Heavy metal artists love Christmas, too
Heath McCoy, CanWest News Service
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2007
When did Twisted Sister guitarist Jay Jay French realize he had mellowed out enough to record a Christmas album? At around the same time the makeup-wearing rocker caught himself playing the worried parent.
"Remember that artist Uncle Kracker who came out a few years back? Well, I got his CD for my daughter. She was five at the time," says French, 55, founder of the New York metal band who scored a massive hit in the '80s with their cartoonish take on teenage rebellion, We're Not Gonna Take It. "She's on my knee and I'm having a cup of coffee. We're listening to the CD and (suddenly Uncle Kracker) launches into this whole riff about screwing girls in the most profane way. I threw my coffee up into the air and protected my daughter's ears.
"I'm thinking to myself 'I'm Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister. My band was the worst thing that could happen to American youth in the '80s. My lead singer was once dragged in front of Congress and grilled by (then U.S. senator) Al Gore (for supposedly promoting profanity) and here I am now, the concerned parent.' The irony was not lost on me. I thought 'God, I've really changed.' "
So when a reunited Twisted Sister gathered in the studio last year to try to record a new album, only to have that record morph into the holiday novelty hit A Twisted Christmas, French was all for the idea. "I don't think Twisted Sister would have done it back in the day," French says of the disc that put his band back on the map last year, landing them appearances on The Tonight Show, The Late Late Show and Toronto's Breakfast Television.
"But we're not angry kids anymore. . . . I'm not 20-years-old with an axe to grind. . . . We've got families. Most of our fans have families now."
A Twisted Christmas, featuring metallic versions of various seasonal classics was such a success that when Twisted Sister's record company Razor & Tie approached French and asked him to co-produce a compilation Christmas album full of heavy metal bands earlier this year, he jumped at the chance. Monster Ballads Xmas stars such '80s hard rock acts as Skid Row, Queensryche, Dokken and Billy Idol covering various holiday favourites.
"Why should Christmas be owned by Kenny G?," says French. "I'd rather shoot myself then listen to Kenny G's Christmas. Celine Dion? To me that's a Christmas version of Yoko Ono singing. I can't deal with it. Why should we be strangled by the same crap every year? Why can't bands go out and have some fun?"
The initial idea for a heavy metal Christmas album came when Twisted Sister's outrageous frontman Dee Snider mentioned to French in passing that the melody of We're Not Gonna Take It had been lifted from the Christmas standard, Oh Come All Ye Faithful. "He kind of subliminally took it," French says. "The melody (for the two songs) graft themselves together so perfectly it's almost scary." When French found this out he was inspired.
"I said 'Oh my God! That's it, that's the hook!' " French remembers. "'Why can't we take basic structures of heavy metal songs and see if they transfer (to Christmas songs)?' . . . And it worked. So we approached different tunes as if we had people like Judas Priest and AC/DC playing with us. How would AC/DC do Silver Bells? How would Iron Maiden do White Christmas? . . . That's how we approached it on A Twisted Christmas because we didn't have those other bands. But for Monster Ballads Xmas we had all these great bands to work with."
French is well aware of the criticism Monster Ballads Xmas will inevitably face, that it's full of washed up holdouts from the '80s hair metal era trying to ride the Christmas bandwagon for a last grasp at fame. But he's quick to defend the project. "That's the press's continued disdain for this type of music," he protests. "In its heyday (this music) touched so many people, but for some reason it became kind of a bad word to critics. That's unfortunate because it was loved by so many. How do you discount it?
"This is entertainment and the people who love it are entertained by it and the ones who don't aren't. It's simple. The marketplace is the last filter. . . . But if you have conviction and love what you do . . . (you) don't need to justify it to anybody."
But isn't there something decidedly un-metal about Christmas? How can a musical genre so tapped into aggression, anger and decadence even remotely serve the season to be jolly? According to French, his brand of heavy metal came with a positive message that lends itself to Christmas very legitimately. "I'm not part of the new metal movement which basically screamed 'Everything sucks. My wife, my dog, my job, the world, it all sucks. But make sure you buy my CDs so I can ride around in my big jet plane while I'm depressing the crap out of you so you want to shoot yourself.' I don't get off on that.
"I love Christmas time. . . . It's that time of year when everybody parties and feels good and has a smile on their face."
Not unlike, French notes, what Twisted Sister always did for its fans.