MY FORTY-PLUS YEARS WITH THE HOTTEST BAND IN THE WORLD
Shout it Out Loud

God gave rock and roll to you.

I was nine years old when I heard KISS for the first time.

The day was as unremarkable as I can remember. Typically, we were playing on the dirt piles of a new house construction next to my friend Mark’s house. It was a day of dirt clods and king of the mountain.

And then I heard it.

It was music, but loud and aggressive. It was nothing like the Monkees album I constantly played in my bedroom. I was transfixed. The group of us outside went over to the open basement window to discover Mark’s older brother Scott was playing KISS Alive! on the turntable. I sat there completely drawn in by the songs and the roar of the crowd.

Most importantly, Scott handed me the actual album, and I realized this was not a normal band. Oh, no. It was the most incredible superhero, rock and roll band ever, and I had found my music.

This was the music that would get me through middle school. Laying the needle on a KISS album would always change my mood from sour to happy. KISS was the music that would pump me up before grade school basketball games, high school cross country and track meets, and anytime I needed to be more positive about myself. This was my music and my band. I was the kid into comic books and Star Wars. KISS was a mash-up of my interests with loud guitars and a thumping backbeat.

It wasn’t long before I added to my cherished Monkees vinyl. KISS Love Gun was played over and over again in my bedroom. My ten-year-old self starred at the superheroes on the cover with barely a glance at the scantily clad women also adorning the cover. I had no idea what “love gun” meant, let alone lines like, “If you wanna see my love, just ask her” from the song “Plaster Caster.”

I didn’t care.

Soon, I collected more albums and pulled down my Star Wars and Lou Brock posters for ones carefully cut out of magazines featuring the only band I cared about for years: KISS.

Like many fans at the time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, all we had were friends, siblings, the radio, and the occasional music magazine to drive our tastes in music. KISS to me (and millions more) were these living, breathing superheroes who happened to play music. There was a mystique to them that wasn’t present in other bands. They had secret identities. Any glimpse in a magazine had to be purchased. I rarely heard KISS on the radio unless it was “Beth,” but I didn’t care.

KISS was my band. I wore it on my sleeve, literally.

In 1977, I begged my Mom to buy me this hideous canary yellow with navy blue sleeves shirt all because it had a red KISS logo on the shirt pocket. Man, I wish I could find a picture of that ridiculous shirt. I wore it proudly.

When my grade school had a variety show, a couple of acts were KISS-related lipsynchs. I was the kid who was singing along and making a fool out of myself. I was talked out of buying actual platform boots I found at a flea market because they were a.) women’s boots and b.) not even remotely my size.

I bought Alive! for a quarter from my friend’s sister. The album was worn on the edges and faded, but I didn’t care.

Years later, my next-door neighbor was having a basement party, and I brought a few records, including that well-worn copy of Alive! to help set the mood. Walking over, I accidentally dropped one of the records on the driveway and broke a piece out. I had to practice dropping the needle on the record to avoid the hole for decades until I bought a heavy vinyl reissue.

Back then, I wanted everything KISS from lunch boxes to belt buckles to radios, and rarely was I indulged. Today, I have a broken Paul Stanley doll straight from 1978 and the Empire State Building poster framed in my basement, and it’s perfect for any rock and roll parties I plan on throwing.

I never saw the Paul Lynde Halloween special or their appearance on the Mike Douglas Show until much later. My first viewing of the band was the atrocious KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park TV movie, and I’m sure it was the first time I’d ever heard the band speak in normal voices. Of course, Gene’s was enhanced in some silly way, and Peter’s voice was Michael Bell, not even trying to imitate his New “Yawk” accent. Luckily, I did catch the KISS Light/Dark segment on 3–2–1 Contact and the introduction of Eric Carr on Kids of People Too.

I missed the unmasking on MTV, but I skipped school to buy Lick It Up at the record store. I stared at the cover for hours, and it was like lifting the cowl off of Batman.

Just like most KISS fans, I had played the Animalize Uncensored VHS tape so many times I had everything memorized. With Lick It Up and Animalize, suddenly KISS was cool again right when I was getting bombarded with new music from MTV and high school friends.

Surprisingly, my first KISS show wasn’t until January 23, 1986, on the Asylum tour. I was in the furthest reaches of the old Kiel Auditorium, but I didn’t care.

All of these moments and more are etched on my brain and played an undeniable part in shaping who I am and what kind of person I continue to be.

More concerts came through, and I bought tickets, brought friends, and fell back in love with the band, the music, and the experience. It never went away. Of course, there are other bands I started to listen to just as much or more. I listened to it all, from the Beatles to the Eagles and so many 80s hairbands to Garth Brooks to the Foo Fighters, but KISS has always been my favorite band.

Recently, I made one more KISS memory. I saw the End of the Road tour in Tinley Park, just a few minutes south of Chicago.

I had not planned on seeing the show, making the decision relatively late in the process. The new date emerged after having to change due to COVID, and I just had a feeling I needed to go. One last hurrah for this band that has meant so much to me.

I invited a couple of old friends I had not seen in person in a long while due to COVID. I snapped up three lawn seats and counted down to Saturday night.

Looking back, one big reason I decided to go was that the show was on a Saturday. A mid-week show was a no-go for my friends and me. It’s hard to go to concerts hours away when you have to work in the morning. What a drag it is getting old.

Instead of a band or the recently announced retiring David Lee Roth opening the show, we got performance painter David Garibaldi. I am sure I should have been impressed with his three speed paintings and his work raising money for Crew Nation, but I could not care less. I want an opening band, not a painter. We had hoped to get to the venue after the painter, but instead, we arrived just in time.

Finally, the band hit the stage with all the fire, fireworks, lights, and smoke you’d expect. The lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer have been together longer than the original four members and put on a high-energy, special effects-heavy, rock and roll party.

The setlist hasn’t changed in years. They know the fans want the hits, and with a career spanning nearly 50 years, they have quite a few.

I knew every cue, every stage rap, every choreographed moment. Watching KISS put on a show, for me, was like going home. I sang every lyric and danced with my friends. I cheered when they did the Duece dance, and I yelled when Gene drooled blood. It was all familiar and fun.

The show was a cacophony. This wasn’t a band that you headed to the concession stands when they played a song you didn’t want to hear. This was a spectacle, and you never wanted to miss a thing. KISS is a far cry from going up on stage in jeans and a T-shirt. I got my money’s worth, and so did the crowd.

As the confetti rained down on the crowd, seeing KISS one last time was cathartic. I hadn’t anticipated that feeling when the curtain came down and the first chords of “Detroit Rock City” started. Two hours later, I was smiling and feeling fantastic.

KISS has always been my favorite band. They delivered the good one last time.

If you haven’t seen them, I would encourage you to go.

Leave a Reply