Scribe, the Forward’s curated contributor network, features a wide array of Jewish thought leaders brought together to give our readers a 360 degree view of the world around us. Jay Jay is a Community Contributor for Scribe.
Third Time’s The Charm: A Jewish Rock Star Shares His Las Vegas Wedding Tale
Originally published on April 21, 2017
I proposed marriage to my girlfriend of 13 years, Sharon Gitelle, The Forward’s Director of Community and Audience Development, this past August in the midst of my band Twisted Sister’s final farewell tour.
Having been together for 13 years, the decision to ask her wasn’t one that I dwelled on too much. In fact, I was against getting married a third time — Sharon had been married once before — and had taken an unofficial oath of “NEVER AGAIN!”
On one particularly overcast and chilly August day in England (is there any other kind?), Sharon and I were walking down the high street in Birmingham. Birmingham is the former industrial center of England and aesthetically looks more like Detroit than the romanticized England of Downton Abbey.
Normally, I am a very romantic guy who goes out of his way to set a scene for maximum emotional impact.
Well…this was not the place for that!
The dilapidated location just shows that my proposal was so off the cuff that it really wasn’t the purpose of the initial conversation with Sharon as we were walking down the street.
The conversation began as a hypothetical question I asked Sharon.
“What kind of a wedding would we have (if we ever did have one)?”
That was really what started it all.
I just wanted an opinion from Sharon.
There were many times in the past where a proposal would really have made sense and none more so then we we both bought our condo in Manhattan a year and a half earlier.
Without dwelling too much on the Woody Allen-esque history of our relationship to wit: I have lived in my (our) apartment building since 1958. My legal name was John Segall.
One day In 1989, I walked into my lobby and the doorman told me that some guy with my name moved into the apartment right below mine. I said “So what, There are a lot of Johns in the building,” the doorman replied “The guy’s got your first and last name!”
The new guy’s name was John Segal.
I went to his apartment in hopes of meeting “the other John,” and Sharon, his wife at the time, answered.
That is how we met.
I remained married to my second wife until we split in the spring of 2003 and hadn’t told anyone in the building because the building’s gossipers would have had a field day.
In a chance meeting in the elevator shortly after my wife moved out, Sharon confided to me that she and John had also split a couple of months ago. She hadn’t told anyone in the building yet. I told her that Janice and I had split up a couple of weeks ago and I hadn’t told any neighbors yet.
She then told me John moved 4 blocks away.
I told her that Janice had moved 4 blocks away.
Ok. I get that this is just too weird, but as it turned out, John moved uptown 4 blocks and Janice had moved downtown four blocks.
Somewhat relieved but still not quite processing the totality of the coincidences, we decide to go on a first date to celebrate Sharon’s birthday a couple of days later.
Woody Allen could make a movie out of this titled “A Very West Side Story” because, on top of all of this, I was a rent controlled tenant and Sharon was a rent stabilized one. In NYC, that alone is cause for at least a New York Times human interest tale of two apartments.
Back in Birmingham this summer, 13 years later, Sharon, shocked that that now, in all places, for whatever reason, I’m bringing up the subject of marriage, began to describe the kind of wedding that could happen.
We went back and forth discussing hypothetical locations and circumstances for awhile, and all of a sudden, I said, “So you would marry me then, correct?”
She stopped and thought for a minute. I just thought she was just being cute, that she was just being coy with a comic’s timing of a beat in between the punchline.
She said, “only if you agree that we could, if we found the right situation, leave NYC for several months at a time and live somewhere else.”
She feared that not only was I a New Yorker to the bone but that I was so attached to the city that I couldn’t let go, even for a couple of months.
Hey, I can’t think of a better place to live than New York City, but I’m not that pathetic!
This was not an issue for me even if we found a place to live outside the country for a while.
And so we both agreed… to get married.
Now the question was where and with who.
Our kids were scattered around the globe so the idea of a party that we would throw and just surprise the guests that they were attending a marriage wouldn’t exactly work, because why would we fly the kids back for a cocktail party of no great significance unless we told them?
So, we decided not to tell anybody!
Because we have so many friends, we thought the best thing to do was just go somewhere alone and just do it — and in the process, offend everyone equally!
One of our favorite places to vacation is Bermuda, but after looking into the requirements, we found that getting married there would involve too much paperwork for foreigners.
We also love going to Las Vegas.
After reviewing the requirements for getting married in Sin City it became apparent that there are three things you can do in Las Vegas very easily:
1. Lose money 2. Get laid 3. Get married
With a little planning, you can even do all three simultaneously!
We had friends staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel who had asked us to come out for a couple of days and hang out, and the timing was perfect. Our friends have a great relationship with the hotel management and asked them to get us a great room.
We planned, without telling our friends, to get married at a poolside cabana on the third day of our stay.
Sharon arranged through the hotel for a justice of the Peace (JOTP) to do the ceremony and that he (or she) must bring a bouquet of flowers for her to hold as we said our vows.
The day before, we went to the Las Vegas Marriage bureau. If you haven’t been there, it looks like the NYC offices of the DMV. They process the certificates like it is an assembly line. The neighborhood that the bureau is in is also surrounded by dozens of chapels. Little ones, big ones, in private homes, even moving chapels in Limos!
Did I tell you that it was 105 degrees everyday?
The next day (the day of our wedding), I went to the lobby of the hotel wearing my wedding suit — a bathing suit with skulls on it — and a t-shirt. I waited for the JOTP to arrive; I didn’t know anything about the person except that I was supposed to meet him or her at 3:30 p.m. exactly.
At exactly 3:30 p.m., the elevator door opened and out walked a very good looking gentleman who actually reminded me of Benjamin Bratt. He had a hot blond on his arm. None of this would have been particularly interesting except that this guy, J.J. who I thought was a guest, was, in fact, the JOTP.
Does the fact that his name was the same as my stage name (J.J.) make one start to believe in…fate?
Once I established that we were both involved in the same (unorthodox) plan, I had some requirements.
As I didn’t know what he knew about us or what his standard speech was about, I quickly told him that both of us were Jews (so no “Father, Son, Holy ghost references please) and that since I’m an Atheist and Sharon is an Agnostic, I will allow one God reference. I also mentioned that Sharon isn’t saying all of the “obey” stuff either!
Just so you know, as these instructions were coming out of me, I was fully aware of the comedy of the entire situation.
He informed me that “this is Las Vegas; just pay me and I will say anything you want me to say, or you can read your own vows and I will just I pronounce you…husband and wife!” At that point I asked about his “girlfriend.” He said that she was a friend and could act as a witness. I told him that the cabana was too small and that our friends (who had no idea what was about to happen) would be the witnesses once they recovered from the shock.
He was cool with that, so we proceeded to the pool.
Did I mention it was 105 degrees and there were no clouds in the sky?
The Mandarin Oriental is an anomaly in Las Vegas as it has no casino in the lobby. It is a low-key venue for certain types that want that kind of exclusive hotel accommodations. Having spent two prior days in the pool, I can also say that many of the clientele are bankers, real estate players (both big and small), lawyers and venture capitalists — in short, a very colorful group of Vegas personalities that could easily fit into any movie about the the hustle and bling that is Las Vegas.
And here I was, wearing bathing trunks and a t-shirt, walking around the pool perimeter with a guy in a black suit behind me.
The guy is the suit immediately drew the attention of all the guys in the pool. Why would anyone in a suit be at the pool in this heat unless he was some kind of government agent about to slap an indictment on someone in the pool?!
Too make matters even more intense, the male guest that had arranged for our room (and had no idea that he was about to be our “witness”) was also an executive at Wells Fargo — and just that morning, news of the massive Wells Fargo credit card scandal broke around the world.
So now, I’m walking with this guy is a suit and I walk up to the pool edge and scream to my friend to get out of the pool now.
Everyone was looking at everyone else.
“What the hell is going on?”, I’m sure they wondered.
This all happened in a matter of minutes.
Sharon was already in the cabana with our female friend, and I walked in with the JOTP and our Wells Fargo friend, who asked us what was going on.
We then told them that this was a JOTP and we are about to get married in the cabana.
Meanwhile, at the pool, only a dozen steps away, everyone was gathered and staring at our cabana not knowing who was getting indicted or what else could it be the cause of all this chaos.
At that point our friends turned to the pool and yelled, “our friends are about to get married — the guy in the suit is just a Justice of the Peace!”
To the great relief of all those characters at the pool who thought that an indictment was imminent, all yelled out a group congratulations and then probably drank themselves silly the rest of the day.
This is how reform Jews roll.
The four of us went out that night and celebrated.
Now officially married, Sharon and I got back to the hotel and consummated our relationship. We also stayed away from the casinos so we didn’t lose any money that trip.
When it comes to Las Vegas, two out of three ain’t bad!
Playing In The Shadow Of Hitler
Originally published on March 3, 2017
As an original member of the band Twisted Sister, I have performed in almost 9,000 shows around the world. But the story of the craziest, historic and most emotionally affecting show I’ve ever played happened on September 30th, 1983 in Nuremberg, Germany — in Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies.
We were a bottom of the bill, last minute addition (due to the unexpected success of our first major label album “You Can’t Stop Rock n Roll”) as part of a late summer European traveling heavy metal concert tour package.
The bill featured Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead, Whitesnake, Meatloaf, Blue Oyster Cult and Thin Lizzy’s final farewell shows.
We were the very last band on the bill, which means that we were the first on stage every performance (this traveling circus played about 8 shows in several cities on the “German leg” of the tour), which meant that we performed in the daylight at about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon for every show.
Most of the shows were indoors in big arenas, but the last show of the tour was to be held outside in Nuremberg, Germany.
When one plays on these kinds of tours, you tend to not really look at the dates on the itinerary. You just concentrate on the day of show — and maybe the next day. You travel by bus and you just try to get enough sleep and deal with the daily grind and boredom of the tour schedule.
While Germany had become a major market for heavy metal music due in large part to the amount of U.S. servicemen stationed in the numerous NATO bases in the country, As a Jew, I still never felt all that comfortable. Not having lost any family in the Holocaust, and not being religious, it’s not like I had a specific reason to feel particularly uncomfortable. But as a student of history, I spent a lot of my time walking around and talking to the young Germans I met to try to understand what kind of atmosphere led to this kind of monstrous activity. It was scary to find, in 1983, that almost none of my peers (I was 31 at the time) could say what, exactly, created Hitler. It was really shocking.
Having traveled and toured in Germany over the past 20 years, I’m happy to report that this condition has completely reversed itself. Not only in the schools, but on TV, there seems to be an almost daily diet of movies and documentaries dealing with the rise of the Nazis and Germany’s obsessive guilt over what happened to the Jews. It now has almost gotten to the point of making many young people react by saying, “OK, we get it— but it wasn’t us;” “Stop already, we hear you.” In a way, it is not unlike the desire of some young people living in the deep South to not want to be associated with the unsavory chapter in American history where slave ownership was common.
But let’s get back to the show that day.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and our tour bus was rolling down the autobahn in Nuremberg when we passed a humongous structure facing the avenue. Our driver was a 20-something German who told us that we had just arrived at the concert site.
As the bus rolled through the big iron gates, we drove into an immense field. In fact, it was the biggest field I had ever seen.
When we got out of the bus, I turned my head and, like the scene in the movie Jurassic park when the Laura Dern character sees the T-Rex in front of her for the first time, I could not believe what I was seeing.
We had arrived onto Zeppelin Field, the site of the biggest ever Nazi rallies. And there, right in front of me, was the building that Hitler, Goebbels, Speer an Goring stood on and presided over when addressing about 500,000 uniformed German soldiers in all those newsreels.
The building that seemed to symbolize, at least to me, all of the psychological manifestations of the projected power image of the Third Reich. The sheer size the the building and the field seemed to say: “You are all small and inconsequential, you are to obey the powers that stand before you!”
All one has to do is go online and look at the Nuremberg rally photos to understand the image. That building, with the Swastika set on top.
I couldn’t believe that the building was still standing — let alone being used as an observation deck for the concert!
The promoter, Ozzy Hoppe, walked over to me and said “Jay Jay, You Jew?”
I was a little taken aback, as I never really associated myself as a Jew; growing up and still living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I just assumed everybody was.
I said, “How did you know?”
He said, “You looked a little pale and sick; all the Jews who have played here seem to have the same reaction.”
I asked him how long the field had been open to concerts. He told me that the U.S. government, who took over the grounds after the war and decided to let them stand as a permanent reminder of Hitler’s madness, opened the field to entertainers the year before — and that Bob Dylan had been the first artist to perform there. He said that Dylan was also a bit shaken at the site.
The reason one with any history at all gets particularly unnerved is that the stage on which you perform is constructed about 100 yards (a football field length) in front of the building. You are actually playing to a field that holds about 40,000 people that are standing between you and the building. People are allowed to stand on all the levels of the building as well.
We were, in fact, about to perform to about 70,000 metal fans, almost all of whom were in the army and about 23 years old on average, pretty drunk and out for a full day and night of heavy metal and with no particular historical reference at all.
To them, this was just a really cool field and location for a concert as far as they all were concerned.
So we go up on stage and start to play.
We had a 45-minute set. All I could do was stare at the building in disbelief of where we were performing and walk up to my bass player Mark “The Animal” Mendoza (real name Mark Glickman) and make a quick reference to the irony of the fact that just 40 years prior, Hitler stood here to lead the Nazis to our collective destruction — and here we are, playing in Twisted Fu*king Sister!
As our show neared its end, we were closing with our version of the Rolling Stones song “It’s Only Rock n Roll, But I like It!” As a final part of the song, Dee screams at the audience to raise their fists and scream “I Like It.”
And then, the image hit me.
70,000 mostly US soldiers, raising their right arms in the air, together in unison, shouting “I lIke It,” in front of that building, over and over again.
Time stood still.
The juxtaposition of the location, the soldiers, the right arms in the air and the collective screams was just too frightening. My blood went cold and I went numb.
As we got offstage and I began to walk to the dressing room, I ran into Lemmy from Motorhead, who, surprisingly was a WWll history buff.
I told him about what I had seen and felt, how surreal the whole thing was. He told me to stand on the side of the stage during their set.
After playing several songs, Lemmy exhorted the very large and vocal crowd to make some noise.
They did, but not to his satisfaction.
He then turned his head in my direction and said, with a twinkle in his eye, these words in the mic:
“I think you yelled louder in ‘38!”
Why We Wouldn’t Let ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ Be Trump’s Anthem
Originally published on January 16, 2017
Media controversy makes for big headlines. The follow-up — not so much.
In the build-up to the inauguration with the difficulties of booking acts to play for Donald Trump, NPR host Kurt Andersen was discussing the president-elect’s musical taste. On the show, political analyst John Heilemann sang the chorus of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” before commenting, “That song could have been the theme song of the entire campaign. I’m surprised it wasn’t.”
Here’s why it wasn’t.
Several months ago my band, Twisted Sister, was thrust into the national debate because Trump was using our anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at his campaign rallies.
This caused an uproar that gathered volume when Dee Snider, our singer, defended Trump’s use of the song. Dee noted that Trump, whatever you think of him, is an outlier who bucks the system. So, in his own particular way he represents rebellion — the hallmark of the message that Twisted Sister always tried to foster.
What Dee was doing was attempting to express his own opinion and walk a fine line between endorsing and repudiating Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. But because it makes for big headlines, our stance was reported in the press as “Twisted Sister Supports Trump for President!”
Our fans, on email, Facebook and Twitter (both for and against Trump), went at it.
Many of my friends who absolutely hated Trump wanted to know how I, as manager and owner of the Twisted Sister trademark, could let this happen.
I was accused, by those who hated Trump but didn’t know me personally, of being a media whore who obviously must have gotten paid “tons of money” to let this happen.
And then Trump stopped using the song.
Playing Your Song in the Stadium (A Sting in the Tail)
To start off, I need to explain the general rules of public performance rights of songs.
When you go to a ballpark and hear songs like “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Sweet Caroline” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” you assume that the musicians are getting paid a lot of money.
The reality is, venues that pay public performance rights fees to ASCAP or BMI — from sports stadiums and outdoor arenas to restaurants, bars and gyms — can play any of 30 million licensed songs as much as they want, whenever they want, and the artist does not get paid. Not even one single cent.
So, when I get texts (which happens all the time) from friends at baseball games or at football, hockey or basketball games that say, “They just played your song at the game — ka-ching!!” I just respond, “Thanks!”
Well, someone must get paid, right?
Yes, The writer of the song (or the owner of the writer’s song rights — a music publisher, for example) does get paid. A whopping one-third of one cent. You read that right, $0.003.
Obviously money is not the issue. So how about politics?
Anyone, including politicians, who hold rallies at venues that pay BMI or ASCAP fees can request to have any of the millions of songs available played.
No permission has to be asked or, for that matter, given.
So where does that leave an artist who may not want a song played because that may imply (and this is the perception issue) that the use denotes support for the person at the heart of the rally?
Since most artists do not own the rights to their music, the only recourse left to an artist is “public shaming” of the politician or personality.
That means publishing a statement that repudiates the person using the song and, in so doing, creates enough bad press that he or she just stops using it.
It is a pretty effective PR device that always seems to work.
This device has been used, in record numbers this past election cycle, to prevent Trump from using many songs. Among others, Queen, the Rolling Stones, Adele, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young have made public statements repudiating Trump, and Trump has stopped using their songs.
Twisted Sister, however, was in a slightly different position.
Dee had appeared as a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Trump helped him raise a lot of money for his charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Public shaming, in this case, was really not an option. And it put Dee in a tough position.
Over the past 20 years, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” has become one of the most licensed songs in the world for TV shows, commercials and movies. But because the band’s personal political leanings have always been all over the map, we have never allowed the song to be “officially” used by any political group, left or right.
So though it has been sung at mass events in over 30 countries, the band could not allow the song to be associated with Trump’s campaign.
Therefore, with the band’s full support, Dee asked, in a private conversation, that the song be withdrawn from the Trump playlist.
It didn’t need the press. It didn’t need public shaming. But our song stopped getting played and didn’t become the anthem of the Trump campaign.
For one of the louder, brasher bands of the past few decades, we chose not the loudest way, not the sexiest way, not the PR dream way, to avoid that particular legacy.
We chose just the way it needed to be.