Sketch Fridays #44 – Jay Jay French (band founder, lead/rhythm guitars, backing vocals, brains of the operation).

I never saw what Twisted Sister looked like until I was on my third purchase of theirs (and the first CD of theirs I owned) called Big Hits and Nasty Cuts––a collection of live performances and some studio tracks that weren’t simply “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” from their breakthrough third album, Stay Hungry. I was searching for their catalogue at a time before the internet was widely available and CD versions of Twisted Sister’s albums weren’t widely available because, at the time (the mid ’90s), the world was trying to forget any band that wore makeup and had big hair. Before picking up Big Hits, I had found on cassette tape their fourth album and Stay Hungry follow-up, Come Out and Play, but the cassette copy didn’t have any band photos in the liner notes. A while passed before I ever actually saw what Twisted Sister looked like. Once I did, I was shocked and aghast. I found it very difficult to reconcile what I heard with what I saw, it took even longer to reconcile what I saw with my own taste.

On the LPs and CDs, every Twisted Sister album had two band photos: one in makeup, one without. This is the back of the Come Out and Play vinyl; my cassette copy didn’t even have this picture.

As a group and individually, they’re gross. They look like Garbage Pail Kids versions of the “pretty” glam metal bands that were the rage in the ’80s, but I didn’t know––because, again, when I started listening to them was almost a decade after they broke up––that their look was part of the point and what got me to not only to look past their grotesque appearance, but to accept and celebrate it. They were conscious martyrs for the recluses and weirdos.


That if the people who just wanted to be left alone were always going to be singled out, they would intentionally look ridiculous as a way to challenge that hierarchy and to take the first hit. The band exhibited this in 1982 when they appeared on the British tv musical performance show, The Tube, and Dee saw that the crowd wasn’t at an excitement level that he wanted them to be (while playing a high octane cover of The Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock and Roll”), when he went so far as to take the makeup off on-stage just to make the more prudish and scoffing audience members feel better:

He turned their power against them which is their message in a nutshell. Subsequently, it was that appearance on The Tube that essentially got Twisted Sister signed to Atlantic Records.

For this week’s drawing of the coolest member of the band, founder Jay Jay French (whose aviator shades appeared to be permanently affixed to his face), I tried to capture his attitude as faithfully as possible and, especially to frame it against the gregariousness of the band’s front man, for their pairing, I would argue, was the bedrock of the band’s attitude. While looking at photos of the band, familiarizing myself with names and faces, it was clear that Dee was an icon and a hero in many ways, there was the calm cool of Jay Jay that Dee could never outshine, and I tried to capture at least part of that in the drawing.

It must be noted that the drawing is not a faithful recreation of any of Jay Jay’s outfits. As with Dee’s drawing last week, these are going to be, in a sense, my design of their classic outfits, combining elements from different outfits they wore throughout the years (though not all of them). The most important aspect of the drawing is actually his guitar, a “pinkburst” Les Paul (a play on the standard guitar finish, a blend from black to natural called “sunburst”). It’s an homage to Jay Jay’s more recent effort with The Pinkburst Project, a foundation started by Jay Jay that references the general color scheme of his band while also calling attention to uveitis, an eye disease that chronically afflicts his daughter.