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.