Back in the fifth grade, I was a proud member of the KISS Army. I went next door to listen to the neighbor kids’ copies of Destroyer and begged my mom for a copy of Rock and Roll Over for Christmas one year. What’s not to love? Scary guys in makeup rocking out. The tall one even spat blood and fire on stage. I tells ya, kids, it was better than a Saturday morning cartoon. I even dutifully endured KISS Meets the Phantom. (OK, that was above and beyond.)
KISS was the original shock band of the 1970’s, and despite the sexually explicit lyrics (which horrified my mother more than Gene Simmons’ Demon character), they were targeting us kids as well as the high school teens and college students. Why do you think they’re still around after almost 40 years?
For us as kids, KISS was mysterious. They never appeared publicly without their makeup. Even after leaving the band, original drummer Peter Criss did television interviews with his back to the camera. And we kids rocked out to “Detroit Rock City,” “God of Thunder,” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” They had range, too, with Peter Criss supplying the ballad “Beth” and the mellower “Hard Luck Woman.”
Then in 1979, something went wrong. They came out with “I Was Made for Loving You,” which, while a classic, was probably ill-advised. Peter Criss quit, replaced by Eric Carr. Then original guitarist Ace Frehley quit. In the early 1980’s came Music from the Elder, which can only be explained by producer Bob Ezrin mouring the breakup of Pink Floyd. After that, founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley made the decision to break with the past and get rid of the makeup. We finally got to see that Gene Simmons was not a demon but a really big Isreali with a goofy grin. KISS became a glam metal band, going through two more guitarists before settling on Bruce Kurlick. They eventually ended the nineties with a grunge album (looking more like Metallica than Nirvana). And then…
The makeup came back. KISS embarked on the never-ending farewell tour, starting with the original line-up, then substituting Tommy Thayer for Ace Frehley. Peter Criss swapped the drummers stool with Eric Singer, who replaced the late Eric Carr (who died of cancer.) They’ve been primarily a live act since then. One of the things that has kept KISS in the limelight is Gene Simmons Osbournes-like reality show with partner (and now wife) Shannon Tweed and their two kids. Simmons has been rather open about his life on the show, in recent seasons letting the cameras see him in more dickish moments.
Sometimes, you wonder if KISS is a bit too mercenary. Would The Beatles go this far? The Stones? U2? But then The Beatles did, if only because nobody knew how to do rock and roll yet. But The Beatles were musicians. KISS is a show.