Lex Neon On Gene Simmons (Kiss)

(Happy birthday, Gene!  We at Poppermost love you.)

There I was, the new kid in school.  I knew no one, barely found my way around the campus, and wished like hell that my old friends from my previous school were there with me.  I felt alone and had no one to hang with on that first day.  I sat down, took out a piece of paper, and started drawing a picture of Gene Simmons.  That’s when I met Gina, a girl who loved to draw Paul Stanley.  She also liked Kiss, and became my first friend at my new school.

For me at that time, Gene Simmons represented fierceness, bravery, and fearlessness.  He was the guy in Kiss that looked like he could never be scared.  He was the guy in Kiss that, to me, looked like he was having all of the fun.  Most importantly, Gene was the guy in Kiss that looked like he could kick even Superman’s ass.

I had seen Kiss perform “Rock and Roll All Night” on a Dick Clark special and instantly fell in love.  Kiss was like a rock and roll comic book come to life.  Gene Simmons was the member of the band that I dug the most, especially the way he’d look at a camera with that look of “I’m here, and you’re not.”  When I thought of Gene, I was fearless.

“You want money for the ‘what’ army?  What in the hell is the Kiss Army?”  Mom thought I was nuts.

Actually, most of my family and friends thought I was nuts at that time.  Kiss looked freakish, and probably scared away people who just decided to write them off because of the make-up.  Kiss was not a band that you heard on radio.  Unless you happened to catch a live television performance you didn’t know what they sounded like.  I had seen them on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, and those commercials that advertised their albums.  I dug the sound and the sight equally.

When I purchased Kiss’ very first live album, Alive, Gene’s songs were the ones that got most of my attention.  Songs like “Deuce,” “Nothin’ To Lose,” and “She” were pure, unadulterated rock.  The one that got my musical heart first, though, was “Watching You.”  It rocked, it boogied, it was funky in a lot of places, and to this day, it’s my favorite Kiss song bar none.

Well, I’m standing here
Not quite aware
And I’m tryin’, baby
Tryin’ not to stare

Coz everybody else is here
Watching you

By the time they decided it was time to remove the make-up in the 80s, I was knee-deep into the 60s English rock bands that inspired Kiss, like the Who and the Dave Clark Five.  When they got back to the make-up, my interest was very much renewed.  I’d play Alive for the students I taught during study time.  I found some old Kiss posters from my childhood and hung them in my classroom.  I even drooled ketchup with a waste basket under my chin for my kids, mimicking Gene.  Most of the kids laughed.  Some took it as a sign that I was nuts.

One student of mine, Danny, was so entranced with Kiss that he asked if I’d make him a cassette copy of Alive.  I told him that I would ask his mother, just to be on the safe side.  She was a few years older than I, and remembered Kiss from the 70s.  She was concerned that Kiss music was “satanic.”  I gave her the cassette I’d been playing for the class and told her to listen to a few seconds of each song, which were basically about “having fun, rock and roll music, and girls.”  She let Danny have a copy of the album, plus she kept the one I gave her as a loan.

I’ve read Gene’s books and interviews.  I’ve seen him on talk shows and documentaries.  I even met him at a Lenny Kravitz concert I took in with band mates.  It was a very short conversation, but at least I got to say, “Hey, I love you.  You’ve always been one of my heroes.”  And true enough, when I think of Gene I still feel fearless.

Happy birthday, Gene (August 25).  Thanks for the great music, for the courage, and for the honesty.  There isn’t another like you anywhere.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

(Note: Alive was originally released Sept. 10, 1975)

Currently listening :
By Kiss
Release date: 1997-07-15

~ by Poppermost on September 2, 2008.

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