Anyone clicking on this read thinking they'd be reading thoughts on the Kiss song "Lonely is the Hunter" will unfortunately be disappointed.
The below is a story I wrote ten years ago and came close to publishing a couple of times but it was never meant to be. Of any of the stories I sent out during that period (2005-2007) this always got some fun responses. No takers, but a lot of bemused back and forth, suggestions, and edits.
But lo and behold! It fits the theme of this Kiss blogs, so why not? It is the work of a younger man, a younger writer. I've always liked it though, and while I see some cracks in it now that I didn't see then, I'd still love to see Paul Verhoeven make a movie out of it. (Or Antonioni.)
The original name of this was "Hunter of Dickheads" and was an homage to a Doom Patrol story by Grant Morrison, hence the protagonist's name.
Lonely is the Hunter
When Grant dropped out of high school during his junior year, he had no ambitions besides keeping his part-time job at the zoo, exacting revenge on those who made fun of him, and building his Kiss collection. But he soon realized that life was better suited to pious service to a greater and more pervasive entity, and so, after training for years and waiting for his moment, Grant finally put into motion the culmination of his vision. He stuffed his Combat Pack with a make-up kit and tranquilizer gun - stolen from the zoo where he worked, and untraceable to him - and shuffled off to patrol. Dickheads, beware.
Dickheads like Adam, currently across the street in Luke's Record Exchange, wiping his stubby, greasy fingers over a perfectly good copy of Fifth Angel's debut album and running his mouth off. Stupid little goatee - the true sign of a pretentious Dickhead. Grant had a pretty good view of him through the scope of the tranquilizer gun - more like a rifle - and although he couldn't hear from his perch on the roof of the building across the street what Adam was saying, he didn't have to. Adam only talked about one thing: Yes. Prog-rock in general but Yes most particularly. Grant didn't have anything against Yes - they weren't Kiss, but who was? Plenty of respectable bands weren't Kiss. But Adam wasn't the type to live and let live; he had to mouth off every chance he got, to anyone who'd listen, about how Yes was the single greatest band to ever exist and - to make it worse - how Kiss was, Adam's words, “the single worst band.”
That was his mistake, mouthing off to Grant in such a manner, about such a subject. Adam had run into Grant at Luke's the week before, and what had started as a friendly-enough conversation turned ugly fast when Adam began broadcasting his low opinion of Kiss.
“Your allegiance to that sad religion is quite touching,” Adam said, “but let's face facts here. Kiss is terrible. They're not a band - they're a peg to hang a franchise on. They don't make music; they make advertising jingles for their product. Whatever relevance they had - that heavy metal or hard rock or whatever had - has long since expired. They're a... Hollywood Squares question. A footnote.”
Grant had nodded and seethed with rage. Adam didn't know what he was talking about. Nor did he know when to shut up. He'd always been like that. They'd been in a few classes together at school, but nothing too close. Grant hadn't known the depth of Adam's insanity, though, until that afternoon in Luke's Record Exchange.
“Now Yes,” Adam said, triumphantly holding up his soon-to-be-purchased copy of Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow, “here's a band with substance. With staying power.”
John, the guy who always worked behind the counter - Grant had never seen anyone else working there - had chuckled. “You talk a lot of smack for a prog rock fan.”
Once, years ago, John had snickered a little when Grant had told him the opening and ending for the script for a Kiss biopic he had been working on for years, The Four Horseman. It had hurt Grant terribly, to be laughed at by John, but John wasn't a Dickhead like Adam. He was a Maiden fan for one, and as Grant often said, anyone who could name the three vocalists for Iron Maiden had to be all right on some level. (And, he thought, anyone who couldn't had to be suspect about something) If for no other reason than Grant spent his whole paycheck at Luke's, practically, week in, week out, John was friendly enough. Even if Grant couldn't get into Luke's as much as he used to, not since he started spending more time out on patrol.
“Progressive rock is the epitome of the art form of popular music,” Adam continued, so earnestly that John stopped kidding him. “Hawkwind, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Rush, and atop the pyramid, floating above it with third eye radiant...Yes. The illumination.”
“What about ELP?” Grant said. He kept his head down and flipped through the miscellaneous ‘K’ section. He didn't dislike prog rock, and he actually found some of ELP's work to be kind of cool.
“Insipid,” Adam said. “Overblown. They are the Kiss of progressive rock. Anyone with a musical IQ over 60 will tell you that.”
Grant had clenched his fists reflexively, almost snapping a misfiled Visiting Day record in half between his trembling hands. “What do you have against Kiss, anyway?” he managed. “If you like Yes, you must like guitar solos. Who has better solos than Ace Frehley?”
“Who has better solos than Ace Frehley,” Adam repeated. “My friend, an Inuit pack dog with only one eye and a limp knows more about geometry than Ace Frehley knows about guitar solos.” Adam had been pleased with himself, saying that. Grant showed no emotion; he had trained himself to show no emotion. A thousand-yard stare, no affect, the face of a professional with an unpleasant job to do and the wherewithal to get it done. “It’s true, you know.”
It was most certainly not true. That was that. Adam was on the way out. It was people like Adam who spread such diseased propaganda and contributed to the ongoing, scandalous absence of Kiss in the papers everyday. For all time. Sometimes it was all Grant could do to keep from running through the streets, screaming about it. A travesty had occurred, and the faceless killers who conspired against Kiss still occupied the throne, the very same throne that Kiss themselves had built and the throne they were meant to occupy again. No one could touch Kiss. Soon, Adam would know it firsthand. Grant looked through the scope and lay in wait for his prey.
He didn't have to wait long. Adam exited Luke's with a look of putrid self-satisfaction, and Grant narrowed his eyes. He trailed him with the scope until he walked just around the corner, out of sight of John, if John was even looking. It was going to be perfect. No one was around. Grant squeezed the trigger and sent a tranquilizer dart into Adam's pudgy ass, tripping him over.
Grant moved quickly. He disassembled his weapon like he'd practiced doing everyday for the past six months, grabbed his Combat Pack and tore down the fire escape. He had been thinking of jumping down dramatically, but it was a two-story drop and Grant needed to conserve his strength. He never knew when his next mission would be after all - it wouldn't do to wear himself out on some minor Dickhead like Adam.
Adam had hit the ground and was struggling to push himself upright. He didn't take much notice of Grant until Grant bent down beside him, removing his make-up kit from his Combat Pack.
“Think I am shot…” Adam slurred. The knockout drug worked its way through him quickly.
Grant looked over and saw that Adam's purchase - a Rick Wakeman double album - had spilled onto the sidewalk. The vinyl had fallen from its sleeves and lay against the gravel and dirt of the sidewalk, and the album had opened, revealing the Yes keyboardist stretched across an Alpine landscape, suspended between two lines of keyboards, stretching into infinity. Grant ground his heel into one of the records, scratching and snapping it.
Adam fell unconscious, and Grant roughly turned him onto his back. He unscrewed the cap from one of his bottles of make-up and applied a white mask to Adam's face. He overdid it, making sure that Adam's ears and throats were covered as well, and that the white extended right up to his eyeball. Then, he withdrew his gold lipstick applicator and smeared it over Adam's pudgy lips. He wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth with the Dickhead's own sleeve and proceeded to brand his nose and forehead and cheekbones, - bad as they were: this guy could never be a frontman, that was for damn sure - with the ankh. A message to his enemies. Vinnie Vincent's was the most obscure of the make-up designs. Sow confusion among the Dickhead ranks.
He surveyed his work for a moment and then rose, letting Adam's head fall against the sidewalk. He was satisfied. He withdrew his calling card - a facsimile of the cover to Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album - and placed it on Adam's paunch. Then, Grant dropped his make-up kit back into his Combat Pack, made his way to his car parked around the corner, and drove home. His heart pounded gloriously, and his testicles swelled with warm appreciation.
Grant opened the front door to his mother's house and stepped inside. He wanted to head right to his room, to put on Alive III and write in his journal, maybe make a collage. But he heard his mother immediately call from the living room.
“Grant, is that you? Can I see you for a minute?”
Grant shuffled into the living room where his mother, a graying woman in a housecoat, sat on the chair, her thick legs up on a footrest. She didn't look up from her paper as she spoke.
“Where have you been now?” she asked. “The doctor from the clinic called and said the nurse saw you throwing out your medication. Is that true?”
Grant ignored her second question and said “You know where I've been,” with a bite in his voice. His mother was the only one he allowed to see the viciousness, the intensity, that he hid from the world. He gravitated towards the stand-up beige lamp to better spotlight his remarks. “I've been on the streets. I've been waging my lonely war against the Dickheads, Mom. You know this.”
“My God, are you still going on about that? About Led Zeppelin or Hootie and the Bluefish?”
“I will not take that bait,” he said, knowing full well he was already hooked. His voice lapsed into the nasal screech he couldn't control. He knew his mother was just getting it wrong to mock him. Hootie and the Blowfish, for God's sake, what cruel God would demand these indignities of him? “Led Zeppelin couldn't hold a candle...! They're just stupid blues riffs and Celtic... and Celtic...” He trailed off, not wanting to waste a good negative analogy on his mother, who wouldn't know the difference.
“Grant, you're almost twenty years old,” she said, still not looking up from her paper. “When are you going to get your GED? Or a girlfriend? Or at least stop collecting imaginary boyfriends?”
“Damn it, I'm a grown man, and I have a mission.”
“All right, all right. There's a letter for you there,” she said. “On the table. I opened it - something about the Kurt Cobain or Kirk Cocaine. God knows.”
Grant saw the letter lying violated on the table and stormed over to it. He stuffed it into his pockets. “Don't read my mail. I've told you. It's not fair.”
“What are you hiding?” she asked. “More ‘mission’ stuff? Or maybe you don't want me to see all of those magazines you get, with the hairy-chests and men in leather pants and high heels, pursing their lips at the camera, surrounded by teenage boys?”
“That's not what it is!” he yelled. His face flushed. “Those magazines are about rocking. You just try to make it everything dirty. Why can't you leave me alone?” His eyes filled up with tears. In his mind, he heard Ace's "Fractured Mirror" when the electric guitar comes high up on the neck, really loud. “You shouldn't read my mail. Why have you done this?”
He ran into his room and slammed the door. He hid his Combat Pack in the closet behind two piles of pants he never wore. He bent his hanging shirts to glimpse an old Circus poster of Axl Rose and Duff McKagen taped to the wall behind them. He looked reassuringly for his friends, for his pictures of Wasp and Leatherwolf from Hit Parader and Metal Edge. And, of course, Kiss - their entire history displayed chronologically across the widest part of his wall, with each and every member - even guys like Bob Kulick, Bruce's older brother who supposedly played Ace's parts on the last few 70s albums, allegations Grant had no faith in whatsoever. They were always out for the Space Ace.
Next to them, a picture of the streets, a map of target Dickhead areas. What did he need a GED for, or a girlfriend? Would anyone, could anyone, ever understand his own private war against those that would belittle the gestalt - although he wasn't entirely sure what that word meant - of Kiss? No. Grant knew his calling.
He looked at the letter his mother had opened as he hit play on his stereo and ‘Rocket Ride’ began to blare out of his Phillips CD player. It sounded better on vinyl, sped-up just a notch because of his crappy 70s record player, but the CD version was what he had at the ready. Someday it would be different. He settled into his bed a little, nodding along with the riff. The brilliance of it all. He picked up the envelope and looked at the return address: The Kurt Cobain Died For You Society. What did these Dickheads want with him?
Grant knew about the society, of course. But how did they know about him? As he waited on the front step of a modest brownstone on Providence's East Side after ringing the bell, he tried to recall what he'd read about Richard Caliban, the Society's president. Caliban published smart-ass reviews and articles that were dismissive and condescending of heavy metal in the Providence Phoenix. Grant had never heard him mention Kiss specifically, but his tone was irritating enough for Grant to put him on his list. Caliban was what Grant would call an executive Dickhead, not some clown like Adam mouthing off in a records shop, debating with the geeks, but a guy you'd find behind a glass of wine at Paragon on Thayer Street, or one of those other fancy places, surrounded by girls with tattoos and European haircuts, always being so goddamn ironic. Caliban and his whole stupid society moved up Grant's list as he stood on the step, his rage building up within him.
A tall, thin thirtysomething in a Soundgarden shirt and jeans with a plaid shirt tied around his waist opened the door. He eyed Grant - in his battle gear of black-and-gray non-descript clothes and his Combat Pack - suspiciously.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I'm Grant,” said Grant. He passed over the letter he'd received. “I hunt Dickheads. I believe Mr. Caliban requested my services.”
“Grant! How good of you to come,” called a voice from behind the guy who'd answered the door. “It's all right, Vigs. His presence was humbly solicited. Come in, come in.”
Grant did so, stepping into a foyer as the door closed behind him. Vigs - the butler, he noted; someone to neutralize, if necessary - stepped off to one side and did not return the letter Grant had given him. Hey, just keep it, dickhead. Tommy Caliban led Grant down a hall, and Grant took a good look at his host. He looked older, maybe forty, with glasses and close-cropped, sandy hair. Grant would give him the Raccoon mask, definitely, he thought; he had the right face for it.
“Welcome to the Kurt Cobain Died for You Society, Grant,” Caliban said. “The aim of our club is to celebrate the cultural Zeitgeist of ‘grunge’ in all its forms. Like punk music fifteen years before it, grunge drew a line in the sand, forever separating what-came-before from what-came-after, in grunge’s case, the cock-rock and late 80s nonsense from the overproduced and droning late 90's nonsense. For one or two years of shimmering purity, the world knew what it was like to hear honest music on the radio - not about groping groupies, not about masturbational fantasies, but Jeremy! Spoke! In class! To-day!”
He paused for Shatnerian effect, then continued. “It is our club's aim to venerate the achievements of the pioneers of grunge, and who better to rally around than that fallen angel himself, Kurt Cobain?”
Grant didn't say anything. He didn't have anything specifically against Nirvana but thought the hype was insulting when one considered how little media coverage there was of Eric Carr's death. A hero's death. Or Mark St. John's medical condition - he couldn't name the last time he'd ever seen a follow-up on that story. Maybe on Headbanger's Ball, when that was still on. This Caliban guy was a representation of everything Grant fought against. A music snob with a poison pen. He walked along, hearing only every other sentence, and memorized the physical layout of the place for when he would return and fix them all.
“Given our intense veneration of Messrs. Cobain, Vedder, Corgan, et. al and in our selfless attempts to restore the prestige of grunge music, we've come to expect a certain degree of… misrepresentation, of misunderstanding. It happens to all great societies, of course; this is the price to be paid for visionary work.” He looked up at an oil painting of Krist Novoselic astride a flying winged beast against a sunset of golds and blues. "These are the children we must lay on the altar."
When they reached the end of the hall, Caliban turned to Grant with a grave expression. “But what we don't expect - what even the greatest society can not tolerate - is to be ridiculed by our own kind. Please!”
They entered a conference room and, as per Caliban’s gesture to an unseen assistant, an enlarged slide of Dave Grohl was cast onto the wall.
“Formerly the drummer for Nirvana, perhaps you recognize Dave Grohl as the frontman and principal songwriter for the group the Foo Fighters... a band you'll note I did not mention in my list of seminal grunge bands.” Caliban looked with open contempt at the grinning image of Grohl on the wall. “Last year, we invited Grohl to give the commencement address to our first class of new initiates into our society - an honor never before bestowed. It was a sincere offer. But not only did Grohl refuse, Grant, he called us nincompoops. ‘Nincompoops!’ That was the very word he used. I immediately wrote a poem that cleverly satirized the Foo Fighters and published it in our society newsletter. But I and the other Society members have decided that honor has not been properly satisfied.”
This guy sure liked to hear himself talk. “You must think the Dickheads are on vacation, Caliban. I’m a busy man. What does this have to do with me?" When Grant slipped into the Hunter persona, he felt like he wore seven-inch heels and shined like a disco ball under the studio lights. "How did you even know how to find me?”
Caliban signaled again to his unseen assistant, - Vigs? - who clicked to another slide, this one of an unconscious man with Gene Simmons bat-wings plastered over his face. Grant recognized his own handiwork from the previous year. A guy named Curly, who skipped his song in the internet jukebox at the cafe at the zoo and had been a real dickhead about it. He hadn’t quite had the touch with the make-up at that point. The wings were out of proportion with one another.
“Last year, you tagged one of our operatives,” said Caliban. “It was our policy at the time to exact revenge on you, Grant. I’m not going to lie to you. We even started to train a field agent of our own, to counter your activities. He’s been following you for quite some time.”
Grant remained expressionless. He thought someone had been following him. He’d even mentioned it to his mother, but she told him he was imagining it. That was just freaking like her.
“It began to occur to us, though, that perhaps an enemy of an enemy was a potential friend.” At Caliban’s signal, the unseen assistant changed the slide back to the same picture of Dave Grohl from before, only zoomed in more. “It just so happens that the Foo Fighters are in town for a sold-out show at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. And it just so happens, Grant, that this very afternoon, Grohl is at the Providence Place Mall.”
As Caliban spoke, the slides changed, each time to the same picture of Dave Grohl, but zoomed-in. “We must embarrass Grohl in a spectacle so... stupefying that he will know never to trifle with the Kurt Cobain Died For You Society again. And that, Grant, is why we contacted you, despite the loggerheads of our respective ideologies.”
The slide changed again. By now all that was identifiable of Grohl’s face was a trace of his left eye above the expanse of his absurdly-zoomed-in cheekbone. “As you know, the mall is closed today, Grant,” Caliban said. “A state holiday. But - some of the shops have been made available to Grohl so he can shop with some degree of peace. He is there - oh, right about now, as much of a sitting duck as he will ever be. We would like you to do what it is you do to Mr. Dave Grohl. That will satisfy your own honor, Grant. Then for our own, bring us his scalp.” Caliban thundered in the echoing conference room. “Bring us the scalp of Dave Grohl!”
Grant thought it over for a minute. Caliban had worked himself up and was breathing heavily. Finally, he turned to him and nodded. “All right, Caliban,” he said, extending his hand. “I'll do it.”
The head of the Kurt Cobain Died For You Society pumped his hand vigorously and laughed heartily. Grant said nothing. He'd do it all right, but he'd need a crapton more make-up to do all of them.
Breaking into the mall posed little difficulty to someone of Grant's training. When he had begun his activities in earnest, he'd practiced such things. He'd hid in janitor closets, waiting for buildings to close, learning where to walk, what cameras to avoid. He slipped in from the Promenade St. garage entrance and took the long, abandoned construction hallway back behind the generator. He opened a ‘Do Not Enter: Electrical Hazard’ door he knew was always unlocked and entered the mall.
Grohl would probably be in Newbury Comics, Grant figured. Either that or buying clothes. Rockers bought lot of clothes. Kiss had tried fashion in the 80s, with disastrous results - it was their only misstep in three decades of rock and roll brilliance. Grant forgave them, of course; the albums they put out during that period more than made up for it. And you had Frehley's Comet besides, and the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. As he thought about those bands of yesteryear, he felt a sudden contempt for the Foo Fighters that he had never felt before. If they were a real band, he reasoned, they would do Kiss covers. And talk about Kiss, maybe even acknowledge Grant's own contribution to hard rock via his Dickhead-hunting. Thinking about it this way made it easier. On the way to the mall, he'd been thinking that he didn't really have anything against Dave Grohl; he had more against Caliban and his smart-ass Phoenix pieces, actually. Maybe, he thought, he should double-cross them? Contact Grohl and get him in on it? According to Caliban, Grohl already disliked the Society; it would probably be easy to get the Foo Fighters to join with Grant against Caliban, maybe even against all the Dickheads. But, as he climbed the stairs and thought about it, he knew it would be useless. Grohl would probably mock him, the way everyone mocked him. He thought of his mother again, and his face flushed. Damn it. Thankfully there was a mission to concentrate on.
He went to the side of the mall across from Newbury Comics. He planned to take a long-distance shot and then move in, make his five darts count. He'd set up near the Gourmet Chef store, where Grant used to like to go sometimes and try out the free honey and raspberry dips and extra spicy black bean salsa; it was directly across the way from Newbury and would provide cover, too. It would be over quick - how many people could Grohl have with him anyway? He wasn't the President or anything. Grant soon had his answer, as he peered through the obscuring row of fake plants along the opposite side, making his way to the Gourmet Chef. He saw everything perfectly. Grohl had one guy with him, who stood with his back towards Grant, and the Newbury Comics employee. Grohl grinned from ear to ear and held up a long-sleeve Germs shirt. There seemed to be only three of them. The door was open, and no one was around. Amateurs.
He quietly fastened his tranquilizer rifle together, attaching the scope last. He had five darts. The rifle only held one at a time, but he was pretty speedy with reloading and re-aiming. He had timed himself at ten seconds for three darts - only a few seconds more than whomever it was that blew Kennedy's brains out from the grassy knoll. Not bad, he reasoned. He poked the barrel out between the leaves of the fake plant and slowly moved his eye behind the scope. The image blurred and then came into sharp focus. Grohl's face in close-up through the lens looked just like the image he'd seen at the Society's brownstone. He moved the crosshairs from one throat to another. A turkey shoot. Grant felt that warm, pleasant feeling building in his testicles again. He eased his finger onto the trigger.
Then, he saw them. He dropped the scope to Grohl's chest - choosing him as his target first - and froze. Grohl was wearing a Kiss concert shirt. And not just any shirt, the Lick It Up tour shirt. It was one of Grant's personal favorites, right behind the Psycho Circus reunion tour, the Crazy Nights tour, and the Revenge tour. He'd been too young for their earlier tours, but he was sure they would have been favorites, too. What was Dave Grohl doing with a Kiss shirt? Had Caliban's Society set him up? He moved the scope to Grohl's companion, to the Newbury Comics employee - they were all wearing Kiss shirts. Grant couldn't believe what he was seeing. There was something familiar about the other man, Grohl's companion. The warm feeling in his testicles disappeared, and his palms began to sweat. He felt dizzy.
He crouched behind the plants for a moment, not knowing what to do. Then, with a surge of adrenaline, he leapt from his position and through the plants. He raised his arms and waved.
“Friends!” he cried. “Friends! Brothers -”
Grant tripped on the rim of the potted plant, and his rifle flipped to the ground, the barrel turning towards him. Grant felt something sharp puncture his thigh, and he looked down, confused. His ankle, already twisted, buckled, and he hit the ground. He rolled over onto his back, reaching down to pull out the dart. The knock-out serum worked fast; it felt like he was being swaddled in layers of thick cotton, and when he tried to speak, his tongue was thick and numb.
Grant managed to roll back over on his stomach and turn towards Newbury Comics. He knew he should have worked up an immunity to the darts. He could make out Dave Grohl looking over at him, confused, as the other man approached, whom he recognized suddenly. Grohl's friend was John from Luke's Records Exchange. The store employee was nowhere to be seen - probably calling security, Grant thought, and then he slumped over, slipping into a deep blackness that rushed in from all sides.
Grant was aware only of the blackness, only of a pleasant, dopey peace. Then, approaching into view from nothingness, he saw Cher. He'd always thought Cher and Paul Stanley looked a little alike. He'd even wondered if perhaps this was rock and roll's grandest hoax, that Paul Stanley and Cher were in actuality the same person. Not young-hot Cher - the Iron-Mask-plastic-surgery-diva Cher of the late 80s and 90s, Grant thought. But this was definitely a woman. As she floated into view, wearing a transparent gown that fluttered in her wake like an angel's, she hummed ‘If I Could Turn Back Time,’ which echoed celestially. She looked directly at him.
“You did your best,” said Cher. “But there’s not much time, and I’ve got a message for you.”
The blackness surrounding her was already starting to lighten. On the periphery of his awareness, he saw and heard Vigs exploring the riff to "She" on a gilded harp.
“Thing is,” said Cher, “it is true what they say about Ace’s guitar solos, Grant. Bruce Kulick is more than a sideman for Gene and Paul. He was the real deal.”
Grant felt himself being pulled down to earth. He raised his fist and was ready to strik her for such Dickhead bullshit, but Cher receded and receded and receded, and the darkness brightened. Grant felt his heavy eyelids lightening, then parting, with lights flashing and strobing around him. Dave Grohl was nowhere to be seen. He turned his head with great effort and saw the sidearm of a police officer, beneath two crossed hulking forearms.
He heard voices talking about him, but he didn't care. Grant closed his eyes again and searched again for the blackness. What did Cher know about Bruce or Ace or Dickheads or anything?