Monday, October 11, 2010

shout it out loud!


Whenever a Kiss song pops up on my iPod, I flash on Christopher, a boy I knew in second grade. My home room at school that year was half second graders and half third graders. Chris and I were in the same house, which is what home rooms were called at my school. Christopher was a third grader. For some reason I haven't been able to figure out, I've tended in my life to gravitate toward maladjusted people, the guys nobody else wants to be friends with because there's something wrong with them. Nowadays, Christopher would be on Ritalin and diagnosed with aspergers, if not some other new fangled affliction. Christopher had incredible charisma and knew a lot about Evil Kenevil, rated R movies, and Planet of the Apes. I'll never forget the day he drew a swastika in magic marker on a piece of paper, taped it to his arm, and ran around the classroom screaming Heil Hitler! I didn't know what it meant, but it caused a big ruckus, so I knew instinctively that it had to have been a cool thing to do. I went home and pulled the same act for my parents that night. I couldn't have picked a worse thing to do in front of my dad, and he gave me a very serious and scary talking to about it...


Christopher lived with his mother and her boyfriend in a tall building, on a floor that stank of stewing onions and cabbage. The mom's boyfriend had Oui, Playboy and Viva lying around the house. I bet he had David Hamilton books as well, but I can't remember for sure. ...On play dates at Christopher's house, we would watch the Monkees and Batman in the kitchen with their black housekeeper. Chris' mom let him join the Kiss Army, and I completely lost my mind on the day he played Kiss' Destroyer for me on the hi fi record player in their living room. ...I know now that Gene Simmons is a dickhead, with his dumb spiel about Kiss being a brand as opposed to a band, but this doesn't diminish how completely Kiss was able to capture something so basic and elemental for me when I was a kid. The Beatles and the Beach Boys had already trained my ear by the time Christopher introduced me to Kiss. The memories are blurry now, but I don't think Kiss would have had nearly as much of an impact on me, or on other kids my age for that matter, if not for the great melodies in their music. With everything else that was going on with Kiss - the costumes, the theatricality, the mystery, the danger - it's easy to forget that their music was pretty damn good for about four or five years...


I don't know why more people don't think of Kiss as being in the glam tradition. Maybe it's because Kiss, along with Queen, did things backwards by comparison with the more legitimate glam groups. Sweet and Slade, for example, made pop songs with a hard edge that would sneak up on you. Kiss and Queen, on the other hand, did the opposite, making hard rock songs that were not really as hard as the packaging might lead you to believe. I think the melodic hookiness of Queen, and especially of Kiss, is why young kids liked their music so much. I was forever changed after hearing the driving guitars that open Detroit Rock City. I think of it in the same way as I think of LSD. Even if you're exposed to it just once, you never quite see the world in the same way again.



These days, Destroyer sounds like just one more poorly recorded mid 70s corporate rock album. I can crank it all the way up and still have a very hard time trudging through the murky Bob Ezrin production effects. But back in 1976 Destroyer sounded like nothing else I could have imagined, and yet it was precisely what I wanted and needed from music. I became absolutely obsessed with Kiss. My parents were very concerned about it. Chris' mom was much looser with him. On one play date, she bought us copies of Creem and Circus, which by then had both virtually gone to an all Kiss all the time format. I brought the magazines home with me that night. I can't really remember what I did or said to cause my mom to react the way she did, but she tore both of the magazines up and threw them in the garbage. I must've done something to set her off, or maybe it was the pictures of Gene spitting blood and wagging his tongue like he was about to eat the yummiest twat in the world. Whatever it was, my mom couldn't handle my frenzied enthusiasm for Kiss. And I think the fact that she couldn't handle it stoked the flames of my frenzy all the more. That's the way it works with kids sometimes...




My nanny back in those days was a very peculiar older lady from Belgium. She more or less raised my sister and me, and sometimes she would do the most lovingly generous things for me. I came home from school one day and found a brand new copy of Kiss, the Originals on my bed. It was a repackage of Kiss' first three albums - Kiss, Hotter than Hell, and Dressed to Kill. I'm assuming now that Casablanca records put The Originals out in an attempt to cash in on the mega success of Kiss Alive, the album that made them stars in much the same way as Frampton Comes Alive made Peter Frampton a huge sensation. For my 9th birthday, or Christmas, or some occasion, my nanny got me Kiss Alive and Rock and Roll Over, and a little later on I got Love Gun. ...One of the things I really appreciate about Kiss in retrospect is not just that so many of their songs had ridiculously porny lyrics, but also that as an eight and nine year old I was walking around singing lines like she's been around, but she's young and clean. I don't think you could market stuff like that to kids these days...



Shortly after Kiss Alive II came out, a kid named Andy invited me to the Kiss concert at Madison Square Garden. This must've been sometime in 1978. My parents reluctantly let me go, even though it was on a school night. They didn't approve of Kiss, but they must've known that forbidding me to go would have created a lose-lose situation. They were smart that way. The concert was phenomenal, or at least that's the way I remember it now, but it also strikes me that this was the last gasp of my Kiss obsession. By this time, Christopher's behavioral problems proved to be his undoing and he was kicked out of the school. I slowly moved away from Kiss and on to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and Jimi Hendrix. Perhaps I sensed that the Kiss thing had played itself out after they released four ill-conceived solo albums, one for each member of the band. Actually, I should say that three of the solo albums were ill conceived. Ace Frehley's album is actually quite good and features the only hit to come out of the Kiss solo album experiment, Back in the New York Groove, a great song that gives a nod to the new supremacy of disco, while still packing quite a bit of a rockin' punch. For what it's worth, Ace was always my favorite guy in Kiss. I liked them all, but Ace was the one that fascinated me the most. ...Sometimes I wonder what happened to Christopher. Where is he today and what's he doing? I'd like to tell him how profoundly he changed my life, even if only in an accidental and once-removed kind of way. Then again, people you knew when you were little are rarely as interesting when you meet them again as adults. That's been my experience, anyway. I think I'd rather just have my memories of Christopher as a free spirited boy who could not be contained. I admired this quality in him back then, and I admire the memory I have of it now.


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