Saturday, September 26, 2009

All I need to know in life I still know from listening to Kiss

I wrote this a couple of years ago. Seemed like it would be appropriate to reprint it since I am seeing Kiss for the fourth time this Monday.

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.

32 years after that first album I am now a 43-year-old father of two children with autism. I am no longer in the mood for anyone's crap. The things I once fought for I now let sit at the roadside. If you want to argue about things like communion bread, if you want to paint a Hitler moustache on a picture of Barack Obama, if you want to try and convince me that KISS stands for Knights In Satan's Service- well, you just keep on walking, jack.

I still listen to Kiss.

Kiss taught me to stand up for what I believe in when all around me were (and are) marching like lemmings into the pit. Kiss taught me that there is such a thing as taking joy in something for the mere sake of the joy itself.

It's a living comic book, folks. Nothing more, nothing less. When the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman and the Cat take the stage on September 28, they are not there to convert, they are not there to subvert- they are there to entertain.

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I woke up this morning, a Saturday morning mind you, at 7AM. I should have been able to sleep in, but my son decided to wake me up with the sound of his head banging against the wall in his room. It's a typical behavior for him, and has been going on for a couple of years at least. I wake him up and immediately give him his morning dosage of behavior medication- one Respirdal, one-half Clonazepam. I'll repeat the routine in 6 hours, and again in another 6. Fat lot of good it does sometimes, but that's the thing with behavior medication; you throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. He takes the medicine, but kicks the filing cabinet and attempts to bang his head on it the whole time. Before the school system bought him a rubber helmet, I was regularly taking him to the emergency room to have the cuts in his head stapled shut.

After medication time it is diaper-changing time. He wears two diapers at night to guard against spillage and leaking. I pull the back open to see what I am faced with. Nothing. Good. I have him take the diapers off and put the new one on. One down, one to go. We go back to the living room where he commences the head-banging routine once again. Crap. It's going to be that kind of a day.

My daughter wakes up an hour later, seeking out a drink. She finds the pre-poured beverage on the table. My son sees her, and the head-banging takes on a renewed intensity. OK, wifey, time to get up. I can't take them both on by myself. My son retreats to the master bedroom to be calmed by a woman more patient than I, and I take my daughter into the bedroom for diaper-changing round two. Changing a girl's diaper is a little more challenging. There are more places for the poop to hide. Like a properly raised female, she clenches her thighs together. Good behavior for her post-junior high years, not a good behavior when you are trying to wipe. The waste is cleaned, and I stretch the barely-fitting pullup over her ample butt.

Have I mentioned that my daughter is seven and my son is nine?

Were you to enter our house you would immediately notice a large hole in the wall next to the TV. My son put it there with his head. Continuing the tour, we see a smaller hole next to the light switch by the door. Over on our right we have my son's bedroom. Four huge holes have been repaired; all that remains there is the painting. Down the hall we have my daughter's bedroom. Just one big hole. Across the hall is another large hole in the master bedroom. At least in theory it's my bedroom. In practice it is my wife's bedroom. I sleep in the recliner in the living room. A comfortable chair it is, but not a bed. I sleep there out of necessity; in the middle of the night when my son tries to redecorate his bedroom with his head, I need to be able to hear it and stop him as soon as I can.

My wife and I are more two roommates than a couple united by God in a loving relationship. We don't go to the movies, we don't go out to eat, we don't get together with other couples and discuss the events of the day. We don't go on walks, we don't have intellectual conversations, we don't have sex. Our lives are entirely wrapped up in keeping my son from hurting himself and my daughter calm in order that my son won't enter meltdown mode. We change the diapers every hour and a half. We constantly shoo my daughter away from the refrigerator so she won't eat butter. My son wants candy? He really should eat his dinner first, but at this point we are so tired of the destruction that we just give him the damn candy. Spoiled? Oh, probably. But maybe you would like to tell us how we are going to pay for repairing the holes in the wall.

The anti-depressant industry loves people like us. I take two, my wife takes six. She has had four hospital stays in the past five years. I've developed a heart condition. We almost got divorced two years ago. I do my best to keep things together because if I don't, no one else is going to do it for me. When someone asks what they can do for us, I ask for babysitting. I ask for a dinner invitation. I ask for some relief. And I generally never hear the question from the same person again. It's easy to appear caring; it's harder to actually do it.

I am supposed to attend the fourth birthday party of my nephew Chris this evening. Chris is an interesting little boy; he has a fascination with superheroes, and can recite the names of the major players as well as their alter egos upon request. He also spouts out the funniest lines without even thinking about it. He's unique; when you are the only grandchild/great-grandchild you get a different kind of attention than when you are fourth or fifth in line. Even though I don't get to see him much, I love him.

I am jealous of Chris. I am jealous that he can tell his mother that he loves her; I am jealous that he knows what the letter P is; I am jealous that his four-year-old vocabulary is more now than my son's may be over his entire life. I am jealous that when Chris has to take a crap, my niece just tells him where the bathroom is and reminds him to shut the door. When Matthew has to take a crap, he just goes where he stands. To have to change the messy diaper of a nine-year-old is not cute, it's not pretty, it stinks and it is depressing.

I think I talked about diaper-changing already. Well, the damn things don't change themselves.

This isn't how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to be married at 24, to a woman I grew up knowing; by now we would have had at least four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12. I would be teaching my sons how to bunt; I would be watching my daughter sink the jump shot to win the game. I would be convincing my daughter once again that her value is not in what a guy thinks of her body; her value is inherent. She is valuable because she is. I would be telling my son that to be a man means having "the will to give and not receive/ the strength to say what you believe/ the heart to feel what others feel inside/ to see what they can see" (Boston, "To Be A Man") Nightly dinner conversations would turn to politics and the world situation. I would marvel at how my children had taken the drivel I instilled in them, synthesized it with opinions both left and right, and developed their own view of the world. I would be shedding manifold tears as I drop the suitcases on the unmade bed and leave my daughter at college, hugging my little girl and leaving a young woman behind.

Sometimes life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

I have to go.

Day number 1,975 with autism has just begun.