If there is one thing older Baby Boomers like to do, it is to remind younger Baby Boomers that unless they saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, then they need to move to the back of the generational bus.
Now, I am the first to agree that from a cultural and musical standpoint, the Beatles are the most universally relevant to anyone born before 1965. I remember walking to grade school in 1970 and my friend telling me how upset his older brother was about the Beatles breaking up. However, to us, the Beatles were little more than the stars of the acid-inspired cartoon Yellow Submarine. Truthfully, Magilla Gorilla was still more iconic to the average 7- or 8-year-old.
However, this does not mean we junior Boomers did not have our own complicated relationship with music — after all, I was a KISS fan.
There may be no band from the 1970s that was more polarizing than the four grease-painted, 8-inch platform-shoe-wearing, New-York-bred superheroes, who lyrically and musically, were about as subtle as a rhino in heat. The superpower they wielded was – VOLUME.
For those unfamiliar with the band whose decibel level was only exceeded by their marketing savvy, KISS was the existential answer to the pubescent questions, “Who am I? Why am I here?” or more importantly, “Why do I throw up every time I try to speak to Hillary Fuchs in pre-algebra?” They were custom built for anxiety-filled boys, wandering aimlessly through adolescence.
Each member of the band had an elaborate, masked, costumed persona, allowing them the ability to leave the ho-hum responsibilities of just being a groupie-mounting, Jack-Daniels-swilling, mid-level touring band to the likes of Head East or Vanilla Fudge.
KISS was different; they were other worldly.
They brought a fire-breathing, blood-spitting locomotive wreck to every Civic Center and War Memorial Coliseum from Bangor to Bangladesh. When it was over, every under-sexed, hormone-fueled 14-year-old knew they had gotten every cent of value out of their $7 ticket.
There was more than just being at a loud concert; it was a shared event where one was amongst his tribe. One could relate to fact that almost every lyric was somehow able to find a way to rhyme “begging you please” and “get down on your knees.”
KISS stood up for those awkward early teens who knew that with a Les Paul and three chords, they too could be a fire-breathing demon, starchild or spaceman (which as we all knew was far superior to being an eighth grader and being pushed into the girls’ locker room).
KISS understood that since we weren’t spending ANY money on dates with cheerleaders, there was plenty of money to be spend on KISS albums – and not just albums, but KISS transistor radios, T-shirts, posters, comic books, belt buckles, hats, action figures and, most importantly, an official KISS makeup kit. Find me any man between 50 and 55, and I will show you a man who was dressed as a member of KISS at least one Halloween during the Carter administration.
I remember experimenting with several red substances that were combined to look like the blood that bassist Gene Simmons spit out during “God of Thunder.” Needless to say, there were some very uncomfortable conversations with my mother on exactly why ketchup, red food coloring and honey found their way into the upstairs bathroom on a regular basis. In hindsight, I believe she might have been pleased that was all I was using it for.
I distinctly remember being an eighth grader when the KISS comic book first came out. KISS publicists said that four vials of the band members’ blood were poured into the red ink. I walked about 4 miles to a bodega in Teaneck, New Jersey, to buy it. Around that same time I also knew that I wanted to learn to play guitar. Our junior high music teacher decided to teach us, but of the 15 cheap guitars he had in the class, only one had a red sunburst finish like Ace Frehley’s. I used to find an excuse to leave Spanish two minutes early every day so I could be first to get that guitar.
By the time ninth grade rolled around, I had begun to outgrow KISS. They actually served as a gateway drug into Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I still find music to be one of the great pleasures in my life and I guess I can thank Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter for that to some degree.
So I may have never seen John, Paul George and Ringo on Ed Sullivan in 1964, but I sure as hell saw “KISS meets the Phantom of the Park” in 1978.
Todd Lancaster is a columnist and sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org