Tuesday, February 20, 2007

All I needed to know in life I learned from listening to KISS

Interesting how music stays with you.

30 years ago I was an 11-year-old boy who had just moved to Ohio from Michigan. It was the summer of 1977 and I remember it well because Elvis Presley had just died. We took a family trip to the store, and being the impressionable youngster that I was, I wanted a record album. But not just any record album, mind you. We had just spent some time with my mother's family, including cousins who were in their late teens/early twenties, and I wanted the music they were listening to. I wanted…

"You can look at the records, but no Kiss!" my father intoned authoritatively.

Well, crap. That's the group I wanted. So I did what any rational 11-year-old boy would do when he wanted his own way- I threw a fit in the middle of K-mart. Having two children of my own who are prone to fits, I know how embarrassing they can be to a parent. At the time, of course, I didn't care. I had the allowance money available, and I wanted a Kiss album! I wanted a Kiss album! Soon my father relented, with the understanding that under no circumstances would the volume approach the level appreciated by Dan and Don. "Sure," I said with a wink. I would just wait until you weren't home. With the deal struck I was allowed to peruse the rock music selections, and I left the store with a copy of Love Gun, Kiss' latest effort.

I was entering a whole new world, a world of Circus magazine and loud guitars, a world where parents refused to enter and we didn't want them there anyway. I wasn't a teen yet, but I was on the fast track. And the 10 questions on my entrance exam concerned Plaster Casters and Love Guns, bass guitar players who were Almost Human and had Love For Sale, Hooligans and sixteen-year-old girls named Christine. I had just become a buck private in the Kiss Army.

Love Gun may have been my entrance exam, but Kiss Alive! became my graduate thesis. Alive was my second Kiss album and to this day is my favorite. The combination of the costumes, grease paint and sheer energy of the music made me a fan for life. I memorized the lyrics, copied the signatures from the bands' notes on the inside, and knew all of Paul Stanley's stage raps. I didn't know what partying e-vah-ree day meant, I didn't know why Gene's baby was worth the Deuce, but I knew I had Nothing To Lose. What a fantastic album.

As I entered junior high school, I quickly discovered that not everyone shared my appreciation for the hottest band in the world. "Kiss sucks!" became a battle cry. I was belittled for my music choices, but I didn't care. I may have been desperate for the approval of my peers, but in the matter of who reigned supreme in the music world I granted no quarter. Kiss taught me non-conformity at an age when being accepted meant the world.

One day on the schoolbus I got into a conversation with a red-haired kid named Billy Bowen. Why we started talking I have no idea. I just remember that the conversation turned to music. He asked me what my favorite bands were and I can remember thinking that I had a choice: either be honest and tell him that I like Kiss, or throw the name of Kiss in with a few other bands and hope he didn't notice. Not feeling like engaging in fisticuffs, I chose the latter.

"I like Kiss and REO Speedwagon," I replied.

"Cool. I like Kiss too." And a friendship was born.

Billy Bowen and I became fast friends. This was unusual, as military brats such as ourselves usually had a couple of years before our dads got the orders and we were shipped elsewhere. But the two of us bonded. We liked Kiss and girls, girls and Kiss. He made Anchor Bay Junior High School a little more bearable for me.

Early in 1979 I was perusing the newspaper when four familiar letters caught my eye. KISS, Pontiac Silverdome, July 13, 1979. My heart skipped a beat. Kiss! In Detroit! I have to go! How I would get there never crossed my mind. I just knew that I was going. When I got to the bus stop the next day Billy already knew. Kiss was coming! And his father was going to drive us there!

For the next few months I could think of nothing else except July 13th and the Kiss Dynasty tour. I gave Billy the money, his dad bought the tickets, and I counted the days. Finally the day came. Billy's dad dropped us off at the Silverdome and left us there. Think about that for a minute. Two twelve-year-old kids alone at a Kiss concert? How in the world did that even happen?

We had packed up our tape recorders and cassette tapes, innocently thinking that we could just waltz in with recording equipment and tape the concert. Rude awakening number two. The security guards stopped us at the gate and would not let us in. Once we convinced them that we were just two stupid kids, they confiscated our tapes and sent us through. We had entered the promised land!

If you have read this far then you know that I thought the show was fantastic. Fire breathing! Blood spitting! Bass guitarists flying and lead guitars smoking! King of the Nighttime World! 2,000 Man! Rock and Roll All Night! I was in heaven.

Flash-forward 17 years. The makeup came, the makeup went, and the makeup came again. The boys were getting the original lineup back together and July 20, 1996 was my date with infamy. When it was go-time I knew all the words to every song and sang them all with reckless abandon. About three songs in I realized I was crying. Crying? There's no crying at Kiss concerts! But I was happy. I realized that I was finally doing something for the pure sake of doing it, not to prove I was Christian enough, not for some higher lofty motive, but just because it gave me joy.

The Bowens were transferred to New Hampshire, and I never saw my best friend again. Junior high and high school came and went and presented their own set of challenges. I flunked out of my student teaching semester in college and I've had child raising challenges up the ying-yang. 30 years after that Dynasty tour show in Pontiac, I am a 40-year-old father of two, and I still listen to Kiss. Kiss taught me to stand up for what I believe in when all around me were marching like lemmings into the pit. I feel no need to defend or justify it; I don't try to convert anyone; it just is.

I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Make his paths straight

The Word of the Lord came one evening
Concerning His bride's great sin
He'd send down His Word to renew her
To prepare for the Bridegroom again

The Word said repent
From seeking vain glories
While the gifts in the Lord's name you give
Repent of all the first stones cast to kill
While your own damned self-righteousness lives

Prepare ye the way for the Lord
Prepare ye the way for the kingdom
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way for the Lord

The Word said repent and turn from your strivings
Repent and turn from your hatred
Repent from the doctrines of men that divide
And tear like the wedding gown rent

Walk in His love like newborn children
Walk in His love, let the wedding gown mend
Walk in His love, with humility come with pure hearts
And cast all your cares to the wind

The Word of the Lord came one evening
Concerning His bride's sin
He assured me we will be forgiven
And then let the marriage begin
---John Michael Talbot, "Prepare Ye The Way"