Show 1: Sweden Rock 10/6/16

My dad’s girlfriend and I spent some time the other day trying to calculate how many of my dad’s shows I’ve been to over the years. 14 years, two of which I attended every show, two of which I was in summer camp and only went to a couple, plus all the Christmas shows, the benefits, the Bent Brother (unofficial) shows… We estimated about 140-150.

And yet I had never been to Sweden Rock.

It was always too early in the touring season. I still had school, still had exams to sit, still had essays to write. The years when I could’ve done it, they weren’t playing it. It’s all the more ironic that the farewell tour kicked off there, since it was the exact place where things really re-started for them in 2003 when they played there for the first time. Coming off the string of South Korean dates, the band flew to Sweden and played their first “real” reunion show on the same field in front of the same wild crowd and, according to my dad at the time, the show had been a massive success.

Apparently that was a lie. Only now will he and the band admit that the show was incredibly sloppy, that they fucked up every song, that everything that could’ve gone wrong did, indeed go wrong. But that didn’t stop them from being invited back to the festival four more times, including this past Friday. And even though this year’s performance there bore some resemblances to the first (timing issues that I won’t go into and were definitely not as big a deal as the band thinks they were), the show was still nothing short of astonishing.

To begin with, the sheer number of people who turn up to Sweden Rock is amazing. Some estimated 60,000 while others thought it was more around 80,000. I have no idea how accurate either number is, but what I do know is that there was a sea of people as far as the eye could fathom, all the way back to where the barriers to the campsites started, some two miles away from the main stage. And the enthusiasm the crowd showed was so strong, so heartwarming, that at one point it actually brought my dad to tears.

There were so many moments that gave me chills, made me laugh, and made me tear up during that show, and I wish I had taken better notes because they’re now becoming hard to recall. The day started for the crew at 7:30 AM when they all went to the venue to begin set up, and although I was unable to join them, I was still kept abreast of their antics. In this case, those included Duane adding his name to Mark’s dressing room sign so it read “Mark & Duane”, followed by Duane’s mouth being taped shut and hands and feet bound together by pink gaff tape, presumably by Danny. (For those who are unaware, Duane is one of Mark’s bass techs, and has assumed the role of resident punching bag for the band and crew. Mark claims to hate him, but we all know that without Duane’s presence, the band and crew would get at each other’s throats and inevitably tear one another apart. Duane is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is the band’s most essential one.)

Uncle Markie was none too pleased with his revised dressing room assignment.

Pre-show highlights on the band’s part included Mark practically crushing me during a sightseeing boat ride around the beautiful town of Malmö, (“Is this comfortable for you? It’s comfortable for me. I think I’m gonna stay here like this. I could fall asleep like this”) and Eddie informing us during the bus ride to the venue that he dislikes the term “Hispanic” because “It has the word ‘panic’ in it and I don’t want my people to be associated with something bad. I prefer ‘Latino’.” There was also a suggestion by Mike of re-naming their marketed Meet and Greet sessions as “Mark Mendoza Beat ‘n’ Greets”, as Mark was availing himself of the opportunity to (jokingly) throw around every poor schmuck who thought they were just getting a picture with the band.

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It was so cold that I had to wear 3 jumpers… and even then I was still shivering. At least I looked cute.

And as for the show itself… It may not have been the tightest. That’s a fair judgement. And the audience, for its enormous size, took some warming up (quite possibly because it was so fucking cold that I was wearing three jumpers and still froze my ass off). But a disappointment it was not. It was a million miles away from that. Time and time again I am reminded that Twisted Sister can rile up a crowd like no one else. Dee can get the most reluctant audience member on their feet and jumping up and down like a maniac – using humiliation tactics if he has to, but still. The fanfare after “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and the screaming after “I Wanna Rock” were only outdone by the fact that, during the audience participation segment of their cover of the Stones’ “I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)”, they must’ve had at least 80% of the audience punching the air and jumping. Even the people at the back.

A particular highlight of the show for me was Dee’s fika (coffee) break mid-show, in which he had devoted roadie Armadillo come out with a cup of coffee for him and proceeded to chat with the audience while drinking it. What most of the audience probably didn’t see, though, was Mark chasing Armadillo around the stage afterwards while the poor guy was still holding a half-full cup of coffee… Honestly these guys are men-children.

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Daddy and Dee; an average day at work.

They aren’t so mean to their crew though, in all fairness. They even took the opportunity to introduce all the guys to the audience during their encore, and then invited them to come onstage on the catwalk to take a bow, a moment that I know meant an awful lot to all of them… And then I nearly pissed myself laughing when I saw Duane jogging backstage afterwards and realised he had a strip of white gaff tape stuck to his ass that looked like a tail. No one has yet confessed to committing the crime. But it was funny as shit.

And, of course, there was the moment during “The Price” when tens of thousands of people raised their mobile phone lights – and a few lighters – in the air in memory of those we have lost. Dee always talks about A.J. in the intro to that song. He dedicates it to his memory every night. But A.J. is not the only loss the band and crew have recently suffered from. Duane’s beloved son, Joey, was killed by a car in January at the age of 17. More widely known was the passing of Lemmy, a close friend of the band’s and the reason they came to be accepted in the UK after he introduced them to his fans at a Motörhead show in the early ‘80s. Seeing the sea of lights in Sweden the other night (especially facing the second stage, named the Lemmy stage this year) brought tears to my eyes as we all remembered those who should have been with us this touring season.

I still have a very difficult time looking at the drum riser with Mike behind it. It still feels like a tiny punch in the gut every time I have to reckon with the truth that A.J. is no longer there. The adjustment has taken much longer and has been far more difficult than I’d ever anticipated, in fact I don’t think it will ever really be made. For any of us. The whole vibe amongst the crew is so different now. The joking around is still there, but the laughter isn’t as hysterical. There has barely been any ba-di-ba-da-ba-ing. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry, you don’t need to.) But I do know that Friday night would have made A.J. proud. He’d have been grinning from ear to ear.

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Lighting up the night for A.J.

So basically TL;DR, Sweden Rock was a kick ass show. A fitting start to the farewell tour. A crowd none of us will ever forget. A wonderful tribute to A.J. And I cannot wait to see what the rest of this summer brings.

Post on Nova Rock to follow shortly. x

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Bonus pic: Pre-show with some of our amazing, lovely friends who we’ve met over the touring adventures of the last 14 years. L to R – Tanja, Tore, Håkon, Daddy, Me. 

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Aaaaaaand begin.

When I first started this blog, it was mainly for the purposes of writing about acting, yoga, and baking… which is pretty much all it’s been used for. Until now. For the next couple of months, I won’t be writing much at all about those topics. This blog for now is about a very different part of my life, one that I haven’t written about on here but which is just as important to me as the things I have shared with you, if not more so.

For those of you who don’t know, my dad is a guy called John French, professionally known as Jay Jay, and he is a guitarist in the 80s hair metal band, Twisted Sister. Since I was a kid, the band has been on an extended reunion tour that was only meant to last a couple of summers. It ended up lasting 14 years. And this leg of it will be their last.

I have the privilege now to be with them for most of their final shows, and I will be keeping this blog in the meantime as a record of this tour not just for those of you who are interested, but for myself. Read it if you really care to know the ins and outs of all this tour lark, or don’t. I don’t particularly mind. But I’m writing all this down because I just can’t bear to forget all the funny one-liners the band and crew will inevitably come up with, the insane flight schedules that the tour manager, Danny, has no doubt signed us up for, and the precious last few times I’ll hand my dad his guitar and give him a fist-bump before he takes the stage while “It’s A Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC blasts in the background.

When this whole thing (re)started almost a decade and a half ago, no one involved had any idea how long it would last. It was kicked off by a one-off reunion show done for a party for their friend Jason Flom. Then 9/11 happened and they agreed to get together again to play a show called New York Steel to benefit the Widows and Orphans Fund. It was relatively fair to think after that show that a whole tour was out of the question. Tensions still ran pretty high amongst the band, and whether they could deal with each other for an extended period of time was questionable.

A 2-week tour for the USO in South Korea was later organised in order to test the waters, as it were. The band wanted to see how successful a reunion tour had the potential to be, and my last memory of life before the band was such a central part of it was standing at the door of my apartment building with my cousin, Becca, waving goodbye to my dad as he got in a cab for the airport.

My knowledge of what the band was up until that point was limited. My first introduction to it was as a pre-schooler, when my dad turned up to collect me one day with Dee in tow. It was the first time they’d met in person in years, and they talked for hours until my dad realised it was time to go get me, and invited Dee to come along. My dad at that point had started to look like a fairly normal dad. He wore baseball caps just about everywhere and had said goodbye to his mullet when I was an infant. But Dee still looked like Dee. And when this huge guy dressed in all black with waist-length peroxide blonde hair turned up to my pre-k at pick up time, I was far from the only person to look a little confused.

Spurred by their meeting, my dad decided it was finally time to show me what he used to do for a living, so he showed me a music video of theirs. Which one, you ask? No, not “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock”, but instead the video for “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” featuring Alice Cooper. The video had been banned by MTV and VH1 when it first came out because of its violent and graphic nature… And my dad decided that should be my introduction to his band. I was 3 or 4. I still wonder to this day how and why my mother let him play that for me. It didn’t scare me, though. It didn’t even impress me. When my dad asked me what I thought, I apparently said, “You look stupid, daddy.” When he told me that that’s how he paid for my preschool, I said, “But I hate school, daddy.” (NB: I have no recollection of this conversation, but my dad has recounted it to most people he knows.)

After their Korean tour, things really started to kick off. I started attending sleep away camp in the summer, and would receive packages every week filled with tour posters and backstage credentials from festivals, mainly around Europe, with Twisted Sister’s name in the headlining spot. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I actually started going to these huge festivals with them that I understood the extent of the fanaticism that their fans showed. After the first time I saw them play in London, I was absolutely gobsmacked. “They treat you like Elvis, daddy!” I kept saying. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here was this guy who put me in time out and yelled at me if I didn’t do my homework and bugged me to eat something besides junk food, and yet thousands of people were losing their minds over him and the band. They thought he was cool.

And then when I was 15, I got to tour with them full time. I became a de-facto member of the crew; learning to re-string and tune guitars and how to set up the stage. I gaff-taped the setlists to the floor next to the mics, I ran out with a back-up guitar for my dad or Eddie when they broke strings, I passed time with the guys during layovers by playing Obscure Rock Trivia to see who knew the most random shit about Queen (I did pretty well). Not to sound overly cheesy – because they would massively take the piss if I got overly cheesy – but they became family. Being on tour with them was like having 10 dads… Who were all equally as keen to break the legs of any guy who came near me. Fun fact: at my dad’s birthday party one year, they all teamed up to physically throw my then-boyfriend out of the restaurant and lock him out. For absolutely no reason. So it was also just as embarrassing as you’d imagine having 10 dads would be.

Of course we all knew that this was going to come to an end sooner or later. They’re not exactly getting any younger (sorry, guys) and they spend an awful lot of time laughing at bands who cling on until their death rattle – my dad’s favourite joke to make about the Rolling Stones is that they’re so old that their fans won’t clap at their shows because they’re afraid the lights will go on in the arena. And having the last tour this year does seem to bring things to a natural end. The band celebrates their 40th anniversary this year, so it would give them a nice round number of years of existence. But, perhaps more notably, they are now a man down. A.J. passing away last year changed everything. They were already discussing ending things in 2016 before he tragically died of a heart attack last March, but his passing solidified the idea.

Twisted Sister is not Twisted Sister without all five of them. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t sound the same. Mike Portnoy does an amazing job of drumming for the band, in all fairness. He is a truly great musician and a great guy and he fits right in with the band, making as many dumb jokes as the rest of them do, and it is so wonderful to have someone as talented as him able to see the band through their final tour. But going on in the long run without A.J. just couldn’t happen. Now is the right time for things to come to an end.

And so here we are. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Lund, Sweden writing this as we look towards the beginning of the end. In two days’ time, the band will kick off this last run of dates by playing Sweden Rock, and I cannot quite believe this is the last time we’ll all be in Sweden together after the amount of shows they’ve played here. There are no metal fans on this earth quite like Scandinavian metal fans, and they have shown the band an awful lot of love over the years. Friday night will be special. And then we go on to some of the biggest festivals heavy metal has to offer; Hellfest, Graspop, Bang Your Head, Wacken Open Air, Rock Fest, Bloodstock, and then some. We’re going on one last trip to the great Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus, and I’ll be blogging my way through the whole thing. This is going to be one hell of a summer.

Aaaaaaand begin.