The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently inducted nine new artists including the legendary but controversial “psycho circus” that is KISS as members of its elite institution. Many say this honor is a long time coming, they’ve been eligible since 1999, but others argue there is no place for a band like them in the Hall of Fame. I was close to finishing my tenure at Aurora Heights Elementary School when I first learned of the make-up wearing foursome. I’m not exactly sure how I discovered them, or how I was even able to, since my mother was still listening to her Beatles records, my father was and assumingly always will be stuck in the 1950’s, and my older sister was listening to the hippest Disco music of that era. On second thought, I probably received my KISS education on the school playground (quite fittingly) where a young boy can learn a lot about life during recess.
Ricky, whose last name is being withheld to protect the innocent (or more likely in his case the guilty) always seemed to be the one kid teaching the rest of us the important happenings in pop culture. I remember once when he was sent to the principal’s office after bringing KISS’ Love Gun album to school because it included a cheesy cardboard cut-out of a “love gun” packaged in with the record. I guess even way back then the schools frowned upon having guns on campus. I recall Ricky having to make another trip to the principal’s office for bringing his Farrah Fawcett poster to school and showing it off to all of us hot-blooded male classmates who were eagerly awaiting our turns to take a peek. He had the classic poster with Farrah posing in a swimsuit. My parents only allowed me to have the one with her wearing blue jeans and a white sweater, but of course that did not stop me from hanging the treasured picture above my bed.
Because of Ricky I knew about KISS, but the first time I really experienced the group for myself was when I purchased their album, Rock And Roll Over, which at the time was only the second record I had ever bought. The Hard Rock album was most definitely in stark contrast to the first record I had previously acquired, Endless Summer, by the Beach Boys. I certainly was never a big fan of their style of Surf music, so I must’ve gotten it only because I knew it would’ve met with my parent’s approval; therefore, I have absolutely no idea how I got away with owning a KISS record on my parent’s watch. Maybe because the album cover was cartoon-like in appearance; hence, not showing the full magnitude of the band’s scary persona, or possibly my parents simply had more pressing issues to deal with at the time.
Either way KISS had become my favorite band, at least for awhile, and I still thought the group was somewhat cool several years later when one winter I taped a photo of them to the inside of my high school locker. The picture captured all four members wearing black attire with a generous portion of artificial snowflakes falling down on and around them. Written in bold, blood red lettering on the accumulated fake snow, mounded in front of them at the bottom of the photo, was the clever and seasonably relevant phrase, “Merry Kiss-mas!” I thought the picture, taken from a music magazine, was awesome, but many of my peers thought it was lame and had no trouble telling me so.
KISS was and still is quite tame, compared to many if not most Rock and Roll bands, especially by today’s standards. Sure they’ve written countless songs featuring double-entendres, and I believe they coined the phrase, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” However, they have rarely used profanity in their songs and never the f-bomb that I am aware of. The majority of their songs seem to be less focused on complicated lyrical content and aimed more towards simply rhyming words, but most importantly the band longs for their audience to feel like partying every day. Gene Simmons, bassist and vocalist, as well as the fire-breathing and blood-spitting member of the band freely admits KISS has always been about capitalism. He has done so in the past and will continue doing anything for a buck such as silly movies (check out “KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park” sometime), reality television, and stamping the KISS logo on every type of merchandise known to mankind including genuine coffins for burying the ultimate KISS fans.
I thought KISS was harmless enough, so I never read all that much into their perceived aura. The church I attended during my youth obviously felt differently about it because I can remember one particular weekend when my Sunday School class devoted the entire hour to denouncing Rock and Roll music to all of us teenagers in attendance. I was told AC/DC stood for bi-sexuality, The Eagles’ hit song, “Hotel California,” was an ode to the devil, and KISS was actually an acronym for Knights In Satan’s Service. I’m not sure how much merit any of those claims hold true that my youth pastor made so many years ago, but interestingly enough all three of the aforementioned artists are now members of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For me, the excitement of KISS has long since worn off, like the intricate make-up that once graced their faces, but there’s not one doubt in my mind a band like them has earned their place in history as inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.