My first concert was KISS at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in January 1978. I was 16 and a fan. I knew even then that it wasn't really about the music, although I did love it (it took me a few more years to work up to the all night and every day status of partying). It was about the spectacle. They were superheroes, larger than life comic book characters. Music and comics were a natural pairing in my life. How could I not be a fan?
I came to the KISS party a little late. By 1978 they had been rocking the greasepaint for nearly six years. "Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)" chronicles the band's earliest days, when no one knew who they were and few believed this ridiculous concept would succeed.
The story is told entirely with excerpts from interviews with the band and the people around them. The result is an insider's view of their rise from obscurity to the hottest band in the world.
It Books ($29.99).
Quotes from those closest to them at the time allow the reader a peek behind the masks and special effects at the people who struggled and rehearsed and worked very hard for the success they achieved. The reactions they received from the bands they toured with are priceless.
It didn't take long for these bands to be regularly upstaged. The travails of the roadies, whose job it was to transport the ever-growing stage show, set it up, and deal with regular equipment failure, as well as to protect the band from less than understanding non-fans along the way, are worth the price of admission.
For the most part, audiences didn't know what to make of them. The Glam and Glitter movement of T. Rex and David Bowie was passing and had never really caught on in the U.S. Rock 'n' roll as theatrical spectacle was just beginning to appear.
Their rise from being laughed at by a small handful of people to filling giant arenas around the world took place over a few short years. In retrospect it seems meteoric, but at the time it was a slow day-by-day slog through rejection and ridicule.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote is when, as the very first artist signed to the label, they performed at the launch party for Casablanca Records. The room was filled with not only the upper ranks of the music industry, but also the hoi polloi of Hollywood stars of the era. While the party was a success their show was deemed a failure, leaving the room in confusion over what they had just witnessed. The only person in attendance who seemed to get what KISS was going for was Alice Cooper. "What they need is a gimmick," he quipped.
Much of the press surrounding KISS in the past 30 years has focused on the rifts and hard feelings between the original members of the band. Their recent nomination for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has brought on another round of sniping at each other in the press (most of it, to no one's surprise, coming from Gene Simmons).
This book takes the reader back to a time when they were four young men with a common dream who achieved it by work, dedication, and their unique personalities and contributions. The Starchild, Demon, Catman and SpaceAce are the characters Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley played, and in some cases the personalities of the characters have overwhelmed the men.
The behind-the-scenes anecdotes in this book serve to humanize them again. By seeing their hopes and ambitions laid bare, by reading about the times they had no money, by retelling their missteps and failures, we can strip away the weight of 40 years and see the core magic and energy that made this band succeed.
Wayne Wise is a freelance writer and novelist living in Lawrenceville (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.wayne-wise.com).