Saturday, October 22, 2005

My Spiel on KISS

The following rant is something I published under another name on a different blog. It was originally published in July 2004, and I ended that blog in August of 2004. I wrote it because VH1 was about to air a show that they produced called When KISS Ruled the World. I was skeptical that it would be good. I was wrong. It was excellent. It still airs every now and then. The recent talk of a protest at the RnR Hall of Fame made me think that I had written something about that a long time ago. Well, there is a brief mention of the situation at the end of this article. That will have to do.

KISS in 1973 as a club band. Paul still had the old make-up
I am planning on watching VH1's "When KISS ruled the world" tonight. No doubt it will be an entertaining show (a little short if you ask me, I mean one hour for a band with a 30+ year career?), but what it will not focus on and probably not even mention, is the unceremonious way that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were fired last year.

I have been a KISS fan as long as I can remember. I "musically came of age" in the 80s. This was not the best time to be a KISS fan. Their "glory days" had long been over; they weren't packing the arenas and selling millions of albums anymore. Don't get me wrong, they were still great in my 12-year-old eyes, but I now realize they were not on top of their game.

KISS in 1983 still sold a decent amount of records. Most of their 80s releases went gold (500K) or platinum (1 million) in America. I don't care who you are, that's still a good amount of records. But, it wasn't triple platinum or quadruple-duple platinum, or whatever they were selling in the 70s. But, a band can have only one "heyday" right?

What happened to this great band? Well, that my friends would take a team of psychologists and a novel to explain. So, I will try and simplify. KISS got caught up in their mega-success and every decision was based around how to maintain and expand that success. KISS tried disco, pop, whatever was hip at the time, in order to stay on the charts. The problem, in a nutshell, is that KISS started as a band that defied the trends, ignored fashion, ignored critics, and succeeded on their own terms. They made their name on constant touring, not on getting Top 40 radio airplay. KISS got lost. They forgot what made them.

KISS sacked Peter Criss in 1980. In all honesty, Peter is only a mediocre drummer. His songwriting leaves a lot to be desired, as well. He does have a good, raspy, Rod Stewart-esque, voice that lent itself well to songs other band members would write for him ("Hard Luck Woman" "Strange Ways"). He also gave KISS one of their only hits, with the sappy balad "Beth." Well, by 1979 Peter wasn't even playing on the records, he was screwing up in concert, and was a basic pain-in-the-ass. Maybe it was a good idea to let him go -- in 1980.

Peter was replaced by Eric Carr. Eric was a much better drummer, and more importantly for KISS, didn't give Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley any shit. Eric got his own make-up design, and got a taste of the superstar KISS when he did the 1980 tours of Europe and Australia. KISS was sort of over in the US, but was bigger than ever in the rest of world. Eric was a great guy, and deserves his own postings. I will get back to my main point...

With Peter gone, Ace Frehley became unhappy in the band. He was probably unhappy before, but he was 50% of the decision making with Peter, he was much less than that now. Ace wanted KISS to ignore the current trends and get back to making basic, party all night, rock n roll. Gene and Paul countered Ace's idea with a ridiculous concept album called "Music from the Elder." It is a piece of crap. KISS admits this now.

Ace quit in 1982 following the Elder disaster. He appeared on the cover of one more LP, but did not play on that record. I am not ignoring Peter and Ace's drug and alcohol problems. They were factors in their getting fired, or having their roles minimized. However, having a "wild card" as it were in the band, made it more interesting for the fans. Ace might have been wasted, but he still sounded great. Peter....well, it might have had more of an effect.

KISS soldiered on throughout the 1980s with Eric Carr and a slew of guitar players. Sadly, Eric Carr died in 1991 from cancer. All throughout this time there were rumours of a possible re-union of the original members, but it never happened.

By the mid-90s KISS had a solid, no-make-up line-up with Gene, Paul, Eric Singer, and Bruce Kulick. They made a decent album with "Revenge," but in the midst of the alternative, grunge explosion it was ignored. The band started getting nostalgic, and began putting on their own KISS travelling conventions. Fans had been doing this for years, but now the band put it's official stamp on it. This also meant that the band would be at the convention. They began doing an acoustic set made up of classics and some more obscure album cuts. The fans loved hearing the older songs again which had been virtually ignored for the previous decade.

I won't go on and on about the situation leading up to the reunion of Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter. It happened in 1996 as a result of the conventions, and it seemed like the hatchets had truly been buried. KISS was cautious in the undertaking. Gene and Paul remembered their former buddies' bouts of unreliability, and Ace and Peter remembered their old friends' controlling ways. After a test run appearance at the American Music Awards, the band went for it. And it worked out gloriously!!!

My friend Matt and I made a pact when we were just little, teenage metalheads. If KISS ever got back together with the original line-up, no matter how old we were, or what we were doing in life, we would drop everything and be at opening night. WE ACTUALLY DID IT. We flew to Detroit Rock City for opening night at Tiger Stadium. Matt, myself, and 70,000 of our closest friends witnessed one of the best rock shows ever. KISS was back -- big time!!

While the concerts were great, and the tour was the biggest seller of the year, it didn't take long for the old tensions to re-surface. Even though I love Gene Simmons (I have a tattoo of his make-up face on my leg), I think this time it was his and Paul's fault. Gene and Paul had gotten quite used to having hired hands in the band who would simply take orders, and never talk back. Ace and Peter were original members, the fans loved them, and they did talk back to Gene and Paul.

The re-united band decided to make an album, but Gene and Paul wanted subordinates not band mates or collaborators. Though it is still hard to get them to admit this, apparently KISS as a band only played on ONE SONG on the album! Ace's "Into the Void." The rest of the album was played by session musicians. The songs were written by Gene and Paul with outside writers. The album was a major disappointment (except strangely for 'Into the Void' which ruled...go figure). Psycho Circus, the album and tour, were duds.

The tour did better than the album. The show, however, was no different than the previous tour songwise, except for the addition of a few new songs. KISS was still ignoring the bulk of their career output. I still loved it, but how many more times would I be there to see the same show?

The band might have gotten a whiff of this, because in 2000 they announced their current tour would be their "Farewell Tour." Good-bye KISS. Not exactly. After the 2000 tour ended, the contracts keeping Ace and Peter in the band expired. The tour still had some international dates left, so a new contract had to be quickly hammered out. Ace signed his, Peter held out for more cash. It might have seemed like this was a reasonable move considering how many millions Gene and Paul were making as "KISS", but Ace and Peter did quit back in the day. They were still getting paid a rumored $250K per week. That is mega-money no matter who you are. Regardless, KISS decided in 2001 just like they did in 1980, that replacing a trouble maker is easier than dealing with the trouble.

KISS went to Japan with 90s drummer Eric Singer wearing Peter Criss' make-up. He never "said" he was Peter, but obviously, this is what the band meant to convey. Eric couldn't demand such a high salary, and he didn't talk back. By all accounts the shows were good, but having fake members in the band did not sit right with me. This "version" of the band existed until 2002 when Ace was fired, but strangely, Peter came back! Ace has been a virtual recluse since his time in the band ended. He apparently is happy with things, and wants to retire from music. I take him at his word.

Ace was "replaced" by Tommy Thayer for the post-farewell tour with Aerosmith. Tommy Thayer for the 10 previous years had been Gene and Paul's assistant. He does have a musical history, and has helped KISS, but having him put on Ace's make-up and pretend to be him is just a joke. Maybe...just maybe...if they had hired Bruce Kulick, it might not have seemed so insulting to Ace. Bruce did play in the band for over 10 years, and collaborated with the band on Psycho Circus as a "non-member." For whatever reason, they didn't follow my advice.

After the Aerosmith tour, KISS fired Peter Criss for good. Eric Singer was brought back, another tour was booked (4 years after the farewell), and the KISS-tribute show began.

To me, it is insulting that Gene and Paul think that any person wearing KISS make-up can just be passed off as a member of the band, and the fans won't know the difference. I don't care if Tommy can mimic Ace's guitar licks -- he is not Ace, he didn't write those licks, and he is only copying the sound of the notes, not the feel of them. I don't care if Eric Singer is a better drummer than Peter. Hell, most professionals are. So what. Peter and Ace were there in the club days, they were there on those early tours, they helped the band reach the highest highs, and despite quitting the band at one time, deserve more respect than they are getting.

I am boycotting the current KISS "Rock the Nation" tour. I ignored the KISS / Aerosmith tour also. I will not pay my hard-earned money to see a KISS cover band. I did pay to see those kinds of bands BEFORE the reunion. I loved seeing people pretend to be KISS, do the classic 70s set and show. It was good because KISS was not doing it anymore. Tommy Thayer knows this firsthand -- he was in a tribute band (you have seen the move "Rock Star", right?).

I love Gene and Paul, but you guys have really let me down. I do want to hear obscure, older songs in the set. But, I'd rather see the real band than two sideman pretenders. If you want us fans to believe that they are more than that, give them their own make-up designs. The reason the 80s-90s KISS eventually earned the respect of the fans is that they did not pretend to be someone else. Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent got their own, unique make-up designs, and when the make-up came off, they never pretended to be someone else. Bruce never did a smoking guitar solo, Eric didn't end the show with "Beth." The band acknowledged the obvious -- they were different.

Gene and Paul, you owe the fans more than this. Either retire, bring back Ace and Peter, or give their replacements their own identity. Those are the choices. True fans will agree. Don't believe the hype coming constantly from Gene and Paul about how much better the band is now. The new version is joke. Ignore them. Let me remember the band the way they were -- the way they were meant to be. End it now. Please.

KISS does deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, however. They have been eligible for 5 years, but have not been nominated. They have been shut out. Please write to: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation
1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104 and demand this oversight be corrected.

Thanks for letting me say my piece.

1 comment:

  1. Man...I couldn't agree with you more. I just read the book "KISS and Sell: the making of a SuperGroup" by C.K. Lendt and man....I was blown away at what really went on in that band. I TRULY despise Gene Simmons on all levels. I am a lifelong KISS fan and I stuck with them through it all. I quit paying attention after peter left the second time and Gene kept up the P.R. bullshit. It is sad to see our heros playing dress up...it really is. I do cherish my memory of the 1996 reunion tour where I LITERALLY got choked up when I saw them all play on stage. THAT is what I will take with me forever. Not this garbage they are doing in 2013.

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