Our story so far: a young kid in the midwest is introduced to one of the most shocking bands of the 70s, KISS. He wants more, but he has recently been delivered into the clutches of a new school, a private Catholic school. All of this newfangled God stuff really has him confused. And it doesn’t help that this new band, awesome as it may be, is apparently the antithesis of everything the nun,priests, and uppity lay folks are trying to indoctrinate him with. His first attempt to purchase his very own album from the notorious Knights In Satan’s Service resulted in a balk. The Church appeared to have won.
But they had forgotten one thing: this child had already been corrupted by the public school system, and the hold on him would not last.
So, I had finally managed to get a few KISS albums (that’s right: vinyl). I got all of the solo albums, Double Platinum (a greatest hits compilation), and Love Gun, which included the cardboard love gun itself as in insert with the sleeve. I was the coolest kid in my house. KISS was a joy that I could only share with my cousin Ant, who was older (almost in high school) and who understood. He had, after all, introduced me. My dad even got in on the action, taking us to our first concert: KISS Dynasty Tour.
September 14 ,1979 will forever be one of the greatest days of my life. My dad packed my cousin and I into the back seat of his ’76 Chevy Nova and we drove to the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum. On the way, we saw a VW Bug packed with four guys in complete KISS make-up. As far as my cousin and I were concerned, it was KISS. The absurdity of them driving to the show in a Punch Buggy escaped us. It was them, and it was awesome.
And the show was equally as awesome. It is the standard by which I have judged all other concerts since. Rising out of the stage; the flying, smoking guitar that kept playing; the elevating drums; breathing fire; spitting blood; giant pillars exploding and sending the heat up into the nosebleed seats where we sat. It was the greatest spectacle I have ever seen.
But, that following Monday, I couldn’t talk to any of my friends about it. None of them liked KISS, or their parents didn’t, and I would simply would have stood out even more than I already did. So, I spent my grade school and junior high school years like St. Peter denying Jesus. I specifically remember a moment in 7th grade in Music class where one of my fellow basketball players said something factually incorrect about KISS, which I ignored. He turned to me asking me if I knew, because I like them. “What? KISS? No. Maybe when I was kid.” This was partially true. By that time, I had not gotten any new albums and was drifting away from them. But, it had been more from peer pressure and a desire to fit in better, rather than the afterlife implications of like the devil’s music.
During that same conversation, I found out that the masked demons had finally, FINALLY, revealed their faces, sans makeup on some channel that we didn’t have access to in my rabbit ear household. Some jokes were made, which I had joined in on. I truly was St. Peter.
Then, over the summer between junior high and high school, we finally got cable television installed and I saw it: the f’irst music video I ever saw for KISS. The song was Heaven’s on Fire from their new album called Animalize. The video was typical 80s fare; bright colors, torn, slapped together clothing, and women. Women whose boobs were only dwarfed by their hair. From the opening with Paul Stanley‘s hands on fire as he hits a signature high note, to the ending when he jumps through the ring of fire like a lion in a circus, I was hooked. I couldn’t get the song out of my head.
I took my next batch of lawn mowing money, went to K-Mart, and bought the cassette of Animalize. I had also started working out religiously, since this was the beginning of the pre-high school make-over. New school, new me. This became my workout soundtrack as I pushed and pulled iron in my bodybuilder father’s old school basement gym. I felt reborn. This was my music, my band.
When I went to high school the following fall, I wasn’t made-over into some Adonis, like in a 90s teen movie. I wasn’t any better off than I was in any other school I went to prior. I knew no one, had no friends. And for a number of months, it remained that way. But, I kept listening to that album. It kept me pumped up, made me feel good.
I met they guy who would be my best man at my wedding, and the best friend I have to this day. We met over messing with a kid who sat next to me and tried to cheat off of me everyday. But we bonded over music. He told me about his love of Rush, the Ramones, and Iron Maiden. I told him about my passion for KISS. He didn’t laugh. He just listened and said “Hey, if you like them, you make like…” and began introducing me to more great bands. But he didn’t judge. In fact, he has never judged me.
Which is really what this entire journey was about. It’s what KISS is about. It’s about doing your own thing and being your own person. The people (and faiths) that will judge you and criticize you, they don’t mean shit and aren’t worth getting worked up over. Just do your thing, respect others doing theirs, and people that appreciate you for who you are will be there. Fuck everyone else.
So, here is the song that reminded me who I really was, was the beginning of my eventual parting with the Catholic faith, and helped me to not pretend to be something else.