Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Twisted Sister and the Rabbi

IT WAS 1984 WHEN Dee Snider of Twisted Sister first asked me what I wanted to do with my life. He is still talking to us today in the form of his recently published autobiography titled “Shut Up And Give Me The Mic: A Twisted Memoir” published by Gallery Press.

Rabbi Darby Leigh
Dee Snider is not Jewish (his father is Jewish and even though the Reconstructionist and Reform movements affirm patrilineal descent, Dee has a strong Christian identity) and his story, example and teachings are still very relevant to the minority experience. Some might find it odd that he, a musician and a singer, is talking to me, particularly because I happen to be profoundly Deaf.

Growing up Deaf in the mainstream means that one lives a minority experience. Some people might say that being Jewish in North America also constitutes a minority experience. Living a minority experience means that one encounters daily, a harsh reality that the society in which we live was not set up, nor is it prepared to meet our needs. Media, pop culture, education and advancement opportunities are typically focused on and directed towards the mainstream or majority culture. This makes it challenging, if not impossible, for those living a minority experience to understand how we fit into the big social fabric picture. This may be less true today for Jews in North America than it has been historically, but it still holds true as a generalization for minority communities.

Rabbi Darby Leigh and Twisted Sister

This unique external perspective on the majority culture typically highlights the ways in which someone who is living a minority experience feels “different.” In adolescent social development this experience of feeling “different” is often accompanied by anger and sometimes rage.

Out of the monochromatic blitz of media and mainstream pop culture there is, once in a blue moon, a scream, a clarion call, a war-whoop cry from and to the forgotten about, disregarded and shunned. In particular the Heavy Metal and Punk music genres of the 1970s and early/mid 1980s often spoke to the confusion, rage, and alienation that sometimes characterize this experience of being “different.” In fact, much has been written about the immigrant, working class, lower east side, Jewish aesthetic influence on the emerging Punk movement of the 1970s. (See The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk by Steven Lee Beber)

The war-whoop cry from the Heavy Metal and Punk genres reached my adolescent Deaf ears and spoke to me in a profound way. The Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister in particular, with their wild-man lead singer Dee Snider, had a significant impact on my youth and development because in addition to speaking to alienation, the band’s lyrics and appearance also voiced support of non-conformity and pride in being who you are. Twisted Sister and Dee Snider reinforced the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. In fact as Snider’s autobiography relates today, the reality of Twisted Sister and the reality of the lives of the individual band members were a far cry from the image portrayed by their music, dress and stage antics. We learn that Snider, even in Twisted Sister’s heyday was (and still is) clean and sober and that he has been a faithful husband and attentive father.

As an adolescent growing up in NYC, the lyrics of Twisted Sister songs were my Torah. Dee Snider’s autobiography is a wonderful read and delicious vindication of my championing of Twisted Sister over the years.

“Look and you’ll see, you’re a lot like me.” Twisted Sister, SMF

Rabbi Darby Leigh is a rabbi in Montclair, New Jersey.