Friday, May 27, 2016

Encyclopedia of KISS -- Preface

As many of you know, my Encyclopedia of KISS is now available on Amazon. Below is my preface to the book, which will give you some idea of my background as a fan of the band. At the end of the preface is the video where I unbox my author copies. Thanks for reading and watching!

Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects


As a kid growing up in Fort Worth, Texas during the 1970s, I had a blast shooting hoops, digging in the dirt, and riding my bike with friends. I also enjoyed reading comic books, watching TV, playing video games, and listening to rock music. However, other than the social aspect of it, I never really liked going to school.

Despite the fact that I now write for a living, and despite the fact that I’ve always been an avid reader, I was a terrible student. My teachers would tell me that I was “bright, but that I didn’t apply myself.” I’m sure I had undiagnosed ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as it was hard for me to sit still, follow instructions, and concentrate on what the teachers were saying. It didn’t help that I had a miserable self-esteem, and that I was often hopped up on allergy and bronchitis medicine.

I was painfully shy during the early years of elementary school and would try to obey the rules, but by the time I reached fifth and sixth grade, instead of listening to the teachers, I was much more interested in flirting with the cute girls, making the other kids laugh, and decorating my folders and book covers with drawings and magazine photos of my favorite rock band, KISS. Along with Captain Kirk, The Flash (the Barry Allen version, of course), and Julius “Dr. J” Erving, my boyhood heroes were Ace “The Spaceman” Frehley, Gene “The Demon” Simmons, Paul “The Starchild” Stanley, and Peter “The Catman” Criss.

I don’t recall the exact moment I discovered KISS (probably around 1975, when I was eight-years-old and the classic double LP Alive! was new in stores), but during the late 1970s, when I was absolutely obsessed with the band and was wearing out the grooves on the second Holy Trinity of KISS albums—Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun (KISS, Hotter than Hell, and Dressed to Kill are the first Holy Trinity)—the aptly nicknamed “Hottest Band in the World” was everywhere, and it seemed to me like they were simply meant to exist by some divine decree, the way one thinks of such iconic figures of popular culture as Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and, of course, the Beatles, one of the two or three biggest influences on KISS.

Unlike school, KISS made perfect sense to me as they combined many of the things that I loved—movie monsters, science fiction, superheroes, cartoons, and rock and roll—into one loud, colorful, over-the-top extravaganza. I never questioned why grown men would don scary-cool makeup, giant platform boots, and outlandish costumes before getting up onstage to play music, and it never seemed odd to me that Gene spit blood and fire, or that Ace played a smoking, rocket-shooting guitar. I simply thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen (or heard).

During this more innocent, more na├»ve time (without access to the Internet or cable television, we kids relied on playground rumors for much of our information), I had no idea KISS’s lyrics were inundated with sexual innuendo. And, like most fans, I didn’t know anything about Ace and Peter’s alcohol and drug abuse, or about all the arguing and discontentment that went on in the band. I just figured Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter were four of the happiest people on the planet, as I was when I listened to their music.

As an enthusiastic KISS fan on a limited budget, I desperately wanted, but couldn’t afford most of the avalanche of merchandise that was produced at the peak of the band’s popularity during the late 1970s. When my family would go to K-Mart on Friday nights, I would drool over the tantalizing treasures on display in the toy aisle, such as the van model kit, the toy guitar, and the Mego dolls, but it would have taken me months to save up enough money to buy even one of these things on my meager dollar-per-week allowance. And, on those rare times when I did have extra money, such as birthdays and Christmas, I would buy what were by far the most import KISS items: the records. Despite the coolness of the costumes, makeup, pyrotechnics, and toy line, the music is what I’ve always liked best about KISS.

To compensate for my lack of funds when it came to KISS collectibles, I had to be creative. Instead of buying the KISS van model kit, which was around $10, I purchased an ordinary car model, which was only $2 and some change, and I decorated it with the temporary tattoos that were included with the band’s second live album, Alive II. I also spent my allowance on rock music magazines, including copies of Creem, Circus, and Hit Parader, as long as KISS was featured on the cover. I even bought copies of such teen heartthrob magazines as 16 and Teen Beat, just to get a few more KISS pics.

After reading the magazines until they were in tatters (It fascinated me to no end that Ace claimed to be from the planet “Jendel,” no matter how many times I read it), I would cut out the smaller KISS pictures and place them in a scrapbook, and I would get my dad to take the larger photos—the pinups, as they were called—to work and make multiple photocopies of them (thanks, Dad). I would tack the original pinups to the walls in my room (thanks, Mom) and hand out the black-and-white copies to kids at school, as though I were some kind of KISS evangelist.

My parents wouldn’t take me to an actual KISS concert, not because they disapproved of the band, but because it would’ve meant driving downtown and spending money, and because they surely didn’t want to see the show themselves. As such, watching KISS on television was about as good as it got in my little universe.Long before YouTube, I would eagerly try to catch every televised KISS appearance that I could, including on such shows as PM Magazine and The Midnight Special. One of the best nights of my young life—I was 11-years-old at the time—was the October 28, 1978 airing of the made-for-TV movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, which was about the greatest thing I had ever seen: my super-powered heroes foiling bad-guy schemes, battling robots and creatures,  and performing onstage at an amusement park. Viewed through adult eyes, the film is hopelessly cheesy (though I still enjoy it), but back then it was my Hard Day’s Night, my Wizard of Oz, my rock and roll fantasy, and my monster movie-of-the-week, all rolled into one.

I had a good friend with super religious parents who wouldn’t let him watch KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (after all, KISS did stand for Knights in Satan’s Service, or so some people thought), so, naturally, he came over to my house that evening after lying to his parents about what we were going to do. In the minutes leading up to the start of the movie, I was so excited that I kept leaving the living room as though I weren’t going to watch it, and then I would run back in, diving on the carpet in front of the TV set, much to the amusement and bemusement of my friend and my parents. Around the fifth or sixth time I performed this odd gymnastic maneuver, the movie began, and I sat transfixed before the television for the next two hours, blocking out the world and basking in the ethereal glow of what I thought was pure greatness.

By the time junior high school rolled around, most of the “cool” kids didn’t like KISS anymore and would make fun of anyone who did, saying “KISS sucks.” Since the band wore makeup and costumes, and since their cartoonish images were on everything from lunch boxes to puzzles to bubblegum cards, many people refused to take them seriously, even though the music they made was fantastic (if simplistic) rock and roll. This frustrated me to no end, as did the fact that KISS was rarely played on the radio because most disc jockeys and station managers, like most music critics, snubbed their noses at the band. One rare exception was the power ballad “Beth,” which even grownups liked.

I knew KISS was great and that they didn’t suck—I just wish they would have gotten more respect at the time. But that’s all water under the proverbial bridge now as the four original members of KISS entered the hallowed halls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10, 2014, a ridiculous 15 years after they became eligible. Further, KISS has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, and they’ve influenced the careers of countless entertainers, everyone from Garth Brooks to Lenny Kravitz to the late, great “Dimebag” Darrell.

To this day, I’m still a huge KISS fan. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written this book, which has been a massive (and massively fun) undertaking. A couple of years ago, while going through my collection of KISS books and magazines, it occurred to me that, other than an obscure Japanese book published during the late 1970s, no one had ever written an honest-to-goodness KISS encyclopedia. The Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead—each of these iconic bands has had at least one encyclopedia, but not KISS, so I took it upon myself to fill a gap in the rock and roll publishing industry.

The result is the titanic tome you are holding in your hands, a labor of love that catalogs, describes, and often critiques all of KISS’s albums, songs, and tours, along with most of their important movie, TV, and comic book appearances. The book lists and describes hundreds of other things related to the band as well, including prominent friends, girlfriends, family members, influences, action figures, memorabilia, crew members, session musicians, songwriters, books, magazines, and much, much more.

The primary focus of the encyclopedia is on the original fab four—Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss—but replacement members Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer (the band’s current drummer), and Tommy Thayer (the band’s current lead guitarist) are given their due as well: their contributions to the KISS legacy certainly deserve documentation. If the KISS-related person, item, or event you are looking for doesn’t have an actual entry in the book, check the index at the back—he, she, or it is probably mentioned in here somewhere.

Whether you’re a lifelong member of the KISS Army, someone who hopped aboard during the non-makeup era or the Reunion Tour, or you simply dig the current KISS lineup, I hope you have as much fun reading this book as much as I had writing it. After all, the main philosophy of KISS is that you should enjoy life.

And now, without further ado: “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world, KISS!”

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Encyclopedia of KISS: Music, Personnel, Events and Related Subjects -- Author Copies

My Encyclopedia of KISS has finally been published. It is a labor of love as I've been a huge fan of the band since the mid-1970s. I worked on the book on and off for two-and-a-half years, and I'm proud of the finished product. The book distills the massive scope of KISS--the albums, band members, magazines, books, toys, girlfriends, wives, tours, movie and TV appearances, and much more--into a fun, well-researched, 227-page encyclopedia. Everything is listed in alphabetical order for your convenience, and the book includes photos, a preface discussing my interest in the band, a history of KISS, and a thorough index. By clicking on the cover on Amazon, you can read the first few pages for free. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Laughing Chewbacca Mask Lady -- Funny or Not?

I'm a Star Wars
 fan with a sense of humor. Not only do I enjoy the films, I like the parodies of and comedies about the franchise as well, including the first and best, Hardware Wars. I also like Spaceballs, Fanboys, The Family Guy Trilogy and others. However, I didn't laugh once or even smile during the latest YouTube video to go viral, the laughing Chewbacca lady. I found it annoying, shrill, and obvious. Maybe my soul is dead, but I didn't get the appeal. Your mileage may differ. Did you find it funny or not? Please leave a message in the comments on your opinions of this popular video. Thanks! 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Summer 2016 Video Game Guide

There’s rarely a dull moment in the video game industry, and now is certainly no exception.

Nintendo has announced that they are launching their next console, the Nintendo NX, in March of 2017. Techies eagerly await Sony’s groundbreaking virtual reality system, the PlayStation VR, heading to stores this October.

And rumors abound regarding possible upgrades to the  and the  (you may have heard mention of the “PlayStation 4.5”), consoles that are only about two-and-a-half years old.

Meanwhile, gamers are having a blast with such recently released blockbusters as Doom - PlayStation 4(PS4, Xbox One), Star Fox Zero(Wii U) and Uncharted 4: A Thief's End(PS4), the latter of which many are already calling one of the greatest video games of all time.

Here are nine more tantalizing titles you might enjoy. Two you can pop in and play right now; the rest you can enjoy over the next couple of months to escape the summer heat.

As always, release dates are subject to change.

PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: 2K Games. Developer: Gearbox Software.
ESRB Rating: Teen
Available Now

Many gamers are currently knee-deep in Battleborn, a frenetic first-person hero shooter with elements of a MOBA, which, for you noobs, stands for multiplayer online battle arena. If you have yet to take the plunge, know this: the game features a robust lineup of 25 playable, upgradeable characters, each of which has a storyline and distinctive abilities, weapons and techniques. Five of the characters are immediately available. To unlock the others, you must finish story missions, achieve new player ranks or complete an assortment of tasks.

Developed by Frisco-based Gearbox Software, creators of the hugely popular “Borderlands” series, Battleborn released to mixed reviews, but I like its visual panache and plethora of playable characters.

Disney Art Academy
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo. Developer: Headstrong Games.
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Available Now

Disney Art Academylets budding Botticellis and those of us who can barely draw figures put stylus to screen and illustrate more than 80 Disney and Pixar characters, from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck to Snow White to Elsa from Frozen. Step-by-step lessons with tutorials make illustrating easy, and you can select from nine different art tools, including pens, markers and spray cans. New to the “Art Academy” series is a magic brush that lets you add such flourishes as clouds, stars and glitter.

Once you’ve created your 2D masterpiece (there is no 3D option), you can post it directly to the Miiverse or on social media via the 3DS Image Share tool.

Dangerous Golf
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Three Fields Entertainment. Developer: Three Fields Entertainment.
ESRB Rating: TBA
$ TBA (digital download only)
Release date: June 3

Golf is the most genteel of sports. Players wear slacks and collared shirts while viewers speak in hushed tones, clapping politely when their favorite golfer sinks a long putt. Scratch all of that with Dangerous Golf, a game of destruction the programmers refer to as a cross between Burnout, Black and NBA Jam.

Up to eight players take turns “golfing” in such indoor locations as a kitchen, a bathroom, a castle and a palace. Instead of just hitting the ball into a flagged hole, gamers also splat food on walls, spill paint on works of art, set fire to gas pumps and smash everything from dishes to microwave ovens to grand pianos and grandfather clocks. Sounds like my kind of golf.

Kirby: Planet Robobot
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo. Developer: HAL Laboratory.
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release date: June 10

Everyone’s favorite pink puffball returns for another side-scrolling platform adventure in Kirby: Planet Robobot. Invaders have mechanized Dreamland. To battle the baddies, Kirby, who can maneuver in the foreground and background, uses more than 25 copy abilities, including three new ones: Doctor, Poison, and ESP. Better yet, Kirby can now walk, slide, shoot, fly, smash through obstacles and lift heavy objects while wearing Robobot armor, which makes him more powerful than ever.

The game also includes a mode called Team Kirby Clash, which lets up to four players level up their characters (in RPG-like fashion) and cooperate to battle bosses.

Grand Kingdom
PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Publisher: NIS America. Developer: Monochrome.
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release date: June 21

Fans of JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) should be excited for the U.S. release of Grand Kingdom, a tactical, squad-based game that launched to largely positive reviews in the Land of the Rising Sun last November. Players lead a team of mercenaries through the fantasy world of Resonail, using bows, swords and magical attacks in turn-based battles against such enemies as dragons, harpies and giant wolves.

The single-player campaign has you trying to unravel the mystery of the collapse of the Uldein Empire while online play lets you participate in continental warfare between the Four Great Nations.

No Man’s Sky
PlayStation 4
Publisher: Hello Games. Developer: Hello Games.
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release date: June 21

An immersive adventure set in a vast universe, No Man's Sky looks to be one of the most open-ended electronic experiences we’ve ever seen. Exploration and survival take center stage as you traverse uncharted solar systems, travel to distant planets and suns, catalogue new life forms, search for ancient artifacts, dogfight in outer space, engage in first-person combat and collect resources to trade for ships, space suits and other equipment.

You can play solo or hop online and share your discoveries with other players, “naming them and adding them to the Galactic Map, forever associated with your PSN ID.” This game could literally keep you busy for years.

Umbrella Corps
PlayStation 4
Publisher: Capcom. Developer: Capcom.
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$29.99 (digital download only)
Release date: June 21

An offshoot of the popular “Resident Evil” series, which began on the original PlayStation 20 years ago, Umbrella Corps takes place in 2015, two years after the storyline from Resident Evil 6. The game side-steps the survivor horror genre the series popularized in favor of third-person shooter action, not unlike the non-canonical Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.

As a mercenary with a mission, you, cooperating with fellow mercenaries, compete online to eliminate zombies while battling rival teams. Defeating enemies grants points for use in customizing your mask, helmet, armor and Zombie Jammer, the latter of which helps keep the baddies at bay. You can also unlock and customize weaponry, such as the new, super powerful Doberman Pincer shotgun.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Publisher: Warner Bros. Developer: Traveller's Tales.
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
$29.99 (3DS, Vita), $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
Release date: June 28

If you’re a diehard “Star Wars” fan, but you’ve dismissed the “LEGO” series as mere kiddie fare, you might want to think twice about skipping this game, which includes playable (not to mention canonical) story content bridging the gap between Return of the Jedi and .

Gameplay is similar to previous “LEGO” titles, with one or two players walking, jumping, solving puzzles, piecing together items and engaging in comical, lighthearted battles. New to the series are Multi-Builds, which let you use LEGO bricks to open up new paths and then break them apart to open more paths, and Blaster Battles, which let you use your surroundings as cover while facing the First Order.

Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness
PlayStation 4
Publisher: Square Enix. Developer: tri-Ace.
ESRB Rating: Teen
Release date: June 28

Set between Star Ocean: The Second Story and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, this is one of those epic, cinematic, all-consuming role-playing games that just may absorb your life, making you forget to shower, shave or interact with actual human beings. It’s action-oriented at its core, however, with players, as swordsman Fidel Camuze, engaging in real-time battles with beasts, bandits and other enemies on the planet of Faykreed, which is 6,000 miles from Earth.

The basic fighting system consists of simple three-button combat (light attack, heavy attack, and guard), but gamers can create weapons and other items and switch between seven controllable characters on the fly, each of whom has a different fighting style. Japanese through-and-through, the anime-style characters were designed by “Street Fighter” veteran Akira Yasuda.

Carmageddon: Max Damage
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Stainless Games. Developer: Stainless Games.
ESRB Rating: TBA
Release date: July 8
Remember the 1975 Roger Corman-produced cult classic, Death Race 2000? It’s the one where “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone) and other racers run over pedestrians for points. With Carmageddon: Max Damage, the latest title in a series that began in 1997, you can cause similar mayhem while driving down grannies, nuns and cheerleaders, along with pedestrians on bicycles, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. You can even hit such targets as aliens, bears and penguins.

There are more than 30 drivable vehicles to select from in this politically incorrect game, and you can grab more than different 90 power-ups for increased carnage. The action takes place in small battle arenas and across such large open environments as city streets, arid deserts, country trails and icy wastelands, “all packed with juicy meatbags for your killing pleasure.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Reality of Today's Economy - Free Online Content & the Donate Button

I never really thought I would do this, but I've added a donation button to my website (you'll find it up and to the right).

The reason is because I spend more time than I used to posting free online content, articles, videos and the like, which takes up time I could be spending on paying work. Also, it's simply a reality of today's dotcom economy--respected writers, authors, musicians, artists and other content creators get paid for their time and creativity in part by generous fans who like what they watch, hear, and read.

Feel free to continue reading my blog and watching my videos free of charge, guilt free (the key word here is apparently free), but if you've got some extra cash in your PayPal account or some wiggle room on your credit card, and you enjoy my articles and videos, it wouldn't hurt my feelings any if you could donate a few bucks.

Whether you kick in some cash or not, thanks for watching and reading!

HoldSquare Nation Videogame Podcast #8 - Space Invaders - National Video Game Museum VIP Dinner

Join outlawcurtis and myself for this week's HoldSquare Nation Podcast as we discuss Space Invaders, Assassin's Creed, Friday the 13th, videogame movies, the National Videogame Museum VIP dinner, and more.

Click HERE to watch our videos in full screen. Thanks for watching, subscribing and liking our videos!

Monday, May 16, 2016

National Videogame Museum VIP Dinner

Fellow gaming author and friend Leonard Herman invited me as his guest for the VIP dinner at the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas. Lenny flew in from New Jersey while I live 45 minutes from the facility. I've covered the museum for various magazines and newspapers, I've interviewed museum co-founder Joe Santulli, and I've known (and supported the work of) Santulli and his business partners John Hardie and Sean Kelly for years, so they were cool with me tagging along.
Joe looks at me suspiciously while I take a pic of him and his partners in crime. Joe, John, and Sean each gave impassioned speeches, thanking their friends, family members and others who helped make the museum possible.

Me and Lenny Herman talking to Atari alumnus Steve Wright, who programmed Soccer for the Atari 2600.

 Sony's Jerry Jessop, who used to work for Atari, on the left. That's Jay Smith, who designed the Vectrex, in the middle.

Pitfall! creator David Crane faces off against Intellivision alumnus Keith Robinson in a round of the world's largest Pong game.

 Excellent food and drink, fun decorations, '80s music videos, legendary game designers, arcade gaming, great conversation--it was a fun night at the museum.
 Dan Kitchen (Garry's brother) in the tan jacket, David Crane on the right.