Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ and Armageddon Films FAQ, shares 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.