A tale told in the quiet days just preceding Kiss's reconquest of the world.
Pivotal life moment.
1976. I'm at my aunt and uncle's house visiting along with my family, and I've brought along a Ringo Starr greatest hits 8-track tape. My older cousin Larry has always liked it, owns an 8-track player, and I'm thinking trade for some vinyl to spin on my spankin' new Realistic stereo.
I'd been through Larry's record collection many times on past visits; Partridge Family, Elton John, even some Davy Jones. One cover popped out at me time and time again, however --- a painting of four costumed, white faced demons rising from smoking rubble. It looked ominous and creepy in the way a Warren comic book cover would. I could scarcely imagine what kind of music could be contained inside, and imagined it had to be way over my 11 year-old head.
Ringo meant nothing to me, and Larry didn't seem attached to the strange album; a swap was made. When my family returned home very late that night, my dad insisted that I put the platter on the living room console stereo. This was not a matter of censorship or screening; he simply liked to guffaw at "hippie music." I was a little nervous as I dropped the needle on side one and took a position on the floor between the speakers.
Out came the sounds of what I took to be dishes being washed, then the now-familiar radio news voiceover (..."And in Detroit, a Pontiac Michigan youth was reported dead at the scene of a head-on collision on Grand Avenue this morning...."), then the sounds of a car being started. It seemed very quiet, hard to hear, so my dad turned it up-way up.
We heard a car accelerate, the driver hum along to a song. Then the guitars snuck up to true, monstrous volume.
The room shook. Bashing cymbals. Galloping guitars. Tension-release.
"Get up!" roared old Zenith, accustomed to issuing the contents of laid back country albums and 8-tracks.
"Whoa..." my dad muttered as he reached again for the volume, his curiosity quenched.
"Whoa," I thought to myself. That little burst was all it took-I needed that volume back up there. My ears were still buzzing as I jacked in the headphones.
"...I got to laugh 'cause I know I'm gonna die. WHY?"
Get up. Get down. You gotta lose your mind in Detroit. Rock City.
I stared at the cover of the album. In my head the four white-faced demons flailed away at guitars and drums, flying over a burning landscape while never touching the ground.
And a car crashed. And another song buzzed into view.
"It's so bad going to school, so far from me and the dirty things that we done..."
Yeah. Long live your secret dream. Fade out.
And then a child's voice; "Okay, now start singing."
A plodding, thudding riff. Squealing noises. Was that a hockey puck being launched in an echo chamber? Then a voice from the pit of darkness:
"You've got something about you. You've got something I need...."
Drums rolling like thunder. A snare snapping martial rhythm. The hairs on the back of my neck rose.
"Daughter of Aphrodite, hear my words and take heed..."
Born in a wasteland. Raised by the demon. A modern day man of steel.
"The spell you're under will slowly rob you of your virgin soul."
Rock and roll! I had been delivered, and side one wasn't even over yet.
Kiss as Culture
I don't care what the revisionists say; there was little or nothing emanating from the radio in the mid-seventies to move a pre-teen. Fleetwood Mac's output was elevator music; Peter Frampton --- beyond using the word "hell" and making his guitar talk in "Do You Feel Like We Do"--- was uninspiring; the Rolling Stones were in their flat, bloated Love You Live and Black & Blue period; Led Zeppelin belonged to the slightly older bong-and-van crowd; the folk movement was just too ephemeral to be acknowledged by kids still riding Huffys; and the sex-vibe intrinsic to the emerging and otherwise bothersome disco scene went clear over our pre-pubescent heads.
But here was a foursome on a mission without a shred of pretense, putting it right in our collective face. Long hair a problem for ya, dad? How 'bout this guy Simmons --- yeah, that's blood all over his face. Best of all was the mystery; Kiss never appeared in public or allowed themselves to be photographed without their makeup. They could claim to be anything they wanted us to believe and play the part with absolute conviction.
We began to take ownership of a new rock mythology. For us, rock and roll destruction wasn't Keith Moon trashing his drum kit; it was Paul Stanley smashing his guitar in time to the beat at the coda of "Rock & Roll All Nite." Live-on-stage risk-taking wasn't represented by Janis Joplin and a half-spent bottle of Wild Turkey; it was Gene Simmons belching fireballs. In-concert pyrotechnics weren't Jimi Hendrix's adventures with Zippo; they were a dizzying array of flashpots and smoke bombs strategically placed around a stage populated by larger than life depictions of the American id. The brash lover, the demonic beast, the demure cat, the spaced spaceman.
Needless to say, I fell headfirst into the Kiss mythology along with a substantial portion of that era's youth. I accumulated their body of work; Destroyer's successors, Love Gun and Rock & Roll Over, were already in stores, and Alive II was just coming out (my mom was aghast to see that it was a two-album set; "You don't need that - that's just ridiculous," she said ineffectually). My friends and I became regular customers at the local record store, occasionally making further vinyl investments and staring at the Kiss albums we still needed but hadn't mowed enough lawns to afford. Our bedroom walls became papered with images of the band.
And then a funny thing happened. Around 1977, we began seeing the distinctive Kiss lightning-S logo on products other than the normal posters and albums. A new product sighting would be made nearly every week; "Hey John, I got these trading cards!" a chum would report. My mom - my mom! - brought home Kiss notebooks for me to begin the coming school year. A lunchbox sighting reported at a department store downtown; the next week kids are totin' PB & J in a metal box emblazoned with kabuki-themed rock musicians.
My contemporaries and I stood square in the sights of what was to become one of the most comprehensive marketing efforts ever undertaken by a pre-Batman Movie entertainment entity---certainly the most massive such campaign by a rock and roll band. What Disney does currently (and so efficiently) in support of any of its new motion picture releases-saturation licensing of any product category this side of hygiene products-has its roots in the phenomenal explosion of Kiss-related product the world witnessed in the peak period between 1976 and 1980. Fans of the band wanted for nothing as every conceivable variation of tie-in became available. An official fan club, The Kiss Army, began producing newsletters and membership kits in 1976. Given their well-established but simple look and persona, Kiss lent themselves well to any application from model kits to shoelaces to Colorforms sets.
Critics savaged, then ignored Kiss, and radio airplay was minimal at best (the proto-power ballad "Beth" was their lone foothold in many midwestern markets). And they were, as the saying goes, "very big in Japan." Despite---or because of---these disadvantages, Kiss toured doggedly, explosives and smoke machines in tow, establishing themselves as the world's premier live band. When Casablanca, their label, began experiencing money problems, dedicated band manager Bill Aucoin deployed his American Express card to keep the foursome on the road. They established credibility with metal enthusiasts while maintaining enormous appeal to pre-teens-a development Aucoin noted and exploited to great effect.
Releases subsequent to Destroyer played heavily upon comic book aspects of the band with an eye to "consumer interaction." 1977's Love Gun reprised the heroic-foursome artwork for its cover and came packaged with an actual (paper) "Love Gun" and handy merchandise order form (the form became de rigiour in every release beginning with Destroyer's immediate follow-up, Rock and Roll Over). During that same period, owing as much to Gene Simmons' love of the genre as Bill Aucoin's marketing insight, Marvel released a Kiss comic book. Alive II featured rub-on tattoos; the greatest hits collection Double Platinum packaged already released material and a cardboard "plaque;" and the four simultaneously released solo albums (anthemic Stanley, rootsy Criss, hook-driven Frehley, eclectic Simmons) included interlocking individual comic-art posters. By the time Unmasked was released in 1980, Kiss went right to the heart of the matter with an actual comic strip as cover art.
In 1978, Kiss made their network television movie debut in "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park" (released theatrically in Europe). The movie, broadcast on NBC following "Hee Haw," took the Kiss concept to its peak; the plot featured the band as super powered beings who happened to perform rock and roll. Makeup? What makeup?
The bloom began to fade as the '80s began. Lucrative as their merchandising blitz had become, Kiss was losing fans as their chain store-safe image softened to the point of blandness and a large portion of their fan base "grew out of" the choreographed outrageousness. Peter Criss, a hard-living devotee of the rock and roll lifestyle, was fired from the band (and ejected into obscurity) after minimal participation in his last couple albums as a member. With new drummer Eric Carr aboard, Kiss attempted to shake things up with (Music From) The Elder, an overambitious concept album which reunited the band with Bob Ezrin, Destroyer's producer. Though intriguing (Rolling Stone gave it the its best review any Kiss release up until that point) the album was about as well received by the faithful as the Human Torch at a snowman convention. The next album, Creatures of the Night (their last for Casablanca before moving to Mercury Records) saw the departure/dismissal (depending upon who's telling the story) of lead guitarist and head hedonist Ace Frehley ("Let's face it---when I left the group Kiss got a musical vasectomy."). In 1983, the band not only allowed themselves to be photographed without makeup, but eliminated the "mystery men" gimmick altogether. That decision help precipitate a split with longtime manager and merchandising Svengali Bill Aucoin. After a revolving door of incoming and outgoing guitarists, Bruce Kulick finally exceeded the probationary period after debuting in 1985 on Asylum. On a tragic note, drummer Eric Carr became ill during the production of Revenge, eventually succumbing to cancer in 1991. Eric Singer was next to pick up the sticks.
The biggest band of the '70s, quite simply, went through hell in the '80s. The Kiss Army disbanded without fanfare in 1981.
In an interview with Guitar School magazine in 1992, Gene Simmons made no excuses. "Kiss was never supposed to be a girl's band, but [in the '80s] our music became too fluffy-and I take full responsibility for it."
A postmortem? For a while, it seemed that Kiss may have run its course and was ready to slide into the nostalgia drawer filed under "Whatever Happened To?"
But then odd things began to occur. Kiss-in-makeup tribute bands began to barnstorm local venues in increasing numbers (and at varying levels of ability). You may have heard Pearl Jam's song "Alive," but you may not know that in it they lifted a Kiss guitar solo note-for-note (from the song "She," which was itself lifted from a Doors song). Nirvana covered Kiss's "Do You Love Me" on an indie collection called Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation. In 1992 the Stone Temple Pilots did an entire show in Kiss make-up. Members of the alternative rock community suddenly began confessing Kiss as a seminal influence in interview after interview. The dealer's floor of any record convention has never lacked bottleg Kiss albums, CDs and videotapes, but those areas became the center of greater attention in the past 18-or-so months.
Last year, sensing a groundswell of re-evaluation, Kiss compiled their own tribute album, Kiss My Ass, which featured Kiss covers by artists ranging from Anthrax to Garth Brooks. They also began reassembling-and in some cases, reclaiming-some of their artifacts from days past for inclusion in a book and traveling convention. This August, they taped an MTV Unplugged segment which reunited the four original members for the first time in over 10 years.
Is Kiss back? For many people, they never went away.
KEEPING THE FAITH
35 year-old John Lesniewski experienced a far more dramatic Kiss epiphany than my own. On August 7, 1975, he scored front row seats for a Black Sabbath show at the Providence Civic Center courtesy of a friend's dad (who was an employee of the venue and could get tickets). The opening band was Kiss.
"The initial response I had to this show was similar to the guy in the BASF cassette ad---where he's in a chair and blown straight back," Lesniewski recalls. "That's basically what it was. I had no idea what I was about to experience. These four lunatics came onstage and it was like Pearl Harbor. Unbelievable."
The show got his attention, to say the least. And Lesniewski wasn't alone.
"I've never seen people boo when the houselights go up after the opening band has played; usually you get some polite applause---okay, now get off. But the audience literally booed because the show was over."
Now 35 years-old ("I'm considered one of the greybeards in the Kiss community"), Lesniewski has never left the fold. "Makeup, post makeup; I like it all," he says. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't crushed when it came off; I mean, being a fan from 1975 that's what I saw for almost 10 years. But when I saw them unmasked in Worchester that November, the energy and music was still there. Paul Stanley always said, 'The makeup didn't write the songs.'"
In fact, Lesniewski lists only two albums from the makeup days in his top five (for the record; Alive, Revenge, Creatures of the Night, Hot in the Shade and Destroyer).
"I got into collecting Kiss material when you couldn't give it away," he admits. "In about 1979 I was dating a girl whose sister and brother-in-law were big Bowie fans, and they knew I was into Kiss. They said, 'You know, Kiss stuff is very collectible...blah, blah...' and showed me a magazine called Goldmine. I'm seeing imports from other countries and thinking this is pretty interesting."
Inspired by newfound possibilities, Lesniewski scoured his area for other such oddities. "It was pretty dry around here, but I managed to find a red vinyl import of Rock and Roll Over. My very first piece; my first collectible of any kind." So began the accumulation that now claims a substantial portion of his life. And, fortunately for his marital condition, that of his wife's.
"Pure, dumb luck" is how Lesniewski describes the fate that brought him together with Karen, a fellow Kiss devotee and co-author of their book, The Kiss Collectibles Identification and Price Guide (Avon, $10). A chance encounter with her at a Boston record convention, where she noticed his black satin Kiss jacket, did not provide the needed magic.
"She was with a guy, and of course I have a 'hands-off' policy in those situations," Lesniewski recalls, invoking a key passage of the Rules for Guys charter.
"Then in April, Kiss played at the Springfield Civic Center in Massachusetts," he continues. "It's general admission,and I'm standing on the floor wearing the same satin jacket. I feel a tap on the shoulder and it's Karen again. What are the odds?"
Alas, the "other man" at their first meeting was Karen's brother. From then on, Karen and John were united in their own personal Kiss Army. They believe that their organization, The New England Kiss Collector's Network, is the longest-running U.S. Kiss fan club. In 1987 they held the first U.S. Kiss convention and formed the Network as an outgrowth of that effort.
"People couldn't get any news about the band," Lesniewski complains. "And if anything was written, it was inaccurate or old by the time it was printed. It was Karen's idea to start the newsletter." Their publication started as did many fan newsletters, handwritten and free. The Lesniewski's have since entered the digital age, producing it on a computer complete with photos.
They managed to put on a convention yearly until 1993, averaging 700 attendees per show. "We also did the first convention with a member of the band as guest," Lesniewski boasts. Despite a snowstorm and frantic last minute promotion efforts-their guest, Eric Carr, couldn't commit until 48 hours before the event-that 1990 convention drew over 550 people.
In 1993 their book, The Kiss Collectibles Identification and Price Guide, was published.
"I always say we do this for the benefit of the fans and the love of the fans," Lesniewski asserts. He's noticed some fairly blatant examples of greed and just plain ignorance in his experiences buying and trading Kiss material."A lot of people over the years have been taken. We just hated seeing folks taken for a ride. You'll see an original pressing of Alive! advertised at $75, and it's just not worth that much." Try $20, even if it's sealed.
"One problem that we have noticed is that there seemed to be regional fluctuations in the price of Kiss memorabilia," Karen writes in the book's foreword. The Lesniewskis attribute this to the fact that the largest concentration of Kiss fans has traditionally been in the northeastern United States. They're hoping their book can flatten out prices to a level consistent across the board.
A look at The Kiss Collectibles Identification and Price Guide quickly makes you aware of the scope of Kiss material out there. Any band with a career spanning over two decades is bound to accumulate an astounding variety of the normal tour programs (the 24-page book from the Alive! tour runs $60-$70 mint) and T-shirts (shirts from the L.A. Forum concerts taped for Alive II say "I Was There,"; $45), but we're talking about the marketing kingpins of the '70s here. Completeists will have to have the entire set of Kiss puzzles (six in all, made by Milton Bradley and APC; $25 if sealed), the Kiss remote control van ($50 if in good condition), and, of course, Bally's Kiss pinball machine ($500 in good or fair condition, $1200 if unassembled and in the box).
"The only items that have really gone up are the dolls," Lesniewski explains, referring to the Mego action figures. "They're now about $450 for a set in the box. Out of the box you can get them for about $80 or so."
Also, watch for the "muscle" variation. It seems that Mego's first release of the figures did not include Peter Criss - who was on some sort of double-secret probation - and were decidedly non-heroic in physique. After sales began to go well, the band's request for more muscular bodies on their dolls was indulged and Criss was added to the set.
"Vinyl is the focus of our collection," Lesniewski continues. "We'll go after the same record from 20 or 50 countries." Considering domestic releases and variations, foreign LPs, picture discs, EPs and singles, misprints, and bootlegs, the Lesniewskis could be pursuing petroleum-based product for the rest of their natural lives and never get everything. Promotional copies of (Music From) The Elder are hot, worth $50 in most areas; vinyl bootlegs rarely get above $25 per LP.
Bootleg videos of the band in concert, clips from television appearances and fan-shot footage are also widely available. A rule of thumb, according to the Lesniewskis, is to never pay above $25 and make sure you get at least 75 minutes worth of material. "Some dealers will try to tell you that a certain video is very rare, and that's absurd," John states. "Once a video is distributed, it gets copied and re-sold until the market is saturated."
That notion is seconded by Dave Curtis, a Kiss collector and dealer from Wisconsin. "You'll find that the fans who collect video all have the same stuff. A few years ago it was hot to get this 8 millimeter footage when Gene's hair started on fire onstage. For the longest time people were sending out fliers saying 'I've got the footage of Gene's hair on fire,' and it was this 30 second clip. Everybody had to have it. Now they do.
"Largo '79, Houston '77, Cobo '75---if you're really into the video, there are certain things you end up having. The quality and generation-level will be the only change sometimes. It's all out there, and anyone who wants it can get it at $20-$25 per video."
Curtis, a physically larger-than-life character in his own right and hard to miss at a convention with his custom-made leather Kiss jacket ("Be sure to mention that my friend Barsom Manashian airbrushed it; he does great stuff"), often shoots and sells his own Kiss video material. His footage collection is so vast at this point that he concentrates mainly on upgrading quality. "It's a thrill to meet the guy who shot the original footage because you can trade something for a cleaner version. There was a group of guys calling themselves Kiss Vision, and they had access of some type to the vintage material which they cleaned up and remastered. Everyone I know who trades or sells wants to deal with them. They copy guard their stuff, too, so you can't turn around a re-sell it as a dub."
26 year-old Curtis has assembled an enormous amount of Kiss artifacts of every variety. He's had nine Kiss pinball machines at various points, and currently owns two close-to-mint versions (the German edition is slightly different in that it displays the common practice of replacing the Kiss logo's double-s lightning with standard script to avoid a too-close comparison to the insignia worn by Hitler's special police). "My wife calls the pinball machines 'big clunky paper weights,'" Curtis says with a laugh. "I was fortunate in that when I lived at home I had the whole basement-I outgrew my bedroom very quickly. My parents were cool, they said 'If you want a pinball machine, go buy it with your own money.'"
Curtis once worked at a local March of Dimes Haunted House, so his basement Kiss collection has the eerie distinction of sharing space with rubber severed limbs and prop tombstones---a perfect backdrop.
"I started serious collecting about 1982. By then I had a paper route and money was a bit easier to come by. When me and my brother were even younger than that parents and relatives would give us things as gifts; the dolls, the model van-unfortunately that stuff has bitten the dust over the years. It took me about seven years to find a plastic Kiss guitar in great condition because when we were little we wanted to be like Paul Stanley."
Meaning, of course, he smashed it. His sealed guitar, made by the Carnival Toy Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is now worth around $125.
But Curtis has other guitars in his collection as well, including an instrument used by Ace Frehley during the "makeup era."
"A man named John Hecht needed money for something or other so he sold it to a buddy of mine. Then my buddy was going through a divorce and had to get rid of it because his wife said she was going to go after his Kiss collection." Ouch. "So I checked it out and found that it was legit, had paperwork. It's a '77-78-era guitar, given to Hecht in '78, and it was about '87 when I got it."
One has to wonder, seeing the autograph scrawled across the face of the guitar, what members of Kiss think when presented with relics like these for their signature.
"Ace has seen it, and he knows where it went. In 1990 I brought it to him when he came to town on his Trouble Walkin' tour to have him sign it. He said 'It's a nice guitar-it's amazing the stuff you fans get.' He seemed to be in an alright mood about it, yet when I asked for a photo of him with it and me, that was a different story."
Indeed, Criss and Frehley---who left or were fired from the band under acrimonious circumstances---find themselves in the awkward position of confronting their past a regular basis as fans of the band continue to contact them in the context of their clown-white faced past.
"Everyone in the band has signed my leather jacket---except I won't let Peter Criss autograph it," Curtis says. "I've seen autographed stuff people have taken to him where he'll scribble all over the other names if Gene, Paul or Ace have signed first. A guy in Chicago had a custom guitar that had every past and present Kiss member's signature on it, and he gave it to a roadie to take it backstage to Criss at one of his solo shows to complete the set. When the roadie came back my friend saw that Criss had written 'Fuck you, Peter Criss.' My friend lucked out in that Criss has written the majority of his message on the pickguard, so he just slapped a new one on it. Criss doesn't like the fact that you'll bring him Kiss material to sign. I've even brought a bunch of his solo work-which he has no problem dealing with-but he gets all upset when you show him Kiss stuff. 'That's the past.'"
That attitude, however, did not stop him from releasing an EP called Criss in 1993 featuring cover art of himself in the familiar cat makeup. Beyond the obvious sudden change of heart for the sake of commercialism, Curtis found the release frustrating from a collectible point of view.
"There are six songs on the CD, and it was available only through the mail. If you bought all three items [cassette, CD and poster] they came numbered, and there was supposed to be only a thousand of them. In '94 Criss was at the Foundation Forum and a friend of mine videotaped him as he was doing an interview---and this is what gets discouraging in collecting---someone said, 'Hey, we hear your CD did well and sold out of all thousand copies,' and Criss said, 'Yeah it sold a thousand, so we went to two thousand; it from from there to three- or four thousand. By now it could be up to five thousand.'" In other words, "limited edition" is a relative term.
A reconciliation of sorts occurred recently when Kiss taped their MTV Unplugged segment in August; Ace Frehley and Peter Criss joined the band for a few numbers. Unfortunately, Criss was arrested on his flight home for attempted to board an L.A.-bound flight with a handgun in his luggage.
Frehley, while not chummy with his old bandmates, maintains a pragmatic attitude about his Kiss days. "A couple of years ago Ace was in New York and sold bits of his costume," Curtis relates. "But there wasn't any paperwork. As it turned out, Ace was selling it but he wasn't providing any certificates of authenticity. He said, 'Hey, you're buying it from me! You know it's legit.' The problem is, I bring it back to Milwaukee and no one has any way of knowing it's the real thing. Without any paperwork it's impossible to tell if you have something. There are so many tribute bands out there, and the workmanship is so good sometimes that you really can't tell."
One-of-a-kind or very rare items that were actually part of the Kiss concert experience are high on most collectors' list of wanted items. "I'm looking for the 'Firehouse' helmet that Paul used to throw out at some of the shows," says Curtis. "A friend of mine has one, and I'd kill to get that from him. I offered a guy in Chicago $800 for one he had on display."
Obviously, Stanley didn't follow up his in-concert firehat tosses with an envelope full of certificates of authenticity, so one must be careful when determining the legitimacy of the piece.
"They originally were actual fireman helmets and they had a leather piece on the top that said 'Paul Stanley' and 'Kiss,' but I've heard stories of two to three different versions of it; there was a black one, there was a red one, even a white one."
The Lesniewski's Kiss Collectibles book describes early black or red versions as having a sticker affixed to the leather piece at the front of the hat with a Kiss logo, the word "Firehouse" and a large number 3. After the Love Gun tour, the hats were white, yellow or red and the emblem featured Paul Stanley's signature and a Kiss logo
Curtis may be looking for his own firehat for some time. "That's one of those pieces that's like having a guitar or part of a costume-since it was theirs, it's extremely hard to get."
As a dealer who sets up at many conventions and shows, Curtis has seen the ongoing evolution of Kiss commerce and interest. "I've got guys in their early teens approaching me to buy stuff," he reports. "It spans generations. I met a guy who said his daughter has been a fan all her life-she's four years-old. Whenever he can afford it, he gets a double Kiss item for her."
Since Kiss has been out there kicking hard all along, Curtis has seen interest spike with the release of every new album. He can expect more new faces at his booth as vintage Kiss becomes "vogue"-in fact, the band themselves are going all-out to embrace their past and create contact with the fans who stayed with them. An ironic development for the rock group who remained utterly encased in mystery for the first half of their careers.
Gene Simmons has always been very vocal about the importance of fans to Kiss's longevity, so it should come as no surprise that the band has begun to take steps to bring their audience into the fold.
For $158.95, you can own a personally signed, limited edition copy of Kisstory, a slipcased celebration of all that is Kiss. Produced and published by the band, there is no better way to get the inside story on how these four guys got it together to become the "hottest band in the land." (Contact: Kisstory Limited, 7930 Alabama Ave., Canoga Park, CA 91304)
The band has just finished the first leg of its KISS CONVENTION TOUR. A traveling museum, seminar, dealer show, guitar clinic, the $100-per-ticket events were wildly successful.
"They were all very accessible. They didn't sneak in the back, they came right into the front door of the hotel or conference room," reports Dave Curtis, who could no more avoid attending an event like this than Larry King can avoid divorce court. "I don't think anyone left unhappy."
The faithful were treated to performances by Kiss tribute bands and a question and answer session/acoustic set by Kiss. "It wasn't your typical version of 'God of Thunder,'" Curtis enthused. "A lot of stuff the fans yelled for at the acoustic shows were songs they haven't played in years. In Chicago somebody shouted for a new song named 'Spit.' So they started playing it and Gene said he wasn't sure they'd get through it, and sure enough he forgets the words. When he stopped singing, the whole crowd chimed in and sang the whole song word for word."
The Kiss Cons also produced more than one fan wedding with Simmons and Stanley as groomsmen. Now THAT'S dedication. (For further Kiss Convention Tour information, call 1-800-905-KISS.)
Look for Kiss's MTV Unplugged reunion performance on CD, video, and, of course broadcast on MTV.
There's talk of a box set of Kiss material featuring live cuts, demos, and versions of songs Gene Simmons cut decades ago featuring Eddie and Alex Van Halen.
As announced in this year's Marvel Comics reprint of the two Kiss comics, KISSNATION, a magazine for and by Kiss fans (and distributed by Marvel), will soon make its debut. Mixing comic book stories and articles, the publication will be assembled from fan's contributions. Writers and editors can submit material to production assistant Vivian Singer-Ferris, 431 Boler Rd., PO Box 20023, London, Ont., Canada, N6K 2K0 (telephone: 519/641-8987, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
SHOUT IT OUT LOUD
We are very definitely seeing the calm before the storm in the world of Kiss collectibles. But, hey; memorabilia aside, when was the last time you slapped on a Kiss platter?
Pivotal life moment, pt. II. A CD upgrade: I pop digital versions of Destroyer and Alive! into my grown-up sound system. My first revisitation of the material in over 10 years-a decade during which I've devoured music of all kinds, worked as a music editor, and cultivated an "adult palate." Between my Kiss period and the present I passed through obsessions with the work of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Billie Holiday, The Velvet Underground, Ray Charles, Kate Bush, Roy Buchanan, Jimi Hendrix, the Silos; that's not to mention flirtations with REO Speedwagon (high school), pseudo-kinship with Bruce Springsteen (high school, college, and again as I march through my 40s), and overwhelming awe for the output of Ryan Adams.
How will my "first Kiss" stack up to a lifetime pursuing a musical Kama Sutra?
A seat between the speakers, and I hit my favorite remote control button---'Random.' Fate delivers a blistering live version of "100,000 Years." I know each note by heart, and damn if it isn't the Chili Peppers without the smug goofiness. And what flannel-wearing, flavor-of-the-week lead singer could resist singing, "Sorry to have taken so long---you must have been a bitch when I was gone"?
The verse to "Nothin' to Lose" is virtually contemporary, if not the lyric ("But once I got a baby, I tried every way. She didn't wanna do it, but she did anyway..."). I don't remember the bridge being that startling---a clamor worthy of Nirvana.
Then "Black Diamond."
Before the phrase "air guitar" was coined, three friends and I planned to bring the roof down at the St. Michael's elementary talent show with this song. We practiced applying the makeup---I was Paul---and more importantly, we rehearsed lip-synching the song endlessly. Though it's actually Peter Criss singing, I got to mime the vocal because I knew the words. Every note struck was a dramatic windmill stroke. No room for subtlety; we thrashed and crashed around basements and vacant living rooms with wild abandon. I practiced alone in my room, careful to avoid the low ceiling as I smashed cardboard guitar after cardboard guitar. My Alive! album was nearly worn through from repeated playings.
Alas, we couldn't bring the world of Kiss to St. Michael's. Sister Elrita insisted upon hearing the song before we did it, and a tune about a prostitute just wouldn't fly on a stage with decorative statues of the Virgin Mary standing between us and the crowd. Miniature Catholic theologians, we played the Mary Magdalene card to no avail.
Censored! Barred from performing! What could be more rock and roll than that?
As I feel the room vibrate around me---Bose speakers convey the bombs on Alive! very well---no one has to tell me to "Get up!"; I already am. Every note I strike is a dramatic windmill stroke. My ceiling is higher now, but there is still no room for subtlety.
I forget Courtney Love and her self-absorbed hissy fits. I forget TicketMaster. I forget hammer-on, pull-off, tweedly-dum big hair tunes. I forget sullen lead singers who carry the weight of the world on their 22 year-old backs. I forget that damn song from that damn "Friends" show. I forget the neighbors.
I'm delivered again. My three decade-old Gene Simmons keychain goes back on my keyring today.