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 naïve 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!”