Leadership is not about your position or title. It’s about who you are, how you live, and your ability to influence others to change things for the better. Adam Markel welcomes two legends from the rock and roll and business worlds, Steve Farber and John “Jay Jay” French, to talk about how and why they built their eclectic partnership. Steve Farber is the founder and CEO of The Extreme Leadership Institute, an organization devoted to helping its clients develop award-winning cultures and achieve radical results. Steve is also a bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and ranked on Inc.’s listing of the Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts in the world. Our second guest, John “Jay Jay” French, is the founding member/manager of the internationally-renown heavy metal band Twisted Sister, as well as an entrepreneur with several music industry businesses. John is unique in the world of rock and roll, having succeeded on both the artistic side, while simultaneously managing all aspects of business and operations.This highly unique ability provides John with business insights that are virtually unmatched. Listen in on Adam’s conversation with JJ and Steve about their partnership and the birth of their brand-new book, Twisted Business.
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Twisted Business: Lessons From Life In Rock And Roll With Steve Farber And John “Jay Jay” French
Our guests on the show are Jay Jay French and my dear friend, Steve Farber. John Jay Jay French is a keynote and motivational speaker entrepreneur with several music industry businesses and founding member manager of the internationally renowned heavy metal band Twisted Sister. They retired from live performance in 2016 but John continues to oversee the thriving licensing and publishing business. He has 37 platinum gold and silver albums as a member of Twisted Sister and four platinum and gold albums as a guest guitarist.
My buddy Steve Farber is a world-recognized renowned and amazing public speaker and human being and author. He has some great books, including The Radical Leap, The Radical Edge, Greater Than Yourself, and Love is Just Damn Good Business. You are going to love this conversation I have with Jay Jay and Steve about their book, Twisted Business.
We are here with Jay Jay French and a dear friend, not to say that you couldn’t be a dear friend of mine, Jay Jay, but I’m committed to the other guy in this trifecta Steve Farber. At the outset, it has been a while since I had a threesome. I can’t think of a better way to go than with the two of you.
I’m a trisexual. I would try anything. It’s understood.
We are going to cover a lot of ground, and my guess is it’s going to be fairly random. That’s my read of where this may take us, but I want to start by saying, “I love this book.” This book is by Jay Jay French and Steve Farber. Steve Farber, you are a rock and roller, not from Twisted Sister. Let me start with you, Steve. This is an interesting project. I shared it with you. I have been reading the book in the hot tub. It’s my favorite place to read a book. In part, I love it because it’s the most relaxing spot. My mind is clear. I love doing two things at once.
My habit of swimming is bootstrapped to my desire to read more. I put those two things together, stack them, and there I have a pretty effective habit. I also love it when other people in the hot tub, because this is a hot tub at a gym, look at two things. One, the act of reading in the hot tub seems to be a circus trick for some reason, and they are all amazed at that. They look at the title like, “What is crazy ball guy reading in the hot tub?” I feel like I’m promoting this book every day that way. Steve, you and Jay Jay, go back aways. Give us a little context for the project.
Jay Jay and I met at a business conference years ago. We had an instant connection and became friends right out of the gate. He had this business background. My thing is leadership. I spoke at the conference. He responded to my message. We sat down together, had breakfast, and he told me the whole Twisted Sister’s story.
I said to him two things pretty much that very first time we met, “You need to tell your story on stage because it’s an incredible story.” Jay Jay is one of the most talented, natural storytellers I have ever met. His story was amazing and hilarious. He told it well. I said, “You’ve got to get up on stage and tell the story. You’ve got to write a book.”
Part one was getting up on stage. I had an event coming up. 2012 was the very first event that I ever put on. It was called the Extreme Leadership Summit in San Diego. I invited Jay Jay to be a speaker at that event, which would have been his debut as a keynote speaker. He was playing the 70,000 to 100,000 people at these big festivals and was the stage banter guy but he had never done a keynote before and told the story. He did, killed it and it was great.
Steve says you are in front of screaming, drunk, drugged out, and genuinely excited fans. More often than not, you are in front of a business audience. They are using different drugs in that environment. Do you have any nerves around getting up and giving a talk?
“Speaking in front of 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 to 100,000 is the easiest thing in the world than speaking in front of 40 people, which is the most terrifying thing in the world.” It’s exactly what Steve said. We used to speak in front of very few people in the band who were starting because there were a few people at the bars in the early days like 30, 40 to 50 people. The original lead singer was so inebriated. He could not put two words together.If you're not tenacious as a human being, you will never succeed. Click To Tweet
He was so drunk. I would have to walk up to the microphone and say, “Thank you for coming tonight to dance. Please tip your bartenders. Tomorrow night we are going to be playing, and the next song is by David Bowie.” That was it, and then the band took off playing to a lot of people but having to give a message speech and truly be responsible for a message in a concise form, all joking aside about the ability for me to be concise.
The fact is that it was a terrifying concept, but I understood that learning how to do that correctly was going to be the key to success. It wasn’t like, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” What it was, “I know what I would have to do. I don’t know if I have the stomach for it. I don’t know how fast I can do it because there are guys out there doing it one million times.” I watched Steve perform and I was like, “That is an amazing performance.” I have watched other people perform. I know performance stick. Let’s be honest, every speaker is a performer.
I’m watching Steve going. He’s good at his craft. “How close can I get to that? How long it’s going to take me to get to that?” It was so daunting that I wasn’t chomping at the bit for it. When he forced me to do this, I was lost sleep over it, which is stupid because I could fly and play in front of 50,000 people. “Welcome to the microphone. How are you doing?” Do you know why? They are there to see me. They love me and I can’t lose.
You will appreciate this because Adam is a phenomenal, trained speaker and all of that. You will appreciate the method that we used.
Steve, you have to come up with a method to take indoctrinate me quickly.
What happened was, I saw this as Jay Jay’s opportunity to launch his speaking career, not just by virtue of having his debut in front of 140 people or whatever it was but to get good footage that he could use to promote himself and get other gigs. He had a great production crew there. Three cameras shoot, beautiful stage, the whole thing.
The idea was we would stick them on stage. I told him to prepare a little introduction, fifteen minutes worth. By this time, we had talked for hours. I had heard a lot of his stories and I thought, “What I will do is I will set a chair on the side of the stage, and from that chair, I will interview you. I won’t be on camera. It will be you on camera. We will have clips of you responding to the questions.” I knew that all I had to do was press play, and he would go. I would say, “John, tell us about the first couple of years of the band.” It was great and he killed it. It was fantastic.
To give you a little bit more background, I didn’t know this was going to be the plan. When Steve gave me the date to do the speaking engagement, which was six months from the time we met and became friends, he said, “I’m going to have you do this.” It was a lot of notice enough for me to freak out, come back and say to him, “I get paid to play in Twisted Sister. If we have a gig on that particular day, I’m not going to be able to do it because Twisted Sister has priority, which it does with all of our lives, and you do know that.” Steve goes, “Yes.” Two months later, my tour manager calls and says, “You were headlining Sweden Rock on June 8th, 2012.” That was the weekend. I’m going to be in Sweden.
I called Steve and said, “Sorry, pal. Thanks a lot. I appreciate this some other time.” He went, “When does your festival season end?” I said, “Mid to late August.” He goes, “Why don’t we move the whole conference to the end of August?” I went, “Why?” He says, “I will move the whole conference.” I said, “You are going to move the whole conference so I can talk? No, you are not.” “Why not? I will do it. We’ve got plenty of time.” He moves the date.
The whole summer, my wife was like, “Have you written a speech?” Every day as the summer is going by, I’m looking at the calendar, sweating more. You have to know my wife. She makes type-A look like a type-B. If my wife were God, it wouldn’t have taken eight days to create the universe. It would have been done in four because she would have said, “It’s over here now.” She’s on my case.
Finally, I looked at her. I said, “I will write the damn speech on the plane flight to San Diego.” This is a six-hour flight. I brought a legal pad and a pencil. I wrote everything that I thought I could say on this legal pad. What Steve’s not telling you is as I get to the hotel and he goes, “What do you get?” This is what we are going to do, and that’s the lifeline that he threw me after all of that. You need a mentor like Steve. All kidding aside, if he did not care so much, all of this would never have happened.
He set you up for success. Not because he put you up against the wall of your comfort zone, which that did.
Steve did everything that he always says in his books about what you do for people who you mentor. He did everything that he said he was going to do.
I was going to say, “Let’s change the angle of this whole show. I want it to be about that guy.”
I want to take it into how the book came out of all this because over the years, we danced around this idea of maybe doing the book together but he had a couple of false starts with other co-authors. It became pretty clear that the way this was going to get done would be for me to get involved in the project. Similar to the speaking thing, I knew this was important to a great story. I thought I could help, so we decided to work on it together.
This is a huge departure for me because this is Jay Jay French’s story and it has been written in his voice. My job was to take his natural storytelling ability and his great story and make it work on the page. As we all know, it’s a different dynamic from the spoken word. Try and help figure out what stays in and what doesn’t. It was a great project, and it turned out great. I’m happy to have been a part of it.
Steve, a friend of mine who was in my Creative Writing class in New York a couple of years ago, got a copy of the book. She emailed me. She goes, “I’m reading your book. It sounds like you are sitting there talking to me in my living room.” That’s the art because what Steve did was, he sublimated his style.
Do you say sublimated?
He’s got quite a vocabulary.
Do you use to say that when you were selling drugs?
In those days, we used to be able to rattle off tetrahydrocannabinol lysergic acid diethylamide. I was able to convert currencies in Europe while dealing with acid in six different currencies. I was multitasking. The art of that book is that Steve retained my voice.
I thought without knowing you, Jay Jay, but I do know Steve, I thought he was not in his voice. I felt like it was coming out of your mouth. Hearing you speak, I feel like it’s true to that with fewer digressions. It’s such an epic story. I don’t know that digression would have helped or worked because it would be in volumes, truthfully.
When we decided to do the book, my joke in my head was, “If I’m writing the book, it’s the eighteenth volume history of the Jews, which is a completely unrealistic way to write a book about your life.” Steve goes, “Not that. In there, move on.” I needed this person to do it. I needed someone I could trust to do it. I had fits and starts.
This thing started years ago with one of my cousins. I tried to first, draft and it didn’t go anywhere. The thing about the speaking world is one of the first things that booker says, “Where’s your book?” Everybody has to have a book, and then they go, “What are you going to speak about?” That’s the big thing. I didn’t have a book.
As far as my speaking, I could say, “I write for Inc Magazine, and there are 50 articles.” They can pick an article, and I will talk about it. That’s BS anyway because the speaker speaks wherever the speaker wants to speak about. The booker is going to be hustled into booking the person, and the person is going to do what he wants to do, and hopefully, he gets away with it.
Steve told me years ago, “The only thing you need to understand as a speaker is that when the guy reads the books, you will look like a superstar. If you can make that guy happy, it doesn’t matter, particularly how you do it. You have to look good to that book.” This is real hustling, dealing shtick but it’s true. I understand that shtick as much as anybody else. I understand the value of telling the story to make the person who booked you look good. That’s the key.
Nothing was more perfect. There’s no better example than this. I replaced Timothy Geithner, the former Secretary of the Treasury, at a speaking gig, which was maybe my tenth speaking. I replaced him because, Steve, our friend, Ian, who you met, knew this guy who was the Head of the Small Business Investors Alliance.
He says to my friend, “We lost Timothy Guy, and I need a speaker.” My friend goes, “Why don’t you hire Jay Jay French?” The guy goes, “Who is Jay Jay French?” He goes, “He’s from Twisted Sister.” He goes, “Why am I hiring a top player, drug, alcohol user? Why would you even suggest it?” He says, “He could pull it off.” The guy goes, “How well do you know him?” “I know him well.” He says, “I can’t inflict 250 of the most buttoned-up bankers in the world to a heavy metal guitar player.” The guy calls me and he goes, “I don’t know. I’m a little worried.” I said, “Come to my house.” I had my wife working for Forbes at the time.
She went to Forbes, put all these business books, and we put them all over the house, all these Steve Forbes books. We put all this crap around. When the guy came in, he felt better but he couldn’t come in because it was a snowstorm. He calls me and goes, “I can’t come in.” I said, “Here’s the deal. I understand that you are concerned that I can’t do this gig. However, don’t pay me until I finish. If I don’t get a standing ovation, you don’t pay me but if I get one, you stay on the side of the stage with the check and hand it to me. That way, if I suck, at least you can say, ‘It didn’t cost us anything. He was crap but we’ve got in for free.’ That way, you win.”
He goes, “I will do it.” I show up two hours early to hear the other speakers, and there are some of the worst speakers I have ever heard. You wanted to slit your wrist as they were talking about potato futures in Kansas. The bankers were about to commit suicide. If you had 250 ropes, it would have been from 50 nooses either to the speakers or to the people sitting in the seats. They hated every second of it.
As a performer, I’m sitting in the back going, “I’m going to screw this up.” I walked up to the front of the podium and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, how many of you guys are high school graduates and college graduates? How many have Business degrees?” Everyone’s got business but I said, “You are going to listen to a guy who was a high school dropout, former drug dealer, drug addict, heavy metal guitar player. Boy, did you lose out on all the fun? I promise you this, no PowerPoint.”
They all went crazy because they had been watching PowerPoints for three hours. I said, “I have a limited amount of time, and I want to tell you some great stories. I’m going to let you vote on what story you want. I can tell you a Led Zeppelin story or Johnny Cash story. Which one do you want to hear?” They voted for Led Zeppelin.
At the time when I finished the Led Zeppelin story, I’ve got a standing ovation, which had nothing to do with the business conference. This had zero to do with any business lessons, anything. I looked at the guy. He handed me the check. I walked out and heard people say, “That’s the best speaker I have ever heard in my life.” On top of everything else, what Steve taught me was the art of the communication device and how to size it up.Wisdom is being smart enough to understand that as things go down, you adapt to what you need to do to survive. Click To Tweet
Jay Jay, that story tells me you fulfilled the promise. You made the booker look good. You entertained, and people were happy. In the end, you don’t argue with happiness, so the check was there. I’m curious when you were able to navigate, and I assume you have, the interesting integration of the entertainment and the insight. The part that I’ve got out from this book that I enjoyed and I’m still appreciating as I’m near the end is the fact that it’s both.
It is wildly entertaining because you have one of the more colorful things. It’s brilliant the way you stick the landings. I’m a resilience guy. I’ve got a book coming out called Change Proof. We are going to talk about resilience or how you develop change proofness, made-up word, but you are that guy.
You have been able to land on your feet again. I don’t know if that’s the through-line of your message to business audiences. That’s also married to the shtick and the amazing entertainment value of your life, story, and everything you have done. I am curious. What does it look like when you speak to a business audience? Is it pure entertainment or is it more than that?
At the risk of giving you more linguistic acrobatics, I am, in essence, broad-based conceptualists, always have been. I have always been able to see things macro and micro. My story has been told so much at the expense of my wife and Steve. I have learned how to tell my stories well that I know what entertains and what doesn’t entertain people because I have done it 1,000 times.
The documentary, We Are Twisted F*cking Sister, was only made because the director of the documentary was interviewing me about another artist. After the interview was over, I said, “What do you know about Twisted Sister?” He goes, “Not much.” He was in my living room. Three hours later, he said, “I’m going to do a documentary on Twisted Sister.” He spent the next eight years doing a documentary because of the story.
I know the value of my story. I know how to be compelling. Not only do I know to be compelling, Steve will tell you. I know how to be compelling in the right exact time bite. If you tell me I’ve got 15 minutes to be compelling, I will do it in 15. If you tell me you’ve got 30 minutes to do it, I will do it in 30. If you tell me I’ve got 1 hour to do it, I will do 1 hour. I did a two and a half hour one because the guy who booked me didn’t realize that he was supposed to put a time limit on. I was having such a good time. I decided to see how far I could go, and he flew me down to this resort in Mexico. This was at an insurance company. I did 2 hours and 15 minutes. Nobody got up and walked out.
At the end of it, I walked up to the guy and said, “Not for nothing because you still got the deal you pay but I did 2 hours and 15 minutes.” “He said, “How long are you supposed to do?” I said, “45 minutes with a 15-minute Q&A. I have so much time hearing myself. I didn’t give a crap. I just went off.” He goes, “It felt like 30 minutes.” There’s an art.
As you know, the whole thing comes down to an art. It’s enough to write a book and tell a compelling story. The other art is not enough to have the content. How do you relate the content is the issue. With Steve, I found the perfect conduit to be able to push the content because you are right. It’s a huge and expansive story. It covers the ‘60s and everything the ‘60s was. It covered the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and the present.
I imagine this is in the part where you brought your genius, having authored wonderful books like The Radical Leap, The Radical Edge, Greater Than Yourself, and Love Is Just Damn Good Business. Let’s say it’s not your first attempt at creating a book. How did you wrap your arms around the volume of stories that you had to choose from? How did you and Jay Jay select a through-line for this book that was intended to educate business readers?
It was a challenge because there are lots of ways to go with this. We didn’t want it to be just a memoir. We wanted it to also be a business book because one of the things that makes Jay Jay unique is that he’s a business guy and entrepreneur. Some lessons need to be imparted. We knew conceptually not a memoir but also a business book, which led Jay Jay to coin the term Bizoir, part business book, part memoir but that was pretty high level. What was it going to look like? At first, we didn’t know. Did we organize it chronologically because you have that sweeping story through all the decades, the rock and roll story, and the Twisted Sister story throughout it all?
One day, it was from one of his daily walks through Central Park. He came back and said, “I’ve got it. It’s TWISTED.” TWISTED is the acronym that spells out all of the elements of what we learned. Is it a little bit forced fit to fit TWISTED? Kind of but it works. Starting with Tenacity and moving through Discipline, it became clear that in the first part of the book, we will give the backstory, and then the second part of the book, we will lay it out with the various elements of the TWISTED method and find the stories that illustrate those particular principles.
It’s Tenacity, Wisdom, Inspiration, Stability, Trust, Excellence and Discipline. The stories don’t stop. The beginning is more chronological and the scope of Jay Jay’s experience in life and elsewhere. The stories keep going and getting filtered through each of those principles, which I thought was incredibly well done. What he said was forced in some spots. Can you think of a place where it didn’t feel as congruent to one another?
I don’t think it was forced in any particular spots. What I’m saying is it’s a coincidence that all the principles that he learned happened to spell TWISTED. That’s what I mean. It was using that framework to say, “What are the elements that we can hang on each one of those letters? Are they true and accurate?” The answer is yes, they are.
We could have worked it into another acronym, I’m sure. I’m an acronym guy. I Love Energy, Audacity and Proof is a LEAP. It was like, “These are the principles, and they happened to spell.” It was always engineered to some degree but it has to hold up because it has to be true. People reading the book have a good BS meter and none of the elements are manipulated or manufactured. They are all accurate reflections of the principles in the lessons that he and the band learned along the way.
The more of this is more speaking engagements I did where I could test out certain concepts. Also, writing for Inc was important because I did this with Inc. Without knowing it, my articles are related to certain episodes in my life, and then I would write a story. When I’ve got hired by Inc, they were known for their listicle and I’m not a listicle guy. I said, “I don’t want to do a listicle.”
In fact, I want to do my first article called the Eight Reasons Why I’m Never Going To Write Listicles Because I don’t Like Them. It’s like The Seven Reasons Why You Shake the Hands of a CEO From The Left Side. It’s not me, and I told that to the editor. I said, “If you are hiring me because you want the 7 or 12 reasons why I’m not that guy. I’m going to give a completely different perspective.” They said, “What perspective?” I said, “I’m going to start writing.” I did.
I had 50 articles in Inc, which in a way, was the template, and those articles forced me to conceive of these things. When I was doing my speaking engagements, someone said to me, “What are you going to say?” I did say, “Go to the Inc Glossary, look at the articles and say, ‘Do you want me to talk about tenacity? Do you want me to talk about this or that?’” They go, “I would go off on a tangent.” It allowed me to go off and what Steve said about that day that I was walking in the park.
That’s interesting because Steve and I were probably into several years of the book at this point, and it was fit and start. First, we had to get a publisher. We’ve got Rosetta but it’s like, “How are we doing this?” Do you remember the movie Chinatown, at the end where my sister and my mother are slapping on the face? I’m going, “What book is it?” It’s a memoir and a business book. All my friends will go, “What is it? I hate this crap. You are writing a book. What book is it?” You asked him, “I’m writing a book. What book is it?” “I don’t know. It’s a memoir. It’s a business book.”
That drove me crazy as to where the focus was going, and then the art of making all of it expand. Here’s what I thought, “I hate PowerPoint. I like simplicity. I’m a dumb heavy metal musician. I like it simple. It’s TWISTED. It’s easy to remember.” You don’t have to take a pen at a business conference and write Tenacity, Wisdom. You go, “It’s the TWISTED method.” I own the name Twisted Sister. There’s a value to that. You know that the name TWISTED is valuable in my brain. I want it to be able to keep the logo and part of the trademark. I always want to keep people, bringing them back to the core of who I am, which is Twisted Sister. Twisted Business is perfect.
Steve came up with Twisted Business. That was his lightning bolt. Of course, you are going to call it Twisted Business. Why wouldn’t you call it Twisted Business? That was the lightning bolt of the title. We have an album called Twisted Christmas, and that was my lightning bolt. We are a bunch of Jews who did a Christmas record. I said, “Why not? Jews make the best Christmas music anyway.” Originally, the line chestnuts roasting on an open fire were locked as floating in a sea of oil but I don’t think that melted. I thought that was going to be a line that would be universally loved.
This is what we did. We covered the basics. We kept the name Twisted, did Twisted Business, kept the logo and creativity. Nobody has said it’s a false narrative or, “That’s a cute concept, TWISTED, but it’s BS.” It’s not BS because every one of those letters is meaningful. “Could you find a meaningful story with every letter?” You could, but I didn’t have to because TWISTED was enough to tell the story. As people have commented so nicely, at 240 pages, it’s a great read.
There will be people that will read this book and maybe even because they have read to this interview, already on Amazon dialing up and ordering their copy. Everybody has the dial-up internet stuff. They will do that. Others want to get a little primer of it. I would love it if we could demonstrate what it’s like to tell the breadth of a story in a couple of minutes. I’m going to put you to this challenge, Jay Jay. The chronology is pretty good. In my head, if you stumble, I’m going to jump in. I want you to take us through this rollercoaster that brings us to the point where you get reunited with your band.
The opening statement of the book is I was turned down more times than a bedsheet and nowhere else came back more times than Freddy Krueger. Let’s talk about what entrepreneurs do. The bottom line is, “What is an entrepreneur?” You become an entrepreneur for 1 or 2 reasons, either your brain has discovered some of the worlds that you have never seen before, and you are willing to risk everything that you own to show it to the world or you improved on something that’s existing, and you are willing to bet everything in the world. Those are the two choices.
For every entrepreneur, which one is it? Do you invest something no one ever saw? What do you want to improve something that needs improvement? In my case, there were 1,000 rock bands before Twisted Sister. I wanted a better version of it. That’s all. There were the New York Dolls and they sucked. I thought they looked good. I could do a better version of the Dolls. I fit perfectly into that. I can improve an existing model.
Here’s the thing, when I joined Twisted Sister at the age of twenty, I was a guitar player and that’s all. I was a former drug dealer, drug addict, and high school revolutionary who decided to leave all of that behind. The good news, my mom was, I was no longer doing drugs. The bad news is I decided to join Twisted Sister. That was 1972. That was the good news and bad news conversation with my mom. “Good news, I am no longer doing drugs. I’m out but I’m going to be dressing like a woman.”
That was an important changeover. I did not join the band to know any of this crap. I joined the band, be a guitar player, and became a rock star. I was forced to become a musician because I was a business-oriented guy. As the crap started building up over the years, I started to have to adapt to survive because I’m a hustler. You adapt to survive or you die.
Here’s the bottom line. Take each letter. Without Tenacity, you’ve got nothing. I don’t care what you’ve got. If you are not tenacious as a human being, you will never succeed. That’s the T for Tenacity, and it doesn’t matter if it is a shoe company, ice skating or anything. Tenacity is the whole ball game. That’s all it comes down to because when you see a gold medal skier, that golden medal skier is up at 4:00 in the morning doing this for 12 hours every day of his life for 10 years.
You are not doing it because you are a fat crap. You want to sit on your couch but that dude is doing it and he’s going to get the gold medal. Do you want to be the first chair as a violin player at Carnegie Hall? You are up at 4:00 in the morning. You are playing violin for 12 hours a day for 15 years. That’s tenacity. If you don’t want to do that, you are not going to be the first chair. It’s as simple as that. You want to win tenacity. That’s T for Tenacity.
Wisdom, that’s the W. That’s being smart enough to understand that as the crap comes down, how do you adapt to what you need to do to survive? That is wisdom. I didn’t know I had any wisdom until a conversation I had with my father, which I illustrate in the book. On the day of my mother’s death, I looked at my dad and said, “We don’t have a relationship. We have no future.” I had to make a decision right there at the age of 22.
Do I save my relationship with my father, who I jettison and we have no relationship? I remember it because I live in the same apartment that I’m talking to you. This conversation took place 10 feet away from me. I looked at my dad and said, “Here’s the deal. I will agree to forget all the crap that you made me go through as a kid, that you whip me with a belt if you are willing to forget that I dropped out of school, became a drug dealer, drug addict, and all that other crap.”
We shake hands and start from scratch. Leave all that stuff in the past. We can have a relationship. My father is not the guy that’s going to go to therapy. In this old world, that is not going to happen. We shook hands on it. We had great years. We never talked about the past because it wasn’t going to work in his life. That wisdom carries itself through business.
There are so many people walking around with things that carry from the past. Not to belabor the point but it’s worth pausing there for a second. What’s the wisdom there?
Untransactional, if you want to survive, you need to be transactional. You deal with the crap you are dealing with and move on to the next one. It doesn’t mean you don’t carry certain baggage with the look. We are all human beings. We carry it. At what point are you going to let it bog you down and prevent you from moving forward? TWISTED was thrown so many roadblocks and I talk about this book saying, “I turned roadblocks into pathways.”Inspiration is the fuel that feeds you when you have nothing. Click To Tweet
As all of the versions and the crap that came through that was happening, which we illustrate, I’m so proud of this book because this book gives you tools. It says, “This is what I saw. This is what my response was. This is how I adapted to that response, and this was the result of that response.” Good and bad. I take you through the whole thing. That’s what it’s about. It’s about being smart enough to understand your limitations. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I always ask people I don’t know. To be so arrogant that you think you will ever be answered is your stupidity. I knew I didn’t know a lot of crap. I didn’t have fear. I always thought I was going to get my butt kicked anyway.
I said, “If I’ve got my butt kicked, I would get a kick once and I will never be kicked that same way but I will learn from that.” I believe all survivors do that. The structure of the band and band’s stability, the S for Stability in the TWISTED method, is an important piece because having a stable company is important. I said to the guys in the band, “How much money do you all need to earn weekly? All I have to do is worry about you being in this band and not having to get another gig. I need stability.”
We all came up with a number that we could reach, and that was the perfect business plan because once we agreed on a figure and as long as I could deliver that figure, I had a stable organization. I have a quote from Duke Ellington. When I found the book and the quote, I almost fell on the floor. Duke Ellington says, “If you want to keep a band together, you need a gimmick.” My gimmick was to pay the musicians. I swear to God, that’s from 1930.
The stability of not tolerating alcohol and drug use while you were in the process of creating some successful version of this thing anyway, that’s also quite counterintuitive.
If you think a company is like a plane that flies through the air, you try to be as smooth as possible, and everybody hits turbulence. Turbulence can take, “This is where we get into the weeds a little bit and where my experience comes through.” Turbulence is expected. If you look at a company, you go, “What turbulence do we have?” We’ve got challenges, crisis, and catastrophic turbulence. You try to make sure you never reach catastrophic turbulence. You try to keep it into the challenge mode. You try to take it out of the crisis mode because you never want to see it in the catastrophic mode. Nobody expects a heavy metal musician to talk that way. Nobody thinks that we think along with those terms.
The other problem is that when you are dealing with these chaos, catastrophes, and challenges, it’s how you view these oncoming headwinds. I learned a long time ago that there are two ways you view chaos. That is proactively and reactively. It’s the way a football game goes. Why is it that the offense has always got a second more than the defense? The office knows what it’s doing. The defense has to react to it. How are you going to react as a company? You are to be offensive or are you going to be defensive? It’s always better to be offensive and not defensive.
How do you do that? You have to have wisdom because you have to do what Keith Richard said, “It’s a different to him and Mick Jagger.” Keith Richards’s statement about the difference between him and Mick Jagger is beautiful. Keith would say, “The difference between me and Mick Jagger is Mick Jagger wakes up every morning and goes, ‘What am I doing now, 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 years, 10 months from now? I get up in the morning and go, I got up this morning.’” That’s fine. Every band needs that but you need that person.
Fill in inspiration. It’s a good place to stick that in there.
Without inspiration, what do you’ve got? Inspiration is the fuel that feeds you when you’ve got no money. We all start with nothing except the belief that we can do it. That’s it. Whether you are a five-year-old girl who goes to a Broadway show and sees someone doing Annie on stage, you are going, “Mommy, I want to do that.” All of a sudden, you are filled with this fire. “I’ve got to do that.”
All successful entrepreneurs had a fire built into them, which is why every book about an entrepreneur is a biz war. How do you write a book about your success if you don’t write a book about what made you successful, which is the memoir part of a book? This is what does it. In my case, I was fueled, and my inspiration was this record. I described hearing this record on the radio when I was ten, which made me obsessed with AM pop radio, seeing The Beatles the next year, and that was the Saturn V rocket of my life that got me off the planet Earth.
The Bowie part in ‘72 was the second stage rocket, which took me into the atmosphere. You need tenacity. Without that, you’ve got that inspiration. You have no fuel. Inspiration is the fuel that feeds you while you have no money because eventually, you have to convert this passion and love into financial success. Otherwise, you are out of a job, and I knew that.
I’m going to use the last three letters. This is fun to challenge you, Jay Jay, to do a TED Talk, get on a TEDx stage or a TED stage and deliver a talk. The last three letters are TED. It’s fun to put it out there. Trust, Excellence, Discipline, lay it on us.
If you don’t have trust from your partners, you also have nothing because if they are looking at you for taking them down a pathway and you are willing to roll the dice in that pathway, then they better trust you. They trust you because of your actions. All of these things if you don’t have it, you have nothing. You need to trust your partners.
I loved the book with you and Dee. Anybody that knows the history of the band may know that you had had a falling out and didn’t end up great but now are great and all that. You still had trust in each other. You trusted him. I love this part in the book where you say, “He was the guy to write these songs. He was the one to think about how to deliver them. I trusted him to do that. He trusted me to manage the business and brand.” That’s a big deal in the success of the band.
Not only is that important that we trust internally but the people you do business with have to trust you. You have to trust that you are going to deliver the product. You have to trust that if your product has to be due on September 30th, it’s going to be due on September 30th. They have to trust that you are going to show up at a venue.
Think about this. How many bands can play in front of 100,000 people on the planet Earth? Not that many artists can be trusted by 100,000 people. It’s a very small list. We are one of those people, one of those tiny lists, the bands. Promoter goes, “My entire festival is going to rely on you going out there. If you suck, my festival goes down.” People are going to say, “You suck, and we sucked for having you.” Can you trust this band to be great? That’s what trust is about. It’s not just internal. It’s that everybody that deals with you can trust that what you are going to deliver is what you are going.
Did you practice?
The 10,000-hour factor comes up plenty of times because I sucked. I went back to my ten-year before the record deal. I added up all the effective working hours of all the effective working days and non-working days. In those ten years, I added up all the hours of performance or rehearsal. I came out to 9,800 hours of performance in rehearsal before we’ve got our record deal.
You make yourself bulletproof because you do it over and over again, and that’s how you become great. You wind up doing it, which takes us into the E for Excellence and the D for Discipline. You only become excellent by discipline and by doing it over again. The thing that gets me annoyed is this whole cliché about insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s not true when it comes to the arts. When it comes to the arts, doing it over and over again makes you better, even if you don’t realize you are getting better. You do it over because the reaction of your brain and the chemicals start to change. The synapses in your brain start to connect.
All of a sudden, things happen. They explode when you least expect them to. This is the beauty of repetition and the boredom of excellence because if you were to ask the greatest of the greatest, “Why they were great?” They would say, “I did it thousands and thousands.” Young bands come to me and go, “See my band.” I go, “How long have you been together?” “Two years.” “How many shows do you play?” “We played a lot. We played 50 shows.” I said, “You have done 50 shows in 2 years. How long are the shows?” “Forty-five minutes.” “You have done 45 minutes. That’s impressive.” “When you get to 500, call me. I will come and see your band.” “Five hundred, it will never happen.”
I said, “There’s a good chance. I am not going to see your band because you are going to suck until you hit at least 500, and I’ve got no time to waste while you suck. When you hit 500, let me know.” To illustrate, I took a calculator. I took them number weeks from the first day we played in March to the first break we took in March ‘73 to Labor Day, Sunday, 1975. That was 32 months times 4 times 52 times 5.5 or 4.5 shows a night.
Twisted Sister played in the first three years of its existence 3,550, 45 minutes set. When a kid tells me in the last 2 years he has done 50, and I have done 3,550, you suck. What kills me about The Voice and American Idol? The kid who wins the award gets a record deal and says, “I would like to thank my fans for sticking with me for fifteen weeks.” I want to fall off the chair in hysterics. It’s like, “I’m sorry. That’s not how you do it.”
The last thing I want to ask you is about change. You let us through it, and I feel like you teased out a nugget for each one of those things. Thank you for doing that. Anybody that wants to get more of the meat, he gave us meat. I appreciate it but there’s more meat in the book.
Adam, I want to draw it back and give the high level on this because there are people that are unfamiliar with Twisted Sister. It’s only the Twisted Sister fans that know the story of Twisted Sister. When we first met, I was never a Twisted Sister fan growing up. I always thought it was the greatest band name I had ever heard but I didn’t know anything about the band.
Most people know we were not going to take it, and I want a rock. That defines Twisted Sister. From a high level, what your readers need to understand, so you know where all this is coming from is that the Twisted Sister’s story is one of near success and failure over and over again, then success, and then failure, massive failure, massive success, then a reunification and even more massive success and they retired on that high. The rollercoaster is almost unimaginable.
When you read the book, you will read the details of all those ups and downs but these principles that we have extracted from that come from a very simple process, which is what happened, Jay Jay, and what did you learn from it? That’s a principle that all of us should be asking if our own experience. The Twisted story is very dramatic. Our own stories are also dramatic, at least to us.
We have a great opportunity for all of us to look back through the course of our lives, see where we are, look at our ups and downs and ask ourselves, “What did we learn from it?” If we have a give and take with each other where we are hearing each other’s stories, learning each other’s lessons, then we all grow together. That is what this book does. It extracts those lessons from this incredible story.
It’s a call to action for everybody to write their book on some level. You started this project even before Steve. It has been a work in progress as you are, as your life is. In completing the book with Steve in this collaboration, did it create a level of clarity about the life you have led? There were so many experiences after a while. People can be dizzy to even up by what they have learned, as Steve is pointing out. What does it all mean? People go through those stages and in the pandemic where the level of anxiety and even depression has been exacerbated. People question where they are, what they have learned, and what value they have added? Did the book help solidify for you what your life has been committed to and what it’s meant?
I was sitting around thinking because I’m the face of prostate cancer research. I’m doing a lot of social media for prostate cancer awareness, research fundraising in 2021 because I had prostate cancer years ago. I was featured on the Fans For The Cure podcast. I’m all over social media for Zero Cancer. I was thinking about this phrase that’s used, “He’s battling cancer.” I said to myself, “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t battle cancer. I know exactly what I’m doing.” I dealt with it and moved on. I refuse to have that word battling because I’m very transactional, which is I’m confronted with this crap, and here’s what I’m doing about it.
What do we say in the book, Steve? I said, “When you dealt with the trauma, you mourn it, and then you reflect, retool and reapply.” Get bad news. It sucks. Think about exactly what was going on. After the first traumatic wave, think about what you will do. Plan a course of action and then put that plan into action. That’s what I do with my prostate cancer and my daughter’s eye disease. My daughter has a very rare eye disease.
I had two heart operations because I hate atrial fibrillation. Seriously without the pun involved, I’m not going to take it. It’s like, “Find me a doctor, give me a plan, and let’s get on with it.” The day there are no answers is the day you get the terminal conversation like the Jewish blue song. Everybody gets bad news. At some point, you are not going to come back from it no matter what you try but until then, you are going to try your best. What it illustrated for me to answer your question is it showed me that that’s the way I do it. I come back. You hit me, and that’s why the left set is coming.
For me to call your cockroach, is that a compliment?
In this particular case, they say, “What’s going to survive the nuclear war?” Keith Richards, chair and cockroaches. Those are the three things going to survive. That’s said in the most humbly respectful way. You keep coming back. The book illustrates that we keep coming back, which also means people say, “It’s Twisted over.”We all start with nothing except the belief that we can do it. Click To Tweet
I can’t give you an answer and go, “It’s never going to happen.” I don’t see it happening again. The book could not have been written until this point in my life because if the book was written years ago, it wouldn’t have made any difference. If the book was written when I was a stereo salesman and that was all, that wouldn’t have made much. If the book were written when Twisted started to reform and come back, that wouldn’t have meant as much. What meant as much was that the whole hill. The entire irony of the ridiculousness of my life has been lived out to a point where I can look and go, “That’s a life.”
There’s enough landscape. It’s not over. It’s not the final chapter by any means but there is a certain perspective. Steve hit it for me. He hit the nail on the head with what’s happened to be able to look back, see what’s happening in your life, and then what you learn from it. It’s difficult when you are in your twenties to apply the learnings of things. We are impatient in a lot of things.
I’m lucky I didn’t die as a hippie. I did so much crazy crap. I could have been arrested. I was almost murdered six times. There had guns put to my head and knives put to my throat. I could have been murdered on several occasions. I could have had a drug record, been arrested, and been put in prison. When I tell the stories, they are unbelievable to some people but they are all true. Sometimes I sit there and go, “That’s a crazy life.”
Some of those near misses in your early life change the way you look at things. There are certain things that you decided weren’t worthy risks to take later in life but you became adamantly opposed to doing drugs.
I was busted with drugs after I stopped doing drugs and talked my way out of the drug bus because I was so angry that I was straight. I had drugs on me that was put in my bag by somebody else. I’ve got so angry that the cop was like, “He doesn’t do drugs.” Without getting into the specifics of how I talked my way out or where it happened because if I say where it happened, they will never let me back in that country again. Let’s say that I’m the force of nature of my personality. My ability to talk my way in and out, and stuff is legendary, which helps.
Anyone who operates at a street person level, I’m very grateful. I’m a street guy, not an academic. My brother is academic. I grew up in Manhattan dealing drugs on the street, hanging out on the street buying guitars on 48th street. My father was a jewelry sales on 47th street. That’s the Damon Runyon. That’s like A kid gets out of here. “You will get out of my face, kid.” That is an incredible life to live and I’m grateful for it. I’m also grateful that I escaped the minefield of disaster.
Are you glad that you didn’t become a member of the band KISS.
I can’t answer that question because who knows?
I’m only kidding.
It’s a fair question. I get asked that a lot. A lot of guys didn’t make KISS. I was one of many guitar players that didn’t make it. If you look at some of the biggest bands in 1973 that were creative, which were KISS, ACDC, Judas Priest, and Twisted Sister, all formed in 1973. If you ask any of us in 1973 how long we would last as a band, our stock answer would be five years because that was the stock answer you gave. “If I get five years, that will be great.” Maybe we would have said 10 years because The Beatles lasted 10 but it would have been 5 or 10 years.
I will grant you that ACDC, and KISS have sold more records than us. I don’t know if Judas Priest has, so I will give you that. You take a ten-year-old kid and sing me a KISS song, ACDC song or Judas Priest song. You say that ten-year-old kid, “We are not going to take it,” and the kid will sing the entire song.
We have established a worldwide international call to arms and action song that everybody loves to the point where a guy was running for president of Honduras. We are not going to take it as his theme song. Someone sent me a video clip. A guy running for president of Spain had 30,000 people singing in an auditorium for his campaign. When Brexit was going on, they were saying, “We are not going to Brexit in front of Big Ben.” You have this guy in Australia running, which we sued him for rewriting the song. We are not going to cop it. Could I have imagined it? No, I am grateful for it. The fact that Rachael Ray has decided to pay us a lot of money from making the dog food commercial this 2022, I’ve got no problem with that.
This is where as a business person, you saw that even emerging out of bankruptcy, that the value was going to be in the brand name.
The greatest thing I ever did was that speech at that moment. It was probably the greatest talk I ever did.
You’ve got to read the book to find that out. I’m not going to give that one away but to stand in open court and have that conversation with a Federal judge. Part of my life was spent standing in court in front of Federal judges. That was a big deal. I was reading that with my mouth open.
That was the Hail Mary pass. I had nothing to lose. I lost everything. I went from Jay Jay French superstar to having 1 guitar and 2 subway tokens. I had nothing left. I sat there. It wasn’t for the fact that I saw something on TV in England and a light bulb went off. That conversation never would have happened and that name Twisted Sister would have been owned by somebody else.
The way you impact the TWISTED principles for us was meaningful. Steve and Jay Jay, thank you for doing that. I don’t think it ended up on the cutting room floor but I haven’t finished the book yet. I’ve got to find out whether this idea of what’s happened in our lives and what have we learned from it? That’s an element of this that is maybe encircling all the rest of it, Jay Jay, because you have been consistent in learning from things in your life.
Continue to reapply. Be tenacious. Find the wisdom and inspiration to create stability and trust. Commit to excellence and discipline. It was a blast to spend time with you. It has been a wonderful ride, a real roller coaster. As Steve said, “Roller coaster is as interesting as reading the book.” It’s a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time with us. Steve, this project was new for you. You feel great about it.
For one thing, if you look at the cover, it’s by Jay Jay French because this is his story and written in his voice. It was a departure for me. I have never written a book like this before. Honestly, this is not something that I would have done for anybody or with anybody. It took a lot of time and conversation. The old saying, “Sitting down at the keyboard and staring at the screen until blood breaks out on your forehead.” I did it because I love Jay Jay, and I wanted to help get his story out. It was a great pleasure and an honor to be a part of it. This is the fun part. We are having a great time telling the story.
It was a great lesson in business as well because collaboration is so important. This work might’ve got kicked around for however long if there wasn’t this cooperative process.
The other W for Wisdom is that I knew what my limitations were, even in the band. I never cared about anything. I quote him in the book. Very few people I asked for advice from, and I asked him why he was so successful at Atlantic Records, being that the label started as a jazz label and then wound up with Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Led Zeppelin, Graham Nash, and hip hop. He goes, “Success is easy if you don’t mind who gets the credit.” That’s a crazy statement to make. Do you want to know something? I lived that statement. It’s easier if you don’t mind getting a credit when people say, “Do these phases here.” I said, “What if this phase wasn’t here? Where would I be?”
“I’m sorry. I hired him because he did all those things that I could not do, and if I could do them, I wouldn’t have hired him but I can’t. God created Bob Dylan, so I could send cover materials. I’m not the lead singer.” I’m not a songwriter. I have never had a problem with him writing songs. I thank him every day. When I sent my daughter to college, I thanked him for her college fund.
I don’t carry that with me. I couldn’t have done it without Steve. Collaborative projects are where to go. I don’t say enough about all my band members. I want to take one second or one out here. Without the sacrifice of Eddie and Mark Mendoza or all the other guys that were in the band, nothing would have happened but those guys, Eddie, Mark, and Dee, kept their crap together, going through all of the crap, and they did it. They showed up and played every gig. They did every rehearsal.
It wasn’t the Dee who wrote the songs that I marketed. They had to do it would. They showed up and did it. Where do we have to go? What do we have to do? You’ve got to find those kinds of people to be partners with, and then you have to reward them correctly for being partners. That’s why I split everything up with everybody because without them, there’s no me.
I don’t want to sound like Mother Teresa here but the truth is that success is more collaborative than it is by the alone journey. Although there may be some people who want to claim the narcissistic view of it being their sole thing but I never did. Steve was as important to make this happen as the other guys in the band were to lead to the success in the band. That’s the truth.
If there’s a point, that is the tip of the spear from my experiences. You moved your ego to the side. Success is easier if you don’t mind who gets the credit. Thanks for this conversation. I’ve got to ask this question. Steve and Jay Jay, first of all, do you love your lives? It’s an odd question but I want to know one moment from each of you about that. Steve, do you love your life?The beauty of repetition is the boredom of excellence. Someone becomes great at something because they've done it a thousand times. Click To Tweet
The answer is yes. The question of why is a bigger question but I will leave it yes.
Have you got a short answer to the why?
I have lived a life that I have created and with other people in pursuit of what I love to do. Almost every waking hour, I’m engaged in doing something that I love for people who benefit from that in some way. That gives me great joy.
Thank you, Steve. Jay Jay, do you love your life?
As long as my blood tests on my PSA continue to come back, I love every day of my life. My daughter, I love deeply. She has the face of an angel in the mind of Chucky. That has always been the way it is with daughters. My wife is insanely intelligent and beautiful. She pushes me all the time. One of the tricks I used back in the early days when we were broke and we came back from a club at 4:00 in the morning, I had very little money and I was 23 years old, I would read the obituary in the New York Times. I would see an 80-year-old guy who has a house. I thought to myself, “Jesus, if you could go to that guy the day before he died, would you give everything away to be 25 again?”
He probably says, “I would give everything I could to be 25 again.” I used to say to myself, “Be grateful that you are 25.” I can tell you that I’m grateful for everything I have accomplished. There’s no other way to look at it other than I am extremely grateful. I’m looking after a close friend of mine who may lose his leg due to diabetes. I hang out with him almost every day and look at him. He’s not too far from my age. I hate that phrase. It puts it in perspective because it’s such a clichéd phrase but sometimes you need to have perspective.
This whole thing about Tony Robbins, this one thing about self-help guys that drive me crazy is that they try to instill this thing that nothing is enough. That’s BS. There comes a time where things have to be enough where you sit there and go, “I’m grateful for how things are. I can’t be satisfied every day.” It doesn’t mean you don’t want to get up and create, be innovative but be grateful for what you’ve got.
As far as I’m concerned, you put the exclamation point on it, Jay Jay. Gratitude is not in the acronym but it is one of the most important things. It feels good to be in this moment with both of you. I feel grateful. I mostly appreciate the depth of the conversation, the fact that people will get to experience thinking about some of these things and reading about them as well. Ciao. We will pick this up again soon.
- Jay Jay French – LinkedIn
- Twisted Sister
- The Radical Leap
- The Radical Edge
- Greater Than Yourself
- Love is Just Damn Good Business
- Steve Farber
- Twisted Business: Lessons From My Life in Rock ‘n Roll
- Extreme Leadership Summit
- Sweden Rock
- Inc. Magazine
- Small Business Investors Alliance
- Change Proof
- We Are Twisted F*cking Sister
- Fans For The Cure – Past episode
- Zero Cancer