Twisted Sister: We Are Twisted Fucking Sister!

Wigs, puke and burning effigies – how the ugliest Sisters created their own freaky fairy tale.

TODO alt text

First impressions? With a running time of 137 minutes, and with over two hours of bonus material, this documentary is very fucking long.

But in reality the time flies by, director Andrew Horn concocting a compelling, take-no-shit tale of Twisted Sister’s stuttering rise to stardom. It helps that founding guitarist Jay Jay French is such a student of his band’s history; we’d wager the bulk of the early film footage hails from his own personal collection.

Twisted’s struggle to break free of the gruelling New York bar-band circuit is particularly well supported by grainy 1970s images of them shunning the cool clubs of Manhattan and slogging their guts in the Tristate sticks: “As soon as you went over a bridge, through a tunnel, left the city, you were in America, essentially, and it was a different world.”

It was a world full of rabid blue-collar fans and drunken GIs who embraced the band’s grotesque charms wholeheartedly. But their unsightly appeal was lost on derisive record label execs, who steadfastly refused to sign them.

As frustrations grew, Twisted’s act became ever more outrageous. Their cover of the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane doubled up as the “drink-’til-you-puke gong show” where they would invite audience members on stage to consume copious amounts of alcohol. (“It was nasty – unless you liked vomit.”)

They campaigned against the evils of disco music, hoisting an effigy of Barry White and beating him with sticks like a piñata… until one redneck club owner told them: “I don’t know about Barry White but if you hang a nigger in this town you’re okay by my book.” So they built an electric chair and fried Andrea True instead.

Things began to look up in 1981 when Sounds writer Garry Bushell saw them play in “some godforsaken hole in Westchester state… and it was awesome, they looked like dockers in drag, it was like Cinderella’s ugly sisters having a convention, it was shocking.”

The only way was up, and a triumphant Twisted flew to Blighty for a prestigious performance in, er… Wrexham. The true breakthrough came when they snaffled a slot on Channel 4’s The Tube. Atlantic Records exec Phil Carson was in the crowd, saying: “Sure, they suck – but they’re going to sell a lot of records.” Cue the release of the Stay Hungry album, which shifted 3.5 million in the US alone.

It’s a great place to finish because, six years later, falling sales and personal conflict caused TS to be dropped by their label and split. (They would reunite in 2001.) We sense a Part Two in the offing and, frankly, we can’t wait.

Classic Rock 221: Stuff