re able to see from these characters and their struggles. They’re far from invincible, and whether you were more of a Daniel or Johnny type growing up, there’s something truly there for everyone.
There’s no doubt a lot has drastically changed in the music world since Jay Jay French last took the stage with Twisted Sister – a band with whom he helped shape the foundation for going as far back as the early ’70s – in 2016. Last week, I was briefly able to pick at Jay Jay’s brain and ask him some poignant questions about not only his days with Twisted Sister, but also his take on these unpredictable times we’re all living through right now.
With the Coronavirus currently looming at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days, one of the first things I wanted to know was his thoughts on whether or not the music world will ever get back to the way it was beforehand, to which he simply says; “One thing’s for certain, things always change. But there were never any “good old days,” ever. There were just different ways to screw the artist.”
Since his final tour with Twisted Sister, Jay Jay has kept somewhat of a low profile. I asked what his relationship with his former bandmates was like today, and if he ever kept in touch with any of the band’s numerous early members, to which he said; “Well, there is no ‘former’ Twisted Sister! Twisted Sister is still a working corporation that just happens to not tour anymore. We are a family of friends and business partners with almost a 50-year history, and we have licensing deals that I still need to review weekly. The only former member I’m still in contact with is (original Twisted Sister bassist) Kenny Neil. Many members have since sadly died.”
I also wanted to know how it felt when playing certain songs live, specifically the band’s most well-known power balled, “The Price.” To my surprise, I received one of the most honest replies any interviewee has likely ever given me; “Any heavily working musician, especially one in a band that plays the same set night after night, will tell you that the music can go by and you don’t even think about what you’re playing. It’s that automatic. Ask a baseball player if they remember a game. What does happen sometimes is that events occur that stand out…
…Playing “The Price” at the reunion show for the 9/11 NY Steel is one of those times. Playing it the first time in 2015 after the death of our drummer, AJ Pero (with Mike Portnoy as his replacement) in Las Vegas, as well as every show we played the summer after he died. That song brought me to tears almost every single night. That is when the message sends chills down my spine. Actually, the fifth anniversary of AJ’s death was March 20th, and just thinking about that song right now sets off those emotions again.”
He continues; “The Price is about the sacrifices one makes to follow one’s dreams. It is one of Dee (Snider’s) best, and he wrote it after a phone call with my sister-in-law while we were in England recording our second album. She asked him what it was like being away from his wife and son for three months, and I believe Dee’s response was, ‘It’s the price you have to pay’.”
On a less serious note, I had to ask what it was like being the only band who can say they appeared in the 1985 Tim Burton film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. He informs me, “When things begin, like when you first see your album for sale in a record store, or you hear your song on the radio, or you see yourself in a movie, it’s a big thrill. After awhile, all of that fades away. It was fun at the time, but I got a big kick (not to mention paycheck!) out of Facebook using “I Wanna Rock” in a Super Bowl ad. That adds to our enormous amount of music licenses, making us the most musically-licensed metal band in history. The fact our music remains internationally popular 35 years after the release of (Twisted Sister album) Stay Hungry, is the most gratifying thrill of all. Dee has written some timeless classics!”
Jay Jay says he even donated a decent amount of his personal guitars after the band’s last tour, and that his days performing on the stage are indeed numbered; “I gave away all the guitars I had on that tour. I still have about 60 guitars in storage, and I’ll pick up the guitar at least five minutes everyday just to make sure my fingers are still working. But after the last tour I didn’t touch one for almost a year. I have absolutely no desire to perform ever again. Every time I go to a show now I think to myself, ‘Thank God I don’t have to stand on that stage!’ Could that change? Anything is possible, but for now, I will just play a song or two for a benefit if asked.”