Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Interesting how music stays with you.

33 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.

This is the third time I have run this particular blog entry, and how are Kiss and spiritual reflection in any way connected? Keep reading.

33 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. Would Christ take pleasure in my listening to a song titled "Uhh! All Night"? I don't know, probably not, but would Christ take pleasure in you lying about a man because you don't like his politics?

Take the plank out of your own eye first.

As for me, 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.

I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

It's a living comic book, folks. Nothing more, nothing less. When the Starchild, the Demon, the Spaceman and the Cat took the stage on September 28, 2009, and I saw the hottest band in the world perform their rock and roll liturgy, they were not there to convert, they were not there to subvert- they were there to entertain.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

1 Comments:

Blogger Steven said...

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was my first record album, but Kiss was my first rock concert--the Love gun tour, Salt Lake City, 1977.

10:19 AM  

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