Dee Snider, Twisted Sister, helping out burn victims
You probably remember the Station nightclub fire, which started when the tour manager for the hair band Great White set off pyrotechnics during a Feb. 20, 2003, concert in the West Warwick, R.I., venue. One hundred people died.
What you might not know is that there were also 200 burn victims who survived the fire and 65 children who lost either one or both parents. Some of the survivors can’t work and are in danger of losing their homes.
Dee Snider and his band, Twisted Sister, were among the participants in a Feb. 25 concert to benefit the survivors. Proceeds went to the Station Family Fund (stationfamilyfund.org), which spends 100 percent of all donations on the needs of the survivors and the victims’ families. Snider said VH1 was on hand to record the concert, both to air on Easter weekend and to make a DVD that will be sold to benefit the survivors.
“These aren’t rich people, they aren’t celebrities, they aren’t children, they’re not sexy,” Snider said in a telephone interview. “They’re blue-collar, mullet-wearing, beer-bellied, middle-aged people. And that has no media appeal, no sex appeal. It doesn’t motivate people to make it a cause du jour.”
Survivors started the Station Family Fund, which has raised about $1 million over the last five years, and the concert figured to add several hundred thousand dollars to its coffers. But as Snider points out, a day in intensive care for a fire victim can cost $70,000. Even the lawsuits, which tentatively have been settled for $71.5 million, will provide only limited relief because there are so many claimants.
Snider wants people around the country to help the survivors. He also has a secondary cause: to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
“After the fire, people were checking their exits, club owners were being careful about overcrowding a club, local authorities were being tight with the fire codes,” he said. “Now, a few years later, everybody’s relaxed.”
Here’s what else he had to say:
NUVO: When you first heard about the fire, what was your reaction?
Snider: I had so many connections to the fire. I toured with Great White in the ’80s and knew the guys. In the ’90s, when I was in between careers, I played that club. The real part was just identifying with the victims as a parent and saying, “My God, I’ve gone out on a weeknight with my wife to see a band of my youth. Does anybody deserve to die, be horribly maimed or have their children orphaned because they wanted to hear some music from their childhood?” It seemed so grossly unfair.
NUVO: Did you know about the survivors right away? Here it is, five years later, and hearing you talk about them was the first I’d heard of them.
Snider: Initially, the big story was the 100 people who died. I think it was a year after the event, I was reading an article in “Rolling Stone” magazine, a one-year-later thing, and that was when I first realized there were 200 survivors who were severely burned and 65 children who had lost one or both parents.
The final paragraph in the article really hit me. It said the victims feel abandoned by the government and abandoned by the music industry. Nobody had done anything for them. I just couldn’t think of a more horrible way to feel. With all that you’re going through, your life crumbling down around you, to feel like you’ve been abandoned. That struck me.
At that time, I tried to do something, but I ran into a lot of brick walls. I realized that to do something that would have any lasting effect, it would have to be on a national level.
NUVO: Is that when you got involved?
Snider: I tried to get something going. I worked really hard. And I got very discouraged and gave up.
Cut to four years after that, I get a phone call from Troy Luccketta, the drummer from Tesla. They’ve been doing some charity work up there. I’d heard about it and — this is going to sound very cynical — about a year ago, they did a theater show and they raised $100,000. I said, “$100,000? It’s $70,000 a day for one person in intensive care burn therapy. There were over 200 burn victims. Some were in the hospital for over a year. How far is $100,000 going to go?”
Troy called me up and said, “We booked a date at the Providence Civic Center. Would you be the host? Would you play with Twisted Sister?” I said, “Troy, what’s it going to do? It’s not going to change anything.” He said to me, very simply, very profoundly and very effectively, “Dee, somebody’s gotta do something.”
I said, “Troy, you’re right.”
NUVO: Do you have a relationship with Great White at this point?
Snider: Since [the fire], we’ve done a couple of festival shows with them. These guys have been vilified. I won’t call them scapegoats, but they’re a flashpoint for some real intense conversation. There are people who feel you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to forgive, there was no malicious intent. There are other people who cannot excuse them, cannot accept that they did not know better.
They at one point made a $100,000 donation a few years ago and the fund took it for the greater good. The fund is so desperate. The turnover rate for people who work there is high because there’s so little money, they have to decide, out of the hundreds who call, who gets cab fare to the doctor, who gets a co-payment made on their insurance. They can’t take the stress of answering those phones and the cries for help.
The victims are being forced out of their homes. They’re disabled, they’re broke, they’re destitute and they’re losing their homes. It is so dire up there.
So Great White made the donation and there were people who said, “This is blood money. We should never accept their money. Their money’s not welcome here.” But the fund said, “It’s $100,000. We needed it. Quite honestly, we don’t care where it comes from.”
NUVO: Have you been to Rhode Island to meet the survivors?
Snider: I’m going up there [Feb. 25] with a little bit of dread. People are thankful to me, but I’m going to meet people who are really suffering. I’m going to be meeting burn victims. Burns are not pretty. Burned people are some of the true monsters of our society. They’re very scary. There are people with their hands melted off, their arms removed. It’s ugly and real and fucked up.
I’m going to meet orphans and people who have lost their children. And it’s going to be rough. It’s a horrible situation, and I’m just praying VH1 can capture some of this. If they can keep the word out there, keep people sending donations on a regular basis, that’ll be such a tremendous help. So, fingers crossed.