The rumor mill churned it and MTV confirmed it. KISS was ditching their makeup for the next album. This left me with no less than two shattered dreams:
Seeing the original line-up;
Seeing KISS in makeup.
I’d lived with the first disappointment since Peter left. Ace’s departure only added to the severity. And now, no makeup? This floored me. I’d missed out on a major part of KISS. In a best case scenario, I’d always and forever be a second tier fan. I missed out on Peter, I missed out on Ace, and now the entire makeup phase had passed me by.
I was crushed. This no-makeup thing was a big thing for me.
And it was a big thing for others too, because MTV aired them removing their makeup. I missed the original segment and schedules conspired such that I never saw it. I purposely avoided all magazines during this time. If I couldn’t see it live, then I’d damned well wait for the album, which I assumed would show them in all their skin covered glory.
It’s difficult today, post reunion, to explain the depth of this revelation. And it was a revelation. KISS’ true identity had mostly been respected in the music press. Some magazines had printed photos (always hotly debated), but the big ones, the ones I read, had not. I had no idea what Peter, Ace, Gene, Paul, Eric, or Vinnie looked like. Their identity was part of their mythology. It was part of their superhuman image. It was a Clark Kent/Superman thing. They walked among us as normal humans during the day and became rock gods at night.
This is what KISS was back then. At least from a west Texas, no they’ve never played here, perspective. I’m sure there were more in-the-know people than me. There always have been.
I remember walking into Record Bar and seeing the row of white LPs, the name KISS, the skin-colored faces, the black clothes (and Vinnie highlighted in pink because, goddammit, Vinnie was going to stand out), and then picking them out. Paul, I would’ve recognized him easily. Gene, ever the attention whore, was sticking out the fabled tongue. Eric was easy to recognize. And there was Vinnie, the guy nobody really knew, the guy who was suddenly thrust upon us on Ace’s replacement. Here, eat this, dicks. Here’s your new Ace.
This, along with the sudden no-makeup thing, was a lot to swallow.
Lick It Up was a very good album. Other than And On The 8th Day, there’s not a bad song on the album. Even that song isn’t too awful, although it’s always struck me as a “ok, fine, here’s a song to round out the 10 we need” song. I’ve never had a bad thing to say about this album, and I’ve not heard many complaints. This album continued the heaviness started with Creatures of the Night. In my opinion, they wouldn’t reach this level of heavy again until 1992’s Revenge or, arguably (and probably more rightly), 1997’s Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions.
Needless to say, we played the shit out of this thing. This was an upswing time for KISS fans. They’d manage to release two albums in a row that did not suck. The pop sensibilities of Dynasty and Unmasked were gone. The weirdness of Music From ‘The Elder’ had vanished. This was pure, in-your-face, hard rock/metal. This was the new KISS, and I was suddenly hopeful for their future.
And so it came to pass that I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of 42nd and Andrews Highway, making a delivery. I was working a job delivering beds with my best friend, Chris. I was driving. Ector County coliseum was northwest of us, and the marquee … my face dropped as I read it.
Chris, who was talking about something, saw my reaction, stopped, and asked what was wrong. I pointed to the marquee and said, “You need to read this.” Chris turned his head, waited, and then read:
KISS 01-23-84, Tickets on sale Saturday!
Or something like that.
Chris looked at me. We were both speechless. Then we erupted in high fives and laughter as the light turned green and we made our delivery.
The next Saturday, we were standing in line for tickets. This was an especially poignant time for Chris because he’d had tickets to KISS’ October 27, 1979 show in Abeline,TX. A Dynasty show that had been canceled. Rather than return the ticket for a refund, he decided to keep it as a memento. Their faces appeared in full makeup, albeit black and white, on the face of the ticket.
I always admired his refusal to return that ticket. That was an expensive souvenir.
So we got our tickets, and on January 23, 1984, we saw KISS together, a first for each of us, at the Ector County Coliseum in Odessa, TX. Needless to say, it was a show I’ll never forget. You never forget your first time.
But the thing I remember most is Vinnie’s solo. Holy shit was that thing forever. Even the die-hards up front, the ones who never stop screaming, were looking at each other, seemingly asking WTF?. Their fists grew tired of pumping and their throats dried up. The solo, while epic, transcended the bounds of vulgarity. It went on and on and on and on. And as Vinnie left the stage, both Chris and I agreed that we saw Paul in the wings chewing Vinnie’s ass out.
We both knew then that Vinnie was as good as gone. It was just a matter of time. Vinnie had stretched his solo beyond the agreed time limits, an effort to boost himself above the band, and Paul was not going to eat that pudding.
I bought a tour book, which I still have. And a t-shirt, which I no longer have because time takes its toll on all things. I wore that shirt almost weekly for months on end.
By time Animalize hit the shelves on September 13, 1984, I was living 140 miles north, in Lubbock, TX, attending my first full year as a junior in college. Of course, I was thrilled with the album. Although it was a lot more commercial than either Creatures of the Night or Lick It Up, it was a damned good album. Paul found a way to blend the commercial and heavy aspects. He was firing on all cylinders on this one.
Predictably, Vinnie was gone. I loved the new guitarist, Mark St. John. His look and his sound were dead-on. It all seemed to perfectly meld. His only video appearance with KISS is in the video for Heaven’s on Fire. This album remains one of my favorites, despite Gene’s awful Murder In High-Heels. What a piece of shit that song is. Any time I put together a joke reel of songs, this song is there. It’s awful and typical of Gene’s output during this time. Practically speaking, from this point until Revenge, Paul carried the band. Gene had gone full-on Hollywood.
Because record labels suck and still don’t understand that the culture of sharing results in greater sales, here’s a link to the Heaven’t on Fire video. Bastards. And here’s a link to the shit-tastic Murder in High Heels. Because I care.
So let’s get Gene’s filmography out of the way. He first appeared in Runaway in 1984. I saw it at the theater and, to this day, I enjoy the movie. Gene didn’t kill, but he didn’t suck. Next came a Miami Vice episode (1985) and an episode of The Hitchhiker called Deadly Nightmares (1986), neither of which I’ve seen and yet here I sit, perfectly alive. 1986 was actually a big year for Gene. He appeared in Never Too Young to Die, Trick or Treat, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. Trick or Treat is a steaming pile of crap, but the other movies weren’t too bad. Never Too Young to Die is, sadly, out of print. Gene played a hermaphrodite and it was kind of cool. Anyway, at this point, I stopped caring, and other than KISS-related videos and DVDs, this all the movie talk you’re getting.
While I was attending TTU, I had one very specific rule that I never broke. Except twice. That rule was: Between Sunday and Thursday, every evening was devoted to studying. No booze. No fun. Friday and Saturday were balls-out, but Sunday through Thursday, I maintained a laser focus. Once some friends convinced me to go to some bar, which was a total bust and I was home early. The second was January 24, 1985. KISS was playing the Municipal Coliseum in Lubbock. I had not intended to go, and I didn’t even have a ticket. But by 7:00PM, I’d finished all my homework/studying, and I was turning on the television when it hit me. I can sit here and watch television until midnight, or I can go see KISS. So I hit the coliseum, bought a ticket, and walked right in. Like a bad ass.
The first thing that hit me was, hey, that’s not Mark St. John playing guitar. And it wasn’t. He was out of the band as of December, 1984. In addition to some personality conflicts, he’d developed Reiter’s Syndrome, a form of arthritis, which caused his hands to swell. He played two full shows and one partial show, then was out.
Enter Bruce Kulick, the guitarist who would carry the band through Revenge.
I can’t remember much about this concert, but I left disappointed that KISS seemed intent on turning their back on their earlier music. The make-up period songs were, with only a handful of exceptions, completely ignored. Want to hear Hotter Than Hell? How about Hotter Than fuck you? Calling Dr. Love, maybe? Yeah, eat a dick.
Animalize was released September 16, 1985. This was Bruce Kulick’s first album, and it’s fantastic. While I don’t find it as awesome as Animalize, the album had it’s share of awesomeness. King of the Mountain, Who Wants to Be Lonely, Tears Are Falling, and Uh! All Night make up 40% of the album and there’s not a bad song between them. Who Wants to Be Lonely is still one of my favorites.
KISS did not hit Lubbock or Odessa on this tour. This was fine with me because I was preparing to graduate and looking for work. It’d be 1987 before I gave KISS another thought.