KISStorian finds no BOWIE, no KISS

ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS

So true …From Ziggys lightning bolt live backdrop logo adopted by ‘the Ace’, to Bowie’s face paint, to Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson‘s over-driven Les Paul, early DB is a glowing strand in KISS’s DNA, both visually and musically. Bowie made being ‘out there’ cool and KISS got the message.

At least a couple KISS fans (me and my brother) were introduced to Ziggy & KISS on the very same day. In fact it was back to back in real-time when our whole family tuned in for the ABC Friday Night At The Movies special feature ‘Heroes Of Rock & Roll’ hosted by Jeff Bridges. Still have the VHS …it’s a whirlwind tour that takes us from the inception in the 50’s to 1979, when it aired. It has the coolest segue I have ever seen in my life … Ziggy pointing to the rafters with a peace sign, grimacing at the end of a hairy live version “Ziggy Stardust” when the scene cuts to Gene Simmons breathing fire as the riff to “Rockin’ In The USA” off Alive II kicks in. It may have been that very moment that I realized ‘I Wanna Rock’ (thanks Dee).

KISS has overtly tipped the collective glam rock chapeaus Bowie’s way at least a couple times over the years (if the unabashed commitment to theatrics wasn’t a big enough dot to connect).

dzPaul’s singing (and the band’s overall delivery) on the original 1973 demo of “Strutter” is Bowie all the way. Stanley cops a whiney, quasi-British, Ziggy vibe on the “She gets her waa-aay, like a child” doubled vocal line, going intentionally out of phase to create what me and my bro have always called ‘the Bowie effect!!’. This early demo by the furry four reveals Ziggy was one of their Gods, no question. Just check Gene and Paul’s Tweets when the news hit of Bowie’s passing yesterday.

Another homage is Gene’s “Hey man …” lyric leads-ins on the verses of “The Street ‘Giveth & The Street ‘Taketh Away” off Hot In The Shade, shamelessly knocking off Bowie’s ultra-cool “Suffragette City” verse hook lock, stock & barrel.

The most obvious parallel for me though is Bowie’s pre-occupation with fantasy and ultimate decision to really go for it by creating Ziggy, just as the boys did with the Spaceman (Ziggy take a bow), the Catman, the Demon and the Starchild (uh .. Stardust). His focus was always on creating a new image of himself and on pushing boundries, forcing audiences to either except or reject (him).

imagesIronically, it’s long been joked by Gene that, had KISS been shorter or skinnier, they would have dressed in semi-drag like the New York Dolls, or Bowie as was en vogue at time. Their early photo sessions without face paint show a bunch of ‘lovely lads’ looking a little fey for, say, Detroit or Terre Haute where the KISS Army started. But even when they put the make up on Paul dabbled with adrogyny, playing the role like Jagger, or Bowie being Ziggy.

With the rock news of the past few weeks, my KISS-vision has been gaining clarity …KISS is a bastard step child of, Alice aside, both waves of the British Invasion: from the first with the Beatles, Kinks & Who to the second with Ziggy, Lemmy, Zep, Slade & Sabbath. Without Bolan, The Who & The Beatles, there’s no Bowie. Without Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground, there’s no Alice Cooper. Without Alice or Bolan, there’s no Bowie. It’s fuzzy rock math but any way you slice it, without Ziggy, there’s probably no KISS as we know them.

RIP David Bowie, the atomic punk …he came and met us, he blew our minds.

 

 

 

 

 

lost & found KISS footage Detroit ’96

96KISSOn the end of a bootleg KISS VHS I got somewhere was this left over footage from an MTV cam covering the Tiger Stadium Reunion Tour kickoff in Detroit in 1996.

My favorite part of it is the walk to the stage in which the guys seem almost serene compared to the shots we are about to see of the KISS Army’s finest in a pit of sheer bedlam in front of the stage.   It reminds me of the clones in Phantom Of The Park as they take the stage like zombies as the real KISS are detained below in Devereaux’s laser-beam enabled underground bunker.

Naturally Gene & Paul lead they way after Doc McGhee beckons “together for the walk guys, together for the walk”. After all, it is their asses on the line but it’s kinda cool to see Ace and Peter hang back like brothers about to climb on a rock & roll roller coaster all over again.

You can feel the excitement as the camera man or woman then runs around to the front of the stage and we hear them being warned by someone that the curtain that is going to drop “is going to come right down on you” (if you don’t move now.)

When the band hits the stage we get a front o’ barricades view of the fall-out as smoke billows, Paul shuffles Peter plods and Ace’s guitar straps pops off. Here we are, one minute into what would become a 5 or 6 year run and Ace is already experiencing turbulence. Remember the gravity here on earth is …..

How me and my bro never made it to mecca for the KISS concert of a lifetime baffles us to this day but I do recall we tuned into to MTV that night for the clip updates culled from this very same footage.

BRUCE KULICK saved KISS on MTV

UNKNOWN - BRUCE KULICK 1984 - 3Okay… Kiss fans are gonna freak on me one way or another but, when your a fan like I am, sometimes things in your KISS universe boil up on one topic or another and we feel the need to reach out to the Kiss Army;  I now believe this to be normal. The web has its victims.

I was watching Animalize Live & Uncensored  the other night for no other reason than, well… it was time to do so (again). Any way, I had an epiphany in Kiss / Bruce Kulick terms. Contrary to many a Kiss fans insistence that Revenge is the high tide mark for the humble shredder, I believe Kulick’s finest hour (minus the Blazefest in Chicago in which I heard him settle in a way that I wish happened more often) may just be this very hyper piece of Kisstory. Talk about a fuckin’ pro, Bruce Kulick stands tall like a redwood on this classic 80’s concert vid.

Bruce’s Achilles heel to me, and Gene & Paul might admit it if we were on a stuck together on the ‘Kiss Clipper’ headed for the eastern rim,  is that he’s not a true “closer’. Maybe just ‘cuz he’s a mellow guy and not an type-A personality. Often the most important thing you say isn’t actually the first,  especially in show biz and rock & roll. All the greats from Page on have asked, “but how do I get out” when they’ve got something going but know it’s all about how you end it. Guitar solos that is. Closing was Ace Frehley‘s forte = big space boots. This was the first time we were seeing Kiss on tv live, without make-up, without Ace and Bruce kicked ass.

For my buck, Bruce is better in the studio than live ….not on this Animalize evening in Detroit in 1984. Ironically, he almost seems more comfortable with the idea of being a random gunslinger than he was after being handed the lead duties full-on w/ Asylum (even though, yes I know… take it easy, Bruce was already in the fold on Animalize the disc and played on a couple cuts, the best stuff on the disc too lead wise (see “Lonely is The Hunter”)).

imagesAt this stage of the game, Bruce had not a lot of time to think about it and played it straight from the heart — the result is Kiss at their 80’s finest on a particularly “hot nite for rock & roll!”.  It’s so cool to watch now ‘cuz Bruce was  literally “Under The Gun” on that Animalize tour: For outsiders, ‘BK’ was originally a fill-in for the late Mark St. John who, in a strange twist of fate, acquired a rare disease that affected his hands to the extent that he could no longer play guitar …just after having learned to play Kiss music on the bitchn’ Stanley-fueled Animalize. Go figure. I think most of us were excited about Mark at that point and figured Gene & Paul had done their homework and we were all systems go, then another Kiss-hiccup It took a while for that news to get out and so it was kinda like… uh, is that Mark St. John?  

Bruce’s tone on the show isn’t my fave but at least he wasn’t overriding a chorus as he was later prone, practically a vocation for guitarists in the 80’s. At times though he sears and showcases some impeccable timing and picking. He’s super fucking well-versed in all things rock guitar, old school to the tapping that ruled the day MTV in the mid-80’s.

bruce_kulick_grammyBut know why he shines on this show most? Because he is playing the very role he was born to play – the underdog. Ace was similar in that regard,  ultimately becoming a rock god “spacing out and having fun” in the role and big shadows of mega front-men Gene Simmons & Paul Stanley.  Fans were always generally rooting for Ace,  still are. Similarly, Bruce had nothing to lose and a sincerity about him that comes off his fretboard, especially here as he walked the “Kiss gauntlet” (Gene’s words) . To the KISS ARmy , Bruce was just some dude we didn’t even know, and thus Animailze Live & Uncensored a very cool live introduction, one in which he both rocked and didn’t suck; hard to do in ’84 when you think about it. Though it’s over simplifying things a bit, this is the day he won the gig for all intents and purposes. KISStory indeed!

In some ways Bruce Kulick saved Kiss when he became the lead player. He was the team player us Kiss fans could love and still miss Ace because, above all, it was clear Bruce ‘got it’ on every level.  The storm was over and we felt secure again as fans. The ‘who-the-fuck-is-going-to-be-our-lead-guitarist’ crisis finally averted, Kiss would get back on an even keel with set line up until the loss of Eric Carr to a brain tumor in 1991. With Bruce now in place, Kiss was a true ‘band’ again for the first time since the original line-up really. In the wings, current guitarist Tommy Thayer must have observed Bruce’s low-key approach and used it to his benefit in filling in for the Space Ace.

Not one damn misstep best I can tell on this whole concert which was “GOIN’ OUT LIVE ON THE RADIO / BEING FILMED FOR AN MTV CONCERT!”.  Best solo’s on it?  Well, a few were semi-mimicked in one way or another but, over all (always gotta qualify shit with Kiss fans) Bruce does whatever the hell he wants to Kiss classics one after another, basically kicking the shit out of the material. I recommend “I Still Love You, “War Machine”, “Under The Gun”, “Thrills In The Night” and perhaps his laser tare on “Love Gun”?  His playing “Black Diamond” is interesting too if not downright blasphemous: maybe his best ever solo w/ Kiss save “Hell or High Water” or “Tears Are Falling”.  “Turn On The Night” and “Rise To It” are other Kulick favs of mine.

It’s clear on this show that Kulick locks in with the band seamlessly and, given the circumstances, never looks nervous or like he’s unsure he fits in. Not an easy gig to pick up. In modern terms, he really owned it. There must have been high fives all around backstage that night and later when they watched the show, Bruce made the grade in spades. Go ahead >>> log off and Animalize! back to ’84 for the best Kiss non-make-up era concert money can buy. Kiss fans owe a debt to Bruce …raise your glasses, people.