The Memory of a Kiss

For the past year nostalgia has played a rather increasingly large role in my life. Sometimes I wonder if the brushes with death over the past couple years have made me want to recapture some of my youth. Michael has even joined my trips down memory lane since we share similar tastes in music, meaning that although we have a 10 year age difference the music I listened to in my youth was actually the music he listened to in his youth.

I suppose there are times when I do want to reclaim those years and maybe be a little wilder. For the most part I was a very good kid until I was in my 20's. Since I was aware that I was Gay as early as Junior High and was much too gay to repress it and date girls, I was pretty much a loner. I did have one friend I grew up with who was also Gay (actually of the six kids in my neighborhood group three of us turned out to be Gay). He and I did carry on something of an on again/off again affair during our high school and early college days. But still, no one knew about that at all. To the world I was the epitome of the studious almost asexual chubby teenage guy.

I didn't drink until I was a Senior in high school. I didn't smoke weed until I was out of high school and even then it was quite rare and much like Bill Clinton I rarely inhaled. The few times I did try to really puff I ended up getting a weird headachy feeling or coughing and everyone laughing.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and redo some of that stuff. Be a little more wild. I was always home at the appropriate hour, never did anything to get into trouble, and basically had a pretty boring existence. Thinking back after almost dying I sometimes feel that I missed out on some experiences. I'm not saying I would want to go back and do anything harmful to anyone - just be a little more of a rebel.

Later on in my 20's I did become a bit more rebellious but by then it was too late. Like a lot of Gay men I had my high school rebellion when I was about 22 because I was finally out of the closet to everyone and really let go. Of course, I went overboard then and had to constantly try to balance rebellion with a career. That's no fun. It's really hard to be a bad ass rebel when you're wearing a beeper and are on call for traumas so you can't drink alcohol. Just doesn't work.

So, maybe it's just that feeling that has been driving me to revisit music, films, and the culture of the 70's and early 80's. Part of that was renting Kissology Volume 1 the other day. This DVD set chronicles the band Kiss from its formation in 1972 through today. I don't much care what happened after '80 because by then I was over them. But, from '76 to '79 - wow, I couldn't get enough of Kiss.

My favorite member of the band was the lead guitarist Ace Frehley. I coveted Ace's Gibson Les Paul. As a kid my neighborhood friends and I would do complete Kiss concerts in my backyard. We constructed a full stage from scrap lumber found around the neighborhood. We even had stairs that went up to an elevated second stage above the first. We set up our "drums" there. The "drums" consisted of a variety of empty containers, boxes, and whatever was at hand.

My friend, Darvin, was a fan of Paul Stanley so he took that role in our little Kiss cover band. Gene and Peter were handled by whomever happened to be around and wanted to play. Usually it ended up being a couple of the girls. But, we did have Jeff who liked to be Gene Simmons a lot and had the tongue thing down pretty good.

Once everything was in place we turned on my record player with the speakers perched in my bedroom window and rocked out. At that time in my life I was extremely skinny and was fully capable of doing Ace's moves laying back to play solos. Darvin had Paul's jumps and dance moves down too.

Thinking back it was quite hilarious and I wish we had movies from that time. One day I was going through things that belonged to one of my brothers and discovered the greatest Kiss Cover Band accessory in the history of mankind - black leather thigh high 5 inch high platform shoes! I drug those suckers out of that box and we fought over who got to wear them for each "performance". I'm amazed that we didn't break our necks dancing around at 11 years old in those things. Maybe, though, that should have been a clue as to how many of us were going to turn out Gay. We took to those things like ducks to water.

For Christmas in 1977 I got an amazing gift from my brother. This was, incidentally, the same brother who had unknowingly given me the gift of the platform boots already. Anyway, for Christmas that year he presented me with tickets to see Kiss live at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, SC. I also got one of those cool velvet pictures you paint in with magic markers of the cover of "Rock 'n' Roll Over". Cleaned up that Christmas!

January 6, 1978 we went to see Kiss in Columbia. Also going was my other much older brother's stepson (same age I am). I should note here that obviously this would not be the stepson of the same brother who owned black leather thigh high 5 inch platform boots. Unfortunately, we were also taking my biological nephew as well. He was 8 at the time. Not exactly the age to go see Kiss. Not that we were mature adults either, but they were "our" band. Of course, because I am 14 years younger than my next sibling I had grown up with a nephew who was more like a kid brother. What I had he had. I had Kiss tickets, he had Kiss tickets.

So, off to the concert we go, when we arrive we're sitting behind the stage almost. Actually it was pretty neat because I could look right down on the band and when they went backstage to touch up makeup I could see them as well. They even tossed their towels up our way (not quite far enough for me though). This was also the first time I'd ever smelled pot. I wouldn't know until much later what that smell was though.

After the first set my 8 year old nephew was crying to go home. He was tired, it was too loud, on and on. After all, what did they expect? He was 8, for crying out loud! So, instead of staying for the encores which went on for another two hours almost as my friends at school informed me the next day, we went home early. My one and only real rock concert until I was an adult (sorry, Rick Springfield and the Beach Boys in High School do NOT count) - anyway my one real rock concert and I have to leave early. No concert T-shirt, no great memories of hearing all the songs off the last album as well as the all the rest, just a long cold ride home.

Another one of those things that I really wish I could have experienced in its fullness. That's also the reason I wanted to watch the DVD the other day.

So I put it in and realized I'd forgotten in 28 years or so just how brutal their music was. Ace was a pretty good guitarist. Peter was a pretty good drummer. Paul was not a great singer and Gene Simmons was a showman and little else. I guess, though, I was trying to recapture that feeling of hearing them start playing at the Coliseum, that tingle of excitement and feeling that this was the greatest thing I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, you don't get to recapture those feelings sitting in your living room watching a DVD. By the end of it I had begun to wonder what I'd ever seen in them in the first place other than the theatrics.

Still, despite how much I'd love to be able to redo that memory it's still one of the greatest I have. I can see the whole scene in amazing detail 30 years later. I can still see Gene Simmons walk backstage during a drum solo by Peter Criss to fix his makeup and get a drink of water. I can see him in that spike studded outfit with the dragon boots raise his hand to us with the index and little fingers extended. I can see him dry his hair with a towel and then toss it to some people sitting a few rows down from us. I can see the faces of the crowd in front of me and I can remember thinking that this is almost the view of the audience that the band has. I remember hearing Ace Frehley's solo on Black Diamond and watching him get down on the floor and lean back into it. I can remember feeling like the coolest person on earth just to be in that crowd.

Somehow that memory seems much better than actually watching them perform again. Strange...