Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bad Music Confessions Part 2

With the Hot in the Shade live performance before it, and the Revenge release in 1992, it looked like KISS had settled on a new and kick-ass image and sound and Gene was focusing on the group again.  The looks came together staring on Crazy Nights in 1987, but the sound wasn’t there yet.  Paul was always the ringmaster on stage with a powerful yet theatrical quality voice.  (I would have liked to see him in Phantom of the Opera.) However, the band lost a lot of its hardness and edge with Gene’s influence lessened.

Before his untimely passing Eric Carr had been in the band longer than Peter Criss, and Bruce Kulick was their lead guitarist longer than Ace.  All true lead guitarists have distinctive “voices” when they play.  (And all true metal heads can usually identify them from a quick riff.)  This meant even when they played their older numbers in concert, they more closely matched the new KISS sound with Bruce wailing away.

The band known for their performances that arrived at the top with the release of Alive (1975) and celebrated their stay there with Alive II (1977) came out with Alive III in 1993 as one of many ways that looked like they were embracing their new focus, sound and membership. They were loud, dark and cool again.

Suddenly Bruce and Eric Singer (Who replaced Carr for Revenge and upped the hardness of the sound even more.  I saw him play a solo with flaming sticks on October 5, 2000 in the Paramount Theater at my first Alice Cooper concert on the Brutal Planet tour…awesome!) were booted to bring the originals back.  At all the interviews, the four originals talked about everything feeling right again, and how wonderful it was to be together.  It sounded fine if you ignored the two guys who got hosed.

But things were not all rosy, and were, in many cases, downright weird.

All of the members had gone on record (HA!) about disliking The Elder, the ill-fated concept album that was their worst commercial performance.   Yet, when they regrouped, the first studio work they released in 1998 was Psycho Circus.  This album not only sounded more like The Elder than any other of their other work, but had a tie in comic book series that pulled names and situations from the story line of that album. 

As a fan, Gene always has more to do with comic book projects than Paul.  That’s probably why his “Demon” character morphed into the ringmaster, while Paul’s “Starchild” became a homely clown ineffectively searching for love.  Sometimes they’re more like an old, bickering married couple than a world famous rock band.

Peter got fired again…and again (and maybe again), until Eric Singer came back wearing the Catman make up. When announced, I felt that move was equal parts blasphemy, and solid marketing.  (These are often the same thing, come to think of it.)

Ace’s leaving was smothered in awesomeness however.  At the end of what they were calling “The Farewell Tour,” he said it was a farewell tour so he said farewell. Whether that’s true or not is up for debate, like anything with these guys, as Paul said the “farewell” tour was to get rid of the two originals who were now paid employees. (As has been every band member except Gene and Paul since the initial split.)  Ace’s story is cooler, meaning I’ll stay with it.  That way I can side with the guy from the Bronx.

His replacement Spaceman in 2002, Tommy Thayer, was Gene’s assistant and a former member of a KISS tribute band, who taught Ace how to play his old stuff again.  I’m sure that emotional high has to feel like if Lucasfilm approached me, citing my years of quality playing with Star Wars figures and offered me a role in the next movie.   He’s also a rarity for KISS as he’s one of only two members in the band’s history to use his real name (along with Bruce).  A surprisingly large number of musicians were named Paul, but needed to change to avoid confusion with one of the two leads…named Stanley Eisen.

Yeah, they were still loud and catchy.  Impressively, the new line up produced two studio albums in 2009 and 2012, Sonic Boom and Monster.  I realize two albums in ten years wouldn’t normally count as impressive.  Then again, this is a band that can seem almost totally focused on the past, with more “best of”s and Live albums than studio efforts.

I believe they’re up to Alive VII now.  I will give them credit for the long delayed Alive IV with the Sydney Symphony, that was awesome.

Still, I found the rapid zig zags on speeches about loyalty and trust unnerving.  I know, deep down it’s usually all about money, but did they really have to be so obvious about it?  Learning that the two founders were planning to, or may already be, training their replacements to allow the franchise to live forever was not all that surprising.

In the non-make up years, all four members publicly denounced that there was anything good to say about the Hanna Barbera produced, made for TV disaster that was 1978’s KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Paul and Gene went as far as saying Peter was right thinking the whole thing was stupid when he refused to loop his dialogue.  

Yet in 2009 the main two voiced an appearance on The Fairly Oddparents, and 2015 gave us a virtual sequel to Phantom in animation, Scooby Doo and Kiss- Rock And Roll Mystery.
Not only did it reference the made for TV mess, it had Penny Marshall playing “The Elder,” her brother Garry as the theme park owner, plus a new song written by KISS…

And I swear I’m not making this up,

Performing as the barbershop Ascot Five "Don't Tug My Ascot."

Gene and Paul, back in the Eighties discussing taking off the make-up, pointed out that they were horrified to see families and children in their audience, saying they lost connections to what Rock and Roll is supposed to be…

And now we have this…

Hello KISS-ty??!?!?!

I’m pretty sure I gave all the little girls and their mothers shopping at Claire’s that day a near heart attack when they heard me scream, “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!?!?!”

The big kicker was when Robin Williams died, Gene said a bunch of crap that was, even for him, over the top offensive about depression and suicides. It struck me harder than his usual opinionated rants because of some personal experiences.

I had a hard time displaying any of my KISS merchandise after that, and kept their playlist off of my phone since then.

 A little while ago, I heard one of their songs somewhere, and the old catchiness and power caught me again.

In thinking about Gene’s sentiments, I remembered an old Dennis Miller quote (which I looked up and found about six different versions of it.  Therefore I’m putting how I remember it, and not using quotation marks…So sue me):

If your kid is influenced by anything Gene Simmons has to say, you’re just not doing your job as a *$%#ing parent.

The amazing part of that sentiment is that Gene is an educated, intelligent and well-spoken individual, who just enjoys being an enormous jerk sometimes.  I mean, the man’s 2004 album was called ***hole.

The memory that really allowed me to once more enjoy driving to the pointless but eminently rock-out-able music again was one of Gene’s own quotes from a Bass Player interview in 1996.

"If people look to me as a sort of leader, they're fooling themselves, 'cause I'm a complete buffoon. I enjoy being one, and nobody does it better. Paul and I feel like the two idiots in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  But we will outlast you and your kind. We are the cockroaches that will inherit the earth. Revile us, hate us after you're long gone, we'll still be here."

Basically, “Yes I admit I can be butthead, but it’s by choice and I’m smart enough to make sure we remain entertaining.”
I can’t really argue with that, especially since that was the reason I became a Guy Gardner fan.

Plus, using the same yardstick I did to declare the height of Alice Cooper’s awesomeness, Gene’s a good father who’s raised intelligent, centered and expressive kids.

While listening to what once was my favorite band, I considered breaking out the old KISS action figures to put on the Marvel shelf.
(That location would be technically correct based on their 1977 first, blood in the ink, comic book appearance.)

I also considered tracking down some of the Kissology concert DVDs to watch while exercising. They feature the same grainy old bootlegs that people circulated on VHS for years (for the nostalgia element?) but with enhanced sound.  They also had a different version of each set based on where they were purchased, because “The hottest band in the land” is also “The most commercial band in the land.”

Then Siri forgot what list she was playing, yet again.  I ended up switching back to my Alice Cooper playlist, and watching one of his concerts that night on the treadmill.

I did watch the Scooby Doo crossover, and frankly it was magnificent. (Thanx Kim!)  
I think a big part of that comes from concepts that look horrifically lame in 1978 low budget TV special effects look amazing in modern animation.

It’s not only a sequel to Phantom of the Park but in some respects it’s a sequel to every comic book appearance of the band as extra dimensional superheroes. (Of which there are a large number thanks to Gene’s fandom.)  It’s full of KISS tribute names for characters and locations, as well as Hanna Barbera tributes, and a generous helping of Jack Kirby influences.
What puts the piece over the top was the constant self referential, and self depreciating humor.  The band recognizes where they are ridiculous and happily points it out, poking fun at their image, their personalities and even their hobbies.  Their own manager, Doc McGhee voiced the cartoon manager, (Chip McGhoo) constantly hawking all manner of goofy KISS merchandise at every opportunity, complete with infomercial type displays. 
There’s a Jay and Silent Bob voice cameo and, of course, the ultimate evil “Destroyer” was voiced by Darius (not really named “Hootie” of Hootie and the Blowfish) Rucker and looked to be the love child of MODOK and Galactus.

They’re not my favorites anymore, there’s much more substance and depth to Alice’s stuff that makes me listen to him more often. My tastes have also expanded to a much larger variety of “good music” plus I still have an enormous and ever growing comedy library. 

However, there still is the occasional afternoon, following a hard day’s work, when Paul’s powerful yet melodic belting or Gene’s bass charged growls are still the best way to burn away remnants of stress.

I’ll probably continue to revisit their makeup festooned playlist a little more often in the future…

I won’t be buying those variform DVD sets, and storage has led to damage and funkification of the action figures. Fortunately where KISS is concerned, other ludicrous marketing concepts are always available.

Click here for a weird Kiss mash up  In a couple of weeks

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