Over twenty five years ago, a loud, brash, obnoxious New York band told the world that they want to rock, and after world tours, retirement, and a band reformation, there is still nothing that Twisted Sister would rather do. Founding guitarist Jay Jay French, however, also believes in rocking for a cause, and he and Twisted Sister will be playing a benefit concert at the end of April to help raise money and awareness to combat the eye disease known as Uveitis, which struck the rocker’s daughter at a young age. There will also be an auction of pink, custom designed guitars and amplifiers which saw industry rivals collaborate in a historically unprecedented fashion. I recently spoke with Jay Jay on the phone for a discussion of the modern era Twisted Sister, the upcoming concert right here in New York City, and what can be done to fight Uveitis:
Examiner: So you’ve thrown together this amazing project, the Pinkburst Project, and it’s going to include a Twisted Sister concert here in New York at the end of April, and then an auction of custom instruments and amps on May 1st. How’d you get the idea, and how did this all come together?
Jay Jay: You know, inspiration is its own weird thing. I’ve been wanting to do something special to raise awareness of Uveitis for years, and the fallback was always to have the band do a show, because that’s the easiest thing for anyone to do. And to raise money, I wanted to do something more interesting and unusual, and the idea of constructing amps and guitars that are unique and would be auctioned off was a slow process, it started out with one guitar, and then the idea of getting another manufacturer to copy it, and then thinking why would that be interesting to anybody… There were a lot of components to this, being a guitar player and a musician I just had to reach into my soul to find a compelling reason why people would find it so interesting they would write about it. And something so compelling that collectors had to have it.
The band has done a lot of shows for charity. We were reformed because of a charity. The band had been broken up for 12 years and we reunited to do a performance to raise money for the Widows and Orphans Fund for the New York City Fire Department. After that, we went to Korea and played for the troops, when we came back we did a benefit to raise money for a former employee who needed a liver transplant. We went down for hurricane relief, played a free show in Florida. We headlined a show up in Providence, RI to raise money for victims of the Station nightclub fire… my singer is involved with the muscular dystrophy foundation, he does this thing called Biker for Babies, he does a bike ride every year along with my drummer and my bass player, so we all have these projects, but this is the only one that actually touches a band member directly.
Examiner: Do you find it ironic that 20 years after Tipper Gore tried to portray you guys as the worst thing on the planet, most of your work is now on behalf of charities and humanitarian causes?
Jay Jay: We were never the worst thing on the planet, that’s the irony. I mean they had the wrong band, and people who knew us knew we were like the straightest band on the planet. We were like the anti-Keith Richards. It was just so stupid, and that was, no pun intended, just the tip of the iceberg. I mean we had laws written to keep us out of towns, anti-rock laws written specifically just to keep us out of towns. It just shows the ignorance, we do performance art and we’re just hard-working guys.
Examiner: You guys reunited nine years ago, after a solid decade off. How have you personally found the rock concert scene to have changed in that time?
Jay Jay: We only play a handful of shows a year, 15 maybe, 20 at the most, when we used to play 250. We’ve evolved into a different business model, one that I couldn’t have predicted 15 or 20 years ago. I also couldn’t have predicted that our record royalties would be 3% physical items and 97% downloads, ringtones, royalties from soundtracks, and commercials and television shows. Right? That’s a bigger change, not the concerts. The fact that the revenues have turned upside down. Used to be you played a tour to support your record sale, the last thing you do now is make money on records. You might as well give them away. I think it’s a waste of money and a waste of time to make new records anyway, especially if you’re a classic rock band because really nobody cares. They say they do, but they really don’t. Quite honestly, you go to see any classic rock band, anyone who’s been around 30 years or more, and all anyone wants to hear are the 15 hit songs from the first 5 albums. It’s all they want.
Examiner: Will this be the only Twisted Sister show in 2011?
Jay Jay: Well, this is the only US date we have scheduled so far, we don’t have any other shows in America this year. But you know, we’re doing this show to support the Uveitis, the Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation, that’s important thing for me, not the fact that we’re playing here. But we’re playing here for a purpose, to raise money and awareness for a disease that if goes untreated leads to blindness. And if you don’t treat it, early, the damage it will bring to your eyes is permanent. So raising awareness is important, since I’ve started this campaign I’ve gotten a lot of publicity, people email me everyday, “I can’t believe you’re doing this, my son has this, my daughter has this,” and the medications are tough, they’re expensive, one of the medications my daughter was on was costing the insurance company nearly $20,000 a dose, and obviously not everyone can afford that. There are 30,000 ophthalmologists, only 100 of them specialize in Uveitis, and of that 100 only 33 really know what to do with it, and of those 33 only 3 have laboratories. My daughter is 17 now, and she has 20-20 vision, but she’s on medications, and if hadn’t been caught early…
Examiner: Will your daughter be coming to the show?
Jay Jay: Oh absolutely.
Examiner: Does your family usually come to local shows?
Jay Jay: When she’s here, she goes to school out of the country but when she’s here she always comes to shows. I even hired her as my guitar tech last year, it was my sneaky way of making sure she’s around when we toured.
Twisted Sister will be playing at the Best Buy Theater on Friday, April 29th, and the auction will take place at Skinner Auctioneers in Boston on May 1st. For more about the auction, concert, and Uveitis, go to http://www.pinkburstproject.org/.
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