Five months from now, Paul Stanley's memoir is due to be published, thus completing the cycle of original line-up memoirs from Kiss. I thought it'd be fun to read the other ones between now and then and blog 'em up. Before we get to any of those, though, let's get my biases out of the way via a brief overview of the Kiss phenomenon.
is as American as Bugs Bunny or Indiana Jones.
I'm not saying they're as cool as Bugs Bunny or Indiana Jones or are more American than, say, the Grateful Dead or Duke Ellington or whomever. Perhaps we should start with what I mean by American. What is it about America that Kiss embodies? Its irreverence? Its cult of hyperbole? Its rude and crude animal vigor? Its almost pathological optimism? Its sexism? Its inability to have a serious conversation without lapsing into dick jokes or emotional infantilism? All of the above?
If I could definitively answer that question, I wouldn't be blogging about it; I'd be putting it into practice. But that's my impression; when future historians and archaeologists reverse-engineer the American epoch from what they dig up about us, Kiss will be an irresistible primary source. It's a sobering thought, but perhaps only what we deserve.
More than pretty much any other band out there, they embody all the poison and the pudding of the American spectacle. (That will be my only "intellectual" link, right there. You can totally skip it, but just to define what I mean by spectacle, specifically.) But on another level, it's all just about rocking out. Which is essentially a spiritual practice. The other side of Americana - the sacred story of religious freedom. Sts. Mayflower and Horatio Alger, combined in the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman, and the Cat.
|On the other hand, maybe we're kidding ourselves and Kiss is exactly what we believe in.|
There are those that see the whole Kiss phenom as only marketing, their songs simply the application of some lowest-common-denominator formula. One part hard rock, one part "baby baby," one part Marvel Comics/ horrorshow, a dash of carnival blood and fire, platform shoes, and serve with "Rocket Ride." On the marketing side, well, of course. It's not a legitimate observation, is it? It's like criticizing a nation for being a country. They're not anti-corporate. But did they claim to be? Weren't they always saying, work hard, rock out, live by your own rules, and you can be rich like us? And have binders full of women?
|I love Kiss, and I even love Gene - God help me - but man, this guy. I'll save it for when I cover his book.|
As for their tunes, there are hundreds of blogs and fan-sites dedicated exclusively to discussion of their catalog, and everyone has a different favorite. This proves nothing, of course, certainly not that Kiss's impact as a band is equal to their legacy as a brand. But it's kind of funny. Literally every Kiss fan I know has a different favorite song than every other Kiss fan I know and, usually, elaborate criteria for their selection. But back to the question-at-hand: how do Kiss's songs stack up against other great rock bands of the past 40 years? Answer: better than most. It's not just P.R. that has enabled their survival for decades while so many of their contemporaries fell to the wayside.
When I got my first Kiss tape, they looked like this:
When I got my first Kiss tape, they looked like this:
|Not like this.|
Which is another way of saying that in 1987 they looked like any other hard rock band of the era. A little hairier (maybe) but virtually indistinguishable from dozens of other hard rock acts. The same could never be said of Kiss in the 1970s.
Getting Crazy Nights that Christmas marked the end of a Kiss-ban in the McMillan household that had been in effect from 1979. What had happened was - and for some very adorable reason, my Mom gets defensive about this now; it's really okay, Mom! - my cousins were babysitting me and "I Was Made For Loving You" was on the radio a lot that summer. We were all dancing around to it, and they told me stories about their concerts and rumors of their on-the-road adventures. My eyes got wider and wider.
When my mother got wind of my excitement - and presumably some of their drug-and-groupie anecdotes - that was it: Kiss was banned. Understandable enough. I'm not sure if it was just that I was older in 1987 or that the hard rock scene that emerged
as a result of
in the wake of Kiss's mega-success was suitably debauched enough to
dilute the shock factor of her baby boy listening to drug-snorting,
blood-gurgling, fire-breathing orgy enthusiasts making "grunt" songs.
Alas, it's not a great album. Even 1987-me knew that. A friend made me a mix with Frehley's Comet on it, though, and I instantly became an Ace fan.
|For the rest of high school, I brought up Ace, stubbornly, whenever Kiss was brought up.|
I was obsessed with Marvel comics, so naturally I loved the make-up/ characters. And even though I chose The Demon for Halloween 1988, above, you can see evidence of my Ace fandom behind me, stage-left.
|Hard to make out, perhaps, but that's the Space Ace, there. The little picture above the one marked is Ace, too. Double trouble!|
|Although I'd expanded my musical palette considerably by the time this came out (Trouble Walkin', 1989) I cranked this one an awful lot during my last few years of high school. (Get Shot Full of Rock! GET SHOT FULL OF ROCK!) That was it, by the way, for Ace solo records for another 20 damn years. (And Anomaly, released 2009, is his best since the '78 solo album. Something neither myself nor any Kiss fan, I imagine, expected.)|
It wasn't until my friend and former Boat-Chipster Kevin made me four lavishly detailed mix tapes in 1998 that I once and for all grokked Kiss.
Chuck Klosterman and J.M. Blaine wrote probably the most spot-on appreciation of Kiss (and by extension, cock rock itself) on the net; here's an excerpt:
"Over and over, particularly in the 80s, they (Gene and Paul) forward the idea that KISS fans are being persecuted and that people are trying to stop us from liking KISS. And that’s a brilliant aesthetic vision for the band. It’s something that never technically happens – and yet as one moves into the world of pop music and becomes more intelligent – I have to say that it’s true. People are often trying to convince me that KISS is terrible. Or that when I say I love KISS that I’m actually pretending. Or that if you like KISS somehow you are only trying to rediscover your childhood. I just believe that of all the bands to think about, KISS is by far the most fun."
|The defense rests.|
NEXT: Album by Album (pt. 1)