God Gave Halloween To You
by Calliope Kurtz
"Santa is not real. Superman is not real. Kiss is real" -- Gene Simmons.
So what's the world coming to when Kiss occupies the online pages of a publication like Perfect Sound Forever? I mean, some respect please- Nirvana and Dino Jr. covered 'em back when your parents first dyed their hair green, so that's not even a surprise. Resistance is futile and surprises are unwarranted.
I'm writing these words totally upset. Unhinged. My girlfriend just left me tonight. Well, she denies that -- words words words -- but when I saw her and that other guy, illuminated under 4th of July sparklers and an October moon, I knew. Stabbed and abandoned. Yet I felt it coming on, too, so I was ready. Suspicions validated. Righteous and wronged. Relieved, too. Done with being hurt. Because I'm hurt. Raw and over it. Such a vitality, this particular feeling alive. A uniquely teenage sensation, lonely and insolent. Pure rock and roll. This is why we need cabaret clowns like Paul Stanley to wear circus earrings and smash hard a raw guitar into smithereens. Only those of us utterly bereft and vulnerable in the world need such macho postures belched so foolishly. Up to 11. My fellow losers, we have been given a gift. Halloween is all about hiding the hurt. What if Halloween was forever? Like heaven. If you're downright down and out tonight, this way to the egress.
First, a couple of misconceptions clarified. No offense, but Kiss' eternally ingeminated claims to have invented or legitimized the double live is bunk. Exhibit A: Grand Funk Railroad's Live Album (1970), gold on contact, and exhibit B: Deep Purple's Made In Japan (1973), gold within the year. Those are just the arena stompers -- Chicago, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and the Grateful Dead did just swell in the early '70's too. Say something new. Then there's the whole "unnecessary life form" thing. Yup, Rolling Stone panned Kiss (like they panned almost all hard rock as a matter of editorial policy) but Christgau and Creem received Kiss with respect from the get-go. Nowadays? Initial skepticism to Sonic Boom crumbled as the tour progressed triumphantly. Newspapers and weeklies fell under the influence like high school sweethearts. Even the indie intellectuals at PopMatters love Music From The Elder, go figure. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, take note: there is no Abba Army.
Kiss is more popular than Abba now.
That's if T-shirt sales are any indication. Nowadays, a band makes a CD and everything on it gets fileshared and YouTubed within 24 hours so they gotta tour it, maybe breaking even considering roadshow overhead, so it's merch sales that determine profitability. Rock groups are basically in the T-shirt business. Kiss knew that first. No, the Beatles did. Lunchboxes, bubblegum cards, TV cartoon show, toy guitars, dolls and wigs. Join the fan club. The tribe. After John Lennon died, he was marketing diapers. Kiss sold condoms. And coffins. What's the difference? Belt buckles are the reason for the songs. Always be closing. Cross the Fabs with the X-Men, bad laboratory magic, twist and shout it out loud. Furthering the Beatlemania analogy, cranking out two albums a year while touring -- who else did that in the Seventies? And those insane simultaneous solo albums -- luckily, Charles Manson was already under lock and key.
"But Kiss is only in it for the money." So's the punk mowing my lawn every Saturday. He's saving up to buy a guitar. Then he'll tell me what to do with my lawnmower. When work becomes outlawed, only outlaws will work. As Paul Stanley put it, "Anybody who says 'I'm only in it for the music' will find himself washing cars." Nowadays, the young and hip don't buy music from their heroes, they digitally steal it from them. How clever. Kill rock stars. #1's more and more are geezer acts 'cause their fans don't know enough about computer piracy, so off to the mall they march. Might as well pick up a Kiss umbrella at the same time. You get the audience you deserve.
It's the business of survival. 1976 was an opening. Biggies like Led Zeppelin, the Who, Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones were slipping down the drain on drugs. How appropriate that Bob Ezrin, billion dollar brains behind imploding alcoholic comet Alice Cooper, would be the architect. Heavy metal bubblegum with enough mush for the girlfriends to endure it. Catman, singer of novelty ballads, was cuter than Ringo, so the little sisters got on board, too. Choose a face, boys; the girls will help you into the greasepaint. Hippies and commies bug off, it's all about M&M's -- back in mommy's day, it was jellybeans. Big top glitz, surrender. (Paul Stanley: "[A]n album ... should be like getting a Cracker Jack box. You get the music, but then you get extras.") Above all, here's the trick, it's about staying sober long enough for the jackpot to come up sweet. "Certainly the real lesson in rock is it's a marathon," quoth Gene Simmons. Eat the young.
Even the utopian Beatles didn't let the death of McCartney interfere with their career. No way, they just went shopping for a look-alike, slapped some makeup on 'em, then amped up the franchise. We can work it out.
I went throughout the entire 70's as a teenager hearing only "Rock And Roll All Nite" a few times at keggers and maybe half of "Beth" on the radio. That was it, nothing else. Unimpressed! I had Bob Dylan, Traffic, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Wishbone Ash, Genesis and Yes contending for my weekly allowance. Kiss was kiddie stuff. I was a bourgeois Rolling Stone-reading sophisticate, not some lumpenproletariat member of the Kiss Navy or whatever it was. At the age of 16, I was doing all I could do to look and act, like, all of 20. Seeing Alice Cooper in concert when I was 13 was a youthful indiscretion, the unfortunate consequence of peer pressure. Goons. None of that puerile Slade boogie for me. I even bought a Mahavishnu Orchestra album, and impressed my stoner friends with my ability to sit through it. Back then I wanted to be "more mature." Hallelujah for me. Now that I'm 50, I sure the hell wanna be less mature!
I used to think "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" was a boys' song, teeniebopper stuff, whacking off under the covers, but after hitting middle age, middle age hit me -- married, kids, wiped out, "not tonight, dear" -- I discovered my difficulties getting some satisfaction had only begun. Somewhere around losing my virginity, I lost interest in trick or treating. Voice to skull- 'idiot!' Why trade one for the other? That's why "I wanna rock and roll all nite" means more to me now that I have to be an adult. Bills. Migraines. Pills. Backaches. Bellyaches. Flab. I'm way less satisfied, I'm way more frustrated now! Uglier, too. Back in '76 when I was 16, I didn't see the utility of Kiss at all. No charm in immaturity. Looks like David Bowie, sounds like Foghat, smells like Terry Knight. Crap in cling-wrap fired out of Marshall stacks like fireball canons. Wise up, rube! I'm back from the crypt, only someone in diapers wants to be older. I'm much more frustrated now! And I'm loving it! Trick or treat, satisfaction is never guaranteed.
So, half a century later, I buy my first Kiss album. My first Kiss anything. And why not make it Sonic Boom. Eleven new tunes, a greatest hits set and a concert DVD on three discs, for twelve bucks, "the price of a sandwich." The perfect introductory commodity- having to get it at Walmart was a little icky but, what the heck, I figure it'll only sound better if I'm in a Kiss T-shirt, which just happen to be on the shelves for only $5. All the Ace and Criss drama means nada to me, I'm checking out Kiss straight from virgin. And I think I heard it right. Disc one, then two, then one again, and again -- all the time I was doing it. Y'know, with my girlfriend. Kiss had us in the palms of their unholy hands by the second track, the sleazy sing-along on "Russian Roulette." We were laughing out loud and, y'know, doing it. Up and down, all over each other. For hours. Did I mention my girlfriend's got a sex drive like a race car? And she actually likes arena rock? The second chorus from "Stand" sure made her purr. Me, too.
Paul Stanley begot Bon Jovi and all those big metal hair singers. And he godfathered the spectacular orgasm my girlfriend and I got by the third time we heard the final guitar grunt on "Say Yeah." Tell ya the truth, I liked the new material more than the hits. Not that there's much difference. Corny lyrics every tune, recycling every arena rock lick and getting it right like an eighth grade weekend every time. How they do that? "If it's too hot you're too cold, if it's too loud you're too old!" Say what? With cowbell? The pan and toggle gimmick? No way! (this Tommy Thayer guy, squonking off on antique Gibsons, totally smokes). In this day and age? "Feel my tower of power." I don't care what the last 100 years did, I like it, I get it, the audacity of grown men acting, sounding and looking like 8th graders. Humor me, humor you, humor us!* Better than Chickenfoot. Funner than the Cult! Paul Anka co-wrote none of it! Girlfriend liked it! Me, too. Doing it. For hours. Blast off!
Of course, now I have no girlfriend. She done me wrong. She lived her glory in a liar's haze she called the truth. Is that poetic, huh? It's a line from the latest Kiss single "Modern Day Delilah" which, compared to most of their repertoire, sounds pretty pissed off. Imagine Starchild getting done wrong. Not possible! "You thought that you could bring me to my knees but who's the one who's crying 'baby please'?" Yes! Adolescent revenge! Ripping solo! The terror of getting chumped, being dumped, can all be incinerated with the right bloodcurdling scream. "I know the way you made the others break but loving me would be your last mistake!" And, what a man, Stanley has to do that extended capper of a shriek night after night under the klieglights. Around the world, hollering his fool head off, "loving me would be your last mistaaaaaaake!" No shit! Even when the Kiss Marines haul their flaming volcanoes to Perth, Australia, my wrong-doin' heart-bustin' ex-girlfriend will hear 'em roaring that line.
No doubt Kiss is banking on eternal life. Now that they've successfully transplanted sober professional musicians in the role of Spaceman and Catman, speculation abounds even the CEO's are considering hiring their own proxies to do future tours. Find their replacements on a reality idol contest show. Simmons: "When I go to see Batman at the movies, there have been different people as Batman, but it's still Batman. Why would we change it?" Stanley: "[W]hether someday somebody wears my makeup, I'd consider it an honor quite honestly. It would mean that the band is continuing with the same philosophy and thriving without me." Why not? Considering Beatlemania, Anthology, Love, Beatles: Rock Band, Rain and a million other reincarnated reissues, the Fabs keep plugging even with half their lineup dead. Turn me on. Why shouldn't Simmons and Stanley produce, manage and trademark their own afterlife?
Why shouldn't anyone? Girlfriends come and go. Halloween is more durable. More believable. I'm gonna put my faith in a loud guitar. What else can I really count on?
* Not that the good humor makes it a joke. Describing Casablanca President Neil Bogart's initial concern that Kiss' stage faces might be construed as gay, Simmons recalled (in his 2001 autobiography Kiss and Make-Up): "[H]e worried that we were projecting a gay vibe, particularly Paul. We talked to him for a while and explained our vision of the band, which was to go beyond glam to something else. As far as the gay thing went, our feeling was that we dressed the way we felt inside, and the gay vibe wasn't really part of that. In a strange way, our greatest asset was the fact that we took ourselves seriously. Superman wore tights and a cape, and no one ever questioned his sexuality because he didn't see his costume as campy or funny -- it was just what superheroes wore." And it's all good clean fun. At least on Sonic Boom, there's not a single curse word- it's G-rated beginning to end.
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