“Once a KISS fan, always a KISS fan.”
These were the words a friend said to me the other day.
I’ve always been hesitant to talk about KISS, namely because other people have delved into the topic of the band and its fandom more thoroughly than I could without rehashing thoughts betters stated elsewhere.
But I guess this is about my relationship to KISS, what the band has meant to me and how, despite the fact I hate nearly everything the band has done in the past decade, I would still say I’m a fan.
Like a lot of my musical taste phases I’ve gone through, I can thank my slightly-older cousin Chris for getting me into KISS. It was like ’98/’99 and my only real avid musical likes were Collective Soul and Aerosmith.
Based on his fandom and the fact that my dad knew a lot of the songs on it, I bought Alive II.
Maybe it was my childhood love of pro wrestling and spectacle that helped my buy into KISS. Costumes, makeup, blood capsules, pyro, none of these were things I hate. But it was something else, too.
I was pudgy, bad with the ladies and insecure. Listening to KISS made me feel the opposite. About 99.875 percent of their songs are about getting laid. The music rocked, Paul Stanley’s hypersexual lyrics and vocal delivery were awesome and the live show as presented on the album sounded like a raucous spectacle that I wished I could be a part of.
Let’s move up a year, to 2000. Just as I was getting into my KISS phase, buying up the studio albums for a cheap $7.99 at FYE (Rock ‘n’ Roll Over was my favorite; “Mr. Speed” is the most underrated ’70s rock track ever), it happened: the band announced it was embarking on a farewell tour, stating that it was the last time anyone would see all four original members in the make-up playing on stage together.
I HAD to go to this show. At 15, I was still at the age when I thought farewell tours were legitimate and not just cash-grabs by money-hungry bands on their last legs of relevancy. My parents indulged me and my younger brother and got us tickets to see them.
June 20, 2000 was the date. Yes, I still remember the exact date. It was the greatest live experience of my life. It was 2 glorious hours of rock power and it added a new dynamic to the KISS relationship: feeling like being a KISS fan made me part of something larger than myself. When Paul Stanley thanked the KISS Army for always believing and screamed, “WE LOVE YOU!” and cajoled the audience to stand up for what we believe in (the awesome power of rock spectacle), I imagine it’s what people feel like when they find Jesus.
It was like KISS and me, together against the world. No one, literally no one, at my high school liked KISS. But it didn’t matter. I rocked my farewell tour t-shirt with pride, brought in my Crazy Nights CD to listen to in study hall with pride, extolled the virtues of the misunderstood masterpiece that was Music From The Elder.
Then, KISS betrayed me. Gene and Paul had some sort of falling out with Peter, replaced him with another dude in his make-up and continued touring. What the fuck? This was supposed to be the end of KISS. Instead, Ace then left and was replaced by his guitar tech and the band soldiered on.
I was over it. KISS as I loved it was done; I didn’t need to see the band ever again. But then I did.
It was 2004 and Aerosmith was touring with KISS. I had never seen Aerosmith before and felt I should. I figured at least I like KISS’s tunes, even if I had no interest in them.
Aerosmith was fuckin’ terrible. Uninspired, playing to cameras and not the audience, shit I didn’t wanna hear and the band played joylessly.
My interest was reignited by KISS’ 80-minute opening slot. Basically it was a condensed version of the set and stage raps from the farewell tour show, but I still had the same feelings of belonging and awesome spectacle from when I was a kid. And the irony of the band being back after a farewell tour was front and center after Paul screeched a line my dad still laughs about to this day, “Last time we were here, we thought we’d never be back! Will you come see us next time!?” Despite being absolutely ridiculous, that answer was definitely one in the affirmative. But while KISS was no longer the band I would be willing to take a bullet for, I was pretty stoked by its continued existence.
I had the box set, the reissue of the 3 Alive! albums that came with the unreleased 4th album that featured the original line-up and I could get behind the KISSology DVD sets that put out tons of unreleased concert footage of the band from throughout its history. These helped take the sting off the fact that, in its current form, KISS fucking bums me out.
There’s the new albums, unironic stabs at reclaiming the ’70s sound, but just sound like shitty ’80s songs. The constant merchandising of the KISS name gets tiring, but that just won’t ever stop. But then there’s the way the members treat their legacy.
Gene and Paul continually talk shit about Ace and Peter, denigrating their contributions and insisting that their replacements are even better. While Eric Singer is a more than adequate replacement for Peter, Tommy Thayer is a mediocre Ace clone that can’t replicate the Spaceman’s tasty riffs and solos and sings shitty versions of songs that sound like Ace ones. Like any real fan with sour grapes, I’ve taken to the KISS Facebook page many a time to espouse this belief.
Of course, I could swallow all of this, the shitty albums, the fake Ace and Peter, if KISS still kicked ass live. But, I saw them in 2010 and Paul Stanley’s voice was cooked. Gene is a fat slob. Tommy is shitty. Eric Singer, the consummate professional, ripped it up though. It was at that moment that the 15-year old me entranced by KISS’ “farewell” show in 2000 finally said goodbye.
Of course, much like a farewell tour, it isn’t a real goodbye. I continually try to convince myself that I’m just missing something and 2012’s Monster is the KISS I love. I didn’t go last time KISS rolled through town, but that’s probably due to Def Leppard’s opening slot more than being fed up with Gene and Paul’s bullshit and the fact that the live KISS experience may be awful at this point.
But, I still scream my lungs out to “Parasite.” I watch videos of KISS rippin’ through a set at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1975. I tell people who claim to love rock music to blast Alive! and not feel the potency and power of that album. God knows I still listen to it regularly.
After all, once a KISS fan, always a KISS fan.