Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dealing with KISS

So I’m clicking around today, as we all tend to do, and see Chuck Klosterman has written something like 10,000 words about KISS today for Grantland. It’s kind of a funny divide we have going here online these days -- everything is either over in an instant or designed to take up your whole afternoon.

Klosterman’s “definitive guide” to KISS has been occasioned by the fact that the four-plus-decade-old group is slated to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week. After a lengthy preamble, the piece covers every single studio album, live album, compilation, solo work, and other ephemera. I skimmed through the first half, then mostly just scrolled through the remainder once the story hit the mid-1980s -- just a little past the time the makeup came off.

I was just having a conversation with my buddy Sergio Prado a couple of weeks ago down at Viña del Mar about KISS. We’re close to the same age, and were both preteens when we first became aware of the band -- in other words, right smack in the middle of what I’d guess to have been the band’s prime demographic at the time. As I told Sergio, the second album I ever bought was a KISS record, albeit one of their less notable offerings, Dynasty (with their “disco” hit “I Was Made for Loving You”).

Sergio and I both remembered adults warning us against KISS -- obviously an important part of their allure. I recalled an elementary school teacher actually insisting to me that old line about the band being “Knights In Satan’s Service” and thus to be avoided at all costs.

I still will spin Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over now and then, and I have an LP copy of the first Alive record which I haven’t pulled out in ages. I wrote here a few years back about delightfully stumbling upon a KISS cover band once and being more or less spellbound for the next hour-plus. But I never did develop any sort of lifelong fascination with KISS along the lines that Klosterman appears to have done.

At one point near the end of the piece, Klosterman makes kind of a curious assertion. It might be the most interesting point of the whole dissertation, although I can’t really claim that as I didn’t read the entire massive tome.

“I own Kiss,” he claims, then clarifies that he means “I have complete intellectual autonomy over my interaction with Kiss, as does every other person immersed in the Kiss Lifestyle.” The claim is primarily supported by his understanding of the band as an entirely commercial entity, one consequence of which is the necessary introduction of a kind of critical distance between producer and consumer. Fans adore KISS when they perform, says Klosterman, but “the moment they exit the arena, that same fan base views them skeptically and objectively.”

I get the cynicism and even kind of identify with the position he’s describing. That is to say, I “like” KISS all right, but I tend to keep ’em at arm’s length. But I’m not sure I buy the “intellectual autonomy” line or the idea that as a critic Klosterman has some sort of mastery over the complicated “text” of KISS. Something tells me devoting this much time and effort to working out ideas about KISS more likely betrays a lack of control over one’s relationship with the subject of one’s criticism than it does “autonomy.”

There’s one other bit of trivia Klosterman includes (since he’s including everything) -- the old story of Ace Frehley having skipped out during part of the recording of Destroyer to play in a poker game. Thus was Dick Wagner (of Alice Cooper’s band) brought in to play the solo on one track (“Sweet Pain”).

When including that reference, Klosterman links to Frehley’s solo track “Five Card Stud” from his 1989 solo album Trouble Walkin’, easily one of the most banal poker songs ever penned, although I guess it rocks well enough when compared to other less-than-inspired pop-metal of the era.

Anyhow, if you’re a KISS fan -- and whatever you believe to be your level of “intellectual autonomy” in your relationship with the group -- you might give Klosterman’s piece a skim.

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Blogger Chris Tessaro said...

Awesome piece, as was Klostermans. We have to talk Kiss at some point. My first concert was Kiss w/ Cheap Trick as the opener, Kitchener Memorial auditorium on the Alive tour in 1976. I have some Kisstory!

4/09/2014 6:39 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Oh, man… awesome. I've chronicled my Cheap Trick fandom here before. That's a band I could probably give a few thousand words to à la Klosterman.

4/09/2014 7:27 PM  

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