Listen: Dale Sherman on Pop Culture Tonight

Dale Sherman, author of Armageddon Films FAQ, joined Patrick Phillips on “Pop Culture Tonight” recently to talk about zombies, contagions, aliens, and the end of the world as we know it!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00333849smallerMankind has been predicting its own demise through various methods, from fables and religious scriptures to hard-core scientific studies since the dawn of time. And if there is one thing Hollywood knows how to exploit, it is the fears of Things to Come. Movies about the end of the world have been around since the early days of cinema, and Armageddon Film FAQ is a look into the various methods we have destroyed ourselves over the years: zombies, mad computers, uptight aliens, plunging objects from space, crazed animals, Satan, God, Contagions, the ever-popular atomic bomb, sometimes even a combination of these in the same movie!

Armageddon Films FAQ goes from the silent days of filmmaking to the most recent (literally) earth-shattering epics, from cinema to television and even the novels, from comedies to dramas, from supernatural to scientific. It also explores other aspects of the genre, such as iconic but unfilmable apocalyptic novels, postnuclear car-racing flicks, domestic dramas disguised as end-of-the-world actioners, and more – from the most depressing to the happiest Armageddons ever!

KISS induction into Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Guest BloggerDale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ and Armageddon Films FAQshares his thoughts on KISS’s upcoming induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s also Paul Stanley’s birthday today!

As a KISS Fan, Should I be Happy or Angry about KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

By Dale Sherman

 As some of you reading may know, I’ve written extensively about KISS over the years, from the days of fanzines back in the early 1980s up to biographical and reference books, such as the recently released KISS FAQ (available through Backbeat Books and bookstores everywhere).  In doing the promotional runs from the KISS FAQ book, one of the most common questions I got asked was about the band and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  More pointedly, why the Hall had not inducted the band until 2014 and what fans thought of it.

It was a question that really didn’t need an answer.  How did Alice Cooper fans feel about the Hall dragging their feet on inducting him?  Or the frustration fans of Rush had in the delays in getting that band into the place?  Right now, KISS fans are mostly beaming over the very recent news that KISS will be inducted in early 2014, while there are fans of bands such as Yes, The Zombies and others who feel mistreated for being passed over.  Of course, KISS fans now act insulted that fans of these other bands are grumbling about KISS being inducted instead … forgetting completely the times in the past the KISS Army grumbled just as loudly over the same.  Just the way it goes.

Of course, fans are of two minds about the reported induction forthcoming.  Those that are … well, ecstatic is not really the right word here – you won’t find KISS fans throwing parties and jumping up and down in glee over the news, after all.  Pleased, rather, would be the way many fans in the KISS Army feel about the news.  Then there is a vocal minority of fans who are angry over the announcement; not to mention hurt that the band has so readily accepted without complaint.  To them, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley merrily going along with this plan to join the Hall is the same as if Colonel Saunders joined PETA or Pat Robertson came out as an atheist.  It seemed anti-climactic and against what fans assumed about the band’s attitude.

Why is this?  Quite simple, KISS has never been about being part of the establishment, and we KISS fans liked them for that.

I let those reading who aren’t fans calm down from laughing at that last statement before I continue.  But I’m not just throwing out wild ideas here – yes, they may be considered as “establishment” as establishment can get – certainly in terms of readily admitting that they put out products to make money – but in reality KISS has never truly been accepted as the norm by Americans.  Never.  They started out as outsiders – a group that made fellow New York area musicians roll their eyes when they started in 1973, thanks to the makeup and the costumes, even if other band were doing the same thing at the time.  The parent record company, Warner, tried to talk Casablanca Records’ Neil Bogart out of supporting when the band was getting to release their first album in 1974.  Meanwhile, the mellow bands of the 1970s hated because they were too hard and outrageous, while the hard rock and punk bands hated as being too corporate and calculating.  Throw in the toys and lunch boxes and you had a good reason for teenagers to start hating them once puberty hit, while kids were never totally sure what to make of them (and certainly their parents hated them). Critics disliked them, hard rock fans got confused when the band did pop and disco, and the hipsters could never latch on to them in a way to see them as being something to hang their names.

Let’s face it, the pinnacle of the band’s acceptance in American Culture ran roughly ten minutes – between “Beth” becoming a hit and right before they won a People’s Choice Award for the song.  After that, there was no way anyone would acknowledge them as being cool, much more as being important to the development of rock music in the 1970s.  Sure, they helped change the face of how rock concerts, albums, fan-related activities, hard rock, and promotion were done in rock music, but their contribution typically gets ignored because there’s a gag-reflex when it comes to acknowledging their important role in musical history.

Just as well, KISS fans thought (and still think).  We’re united as one because we like this … thing no one else has to guts to believe in – this band full of clown makeup, special effects, and musicians telling a story on stage.  If everyone else can’t see through that to enjoy the music, that’s their problem.  We, the KISS Army, stand alone.  Paul sang in the song, “Crazy Crazy Nights,” “We’re a million strong,” and fans knew exactly it was about them as fans against the world.  And what is cooler than being the selected few against the ignorance of the world?

Hence, the sentiment behind the disregard about the Hall – a place that more than one artist has put down as being the ultimate sellout for rock musicians.  “They don’t want us?  Who wants to be pigeonholed as being important by the Hall?  That just proves that we’re right when the establishment doesn’t want us!”  Throw in rumors of a longtime battle between founder Jann Wenner (of Rolling Stone) and KISS, as well as a supposed blood oath against KISS by author and Hall Committee member Dave Marsh, and it just added fuel to the fire.  (Although, to be fair, this supposed conspiracy boils down to a lone statement where Marsh said he had done his “share to keep [KISS] off the ballot.”  Hardly the stuff of “Wrath of Khan” like calls of vengeance.)  Not to mention that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have both voiced opinions about not “needing the Hall” when past attempts to be in failed.  As many fans that would ponder about the Hall finally adding the band, just as many said that they didn’t want to see the band there.  Or, if offered, that the band should turn down the offer.  “Throw it back at them!  Give the Hall and those guys running it the middle finger!  They can come begging and we’ll prove we don’t need them!”

So were the rumors true?  Did the Hall have a problem with KISS?  If so, what happened that got the band inducted?  Better yet, that saw the band members readily saying that they’ll accept?  The most important step was the public voting that happened this year, which allowed fans to vote for which one of the possible inductees to go into the Hall.  Such voting was established the year before, and once it was clear that KISS won the vote of the possible inductees for 2014, it would be hard for the Hall to suddenly void the results, especially in the infancy of such a new procedure.  Even if Dave Marsh lashed himself to the mast of the building in defiance and Wenner threw bolts of lightning from his offices, it wasn’t going to make much of a difference – KISS was bound to get in after the votes came through.

Yet, even if they had not won – and it is true that Nirvana came in as a close second in that voting – in all probability, KISS was going to get in anyway.  Why so?  Because no matter what the vendettas there may be between those who run the Hall and the members of KISS, or that of the KISS fans, there’s one thing that matters a bit more.  It’s the same reason that I mentioned time and again as to why I thought the band would make it into the Hall in 2014:  It’s just too good of a deal to pass up for one and all.

As mentioned above, KISS released their first album in 1974, and thus we come upon the 40th anniversary of the band’s first album in 2014.  You can promote that in so many ways, from re-releases (such as planned vinyl reissues of many albums in 2014 from the band’s catalog) to books (Paul Stanley’s autobiography; to be released the same month as the induction ceremony in April 2014) to touring and other releases in both visual and audio formats.  What a way for the Hall to make a little bit of money off the rub by way of inducting KISS as well.  Just as readily, the band gets to internationally promote themselves and their anniversary by accepting the induction.  Everyone gets something out of it.  What is there to lose in this agreement?

But what about the hew and cry of all those involved?  The blood oaths?  The disdain of the band in being ignored?  Well, it’s not called show business for nothing.  Especially the business part of that term.  You may want to stab that guy over there in the back, but if he can help you make a little bit of money?  Let’s just say that in business, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and my enemy is being poor.”

So those fans who are upset over the band being inducted?  It’s understandable – you’ve found something that you can call your own, and (to wildly mix metaphors) it’s hard when everyone else suddenly jumps on the bandwagon that you’ve staked a claim.  Here we were for years following the thread of Gene and Paul as to dissing the Hall for not wanting KISS.  We were supposed to rise up and hate them for this, right?  Actually, no.  It’s good publicity, and that trumps personal feelings.  Gene Simmons has always stated that there’s no such thing as bad publicity; but to be fair, good publicity can be much more beneficial, thank you very much.

Therefore, the band will gladly make it to the show.  As to who will be there – that is the next controversy.  Will it be the band today, with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer?  Or the original foursome?  As much as fans would like to think it’s all up to Gene and Paul, it’s really up  to the Hall, as has been the case in the past with other bands that has had replacement members over the years.  The Hall typically likes to see the original members of such bands reunite for the awards – publicly because it’s good to reward the people who were there at the beginning of things, but namely because audiences want to see reunions and it helps with ratings and getting .  So we’ll no doubt see Ace Frehley and Peter Criss up there with Gene and Paul.  Perhaps with the others in passing mention in the speeches, and no slight to these guys who have been in the band for nearly or more years than Ace and Peter, but that’s just the way it goes.

As to performing on the show, there has been some concerns as to how that will work.  Do they do it in costume and makeup?  If Thayer and Singer is there, will they wear the makeup and costumes of Peter and Ace?  Is it going to look like the fight scene from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, where the fake KISS fights the real KISS on-stage?  Although that would be fun, in reality the induction ceremonies haven’t been much into having people perform “in character” (Alice certainly didn’t when performing with the remaining members of the Alice Cooper Group when inducted a few years back).  Thus, such concerns may be moot – no need to worry about multiple “Space Aces” up on stage, as it’ll probably be the original four without makeup, with perhaps additional support from Thayer and Singer.

So in the end it’ll be as dry as possible when it comes to emotional concerns – the original four will get their induction, play a few songs, and that will be that.  Does it give some of the fans wanting to see some vindication to their anger over the Hall any satisfaction?  No.

But, once again, that’s show business.

Since 1973, KISS has recorded over 20 studio albums; been recognized as an innovator in rock presentations; witnessed a firestorm of rumors and controversies; remained a thorn in critics’ sides; and continues to surprise its massive fan-following, the KISS Army, with various career twists and turns. Moreover, many television shows, movies, toys and even comics have kept KISS a bigger-than-life name in entertainment for decades.

Yet with all that has been written over the years, there are subjects that fans have never put to rest when it comes to the “hottest band in the land”: What were the most significant concerts? Why did Phantom of the Park turn out that way? What were the best – and worst – album covers? How did the comics come about? And what the heck is a deuce?

These subjects and more appear in KISS FAQ – showcasing the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

Catching Fire Review

Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman, author of Armageddon Films FAQreviews Catching Fire, the second installment in the hugely popular Hunger Games series.

Catching Fire and the Reluctant Hero: a Review of the Movie

By Dale Sherman

 In my new book, Armageddon Films FAQ (Applause Books; available in bookstores and through online outlets), there is a chapter about dystopian societies in movies and audiences’ assumption that they have to be either pre or postapocalyptic.  For example, the 1975 film Rollerball starring  James Caan deals with a dysfunctional future where societal order is centered around corporate-sponsored deadly games that pacify the public and keeps them in their place until one lone player begins a revolution by defying the game.  (Why, yes, fans of The Hunger Games will believe I’m trying to set up a “Battle Royale gotcha” here, but that’s not my intent.  And if you’re not sure what I mean by that – read onward.)  Yet, although there are signs of a crumbling society in Rollerball, there is no clear indication that an apocalyptic event created this world; in fact, it appears that corporate and political factors came into play instead.  Yes, it is a dystopian society, but one cannot look at it and say that an “End of the World” event leads to or created from the events seen in the movie.

Naturally, one of the movies discussed in that chapter is the 2012 adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games.  In that case, there is some basis of a nuclear event, and while that past event does not conclusively make the film a postapocalyptic one, subsequent events lean the series more towards fulfilling the requirements.  Certainly more so than its oft-comparison, Battle Royale – a Japanese novel (1999) and film (2000) dealing with a group of school children being sent to a remote island to kill each over by a government.  With the topic of The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale discussed in more details within Armageddon Films FAQ, I’ll only state here that kneejerk reactions of Battle Royale fans to treat The Hunger Games as second-rate ripoff has made Hunger Games fans a tad touchy about criticism over time.  In my views, as much as I love Battle Royale and admire its exceptional dreamlike quality, I believe The Hunger Games series pays off in greater dividends as to character development and resolution.  Even so, the arguments continue.  Add in that fans of the series (like those for Harry Potter and Twilight) are dedicated, as well as it starring a popular young actress, Jennifer Lawrence, who is considered an icon in my home state of Kentucky, and you can see why I feel the need to walk on eggshells a bit when talking about the films.  No point in making enemies of strangers.

Even so, when my publisher suggested I review the second film in the series, Catching Fire, I was a bit hesitant, for I came out of the theater after the first film feeling disappointment.  It is not so much that I had a problem with the concept of the film (there have been far too many movies and books with the same theme over the years, after all), but rather the execution.  As much promise as there was in producing the film based on the popular book series, there seems something slapdash about the first movie, as if not enough care was involved.  Namely, heavy-handed visual shorthands done in the sense of both costumes and set designs distracted from my enjoyment of the first film.  We see a futuristic society full of several poverty-level “districts” that produce material for the Capitol, which is full of rich, spoiled people.  No harm in that – it’s a classic dystopian setup for science fiction (and a classic cliché of SF television shows, such as Star Trek (“The Cloud Miners”) and even Gallifrey on Doctor Who was hinted at being setup in such a fashion, and those were the “good guys”).  Yet, instead of finding an intriguing way to show a futuristic form of poverty, we get clichés of the Great Depression and images straight out of Coal Miner’s Daughter with Lawrence as a bow-hunting version of Loretta Lynn.  Meanwhile, those who live in the Capitol are merely 18th Century French Aristocrats by way of Ziggy Stardust and Space: 1999.  There’s no sense of a real world, merely pieces of these other words thrown together in order to evoke emotions geared from earlier films and television shows.  In doing so, the images are too thick; too brash; with a general feeling of someone hitting over the head with a message instead of wanting to articulate a truly unique vision of the future.  Thus, such a great opportunity missed. The topper for me occurred in the scene where the heroine, Katniss, was preparing in the locker-room to be sent up the tube for the game.  The room is spacious, with plenty of lockers for other contestants, but there is only one player.  The scene is about her last-minute preparations and concerns before the game starts, but instead all I could think about was the need for this very large room for one player.  Did the games used to have forty members on each team?  Is other training done there and that’s why they need so much space?  Thus, instead of concentrating on the emotion of the scene, the set-design instead makes us focus on just how really, really big it is and hurts the impact of the scene.  Nor was it the only scene like it that, in trying to place viewers inside this world, merely took them out.  Who can guess how many times we saw the gamemaker and drifted off to wondering about how he shaves every morning with that goofy beard of his?

Perhaps it was deemed as unnecessary to give the film more of a sense of wonder, as the plot of the first film is more about the emotional value of the fantasy being presented than any realistic concerns about how such a world developed in the first place.  After all, we’re told that all these districts manufacture goods for the millions that live in the Capitol, but each district appears to have roughly 200-300 people each (and evidently all the fuel needed by the Capitol can be performed by a couple of dozen miners with pickaxes).  The most important event of the year that involves the sacrificing of children and only a handful of people can bother to show up?  Or watch on the giant bigscreens?  Surely that can’t be all the people if the game is played up as being something “everyone” is watching.

Even characters in the film run into these clichés, in particular the other tributes, who are nothing more than cyphers with the exception of Rue – the young girl Katniss befriends in the game.  There is nothing to say about the others beyond them being ready to harm our heroes, other than their predestination to make longwinded speeches about murder at inappropriate times.  The only revelation given them comes in the last few minutes of the competition, with the sole survivor outside of the District 12 pair realizing that his entire life of training has amounted to nothing because the Capitol is ready to let the pair in a sense “cheat” in order to win.  For a brief moment – not even a minute – the film plays with becoming a teenage version of Network, with a tribute terminated because he’s “bad television.”  Alas, even for just thirty seconds, his story ends up sounding much more interesting than that of Katniss and Peeta.

The only true success of the first film was the casting.  Jennifer Lawrence turned out to be a perfect choice for the part of Katniss, although she has had little to do beyond appearing shocked and angry at various intervals (this should change in the final two films in the four-part series and a point I’ll get back to in a moment).  Josh Hutcherson, playing Peeta, impressed me with a role that seems simple but is much more complex – he is a character that the audience needs to feel uncertain about for a number of reasons and yet still must be likable.  The rest of the cast also throw themselves into their roles at 100%. Elizabeth Banks sinks so into her role as the vapid Effie, that I never even thought of where I had seen her before until I started this review and was surprised she had been in so many other things I have seen (not to mention that she manages to play the role in such a way that the character ends up being likable, even if she is creepy on the outside).  Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson may be playing to a stereotype he has played in other films, there’s no mistaking that he’s good in that type of role.  Even so, there is the solid casting of Donald Sutherland, who is then given little to do in the first movie.  Thus, even with that casting, there is still a sense that things did not add up to the sum of the parts.

With such thoughts, I went to see Catching Fire not expecting that the movie was going to produce anything startling new for me.  Certainly the plot of the second film had been done before, as the concept of the heroes from the first book / film having to rehash their previous adventure on a bigger scale in the sequel is standard fare.  (To give credit, Battle Royale cut to the chase in its first film by having previous winners who the government had become fed up with forced to “play again” in much the same as Peeta and Katniss do in Catching Fire.)  Catching Fire tries to at first misdirect that goal at first by showing the “victory tour” the two winners go on after the games, only to find that they cannot keep their true anger over the games and what they see on the tour from emerging in their appearances.  It’s an attempt to give the proceedings some gravity – this pair is stuck for life as figureheads for the government or else face causing problems for themselves, their families and even the public at large.  Yet, by doing so, the film stumbles out of the gate, as it is a long opening segment of the film that drags in the wake of audiences’ anticipation of the action they paid their $8.50 to see.  Of course, in having to format an immensely popular book series for the screen, one can forgive the filmmakers for feeling the need to satisfy fans expecting such scenes from the books, but a tighter script could have invested the same emotional impact and made the film a faster, smoother ride.

As one can guess, the growing tension between the Capitol and the Districts due to Katniss’ victory in the games leads to new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), proposing a new twist to the game.  Katniss and Peeta will fight in the 75th anniversary edition of the game, along with previous winners.  Thus, the pair along with 22 others arrive at a new location for a new game where they have to fight each other along with computer-generated “natural” events that are designed to wipe out the tributes as time goes by as well.  Katniss then discovers that not everyone is what they appear to be, both inside and outside of the game, while working with a handful of other tributes to find a way to avoid dying.

The setup is a bit clumsy – way too many of the tributes are ready to work together when one would think survival would be the key.  Yet, the ending of the film and the plot of the subsequent final book in the series (and eventual two-part movie yet to come) makes clear that there’s more going on here than random chance.  Thus, the focus is not really about a time of “Most Dangerous Game” man vs. man nature, but rather man vs. society or even more so man vs. machine, what with the computer generated creates and weather conditions that are booby-traps for the tributes.  Fortunately, unlike the CGI dogs of the first film (which looks rather silly, to be honest), the animals and such seen in the second film work better.  (Although it does bring up one big question for the series – if those in control can conjure up deadly menaces at every turn, why bother having the tributes kill each other?  Wouldn’t it show more the hopelessness of the situation if every tribute was faced with the same hardships and had to fight the Capitol at a game they cannot win – it only stops when there’s a sole survivor, after all?  We’re supposed to be on the side of paranoia here, however, so the audience is obviously not supposed to think of such things during the course of the movie.)

Even so, the early slow pacing of the film and the subsequent quickness of everyone teaming together are two of the rare places where the second film in the series misfires.  Otherwise, the film is more interesting, with a crisper script and dialogue, than in the first film.  For example, It seems to me that someone realized they had Donald Sutherland in their movie and decided to write dialogue that simply oozes out of the actor in quiet menace that simply wasn’t there in the first film.  One particular character (who I won’t name so as to not spoil it) also is written in such a way that there’s no neon signs pointing to the character to say “Look out!  They are not what they appear to be!”  Points should also be given for allowing Peeta to stand more on his own two feet with ideas of his own, instead of the simple fall-guy of the first film.  (Not to mention that I’m always happy when a filmmaker gives Amanda Plummer another chance to show how good she is in the minor role of another tribute in the game.)

Of course, the film is really centered on Katniss and Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of this character, and she is just as good as in the first film, although I feel both films so far limit the actress inside of the role.  Katniss does things that progress the plot – no doubt about that – but most of the actions that affect the outcome are outside of her scope of influence in both films, and it is only in rash last-minute decisions that she triumphs.  Thus, Lawrence spends a lot of time having to stare off, looking at things she can’t control, and being misdirected, rather than showing the inner-workings of Katniss.

However, what looks like a weakness to the character is one that does hit rather hard with the ending of the second film with one of the better cliffhangers for such a series since The Empire Strikes Back.  In making that comparison, it springs to mind that there’s more to contrast between the two with their individual studies of an hero destine for greatness.  Both series deal with a character that discovers that they are a focal point to larger rebellions, but there’s a significant difference between the two.  In the case of Luke Skywalker in Empire, he attempts to break out of what is expected of him and through mishaps realizes that he is part of a greater story and must heed the role he is set out to be.  On the other hand, Katniss thinks of herself as being independent, only to discover at the end of Catching Fire that she is merely a tool for those with a bigger agenda.  At the end of Empire, Luke accepts his fate, is at peace, and ready to be part of what has been preordained for him; at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss finally realizes that she has been a pawn to everyone – even those who she thought were friends – and is ready to leap out of her skin.  And it is in those last seconds of the movie that we get the turn of the character’s arch – Katniss is finally starting to wise up and now will become even more of a wild-card in the conclusion of the series.

With Catching Fire’s ending, the series has redeemed itself a bit in my eyes from being what was essentially a timewaster after the first film to one that has me intrigues to see what they do in the final story.  It is definitely a case of that rare creature, the sequel that is better than the original, and certainly one that those like me who were disappointed with the first film should think about giving a chance.

Armageddon Films FAQ

Mankind has been predicting its own demise through various methods, from fables and religious scriptures to hard-core scientific studies since the dawn of time. And if there is one thing Hollywood knows how to exploit, it is the fears of Things to Come. Movies about the end of the world have been around since the early days of cinema, and Armageddon Film FAQ is a look into the various methods we have destroyed ourselves over the years: zombies, mad computers, uptight aliens, plunging objects from space, crazed animals, Satan, God, Contagions, the ever-popular atomic bomb, sometimes even a combination of these in the same movie!

Armageddon Films FAQ goes from the silent days of filmmaking to the most recent (literally) earth-shattering epics, from cinema to television and even the novels, from comedies to dramas, from supernatural to scientific. It also explores other aspects of the genre, such as iconic but unfilmable apocalyptic novels, postnuclear car-racing flicks, domestic dramas disguised as end-of-the-world actioners, and more – from the most depressing to the happiest Armageddons ever!

KISS FAQ

Dale Sherman, the author of KISS FAQ, can now be seen in these excerpts from a Japanese Documentary Special about KISS. Enjoy!

SONG TO SOUL CLIP ONE

SONG TO SOUL CLIP TWO

SONG TO SOUL CLIP THREE

 

KISS FAQ

Since 1973, KISS has recorded over 20 studio albums; been recognized as an innovator in rock presentations; witnessed a firestorm of rumors and controversies; remained a thorn in critics’ sides; and continues to surprise its massive fan-following, the KISS Army, with various career twists and turns. Moreover, many television shows, movies, toys and even comics have kept KISS a bigger-than-life name in entertainment for decades.

Yet with all that has been written over the years, there are subjects that fans have never put to rest when it comes to the “hottest band in the land”: What were the most significant concerts? Why did Phantom of the Park turn out that way? What were the best – and worst – album covers? How did the comics come about? And what the heck is a deuce?

These subjects and more appear in KISS FAQ – showcasing the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

 

Gene Simmons doesn’t want you to know this

Dale Sherman KISS FAQGuest Blogger: Dale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ, has some intriguing thoughts to share for the rocker’s 64th birthday on August 25th.

Gene Simmons wants you to know he’s a businessman.

I don’t think anyone reading this is surprised by that statement.  Even back in the 1970′s Gene was talking to reporters about his needs to be involved in the business side of the KISS world, inspecting the merchandise, going into hard-sells on the latest albums, pushing (possibly a bit too hard) in hyping the band’s latest antics.  As the years gone by, that attitude has simply grown, to the point where it seems that the only words that leave Gene’s lips is a variation of “I have this product, so give me your money!”

But, as we arrive at Gene’s 64th birthday, I have come here to praise the Demon, not to bury him.

You see, there’s the other side of Mr. Simmons that he really doesn’t want you – the general public – to know about.  Gene has always stated variations of the line that “bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.”  Thus, when he goes into overdrive in pushing the KISS Kasket or selling us on some burger and wine joint he had placed himself as a stakeholder, and everyone just groans, he enjoys that response, because it at least means he had crawled his way into your head so you can’t help but talk about him.  Doesn’t mean you have to like what he’s selling or even buy it, and if you come away thinking, “He’s found another sucker to work with him,” it still means that you think he’s a good businessman, and that’s more of what he wants  in the end.  Even more than the money, your respect is what he is after.  I’m not suggesting that he wants you to love him, just respect him.  That’s a major goal for Gene these days.

It all comes down to the fact that the child is the father of the man.  In other words, whatever we were dealing with when we were kids is exactly the type of mental makeup we employ through life – sometimes to the deterrence of our lives; sometimes to the better.  As for Gene, we have to remember who that man was when he was a boy – not only an immigrant (Gene was born in Israel and arrived in America as a boy), but Jewish and the son of a divorced mother.  That’s a lot of heavy baggage in the 1950s and 1960s to carry around for a kid.  He was also chubby, geeky (as a comic book and movie fanatic, he did his own fan-magazines while a teenager), and awkward with girls.  As such, everything was working against him in a society that is built on the idea of the good-looking, naturally-born athletic kids getting ahead.  Even if we want to promote that anyone can make it, we assume those types are the ones that will.  Meanwhile, if you want to know what an outcast is, Gene is it.

And from that type of “outcast” background, people have two choices available to them in life:  They can either withdraw or they can blossom.  Gene took the latter route, pushing himself to be “in your face” because he wasn’t about to wither away.  He never said it, but the thrust of his personality is this, “If you’re going to stare at me for being different than you, then I’m going to make you pay for the privilege.  In fact, I’m going to make it so you’ll wait in line and give me all the money in your wallet to do so.”  Essentially, it is a philosophy born out of frustration, pride, and anger – people tend to tell us in life that you can only be so-and-so, can only go so far, can only do “these things” and nothing else.  Gene took that attitude and promptly stomped it into the dirt.  “I’ll be a musician.  Oh, I can’t know about the business if I’m a musician?  Then I’ll learn that as well.  And I’ll be a manager because I want to.  And a movie star as well.  And I’ll produce records.  Tell me something you don’t want me to me and I’ll prove you wrong.”

Which really isn’t that bad of a philosophy to have.  What better way to tell the world your life is your own than showing them that there are no walls that can contain them?  Again, respect is the key.

But there’s something else that seems to drag Gene down at times and that’s the career of his biggest success, KISS.  A band started decades ago, with the 40th anniversary of their first signing with a major record company  just around the corner, KISS has done pretty well for itself in the “stare if you want, but you’ll have to buy a ticket first” category of show-business.  Yet, in the past few years there have been some criticisms of the band for what they do.  Back in the late 1990s, the original band members had gotten back together to do a reunion tour that seemed to be on a trajectory  that made some kind of sense to the general public – the band will tour, do an album, tour for that album and then do a final push before retiring.  In fact, that last tour was the Farwell Tour, which lasted until 2001.

Then something strange happened.  The band didn’t go away.  Oh, two of the members – Ace Frehley and Peter Criss – eventually did, but Paul Stanley and Gene didn’t.  They just hired two other guys and kept touring.  Then they recorded a couple of new albums.  And kept touring.  And kept touring.

And to a public that thought, “Didn’t they do a farewell tour twelve years ago?” it set the band  – and in particular Gene – up for ridicule.  The feeling was the guys can’t stop because they need or want the money.  That it is all that matters.  After all, Gene wants to sell you on the idea that it is all about the money, so why would anyone think differently of how KISS continues on these days?

Yet, there’s something else going on here.  KISS has been doing well with the touring, but the returns on that investment hasn’t been growing these past few years.  The merchandise is still coming out, but it seems to turn up in the bargain bins so much faster.  The albums are being released, but are soon forgotten with barely a blip on the radar from the critics.  Worse yet, from the fans.

In business-terms, Gene would be better off packing up and going home.  Let loose the age-old concept of KISS II (four new musicians taking over as a touring band), get out the other videos and audios of the band’s past, and sit back and relax.  The money will be better that way.  Do a few more of those other projects he keeps talking about after freeing up his time with no more touring.  It just makes sense.

But that isn’t going to happen.  And the reason why is because in the end Gene is not in it for the money.  Money is good, and if things go financially bad, he’ll wind things up, but money doesn’t seem to be the motivator anymore.  Watch Gene on the latest tour – the guy who seems to be having the most fun on stage out of the band, goofing around and basking in the limelight as he goes with the same stunts of fire-spitting and flying up above the crowd as he has done for years.  This is a guy who isn’t in it for artistic merit or for the money, he’s in it for the fun and for the fans.

Fly up into the air?  Spit blood all over yourself?  Risk your health with spitting fire?  Is that a responsible 64-year-old?  A businessman?  No , that’s the kid in Gene coming out, and when he hits that stage, or when he gets to talk to fans who idolize him, then it all comes back to the fulfillment of those dreams of the 10-year-old.  He wants to do all those things because they’re fun.  And knowing that people enjoy watching him do it makes even more fun.  He’s enjoyed that feeling since the 1970s, so why stop now?  It’s the same with the books about the zenith of the band’s career back in the 1970s and Gene’s continuing fascination with KISS fandom at large – he loved those days and this is a way to relive them, even if some would say he should be thinking of retirement.

He wouldn’t want you to know that, though.  That’s not being businessman-like if you admit you’re probably not doing the smartest financial moves because you want to play like a kid.

Gene isn’t a businessman.  He’s a sentimentalist.

But don’t let him find out we know.

KISS FAQ

Since 1973, KISS has recorded over 20 studio albums; been recognized as an innovator in rock presentations; witnessed a firestorm of rumors and controversies; remained a thorn in critics’ sides; and continues to surprise its massive fan-following, the KISS Army, with various career twists and turns. Moreover, many television shows, movies, toys and even comics have kept KISS a bigger-than-life name in entertainment for decades.

Yet with all that has been written over the years, there are subjects that fans have never put to rest when it comes to the “hottest band in the land”: What were the most significant concerts? Why did Phantom of the Park turn out that way? What were the best – and worst – album covers? How did the comics come about? And what the heck is a deuce?

These subjects and more appear in KISS FAQ – showcasing the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

Q&A with Dale Sherman

Legendary Rock Interviews chats with Dale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ. Visit their site for the full Q&A.

You’ve written a couple of other books including one of my favorite KISS books Black Diamond.  Unlike that book or another great book, Behind the Mask, this is less of a straight biography and more of a book for true KISS nerds with info and stories I have never heard before.  Your subtitle says it all…’All that’s left to know about the hottest band in the world’.  It also manages to serve its purpose without alienating a newer or more casual fan.  Was that difficult?

One reaction I’ve been glad to get from the book so far is that of reviewers saying they had no background or interest in KISS, but found that they got sucked into the book and couldn’t stop reading it.  I’m glad to hear that, because that was one of my aims – to write something for the KISS Army, but also for people who are just curious about the band and know little about them.  In fact, one of my favorite reviews was one where the critic essentially said, “I hate KISS, and I hate this book because I keep coming back to it to read more!”
My main difficulty was trying to find a way to write in the background details that casual or non-fans wouldn’t know without simply regurgitating information I had already covered in one of my previous books.  My bio about the band, Black Diamond, had been updated and reissued in 2009, so I need to find a way to cover SOME of those areas without fans thinking “well, I already read all this in his other book” , which was a challenge.  For example, the first chapter is biographical details on the band members, which obviously would be in a bio, but I tried to put the emphasis on things of a more personal nature than one would in a bio (for example, the noticeably anti-Semitic nature of the way people will use Gene’s birth name in interviews, or how Paul Stanley has managed to keep most of his life private over the years).  It wasn’t easy, but on the other hand, it forced me to be more creative about it.

One of the first critical pieces of info that maybe gets under-reported is that the visual aspect of KISS was not solely a Gene Simmons, Bill Aucoin or Sean Delaney creation.  Paul, Eric, Peter and Ace were all at one point involved in graphic arts.  Do you think this point is as important as I do and why or why not?

I think so, and a good example is found in the Wicked Lester chapter of the book. When Gene and Paul go to the other members of Wicked Lester and say, “We want to wear makeup and costumes on stage,” the other guys in the band balk (with the exception of one that thought it may be a good way to hide his identity from his bosses). As an artist, or even from being around artists, there’s a tendency to be a little looser, having a greater understanding of the visual and even a sense of “willing to do anything.” So when Ace and Peter were presented with the idea of makeup and costumes, they were fine with it, because they could see the potential in it. Plus, you have those creative talents branching out aspects of the band. Gene didn’t come up with cat makeup for Peter and Paul didn’t dress Ace – they put their own touches on their makeup, costumes and characters.It drove the four members of the band, and later Eric, to do something more than the ordinary, and I think their background in art was a big part of that understanding as to their vision.

Its great that so much of the book is dedicated to debunking rumors or in some cases, lies and misinformation.  We both clearly love the band but it seems like there are more instances of myths, lies or recreations of truth in Kissdom than in many other bands?  Why do you think this is?

I’m reminded of the “Chicken Incident” story that involved Alice Cooper in their early days. Without going into a lot of background, a live chicken accidentally was killed during the show.  Soon rumors went flying around that Alice killed chickens on-stage every show. Frank Zappa – who was working with the band – called Alice up and asked if the rumors were true.  Alice told him that it wasn’t true.  Frank’s response was, “Well, don’t tell anyone the truth.”  Meaning that the publicity surrounding the rumor was too great to try to correct it.  I think KISS benefited from rumors about them as well, and having the whole “hidden identity” factor in-place certainly helped in creating a mystery about them. If someone wanted to think that Gene had a cow’s tongue grafted on to his own, what did it hurt? It only made people talk about them. I think as well that it had something to do with it being the ‘70s. Back then we couldn’t just Google info and find out if  rumors were real or not; we would spend months trying to figure out if the new KISS show had the band smashing a car on-stage or not (as the DESTROYER rumors went). Everyone had some rumors about them during that period and KISS was no different, which is why so many of them still surround them today.

Keep reading this interview on Legendary Rock Interviews.

Kiss FAQ showcases the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

 

Interview with KISS FAQ Author Dale Sherman

Dale Sherman KISS FAQDale Sherman is the author KISS FAQ. Below is a Q & A he did with the Nervous Breakdown.

Why do critics hate KISS so much?  Could you argue they just might be the third most influential band of all time?

KISS was the band that said you could have the huge marquee in the background, the fireworks and confetti-cannons, shows that are like Broadways productions instead of just a band running through a medley of hits. There were also at the forefront in the ’70s in reminding the public and the critics, “rock and roll is supposed to be about having fun.” And I think it’s a good statement to make. I believe there certainly is room for rock music that has a “message” but there’s no reason that has to be the case for everything.  I think that’s what upset 70s critics most about KISS. When your bread and butter is consistently telling everyone, “see, Dylan is trying to tell us about the impossibility of global war … blah, blah, blah,” you get annoyed that everyone is staring at the guys in the makeup, jumping up and down and singing about their love guns. (Then again, such critics tend to forget that Dylan was just as likely to do something like “Everybody Must Get Stoned”.) We’re trying to be serious over here and HERE COME THE CLOWNS!

So the history books tend to push KISS into the background and point at the other bands as being so significant, because dealing with their influence on music doesn’t fit into the puzzle they want to see out there. One of the reasons I started writing about KISS in the first place was because I felt the historians of rock music were willingly ignoring their work and someone had to step up to the plate to remind people about them.

What’s your best childhood memory of the band?

I know it’s odd but I really don’t have a good one.  I was 11 in ’75 and I do remember hearing stuff like “Beth” on the radio. But I think fell into a pocket age-group that KISS wasn’t working to get – I wasn’t old enough to be there for the early albums and I wasn’t young enough to get into the whole super-hero/fantasy thing. People ask me about seeing KISS Meets the Phantom when it aired in October ’78. They were all seven or eight so it meant something to them. I was 14 and busy doing 14-year-old stuff! I recall coming in after TP’ing friends’ houses that night just long enough to see my mom watching it before I headed back out to see Animal House again.

Keep reading this interview at The Nervous Breakdown.

 

KISS FAQ showcases the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

10 Surprising People Associated with KISS

The following is an excerpt from KISS FAQ by Dale Sherman (Backbeat Books) as it appears on the NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. Please visit their site for the full passage.

Bob Dylan

Back in 1992, Simmons arranged to spend time with Dylan and work on some material, namely so he could say, “I worked with Bob Dylan.” Simmons took what was done and later created a song he initially titled “Laughing When I Want to Cry.” When working on his 2004 solo album, Asshole, he brought in the song for possible recording. It was reworked into “Waiting for the Morning Light” for the album.

Lou Reed

Another famous singer-songwriter, who had first won notice in the band the Velvet Underground. Bob Ezrin produced Reed’s controversial Berlin album in 1973 and was asked to help throw around some ideas during the recording of Music from “The Elder.” Reed came up with the title for “A World Without Heroes” and worked a bit on the song. Supposedly there is also video of Reed in the studio singing the song. Reed also co-wrote “Mr. Blackwell” with Simmons for the album as well as some additional lyrics to be used if there was to be a second album in the series. Speaking of Reed . . . .

John Cale

Another founding member of the Velvet Underground. Cale played viola on a track for the 1971 album for Peter Criss’s band Chelsea.

For the next 7 people on the list, visit the NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.

KISS FAQ showcases the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

Six (Visual) Points-of-Interest in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park

Dale Sherman KISS FAQ
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Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman is the author of KISS FAQ. Below is an excerpt from his blog.
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1)  The framing of the picture is different in the various versions of the movie fans have seen over the years.
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Here’s what the title credit looked like during the original NBC showing:
Now here’s what it looked like in the version sold through WorldVision (WV) in 1982 & 1986 and later by Goodtimes Video in 1988:
Note how the title has been moved up in the frame in the WV version so that the top of the Rock and Roll Over cover has been cut off, while the original NBC version has the cover framed properly in the center of the screen.
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This doesn’t affect much of the picture for the most part, except in the opening credits where the band members appear.  Take a look at a comparison of Paul from the NBC version to the WV one: in the NBC version, Paul’s feet are out of view and thus give his figure a sense of gravity in comparison to his background, while in the WV one, he appears to just be floating above it all.
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But the worst offender…
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Visit Dale Sherman’s blog to keep reading this post!
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KISS FAQ showcases the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

KISS and the Hall of Fame

Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman is the author of KISS FAQ. Below is an excerpt from his blog Dale Sherman-Writer at Large.

Last week someone asked what I thought of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not nominating KISS again.  To, I believe, their disappointment, I admitted that I didn’t think much of anything about it.
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Oh, I know the routine.  Every year, this happens and every year us KISS fans are supposed to fall into the same old song and dance.  “KISS deserves to be in there more than those acts!”  Which is then followed by the usual “It’s just as well!  The Hall of Fame doesn’t deserve KISS!”  Kind of the whole spectrum of what kids do when they can’t get on the team they want at school.  As effective of an argument it is, we might as well be saying, “Well, KISS didn’t want to play hopscotch with them anyway!”
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On general terms, I can sympathize with the arguments against the selection process.  It is amazing how there are always at least two acts mentioned that seem to be there more because they’re “hip” rather than because they did anything that contributed to the success of rock music through the years.  Then again, that’s a personal perspective – I know I could rattle off some names here of who I think fits into the category of those not deserving such recognition, and within five seconds someone would say, “Whoa! What a minute!  That guy really did make a difference and here’s why …”  Then they’d be able to rattle off good reasons to prove me wrong followed by a comment about how I’m an idiot.  (Which is why I didn’t mention any names here … I’m too smart for that game.  So Madonna is safe from my rants for now.  Opps.)
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Keep reading this post on Dale Sherman’s Writer at Large blog.
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Kiss FAQ showcases the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.