This past week was a big one for those of us in the KISS Army. After 15 years of ignorance and denial by the governing body that runs the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the original line-up of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were finally in its so-called hallowed halls. Leading up to the ceremony, Paul Stanley was often critical about the band’s treatment by Hall officials, who refused to induct any other member of the band into the Hall of Fame, while also requesting that the original line-up perform in make-up for the induction ceremony. To their credit, Stanley and Simmons held their ground and said no way. At the end of the day, the two founding and current members of KISS stood beside their former bandmates; they were all polite and gracious as they took their rightful place in the Hall.
For many people, the idea of KISS as remotely important is a bit of a joke. It took me nearly ten years to convince my old friend and mentor Jeff Woods that we needed to cover the band for Jeff’s Legends of Classic Rock radio documentary series (we did a tight, kick-ass show, for the record). KISS, though selling more than 100 million albums worldwide, just made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone (no doubt because publisher Jann Wenner, a Hall of Fame big wig, thought he could make a buck off a band he despises). With all the drama and Gene Simmons admittedly huge ego, its easy to see why “the critics” never took to the band.
But as Tom Morello so beautifully stated when he inducted KISS into the Hall of Fame Thursday night, the band has never been about the critics. It has ALWAYS been for the fans. The catchy rock and roll hooks; the double entendre (and single entendre) lyrics never needed to be deciphered. The band either sang about scoring with ladies or their and our ongoing love of rock and roll. Stanley and Simmons may not be Bob Dylan, but that’s ok. I have my Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed albums right beside my copies of Destroyer, Alive! and Alive II! I don’t need KISS to be literary geniuses – I just need them to unabashedly rock. Which they’ve done and, some fortyu years after their classic debut album hit store shelves, they continue to do.
Though my first KISS show was on the 1992 Revenge tour (with Bruce Kulick on guitar and Eric Singer on drums), I didn’t really fall in love with the band until their 1996 reunion tour with Ace and Peter. I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Toronto’s Skydome with my future wife to see the gig. And though we sat at the top of the stadium, my mind was blown by the spectacle before me. The fire-breathing; the smoking guitars; The Demon ascending to the rafters after spewing blood. It was incredible. You know what else was incredible, though? The songs. I knew the obvious ones – Deuce, Shout It Out Loud, Rock and Roll All NIght, Detroit Rock City. But it was the ones I’d yet to become familiar with that blew me away – King of the Nighttime World; Shock Me; Do You Love Me; Hotter Than Hell. Riff after glorious riff. This was rock and roll. That night, I enlisted in the KISS Army. And I’ve been a proud member ever since.
Larger than life. That’s what KISS is, was and always will be. Today, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer play guitar and drums in the band; they’re master musicians honouring the past while also helping push forward the legacy of the band. KISS’ last two albums, 2009’s Sonic Boom and 2012’s Monster were filler-free, hard-rockin’ additions to the catalogue. To celebrate their fortieth anniversary, the band will hit the road this summer with Def Leppard. It will no doubt be yet another spectacular spectacle. If you’ve never experienced KISS live, do your best to see them this summer.
You may just find yourself enlisting in the army yourself.