Being a KISS fan has never been easy. First, you have musical snobs and haters who have always had strong opinions about a band that hits the stage with outrageous costumes and a massive stage show. There are also those who simply hate their music, which is fine because there are plenty of bands out there whose music I don't like including The Beatles so as you can see there is no musical group that can please everyone. Of course there are also those who shake their heads at the antics of co-founder Gene Simmons who has even called himself delusional on several occasions so there really is no point to getting on his case about anything because he'll probably agree with you.
But that doesn't mean that the band hasn't meant the world to those like myself who have followed them in most cases, their entire life. I think the best way to describe what it's like to be a KISS as well as why we are KISS fans was stated clearly and without question by Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello at KISS' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
The Life Changer
My first exposure to KISS was like any other kid growing up in the late 1970's. I would see their pictures at local record stores and was totally fascinated with the image of the band. Then when my parents would get together with friends at their homes many of these people had older kids who knew that I loved music and that I was interested in KISS. Many times they were nice enough to play their KISS records for me and that was the moment when I was hooked. Notice that these were NOT moments when I was exposed to a stage show or someone in makeup and costumes. I was listening to music and I have no problem or shame in saying that I liked what I heard. And, since this was a time when I began playing drums I was intrigued by the drumming of the great Peter Criss.
Before I knew it my mother and I were at the The Wherehouse record store at the Carson Mall and she bought me my first 45 single for the song I Was Made For Lovin' You. I still have it to this day with all of my other KISS records and other collectibles. Soon after that my father bought me the two album set Double Platinum, which has always been a treasure to me since it is a collection of the best songs from their first six albums. I love every song in that collection of hits and it was at that moment in my life when I studied them religiously to the point where I memorized each song and then played them in my head while I drummed Criss' parts on my own drum set. It was a great way to start learning how to play music regardless of what some musical snobs might say. To this day I have no problem saying that Criss was my first drumming hero.
I was eight years old when Peter Criss first left the band in 1980. At that point I had not been to my first concert so I never saw the original lineup back in their heyday. But as founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons have said for years, the band is bigger than its members so once they brought in drummer Eric Carr to replace Criss I was just as devoted to the band as ever. That was also a time when many of their fans moved on to other things but I never went anywhere. I still bought their new albums and kept picking up the albums I didn't have in my collection because I was truly a fan of the band.
The Next Phase
As I entered my pre-teen years I not only continued to study the band's music along with the drumming of Eric Carr but also attended my first of many KISS concerts. Love them or hate them, you have to respect them when it comes to their live show because no one does it better. As Rush bassist & vocalist Geddy Lee has said on many occasions, "No one works harder than KISS onstage." And mind you, this is a band that has always brought out some of the best opening bands ever who later went on to become international sensations in their own right. KISS was never threatened by the quality of the opening act as they would simply see it as a reason to take their set to the next level in order to make sure that the crowd remembered who the headliner really was. That is an an example of a band who knew how to bring it!
This had a huge impression on me as I started playing in bands of my own. KISS members always talked about how the audience deserved the best and that anything less than your best was unacceptable. I thank them for branding this into my psyche because I have never been one to waste my time playing music I didn't want to play or with musicians who didn't know how to be professionals in all that they do. Aside from that, I also knew that every gig has to be your best performance so again, I set high standards for myself when it came to what I did onstage.
Aside from learning how to be a professional performer from the hottest band in the world I also developed a life long passion as a collector of KISS records. It all started for me when I couldn't find a vinyl copy of KISS Alive II in any record store. So I ordered that album along with an album called Killers that I saw was an import record from a mail order catalog and that's when my eyes were opened to the world of record collecting. When these albums arrived I also received a catalog that had other KISS import records along with extended singles, alternate covers...the works! Once my eyes feasted on all that was out there in record land I was hooked and couldn't wait to make my next order.
To this day I don't have as extensive of a collection as some KISS fans because I always knew that I could not afford everything but to be honest, I wasn't interested in just getting something for the sake of having it. However, the rare releases that I truly wanted I do have regardless of how long it took for me to get it. The best part of this experience is that my son now also has the same passion for record collecting with his focus being on his favorite band, the great Iron Maiden.
As a fan KISS' music got me through some really hard times. Being a teenage boy isn't easy and I can't tell you how many times the music of KISS as well as their take no prisoners approach helped me get through life when I was down and out. I think the messages that moved me the most were the ones to believe in yourself and not to take any lip from anyone, ever! And mind you, this came from a band who has ALWAYS had the odds against them. No one in the music industry EVER wanted KISS around. They were the band that simply refused to go away. So to be blunt, when KISS said such things and also LIVED what they preached it really gave me the confidence to believe in the creed that I could see worked for them. Yes, this short little kid that endured bullying and self-confidence issues was given the will to go on by the band that so many people hated. And, I am not the only one who had such an experience.
Devastation and a Realization
As a young college student I remember hearing the news that my now favorite drummer ever and favorite KISS member of all time had passed away. When Eric Carr left us I felt that KISS should have called it a day. I know now that it was an unpacking of emotions that feared what the band would look and sound like once they brought in a new member. I was so angry that they continued on that I refused to buy any more albums and even refused a chance to see them in concert one night when a friend of mine had an extra ticket that he was willing to offer me. This would go on for another four years!
It wasn't until they performed on MTV Unplugged when I was willing to end my protest. I had heard that original drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley were making a guest appearance so being a fan of the band for so long I just had to see it. It was beautiful to see because the chemistry of the original lineup was still there and, I had to admit that the then current lineup that featured lead guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer was nothing less than spectacular. I had a sense of pride that I hadn't felt before because this band that wouldn't go away whose music was such a joke that it required stage outfits and a huge production went onstage with acoustic guitars and drums and gave one of the best performances in the show's history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l31GqAkpyHM
This performance showed the world what KISS fans already knew: this is a great band!
The emotion I felt brought me home and I will admit that I was so proud to be a KISS fan again. Well, I always was. I guess I was just being a brat and thinking that my ignoring them would somehow have an impact on their career. Nope. These are the same survivors that they have always been so why wouldn't they continue on even after the death of Eric Carr?
Most importantly, this is my favorite band but it is NOT my band! Who was I to dictate to them what they should or shouldn't do? If I love KISS that's fine but what about those who love being in KISS? And what about the two members who founded and maintained KISS all of these years? Was it my place to tell them what to do with their brand? I sure as hell never wanted anyone to tell me what to do with my bands so yes, after some self-reflection it was time to come home and it couldn't have come at a better time.
In 1996 the original lineup had decided to reunite for what would be the most anticipated tour in the history of the band. Now I was in my early 20's and able to see the lineup that started the magic. How appropriate that I would go with my mother to the concert since she was always supportive of my interests and bought so many of my treasures for me (for those who are wondering about it, this was not my mom's first or last KISS concert. She rocks!).
The night was one of great excitement and anticipation. I will never forget the feeling I had when the lights when out and the roar of the crowd filled The Forum in Los Angeles. Then, my first group of musical heroes took the stage. This was my first time seeing the band in makeup so the thrill was like nothing I could ever explain. The band delivered like I knew they would because these were the four guys who created the standard by which every replacement member believed in and lived by. It was an experience I will never forget.
I would go on to see them two more times, which included what we all thought was going to be the Farewell Tour in 2001. I remember the emotions from that night as I had honestly felt that I had seen my favorite band for the last time. I was okay with the idea because I felt that they had given me plenty of memories to last a lifetime. Plus, I was also grateful for all that they had done for me, especially when they helped me get through some pretty hard times.
Of course every band has something within that unit that even the fans are not a part of and in most cases, will never understand. Once Peter Criss and Ace Frehley parted ways with the band again Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons decided to carry on with Eric Singer back on drums and now Tommy Thayer on guitar. I had no problem with this because having been in plenty of bands myself I know first hand of the drama that goes on along with the desire that a musician has to carry on with their career even if someone else no longer wants to be part of the group. Once again, who was I or anyone else to tell the band what they could do with their brand?
Fans are free to come and go to whatever show they want but I did get a chance to see this lineup on the Sonic Boom tour and I have nothing but good things to say about them. The standard that I had known all of my life was still there. Both Singer and Thayer were top notched professionals who more than filled Criss and Frehley's shoes and I have no problem stating that it was one of the best KISS concerts I ever attended.
The End of the Road?
Time has brought us to this moment and while I knew it was inevitable there is in fact a great truth about great music and great art in general: it does last forever! I am happy to say that I will be a part of this final run as I will attend the show on February 13, 2019 in Glendale, AZ with my best friend for life as well as my son. My best friend is the one who has been on this journey with me and my son is the one who I introduced the band to who is now a fan himself. And, did I mention that February 13 is my mother's birthday? What better way to do this on what better day to do this?
Yes, it will make me sad when the band takes their final bow but my love for their music and my pride in being a KISS fan will never die. Insults from musical snobs and pretentious elitists mean nothing to me because such people were never around when I needed a pick me up. Many of these other groups that people say are superior to this joke of a group called KISS never wowed me with their performances. And once again, to those who want to bring up this tired old criticism again about KISS being nothing but a stage show...when I'm in the car and rocking out to their music there are no costumes or stage shows. I am listening to their music and love it as much if not even more than I did as that young boy who discovered them back in the late 1970's!
So thank you to: Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Eric Carr (RIP), Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John (RIP), Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer. You all made an impact on my life and I will never forget all of that you have done for me. You will always be:
The Hottest Band in the World!!!!!