Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bad Music Confessions Part 1

I must apologize to all of my readers.  Granted given my limited reach that might be quicker if I did it in person, but I have space to fill.

I lied when stating that the only two major acts I actively sought out all new album releases for were Weird Al, and Alice Cooper.  There was another band I was an equal or greater fan of for a large portion of my life in the past.

Up through my middle teens, I only purchased and listened to comedy albums with some soundtracks mixed in. With the exceptions of brief, occasional radio visits, there was nothing close to  “normal” music in my life.  This I why I still have stand-up routines get stuck in my head in a similar fashion to most people having songs stuck there. It is also why, much to the chagrin of all my friends and relatives, it is nigh impossible for me to get through a conversation without quoting a comedian.

I had heard KISS when they were still, legitimately, “the hottest band in the land” as a kid in the Seventies.  I dismissed them as I did all other "loud and pointless” music.  Yes, that’s ironic considering I’d become a metal head later on.

The first time I heard them while actively listening was at  Lee’s house one afternoon of high school. He was the same friend who brought over the VHS tapes of Terminator and  Predator when he heard I hadn't seen them,  introduced me to Star Fleet Battles and fixed my cassette of Michael Jackson’s Thriller by taping AC/DC’s Fly on the Wall over it.  In other words, a textbook good friend.  As with most things in my life, the gateway was humor.  He was showing me KISS Exposed because of the funny interviews.  To add extra embarrassment to fandom of this fairly embarrassing group, the song that got me hooked was, “Uh! All Night” from 1985’s Asylum. This is the “post make-up removal” album shortly before they realized their image was going in a direction that was even strange for them.

Or in the words of Gene Simmons: “Once the makeup came off I didn't know who I was. More and more I was starting to look like Phyllis Diller.”

However, it turned out this was the perfect song for an introduction to this band.

1) It was loud.
2) It was stupid.
3) It was criminally catchy, and replayed in my head for weeks on end.

There’s another key point marking this as a perfect example of a KISS song.  Its mind is so firmly in the gutter that there is no way the references can be thought of as double entendre.

Heck, they don’t even qualify as single entendre.

Like almost all Kiss songs, we’re talking fractional entendre at best.

This same textbook good friend made me a cassette of Peter and Ace’s solo albums to ease me into the fandom.  He also filled the ends of each side of the cassette with more general KISS tunes, which I found myself listening to more than the rest of the tape in short order.

From then on, I was hooked. The fact that they were completely New York formed helped. (Gene- Born in Israel but raised in Manhattan, Paul- Manhattan then Queens, Peter- Brooklyn, and Ace- The Bronx…giving him bonus points.)

I even wore a Gene Simmons patch on the back of my Eighties suburban high school uniform: the denim jacket. 
Through various used record sales and other venues in high school and college, I assembled their entire library.  Since it was the only way to obtain it at the time, the reissue of Music From “The Elder” (1981) became the first CD I purchased, well before I owned a player of my own.  Despite its history as a commercial and critical failure, I thought (and still think) it's a cool combination of fantasy story telling and Rock 'n Roll- much like Gene and Paul seem to, but I get ahead of myself, as per usual.  I suppose by now its incredibly obvious that my writing style is a large pile of ideas in my head which come out in a generally random order.

While apologizing I probably should include my college roommate, whose CD player I used to tape The Elder, and for listening to far too much KISS.  He reached the point of saturation with “Torpedo Girl” from 1980’s Unmasked.  He entered the dorm one day following a test, bellowed, “This song is so stupid, couldn’t you at least listen to AC/DC for a change?”  Then he yanked the tape out of the stereo and hurled it out the window. My reply of, “That was Back in Black," indicates just how stressful exam time got at good old Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

I went so far as to dress up as Gene from the Dynasty years (1979) for Halloween in college, and didn’t do too bad with the makeup.  The thrown together outfit was temporarily passable as well, forging armor out of cardboard, tin foil, duct tape and underwear.  It netted me third place in the cafeteria costume contest, and tickets to the RPI hockey homecoming, the Big Freakin’ Red Thing, or whatever it was called. (I ended up giving the tickets away, because it conflicted with Michael Moschen and Bob Berky doing a juggling show in Albany.  School spirit and athletics were never my priorities.) 

Although it was a win, it was not a victory. Where I succeeded in image, I failed in stability. To be specific the design was far too heavy on tin foil, and far too light on duct tape.  I ran for the rest room after getting my tickets, shedding shrapnel all the way.  My fantastic spur of the moment idea of handcuffing swing set chains around my chest to complete the look came back to haunt me since I forgot the key in my dorm.  With an astonishing amount of profanity, banging and contortion, I extricated myself from the mess, pushed an enormous pile of mangled tin foil out of the stall, and exited clad in shiny coated work boots, gym shorts over tights, and a friend’s too small denim jacket.  There was evil, smeared kabuki makeup on my face, and a red cape tangled in a black wig, a plastic axe, chains and handcuffs tossed over my shoulder.

I’d like to take this opportunity of public forum apologizing to extend yet another one, in this case to the janitor who ran out of the men’s room without his mop.

For a while KISS performances were the only large scale live concerts I saw.

Even the smaller scale club shows I attended in college were mostly derivative:
Ace Frehley’s solo performances and The “KISS Army” tribute band.

The second one was important, since I became a fan during the “no makeup” years, leaving the recreation of the band’s more awesome times to tribute groups.  The KISS Army had the sound, makeup and instruments down pat.  “Paul” was a tad on the chubby side, but if you didn’t focus too hard on his half of the stage it was a decent recreation.

Ace’s shows rocked, and had a nice mix of stuff he’d written with KISS, and newer tunes.  Using the same smoking, sparking and rocket shooting Gibson Les Paul he used to play arenas with in the orders of magnitude smaller Saratoga Winners nightclub may have been an error.  We couldn’t see the band for the end of the show, but they still sounded awesome. (And no, he didn't burn it down.)

The first time I saw them in person was June 30, 1990 during the Meadowlands stop of their Hot in the Shade tour.

Slaughter opened for them, and looked like a bunch of kids (which they were) being ridiculously happy to be in front of an arena crowd. 

Ted Nugent was the second opener, who came out with only two other guys, no pyrotechnics other than him shooting a flaming arrow at a suspended guitar, and showed the kids how to play an arena.

Then KISS burst on to the stage and showed everyone how to OWN an arena.

The whole audience wasn't fully connected to the event, however. I was in the upper deck with Lee and my sister, meaning we didn't have to stand up the whole time.  When one of many awesome riffs inspired us to leave our seat, Lee accidentally clocked the guy next to him in the head.  Whatever he imbibed, inhaled or infused before the show must have been powerful, as he remained seated and didn't react at all.

During a highlight of the evening, I realized something:

It was at the moment when the life sized Sphinx on stage (named Leon…wakka wakka) started shooting laser beams out of its mouth while shining spotlights out of its eyes and singing the final verse of “God of Thunder.”

I found myself thinking… “Y’know, this really isn’t about the music at all.”

This was confirmed when I bought myself a bass guitar.

The day I bought the lesson books, I also purchased a collection of KISS bass tabs.  I said to the salesman, “I know I’m new but this will give me something to aim towards.”

His reply:
“It won’t take too long; their songs aren’t anything you’d call complicated.”

The point of the purchase was to give me a hobby only for relaxation and enjoyment, since I’d been doing a bunch of juggling shows at the time, and that was becoming like another job.  I did fairly well teaching myself to play.  I learned a bunch of eight bar blues, most of the KISS songs, a few melodies from my old saxophone books, and favorite bass lines from other groups.  Devo had some great ones; Pink Floyd’s “Money” took the longest.

Sadly, I am now WAY overdue at getting back to it, because writing takes up enough of my life that I don’t have time to practice music or juggling either. I either need fewer hobbies, or one that pays better than my actual job.

The point of yet another rambling aside on my part is –the clerk was correct.  The hardest song in the KISS book was “She.” While sounding awesome, the learning curve was far closer to the more basic and repetitive “Freedom of Choice” than the Floyd tune.

Still, the music was catchy the antics were entertaining, and I was a fan.  After the “Hot in the Shade Tour” I accidentally skipped the “Revenge Tour.”  The day I heard I missed it on the radio; I believe I set the New Jersey state record for continuous shouting of the “F-word” during a two mile drive.

The next time I saw them in concert, was following the famous Mtv (mostly but still with some electric instruments and at one point two full drum kits) Unplugged special featuring the then current group and a reunion with original members Peter and Ace.   The aftermath of that performance led to the founding members returning, along with make-up and all of their old stage theatrics.

Oddly, Gene stopped spitting blood without makeup, but continued to breathe fire.  Considering the amount of hairspray he used in the aforementioned “Phyllis Diller Years” he was probably violating several OSHA codes.

This is when the cracks in my fandom started to appear, since the insincerity started arriving in waves.   Before I start complaining  though, I need to point out that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE does an arena show like KISS in full makeup. It’s what their reputation was built on. Even with cracks forming, I saw them twice in concert, both the Psycho Circus and (inappropriately named) Farewell Tour. 
Alice Cooper is much more macabre vaudeville, which is where my tastes lie now, but for a blow the roof off arena blast, it’s hard to top KISS.

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