I was eight years old on June 30, 1977, when Love Gun, the sixth studio album by American hard rock band Kiss, was released. Ken Kelly’s amazing album art, some of what originally inspired me to want to be an artist is obviously what made me have to have this but I had seen them perform on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974 and was well aware of them already through magazines at the dime store. The kabuki makeup, the mystery surrounding them as they’d be out in public, faces covered with bandanas and whatnot to hide their true identities. It was all too cool.
My cousin, friends and I would put on KISS make-up and jump around rocking out pretending to be them for years so when the Dynasty Tour eventually came around in 1979 and was advertised on television, I begged my parents to take me but got a resounding “Hell no.”
In 1980 Kiss Unmasked was released and I was pleased until I learned that despite being credited, Peter Criss had no involvement with the recording of the album. I was devastated and could never wrap my mind around the idea of Eric Carr (R.I.P.), a fox, being the drummer for KISS. Then in 1982 when Ace left I watched from afar, wondering what had happened to the only band I had ever really cared about for as long as I could remember. The final blow was when KISS took off their makeup September 18, 1983, during an appearance on MTV which coincided with the release of Lick It Up and they blended in completely with all the other marginal hair-bands of that era. Lick It Up? How about Eat A Bag of Dicks, guys. I had no interest in KISS anymore at that point. They looked the same as every other spandex-clad hair-band on MTV. Nothing special, at all. So when they finally did their Alive Worldwide Tour in 1996, all four original members, original costumes and makeup, I wept with joy and you bet your sweet ass I was there, fourth row, center stage.
Holy fuck it was amazing and everything I imagined it would be but then they lost me again when Ace and Peter got booted (again) and they now have the audacity to have two other dudes playing in Ace and Peter’s costumes. How fucking rude. I don’t even know their names and I don’t care who they are. Will Gene and Paul hire other musicians to wear their costumes when they’re too crusty to keep it up? I highly doubt it, but maybe. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. It’s a money machine, they’re characters at this point, I get it, but KISS ended in 1980 for me and I’ll accept my dishonorable discharge from the KISS Army, no problem.
What I will continue to savor are those first eight KISS albums. Ken Kelly’s amazing artwork for Destroyer and Love Gun are among the pieces that originally inspired me to want to be an artist in the first place. I remember drawing a pretty decent replica of the Ace Frehley KISS solo album cover and mailing it to the KISS Army Fan Club. They sent me a poster and a big button with a picture of Ace Frehley on it. I was pretty thrilled that they actually responded because Marie Osmond did nothing when I sent her the picture I drew for her.
KISS the band showed me for the first time and at an early age that weird and/or controversial is not necessarily a bad thing. They showed me that a lot of people actually like it and I still hold that notion in my heart to this day. With their music, they showed me that clean and simple are often the answer and that is something that I keep going back to as an artist when I get stuck. Reduce, less is more, clean it up, refine it, think about what can be removed vs. what’s missing. But they, KISS are just people too, with a job to do and families to feed and sometimes the decisions you have to make on the job, with your art are going to disappoint someone somewhere. You simply can’t please everyone and that’s reality so, do your own thing and be your own hero.