Why the West Side (Pandemic Edition): John French of Twisted Sister

West Side Rag’s longtime interview series “Why the West Side” is back for a special pandemic edition.

John French.

By Eileen Katz

John French is a passionate Upper West Sider who has played many roles in his career and philanthropic efforts. He’s best known as the founding member of Twisted Sister and still performs and plays guitar with the band. He has run two marathons, is the founder of The Pinkburst Project (bringing awareness and research for a cure for Uveitis), and is a contributing writer to Inc. Magazine. He shared his thoughts and experiences during this challenging time about his life in the neighborhood he loves.

How are you doing, John?

“I keep thinking, I have an ability to look at the big picture in situations, and I say to myself, we’re not in Auschwitz, in a ghetto in Poland, in the hold of a huge slave ship for three months crossing the Atlantic… trying to keep some perspective about this and the things human beings have endured in the past. And so now we’re asked to endure a medical crisis where we’re asked to wear masks and gloves for a while. So in the big picture, if you look at your life, for a few months I have to do this, I do it. I am also very lucky that I am not worried about where my next paycheck is coming from. Talk about huge luxuries. And I’m very mindful and careful about that. Appreciative of it. Especially given how some WSR readers are quick to respond in those comments! But I can be as snarky as the next West Sider!  Remember, I’m the guy who said The Rolling Stones fans are so old they don’t clap cause they’re afraid the lights’ll go on in the arena! I make these jokes about my band too though, so equal targets.”

Fair is fair! What’s been some of the toughest parts of this experience for you?

“Not being able to see our kids for sure. I’ve got two kids in California that we can’t see and I’ve got a daughter in England who just had a baby that I can’t see.”

Oh no! Mazel tov, but that is so hard, I’m sure.

“We zoom all the time so I see them through a screen but….”

So sorry….tell me though what your days look like now…

“Every day looks the same. To the point where it’s a joke almost cause everyday feels and looks like Sunday.  There’s no traffic and the only thing you hear is the rumbling of ambulances going up to St Luke’s so that has become the soundtrack to our lives here. I say to my friends who live elsewhere that they kind of have the luxury of walking out of their houses and not being immediately faced with this pandemic. I can’t do that.  I can’t go in to my hallway without a mask and gloves on, let alone walking outside and thinking for a moment about Covid-19.  No visitors in the building, and most of the people in my building have left to other places. Eerily quiet. So now we all Zoom.”

Twisted Sister.

Have you been doing any cooking?

“Oh yeah! For sure.  Sharon is a great cook.  We’re eating better than we ever have for a fraction of what we used to spend.  My dining out bills had been monstrous…but now home cooked meals all the time.  So much healthier. You know it’s funny cause we did order in recently, trying to support local restaurants, and we both felt a little sick afterwards cause we weren’t used to food that has all that salt and sugar and fat…crazy!”

Are you letting Sharon do all the cooking or are you rolling your sleeves up a little?

“I do all the cleaning and I do it willingly. She never has to clean. I love housework…I love windows, sweeping, vacuuming, I love taking Windex and paper towel and cleaning the dust off of everything. She cooks and then can go off to do whatever she wants.”

You realize you just became the most sought-after man on the UWS.

“Well, it’s my contribution to this marriage and I actually enjoy it. I have a whole routine: I put on WFAN or newsradio 1010 and go! I find it very satisfying. I just appreciate Sharon’s work so much. It’s my way of thanking her.”

Now the last time I think I saw you and Sharon was at Barney Greengrass. I know you’re a big fan of theirs. Have you been doing any pick up from them?

“Yeah! Of course! You know, Jews on the west side. You’ve got Zabars, Barney G’s and Murray’s. And depending on how much time you have, how far you want to walk, you’ve got what you need. Gary is a friend and always worth the walk. I give him a call and I just pick it up…what’s living on the West side if you don’t have these relationships?? Little touchstones that make it tolerable.”

So it sounds like you’re managing to get out a little….?

“Look, I’m very grateful for what we have but I do need to get out every day, whatever the weather, just for an hour to walk. And I feel like I’m on some kind of furlough from a witness protection program when I leave my building: “It’s 3 o’clock Mr. French, if we don’t see you back here in an hour we’ll send someone to get you” you know?? So I’ll go to one of the parks, fastidiously avoiding people on the street and just enjoy.”

A lot of people have found that they’re stocking up on cleaners or paper products…anything you’ve been wanting more of?

“This is a good question. Because I realize that if there’s any silver lining to living in NYC particularly now, is that you would hear all these stories about people who couldn’t find things and hoarding things. But here, we don’t have extra freezers or closets or garages to store things, it’s a luxury here to hoard! I mean we wanted to get face masks and gloves when this all started so Sharon went on line and it was a wait, but no stockpiling here!”

Speaking of online shopping, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ordered through this?

“Hmm… I know we get a box everyday. Sharon’s been shopping but wait a minute and let me ask her cause, like I said, every day there’s another box.”

Isn’t it great?! It makes if feel like Christmas everyday!

“Wait, I’m going to get Sharon and ask her….”

Hi Sharon! Thanks for talking to us! So what is the strangest thing you’ve ordered on line through all this?

Sharon: “Hi WSR! Okay, the strangest thing I’ve ordered on line is this powder that goes in your sheepskin Birkenstocks cause they actually start to smell so I found this stuff that you put in them so they don’t smell.”

Sharon, of all the people I’ve asked this question to, you’re the only one with that very unique answer!

Sharon: “Well, its great stuff. It’s called Fresh Force by Kiwi”

John: “Sharon, we were talking before about how I clean. Tell her about my cleaning”

Sharon: “He really is a great cleaner. Even windows! And that was even before all of this!”

So what have you guys been binging or watching through this?

John: “Oh my god a TON of stuff”

Great! Give me the list!

John & Sharon: “We just finished and loved Night Manager, Tiger King, of course, Shtisel, Unorthodox (Sharon’s daughters best friend was the co-creator so they felt a real connection to it), One of Us, a doc, Hunters, Bosch – all seasons, Oh! The Last Dance is amazing (Sharon’s favorite), Little Fires Everywhere, Mrs. America, we finished Schitts Creek, Poldark (John may have a temporary crush on Eleanor Tomlinson).

Any new hobbies or talents you two have been working on?

Sharon: “I got beautiful flowers from my kids and John for Mother’s Day and realized I really don’t know how to make arrangements so I’m going to go on YouTube and figure that out I think.”

John: “I have a lot of electric guitars in storage, I only keep a couple here in the apartment, so I figured I’d go get a bunch of them and clean them up and play, I’ve been playing more than I have in a while. And I’ve been writing my Beatle column, and an online audio journal for a magazine called Copper where they let me write anything about music and I’m a high end audio specialist, have been for years, it’s a crazy hobby for people who own or want to own that kind of stuff…and I now also have a watch fixation..I read about high end watches incessantly just because I want to understand why anyone would spend a million dollars on a watch. I am fascinated by the psychology of that, collecting like that whether its watches, audio equipment or guitars.”

You are busy, John!

“I am, but its just also an awful time as I’ve lost 4 people to Covid so far. And I can’t tell you how many people I know who have it. And you know I think that’s what sets us New Yorkers apart from people from a lot of other parts of the country. We all know somebody who has or had it and that makes us more tolerant I think to masks and restrictions. We deal with it every day. So here’s how it is to me. I’ve been here since 1958 and I remember the day Kennedy was killed, I was at PS 84 and remembering thinking my world was over. I remember the blackout of 1965. I had just put my first band together, The Lost Six. I remember the day Martin Luther King was killed. Cause the day after, at my high school, Brandeis High School, there was a race riot and it was horrible. And we didn’t think we’d get through that. Same with the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and what it was like to feel hopelessness. Same with the night John Lennon was killed. Knowing the Beatles would never get back together. And 9/11. How horrific it was. New Yorkers had an experience like no one else did. Catastrophic. But we got through that and then Superstorm Sandy. Again and again. And now I’m trying to process this. So far beyond anything else. Historians will write about it….I don’t know when I’ll be able to make any sense of it. With all these others, I could see a pathway…now I find it hard to see that pathway. So what does this do to the way we live in New York City? I don’t know. The electricity, the energy of this incredible place, museums, ability to connect with our neighbors all taken away…what will it look like when it comes back?”

Science will have to give us that pathway with a vaccine or protocols or something to give us confidence to go out and just like after 9/11 airport security never looked the same or entering an office building but now its normal, we will have to figure it out…?

“You’re right. We need to co-exist with what ever this new reality is, what ever it is. We’re New Yorkers.”

So, John what’s the first thing you’re going to do when this is all over?

“Just being able to go to the Met. Sharon and I would just walk across the park and go….and going out to dinner! Or a friends apartment to hang out! The little things we used to take for granted….to be able to just get on a train or grab an Uber without thinking about it! I just hope we can all get back to life soon and no one else loses anyone they love.”

Thank you so much John for your time and for sharing your experiences and thoughts through this with us.

“I love this city, I love the West Side,……and by the way, Dylan still sucked live at The Beacon! I don’t give a shit what anyone says in the comments!”

Ok. Perfect ending!

Read other columns in this series here.

COLUMNS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. Leon says:

      He’s not gonna take it.
      No, he ain’t gonna take it!

      I didn’t realize that rock royalty lived so close by! Thanks for the great interview.

      • GG says:

        I don’t know about “rock royalty”?? This guy may have opened for the guys that opened for rock royalty.

        I would say more of a one hit wonder who took most of their act from KISS. I was never that into 80’s hair metal so.

        Good video though. Dee had some star quality and charisma. Still does.

        • grandmasterbeta says:

          Give Twisted Sister a little more credit. French was in a band with Gene and Paul before Kiss. And if anyone was either’s influence, that would be the NY Dolls. Cool article. Thx!

    2. Roseann Milano says:

      I want to know the is man. He is my kinda man.

    3. Carlos says:

      Is that a Twisted Sister pin on him?

    4. JH says:

      I’ve run into two members of Twisted Sister in my years in NYC — Dee and another member, in the Sam Ash on 48th st where I bought my LP (a dream guitar for me). I can’t recall who the other member was (this was a decade ago at least) but it may have been John French. The story goes like this —

      I was perusing Les Pauls and eventually picked one out. As I was checking out, the member of Twisted Sister, who was standing next to me chatting with the salesman, said, “man that guy on the wall looks like a real ***hole!” I look up, and of course it was him on the wall. They all got a real laugh out of it. Pretty funny stuff and I remember it years later.

      I saw but didn’t interact with Dee Snider at Sakagura, a fantastic (and hidden) Japanese restaurant in midtown. He and his wife were having dinner right next to us. They seemed like nice people, and Dee was extremely courteous to the waitstaff.

    5. Uwsmom says:

      What an awesome guy!!

    6. Lisa says:

      I wanna rock!!!

      Great interview. Thanks, John & Sharon.

    7. Juan says:

      In the old picture above, which one is John French?

    8. Jonathan L. Segal says:

      Hey John,
      you’re at least as funny and witty as you were when you were a teenager!

    9. JK says:

      WOW! What an enjoyable Q&A. Loved twisted sister, even more so now. Smart, talented and an UWS. Thanks for the fun read today. Sharon sounds equally lovely. Best to all.