Sunday, December 9, 2018

SNES Omnibus Writer Spotlight #39: Stephen Smith

I met Stephen Smith years ago at a Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. We had tables next to each other in the swap meet room. I was selling my books, and Stephen was unloading some stuff in his collection. He sold a boxed Atari Jaguar and several games to a guy, and I listened to the transaction. Stephen was far more interested in making sure the customer was happy with his purchase and the price paid than he was in padding his own wallet. He's unselfish that way.

 We’ve kept in touch ever since that CGE, and I've discovered that Stephen is super friendly and one of the most positive people I know. Stephen has overcome considerable physical challenges to create a remarkably productive life, from being a good friend of the gaming community to covering the field as a journalist to programming an Atari 2600 game. His wife is super cool as well. Oh, yeah, and he’s legally blind. Hell of a guy and a great friend. Stephen, you are a true inspiration for all of us.

Here’s Stephen’s contributor bio from the SNES Omnibus books, where he wrote some nifty nostalgic stories about some of his favorite games:

Stephen Smith is a video game enthusiast who has been a staff writer for Advanced Media Network and Kombo.com. He contributed to Video Game Collector magazine and worked with Eggroll Games, which specializes in apps for children. Stephen also founded Burrito Game Company and is the programmer of Road Duel, a homebrew game for the Atari2600.






Friday, December 7, 2018

KISS End of the Road Tour - The Mark Cicchini Interview



The legendary rock band KISS has recently announced The End of the Road, a three-year tour where they will say farewell to their fans and go out with a self-described bang. With this in mind, I reached out to noted KISS collector and Three Sides of the Coin podcast co-host Mark Cicchini, who I first met when I appeared on Three Sides a couple of years ago to promote my book, Encyclopedia of KISS. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to talk about his childhood, his introduction to KISS, some of the cooler items in his collection, and the aforementioned tour.

BRETT WEISS: I’m calling you on a sad day. I guess you heard that Gene Simmons’ mom died?

MARK CICCHINI: I’ve actually known it was coming. She’s been sick for a while.

Weiss: I guess that wasn’t public knowledge?

Cicchini: No, it wasn’t. I’ve been pretty good friends with the band and the crew for a long time, so you know…I’ve known about it for about a week now. Anyways, what’s up?

Weiss: What is your first memory of KISS?

Cicchini: My older brother back in the fall of 1974 brought home Hotter Than Hell when it was new, and it spoke to me because at that time I was already listening to…I didn’t call it heavy metal or whatever, but I roller skated a lot as you did in the Midwest, and you were able to request songs at the DJ’s booth. You roller skated to music.

Weiss: I remember those days well.

Cicchini: I would always request Smoke on the Water, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet by BTO, and School’s Out by Alice Cooper. All that kind of music had that “chunk, chunk, chunk.”

Weiss: It had a crunch to it.

Cicchini: Yeah! I couldn’t verbalize it then, but I liked that sort of sound. The stuff I wanted to skate to, the stuff I wanted to move to had loud guitars. That’s what I related to. Also, in the fall of 1974, I was nine years old, and there was nothing I loved more—culturally at least—than Universal monsters, Frankenstein and Dracula. I read Famous Monsters of Filmland every month. Obviously, when you get this Hotter Than Hell album and hold it in your hands, you can see that the visuals are huge. But then when you put it on the turn table, what did I hear? “Chunk, chunk, chunk.” I heard the sounds that I like, so I was hooked immediately. It sounded like it looked. It really appealed to me. That was my first taste of KISS.

Weiss: What was the first KISS record you bought with your own money?

Cicchini: Destroyer. I was with my mom. We were at the super market, and it had a little record section. I asked my mom if I could get it. My brother had bought Dressed to Kill, and I remember running my fingers over the embossed cover. He had bought KISS Alive. We had all the records in order, but the first one I actually bought was Destroyer.

Weiss: What was it like having ownership of a KISS item like that?

Cicchini: I was happy to get it before my brother did, that was fun [Laughter]. It was awesome, I played that record to death. As a matter of fact, I still have that copy of that record in my collection and would never trade for it.

Weiss: What was the first piece of KISS memorabilia that you bought that wasn’t a record?

Cicchini: I started right away with magazines. And newspaper clippings. Before there was really any KISS merchandise, they were in the newspaper a lot, like in the weekend section. KISS was really big here in Detroit early on. I was always cutting out those articles and pictures. Fast forward to 2018 and the Gene Simmons Vault, some of those things I cut out when I was a kid ended up in the booklet of the Gene Simmons Vault.

Weiss: That’s awesome!

Cicchini: Yeah, the first things I started to collect were do-it-yourself.

Weiss: I did the same thing. I remember when KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was on the cover of the local Fort Worth TV guide, I cut that out, and I would cut out articles and photos and stuff anytime I saw them. And the magazines, too. Like from 16 magazines, I would cut out pictures and glue them into a scrapbook.

Cicchini: I didn’t even know I was collecting. It was just something fun that I thought was cool. I ended up with a box of magazines with KISS on the cover, like Circus and Rock Scene. Then came the posters and the belt buckles. I did everything in real time. As you saw it come out, like in ’76 the Destroyer belt buckle, that kind of stuff, I would buy it. I used to joke that I wanted anything with the funny "S’s" [Laughs].

Weiss: Were your parents were pretty indulgent, then? Would they buy you things, or did you have to earn the money?

Cicchini: My mother was extremely supportive because it made her kid happy. If she saw a picture of KISS in the newspaper, she made sure to tell me so I could cut it out. My mom was so supportive she bought me 16 magazine because I was too embarrassed to buy it. My mom was super supportive in everything that I did. My dad was always working, but he did notice that my bedroom walls suddenly looked a little different, with KISS posters and pinups on the wall. It’s not that he wasn’t supportive, he was just working all the time, so KISS wasn’t really on his radar.

Weiss: I remember getting 16 and some of those other teen magazines and just wading through all the Barry Gibb crap to get to the KISS stuff.

Cicchini: Dude, some of those Super Teens had some of the best fuckin’ posters in them.

Weiss: Oh, I know, it was crazy.

Cicchini: But I wouldn’t buy them because they had Leif Garrett on the cover [Laughter]. But my mom bought them for me because I wanted the poster. My mother and my father were both wonderful people. I got along famously with both. But my mom would fuck with me about it, though, in a joking way. Like if she wanted something done around the house, she said she would buy me a magazine, that kind of thing. It was always good-natured fun.

Weiss: Did you have the KISS van model kit and the record player and that kind of stuff?

Cicchini: Oh, yeah, every year for my birthday and Christmas, I just wanted KISS stuff. And I was lucky, too, because my older brother and older sister were both big rock music fans. Especially my sister. She was four years older than me. When I was 12 in ’77, she was 16. She’d drive me to the mall, and our malls had all the posters, everything. I’d always take my birthday money. My birthday’s in May, almost exactly six months from Christmas, so between the six-month cycles, I’d buy every KISS thing I could get. Plus, I cut grass, and my dad would take me to work on Saturdays so we could spend time together, and when I was there I’d sweep the shop or paint a pole or something. My dad was always really cool about that. Being from a big Italian family, my grandfather would just give me money because I was his grandkid. I’d take that and go buy KISS stuff.

Weiss: Do you still have all the original stuff you bought back in the day?

Cicchini: Everything! For example, I never replaced my original Destroyer—I can’t! I don’t care how many re-issues there are. Yeah, I’ve got a re-issue on CD, but I’m not replacing that vinyl; that’s mine, mother fucker!  I bought that when it was new, probably April of ’76. Mine has the original label.

Weiss: So, you kept the toys and everything? That’s awesome.

Cicchini: Everything! Funny story: about four of five years ago, I don’t know why I did this—I’m a knucklehead—I was going through my vinyl, and I took my Love Gun album, and I was like, “Hey, here’s the little gun,” and I popped it, and it ripped [Laughter].

Weiss: Oh, no!

Cicchini: Yeah, it hadn’t been used in 30 years.

Weiss: Well, it’s hard to blame you for playing with your toys [Laughter].

Cicchini: Yeah, I know, I went to pop it, and the yellow thing that says “bang” ripped in half. Again, that’s my original copy of the album. From Love Gun on, I bought every KISS album without exception on the day it was released. I remember getting Creatures of the Night and The Elder at the music store on the way home from school.

Weiss: Was there any hesitation in buying The Elder with it’s odd cover and everything?

Cicchini: Why would I? I didn’t know it was going to sound like that.

Weiss: Were you puzzled when you saw the cover for The Elder? Were you like, “Where’s the band?”

 
Cicchini: No, I never thought that. I just knew it was a new KISS record, and I remember in the interviews Paul Stanley saying it was going to be something special…It wasn’t…At the time I was buying Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and the Scorpions. That was what I liked. My favorite band, KISS, quite honestly let me down. The music sounded like the band looked on Hotter Than Hell, but with The Elder, they didn’t sound like that anymore.

Weiss: Getting back to the memorabilia, I know it’s not a money thing to you. You just love the band, and you love collecting because it makes you happy, but with KISS being in the news a lot lately—for the 40th anniversary, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, and the End of the Road tour—can you comment on if the value of KISS collectibles has gone up? Is that on your radar at all?

Cicchini: I do not pay attention to that stuff. I don’t care. I never bought one thing as an investment. If you’re gonna invest, invest in gold or bonds. Don’t invest in collectibles. I don’t care if it’s KISS or Elvis or whatever. If one day people decide that KISS, Elvis, and the Beatles aren’t cool anymore—don’t say it’s not possible—it’s damn well possible. Especially with millennials and people getting older. There’s gonna be a bunch of people who just say, “Who cares?”

Weiss: Elvis collectibles have gone down in value in recent years.

Cicchini: Because the people who grew up with Elvis are pushing up daises. That’s just evolution and time. I didn’t get into KISS collecting to make money. I know that I’ve spent well over $100,000 on KISS stuff over my life time. That’s probably a low estimate. But you know what? I own my own business, I work really hard, and that stuff at the end of the day puts a smile on my face. That’s the sole reason I do this. It’s fun, and it’s relaxing, and I enjoy every second of it.

Weiss: What are some of your favorite items in your collection, and what are some of the rarer items?

Cicchini: I’ve got stage-worn costumes. I did some things for Gene Simmons, and he gave me a stage-played bass. I know people can buy those, but Gene gave me mine because I helped him out with some stuff.

Weiss: I would imagine it’s a lot more meaningful—it’s an experience—him giving it to you as opposed to you just buying it.

Cicchini: Yeah, it is. In 1977, Peter Criss won “Best Drummer” from Circus magazine, and Shure Microphones sponsored the contest. The prize from Circus was a Shure golden microphone, and the magazine would send it to them. I have Peter Criss’s engraved golden microphone. I bought it from his ex-wife, Lydia.  

Weiss: Truly a one-of-a-kind item.

Cicchini: I also have the issue of Circus with Peter’s name in there as the winner. On the address label, it’s marked “To KISS’s management office.” On Lydia’s book, Sealed with a KISS, that golden microphone I have since bought from her is on the cover.

Weiss: I’ve got that book; it’s excellent. Do you have a lot of your stuff on display in your home in glass showcases and on shelves?

Cicchini: Yep, both.

Weiss: Do you get some interesting reactions from non-fans or from your wives’ friends or whomever?

Cicchini: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, when my kids were young—they’re now both in their 20s—but when they were younger, their friends would come over and play. The whole basement is done up in KISS, and one of my son’s friends would call it The Haunted Basement [Laughter]. They didn’t see it as scary haunted, it’s just that it had—they didn’t who KISS was—they just saw these big costumes on mannequins down in the basement.

Weiss: I’ll be that’s something they still remember and talk about. When you’re a kid, your imagination runs wild, and if there’s a cool dad on the street that has this crazy basement, I’m sure it made an impression.

Cicchini: Yep.

Weiss: Do you ever sell anything? Do you ever decide that something is so expensive you want to sell it, or maybe you just don’t want it anymore?

Cicchini: It’s a vacuum. Once it comes into the collection, it stays.

Weiss: What do you think of The End of the Road tour?

Cicchini: The End of the Road tour? Meh. KISS is going to go on in one form or another. They’ve talked about no-names taking their places in the band. KISS is never gonna end. Once they stop touring, do you think Gene Simmons is just going to go into hiding and never come out again? You think Paul Stanley—with his art and jewelry and his tennis shoes and his food—is going to disappear? No, they’re going to be everywhere. There’s going to be KISS conventions. They’re calling it The End of the Road tour, but KISS is never gonna end. That’s the beauty of it.  

Weiss: And about Ace Frehley and Peter Criss not being involved in the tour?

Cicchini: They’re not in the band. Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are. They are phenomenal musicians. KISS with Tommy and Eric has been KISS since 2004.

Weiss: That’s longer than the original lineup was together.

Cicchini: Yeah! And they’ve released two incredible studio albums and one incredible live album. KISS is an embodiment of an attitude. KISS is on fire! I love KISS just the way they are!

 














*For more KISS info, you can read my interview with Lydia Criss HERE.

*For a LOT more KISS reading, check out my book, Encyclopedia of KISS.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

RIP Florence Lubowski - The Mother of Gene Simmons


A note about the passing of the mother of Gene Simmons, written by Paul Stanley:

"Gene's mother, Florence Lubowski, has passed away. I knew her as long as I've known Gene. Beyond her fierce love and pride in her only child, she was his inspiration to live up to being worthy of the sacrifices she made in a very difficult and, at times, horrific life. A holocaust survivor she fought for all she had and her fierce protection and pride in Gene made her someone to be feared, admired and loved. I will miss her laugh and smile. Let us all say a prayer for her, Gene and his family."

You can read more about Gene's remarkable mother HERE.



Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mad Magazine Looks at An Arcade

The editors of Mad Magazine found "mistakes" in this artist's rendering of an arcade scene. Click on the image for a closer look:


Sunday, November 11, 2018

SNES Omnibus Writer Spotlight #38 - Steve Juon


I met Mega Man fanatic and all around nice guy Steve Juon at the late, lamented Oklahoma Video Game Exhibition in Tulsa well over a decade ago. He and his wife beloved Michelle were very friendly, and we immediately became friends, discussing retro gaming, collecting, and the like. Over the years, we’ve had a blast vending at the show, going to Jeff Cooper’s house to hang out in his garage and game room (alas, that is no longer possible), and scarfing down pizza. Steve even interviewed me at one point, which you can check out HERE. Steve’s insight into the Mega Man franchise was invaluable for The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 1 (A–M). Thanks, Steve, I appreciate your friendship and your enthusiasm for the project!

Here’s Steve’s bio as it appears in The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1:

Steve Juon is a lifelong video game enthusiast and collector who has attended many conventions through the Midwest as both a fan and a presenter, including an exhibition of rare and unusual Mega Man games at the Oklahoma Video Game Expo. He’s happily married to his wife Michelle for over 15 years, they have an adorable orange tabby named Tango (yes, after Mega Man V for GameBoy), and when not pursuing gaming passions he works as a freelance writer and journalist.


You can pre-order The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 2 (N–Z), which completes the two-volume set, HERE






Friday, November 9, 2018

Revenge of the Arcade Article - Den of Geek Magazine


I was quoted in the New York Comic Con issue of Den of Geek, a cool magazine covering comics, movies, books, video games, and the like. The interview was for an article about the return of the arcades.

Click on the images below to read the article. Better yet, you can read it online HERE.






Monday, November 5, 2018

SNES Omnibus Writer Spotlight #37 - Van Burnham

Image: Genevieve Adams

Van Burnham was a great "get" for the SNES Omnibus project. She is the esteemed author of Supercade, a prestigious full-color coffee table book covering the Golden Age of video games. When Supercade was published in 2001, there were very few books of its type on the market. She was a true trailblazer, and her stories in the SNES Omnibus books are colorful and distinctive, showing a long history with gaming. I hope to see Van at a retro gaming convention sometime soon as she seems like an interesting and fun person. I'll just make sure not to criticize her Philadelphia Eagles--she'll rip me a new one. Thanks, Van!    

Here's Van Burnham's bio from The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1

Van Burnham is the author of Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age (MIT Press) and steward of the Supercade Collection, one of the largest private collections of vintage video arcade games in the world. She’s also written for Retro Gamer and Wired. Based in Los Angeles, Van is currently curating an international exhibition of contemporary art inspired by games. Follow her on Instagram @supercade71 for updates and images from the Supercade.

You can pre-order The SNES Omnibus Vol. 2 HERE.