Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Life in the Kiss Cult--Part A

Since we've had the Great Beatles Revival with the release (re-release, that is) of their CDs recently, the time seems ripe for a Great Kiss Revival with the release of Sonic Boom and their Alive 35 concert tour. Thus, I've decided to do a little series about my favorite band of all-time (not the greatest band of all-time--that's The Who, in my book) and why I love them so much, warts and all...

It might surprise you that I didn’t like Kiss at first.  In fact, I was rather repulsed by them when I first saw the Alive! album on the record shelves at the store, thus I was guilty of judging books by covers.  I also have vague memories of hearing “Rock And Roll All Nite” on the radio and not being terribly impressed by it.  For better or worse, you can thank a schoolmate of mine named Steve Highley for truly getting me into the Hottest Band in The World.  When I was in 6th grade at Blue Ridge Elementary School in Raytown, we had a semi-weekly music class taught by a real sweet lady with the rather unfortunate name of Miss Rash, and often we students would bring in records from home for her to play on that government-issue single-speaker school record player.  A girl brought in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” one day, and Miss Rash was so impressed with the harmonies and different musical changes in the song that she later had the lyrics printed off and divided the class up into groups to sing the various parts of the song, and it was great fun (even though the subject of the tune was murder, but we won't talk about that...)

I also remember bringing in my Elton John albums quite a bit during that time, and on a bright spring day in April or May of ’76, Steve Highley brought in his copy of Kiss' Alive!  The jaundiced look on Miss Rash’s face when she saw the album cover was priceless, but bless her heart, she reluctantly played a few tracks from the record, one of which was “Cold Gin”, complete with Paul Stanley’s between-song patter about “…there’s a lot of you people out there that like to drink vodka and orange juice!” which even Miss Rash got a kick out of.  I remember really liking the song a lot, and started re-thinking my original stance on this band.  Before I forget, if you’re out there, Miss Rash—thank you for indulging us in class.  And Mr. Highley, thanks for bringing Alive! in—you have no idea what you two unwittinlgy spawned!

A few weeks later in early June, I nabbed my own copy of Alive! and played the living shit out of it from the get-go on my cheapo General Electric record player, In spite of its crappy needle that skipped like a stone across a pond.  “Deuce”, “Firehouse”, “Parasite”, “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Black Diamond” quickly became favorites of mine—well, really almost every song did—and Peter Criss’ drum solo during “100,000 Years” was the bitchinest one I’d ever heard up to that point.  I also grabbed up the first three Kiss studio albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed To Kill—but was rather disappointed with how flat they sounded compared with the live monster they had out, which might explain why I was reluctant to pick up the latest Kiss album, Destroyer, right away, in spite of its awesome cover painting by artist Ken Kelly.  A little trivia for you:  Ken Kelly—who also did the Love Gun cover—is a cousin of Frank Frazetta, who drew those cool early Molly Hatchet album covers.

Anyway, sometime in early July of ’76, my family took a road trip to northern Mississippi to visit relatives, and one of my female cousins (who, sadly, is no longer with us—rest in peace, Denise) played this Ronco or K-Tel 8-track tape of current hits (Rock Explosion or some such title) with “Shout It Out Loud” on it.  Upon hearing it, I said, “Who’s that singing?  That’s pretty good.”  I couldn’t believe my ears when she told me it was Kiss—I was stunned at how slick they sounded compared with those first three studio albums—and I was like “Wow!”  As soon as we got back to town, I bought Destroyer and instantly fell in love with “Detroit Rock City” in addition to “Shout”, both of which would easily make my Top 100 Songs of All-Time list, if I ever get around to compiling one.  Kiss was pretty much all I listened to that Bicentennial summer, and it killed me that I couldn’t attend the Kiss concert at Municipal Auditorium that month, but I was only 12 and had no one who would take me anyway.  I would have to wait three long years before my first Kiss concert…

Meantime, I took to Kiss like an arsonist to a burning building.  Before long, I was snapping up every magazine I could find at 7-Eleven that had articles about the band.  I remember one of my first misconceptions about Kiss was they wore the make-up all the time—not just on-stage!  I even bought Kiss sheet music books—never mind that I can’t read sheet music to save my soul.  I started junior high that fall, and was ever so proud of my first Kiss t-shirt—back in the days when you had to buy the shirt and the iron-on separately.  Between that and my Kiss belt buckle, I took a lot of shit from people at school who chanted the “Kiss sucks!” mantra at me constantly.  To all those douche-bags I now say (in the words of the late Redd Foxx), “I hope your dog dies!”

Much more to come about Kiss in the coming days/weeks—whether you like it or not!

Friday, October 16, 2009

'Cuz you look just like a blogger...

...and you might just be a member, baby—Get out of Denver, baby!

I gotta call "Bullshit" on yesterday’s Colorado kid-in-the-balloon story.  I thought it looked fishy from the get-go when I first heard about it, therefore I wasn't "captivated" by it at all like my morning paper claimed the whole nation was.  And after watching the kid’s father and family making the rounds on all the network morning shows, I have no doubt this whole thing was a hoax.  For someone who should be fairly shaken by an incident like this, this Richard Heene character sure don’t seem at all camera-shy.  It’s no small coincidence that this clown is an unabashed self-promoter who’s already appeared on that “Wife Swap” excrement on ABC.  And it sure looks like his kid has ADHD, based on the way he squirms around on camera during these interviews, and I love how he spilt the beans by saying he thought they were doing all this for a show—pretty obvious the Heenes are taking a page out of the Jon & Kate playbook by whore-ing out their own children for some more notoriety and/or a potential big payday.

From what I can tell, the tens and fives are missing out of this Heene guy’s card deck—his kid’s name is Falcon, for crimeny’s sake!  What are his other kids called, Vulture and Fishhawk?  The Big Dick also flies planes into hurricanes to take magnetic field measurements and rides motorcycles into mesocyclones for whatever thrill that gives him, and according to the paper, he says he’d like to meet “real aliens from outer space and conduct a full interview with them.”  Sorry, Bud, but Oprah’s already got dibs on that.  Meantime, congratulations, America—you’ve been punked!

Get a load of the pity party Rush Limbaugh’s been throwing for himself this week since he was dropped from the ownership group that wants to buy the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. According to the Big Fat Idiot:  “This is not about the NFL.  It’s not about the St. Louis Rams.  It’s not about me.  This is about the ongoing effort by the left in this country, wherever you find them, in the media, the Democrat Party, or wherever, to destroy conservatism, to prevent the mainstreaming of anyone who is prominent as a conservative.  Therefore, this is about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we’re going to have.”

And His truth goes marching on…

Do we even have enough airspace in this country to contain this Nandofuck’s colossal ego?  The BFI also went on to blame Barack Obama, NFL union leader DeMaurice Smith and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for the NFL owners blackballing him from their little fraternity.  It was probably Al Franken’s fault, too.  Cry me a fuckin’ river—it ain’t like Mr. $38 million-a-year can’t afford to start his own football league.  He claims he was “hurt” when the St. Louis football Cardinals bolted for Arizona in 1988 and so wanted St. Louis to get an NFL team back.  So, where was Rushbo during their 1993 failed expansion bid?  And I have news for you, Rush baby, you and your tag-team partners Hannity, Beck and O’Reilly over at Faux Noise Channel, as well as Michelle “Squawkin’” Malkin and (D)Ann Coulter, et al, are doing a bang-up job of giving conservatism a bad name all on your own.

I almost kinda wish Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush would consider changing their band's name, so it won't remind me of this pompous fool.

Doesn’t it just grind your gears when politicians or celebrities deny they said something in the past, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary?  The Big Fat Idiot is claiming he never made the statement in 2007, “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.  There, I said it,” even though transcripts from Limbaugh’s own website prove otherwise.  Likewise, Bill O’Reilly claims he never referred to murdered abortion doc. George Tiller as a “baby killer” on “O’Reilly Factor”, even though it’s right there in the videos for all to see.  And I suppose that was just some ‘droid made up to look and sound just like you and say all that stuff, eh Bill?  Now tell me the one again about the Holocaust not really happening…

AL MARTINO, 1924-2009
Crooner Al Martino passed away the other day.  He is forever-known as the Frank Sinatra-esque heartthrob character Johnny Fontane in the Godfather films, but Al also had a few hits of his own over the years.  So long, Al/Johnny—good thing you acted like a man.  Say hello to Vito for us!

Remember this Neanderthal from the Cyndi Lauper video?  He also died this week at age 76.  I’m loathe to admit that I actually watched the WWF thing back in the ‘80s during the Gorilla Monsoon/Jesse “The Body” Ventura/Hulk Hogan/Andre The Giant/Lou Albano era, but at least back then it was halfway entertaining before pro wrestling became the White Trash national pastime it is today.  Albano was a strange duck all the way around, but he was a perfect fit for the madness that befitted the WWF’s explosion in popularity in the mid-‘80s.  He will be missed—I guess…

Just as I have been the last two years during the baseball playoffs on TV enduring TBS’ incessant promos for comedian Frank Caliendo’s “Frank TV” crapfest, I’m already more-than-annoyed with their ads for this new George Lopez show they’re hyping the hell out of.  George seems like a nice enough guy, but he has yet to ever make me laugh out loud even once, even though he claims to have been heavily influenced by the late Richard Pryor.  Really, George?  It sure doesn’t show in your work.  That’s just like all these current lame-o “Rock” bands who claim Kiss as a huge influence in their music.  Riiight.

Speaking of Daddy Rich, I recently read his autobiography, Pryor Convictions, and found it very enlightening as to why he was so self-destructive, even though he seemingly had it all in terms of fame and fortune.  Considering the unsavory environment he was raised in (a brothel in the 'hood), it’s a wonder he was as well-adjusted as he was.  It always amazes me how many truly great comics, actors, musicians, etc., come from really fucked-up families, but as the late George Carlin once said, Richard’s comedy often was born out of pain.  And like Pryor’s favorite original character Mudbone remarked about him, “He could make a motherfucker laugh at a funeral on Sunday, Christmas Day!”  And as with Carlin, even though I’ve heard Richard’s routines a zillion times and can recite many of them verbatim, they still make me laugh out loud when I hear them today.  Rest in peace, Richard and George—youse two were the baddest of them all…

It’s been 20 years since we last heard from the planet Jendell’s favorite son on a non-Kiss recording, and I was very much looking forward to hear what Space Ace had to say these days.  I was also hoping since the release of his new CD coincided with that of Kiss’ new one, that Ace could send a big middle finger up Gene Simmons’ ass for all the bashing he’s incurred from the Demon over the years, but sad to say, I’m a bit disappointed with Anomaly overall.  It doesn’t suck, mind you, but at the same time, it’s nothing earth-shattering either.

Unlike on his ‘80s releases, Ace does all the singing on Anomaly, and although his vocals have improved somewhat over the years, still he’s hardly Robert Plant, Ian Gillan or even Paul Stanley.  Therefore, I think he might’ve benefitted greatly from bringing back former sidekick Tod Howarth from the Frehley’s Comet days to handle some of the lead vocals in much the same role Derek St. Holmes played with Ted Nugent in the ‘70s.  I did spot a couple other familiar names in the credits, though, including Meat Loaf’s daughter Pearl Aday (“Mini-Loaf?”) on backing vocals and drummer Anton Fig from Dave Letterman’s “Worlds Most Dangerous Band”, who played on Ace’s first solo album in ’78 as well as on Kiss’ Dynasty and Unmasked.  On bass is one Anthony Esposito—I had no idea that the legendary Hall of Fame Chicago Blackhawks goalie was a musician!  But I digress…

The best cuts on Anomaly are “Outer Space” and “Pain In The Neck”, and the rest are fairly predictable, including “A Little Below The Angels”, Ace’s confessional about his well-documented battles with alcohol.  Remembering the fine job Ace did in covering E.L.O.’s “Do Ya” in ’89, I was also really looking forward to his re-make of one of my faves from the ‘70s, “Fox On The Run” (“it’s just an old Sweet song,” as Ray Charles once sang), but even it comes off really flat and restrained, and Ace almost sounds bored while singing it.  The Sweet original clearly rips it to shreds, and Girlschool did a much better job remaking “Fox” in the late ‘80s.  Even Ace’s latest addition to his customary “Fractured” closing track series, “Fractured Quantum” doesn’t really go anywhere.  One other element sorely lacking on Anomaly—Frehley’s light-hearted sense of humor—is nowhere to found.  Ace usually includes one or two humorous songs on his albums or at least his trademark cackle on a track or two, but everything here is so uncharacteristically dead-dog serious, you'd think Dio wrote the songs instead of Ace.

Perhaps my expectations were a bit too high going in, but you’d think after two decades, Brother Frehley would have amassed a better stockpile of new tunes than what we have here.  Overall, I give Anomaly a C+.  Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years for Ace’s next album.  He’ll be 78 by then, if he makes it that long…

When Kiss last gave us a brand new album with all-new material in 1998—the half-baked Psycho Circus—we were led to believe it was a “group” effort by the original Fearsome Foursome, however, it was anything but that as Ace Frehley and Peter Criss contributed precious little to it.  Ace played and sang on his “Into The Void” and Peter warbled on Paul Stanley’s “I’ve Finally Found My Way”, and both sang on the track “You Wanted The Best” where each member had a couple of lines, but that was the extent of their involvement.  The album featured numerous session players—even Gene Simmons didn’t play on every track and his songs in particular all kinda seemed half-finished, especially the closing track, “Journey of 1,000 Years” which sounded like it was really building up to something grand as it intoned “Can you feel it coming?”, only to peter out (sorry, Mr. Criscoula!) about halfway through and dissolve into oblivion.  Apart from “Into The Void”, only Paul Stanley’s songs truly stood out on Psycho Circus, especially the title track and “Raise Your Glasses”.

Well, after 11 years and almost as many Kiss compilations and greatest hits packages, and the acrimonious departures of Criss and Frehley, Messrs. Simmons and Stanley finally decided to get off their duffs and do like I’ve long advocated and put out some new music under the Kiss banner with hired hands Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer replacing the dearly departed.  In light of all the invective Gene and Paul have hurled at Peter and Ace (especially Ace) during this decade, I have to admit I really wanted to hate this new album, in much the same way my kindred musical spirit Randy Raley wanted to hate the Eagles' Long Road Out of Eden a couple years back.  But, like Randy, I feel like Michael Corleone, 'cause just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!  I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised with Sonic Boom—it’s certainly a major upgrade over Psycho Circus and easily their best studio release since 1992's Revenge.  The only things I truly dislike about Sonic Boom are the title itself and the cover art—not terribly original on either count, guys!

The first thing I noted while perusing the song credits was that Simmons and Stanley are actually collaborating on some songs, just like in the old days (either with each other or with Thayer), and I find that refreshing.  And democracy makes another rare appearance in Kiss, as all four current members get at least one lead vocal on Sonic Boom, a feat that’s only occurred three other times in Kisstory (Love Gun, Dynasty and Psycho Circus being the others).  Young master Singer actually lives up to his surname and acquits himself quite well on “All For The Glory” with raspy vocals reminiscent of his Kiss drummer predecessors, Mr. Criss and the late Eric Carr, rest his soul.  Lead guitarist Tommy Thayer certainly doesn’t embarrass himself either on his first recorded lead vocal on “When Lightning Strikes”.  I’m not all that enamored with the opening cut, “Modern Day Delilah”, which they’ve been plugging heavily and appears to be the only new song on Kiss’ set list on their new tour.  Might I suggest clipping “Delilah” (clipping—get it?) in favor of “All For The Glory” and/or other standout tracks like “Stand”, “Never Enough” or “Hot And Cold”?  Stanley’s “Danger Us” ain’t bad, either, and it borrows a little chunk from 1977’s “Got Love For Sale” during the intro.

Sonic Boom sounds very tight, musically, and the harmonies are surprisingly sharp for a Kiss album.  About the only thing missing here is a really good climactic closing track in the vein of “I Just Wanna”, “UH! All Night” or even “Do You Love Me?” or “Black Diamond”, as Paul’s “Say Yeah” doesn’t really provide much of an exclamation point to an otherwise pretty decent album.  Let's hope we don't have wait 11 more years for another one from these guys.  I give the Sonic Boom CD itself a B, and an A- for the entire package, which includes (at no extra charge) a bonus CD, Kiss Klassics featuring 15 old favorites re-worked by the current Kiss lineup, as well as a six-song concert DVD from a performance earlier this year in Buenos Aires.  Normally, I take a dim view when bands and singers go back and re-do their old stuff in the studio—especially when there’s nothing wrong with it to begin with—but since it didn’t cost any extra, what the hell, and it’s actually kinda fun to compare Singer/Thayer to Criss/Frehley and Carr/Vincent or Carr/Kulick, although I’m still pretty partial to the original tracks.  All in all, not a bad deal for 14 bucks, even if I did have to set foot in Walmart to get it!  And darn it, Ace, I’m afraid to say that Gene and Paul out-Aced you this time after all…

Lester Bangs, eat your heart out—I can review albums every bit as well as you ever did!
(Yes, Doc. S., I know he’s dead, but I’m just sayin’…)