It’s impossible to discuss the 1986 - 1992 period of KISS, as it relates to my life, without discussing what I refer to as The Jesus Years.
Around March of 1986, I went balls in on Christianity. I spent the next several months learning all I could, specifically about the New Testament. I wasn’t focused on any particular religion, but at the time, the bible was my only point of reference. With one brief detour, this was practically all-consuming until sometime in 1992. Because I was steeped in Christian culture, I found it difficult to balance my newfound love of “the truth” with things deemed “outside” Christianity. Like KISS.
Yeah. But this is where I was circa 1986 - 1992.
In May of 1986, I took a job with Texas Instruments in Plano, Texas. I joined a small church, and between work and church, my life was busy and I was happy. Around 1987, I had a falling out with several members of my church, for which I’ve always assumed full responsibility, and I left. I left it all.
So by the time KISS released Crazy Nights on September 18, 1987, I was looking to fill a void. I did not immediately buy the album, but the video for Crazy Crazy Nights played on MTV all the time.
During 1987 - 1988, I picked up Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill. After being a fan for over a decade, I was finally exposed to their entire discography. And, of course, I also snagged Crazy Nights.
While the Crazy Nights tour hit Fort Worth (about 45 minutes from Plano) on February 27, 1988, I didn’t go. To the best of my recollection, I never heard about it. Had I known it was happening, I certainly would’ve made the drive.
I was sharing an apartment with Bari, an old friend from high school. He was a KISS fan as well, and he hadn’t heard anything pre-Alive! either, so we experienced all four of these albums together. I bought all four on CD over the space of about a month. I remember the two of us standing in front of the stereo, listening, almost giddy as songs we’d never heard filled the room. It was a strong KISS geek moment, and remains one of my stronger memories. Bari and I had a lot of fun.
Crazy Nights is a great album. Paul’s work is spectacular. Crazy Crazy Nights and Turn On the Night are excellent. Bang, Bang You remains one of my favorites. Gene mostly phoned it in, but No, No, No is a good song.
Kiss, man, what can I say about this? It’s an incredible debut, filled with what are now considered classics. So much of this album appeared on Alive!, but it was great to hear these songs as they were originally released.
Hotter Than Hell was even more amazing. I hadn’t heard about half this album before. All The Way, Mainline, Comin’ Home, and Strange Ways are all fantastic. All The Way and Mainline are still two of my favorite KISS songs. (This list is really long.)
As far as discovery goes, Dressed to Kill tops them all. This album was a treasure trove of of unmined gems. Room Service, Two Timer, and Getaway floored me. Ladies in Waiting is incredible, and it was great to finally have the original version of C’Mon and Love Me. 1 I love that song.
During this same time, I picked up a copy of KISS Exposed on VHS. This remains one of my favorite KISS videos. It’s so tongue-in-cheek and cheesy, and it’s fantastic to see Paul and Gene having fun with, while actively acknowledging, their history. If you have a chance to watch it, do it. It’s great.
Around 1988 or 1989, I left Plano and returned to Lubbock, still working for Texas Instruments. Around June, 1989, I went back into the Christianity thing. I also got married. The net effect, KISS-wise, was that I was out of the loop until KISS released Revenge in 1992. I remember watching the video for Unholy with my then-wife. She made the offhanded comment that KISS had certainly changed from what they used to be. My response was along the lines of Yeah, but it’s really good. Shortly after, I started my eventual and permanent move away from Christianity. 2 While my decisions were unrelated to this album, Revenge was something of an unnecessary push down an already-determined path of my own choosing.
I was so out of the loop at this point, I never knew that KISS officially kicked off their Hot in the Shade tour in Lubbock, Texas, on May 4, 1990. They’d played three dates prior, then encamped in Lubbock for almost an entire week as they geared up. I later learned that, while staying at the local Holiday Inn, Paul and Gene crashed the bar one evening and entertained the crowd, Paul on piano, both of them singing.
I was probably sitting at home, less than 5 miles away, while this happened. And I was probably bored.
About two or four after November 24, 1991, I was watching MTV and learned that Eric Carr had passed away. I was bummed for the next several days. Eric remains my favorite KISS drummer. Peter was there when it mattered, and Singer is awesome. But Peter was damned lucky to have even landed a hard rock gig and Singer is a hired gun, have sticks, will travel. Carr was what KISS needed from the get-go. Carr was KISS’ drummer. KISS needed Carr’s fan-friendly approach, something Peter would rarely give. Carr had done much to keep the KISS Army together. KISS and the fans would forever be poorer for his passing. Eric’s death shattered something inside me.
Time marched on and I saw my third fall from grace. I left the church, joined a country band, quit my job, started law school, and eventually chalked up divorce #1. She’s better off without me, and I’m better off without her. There was a lot of tequila involved. Truthfully, if 1986 - 1992 were The Jesus Years, then 1992 - 1996 can rightfully be dubbed the The Tequila Years. 3
During this time, I caught up. I picked up Smashes, Thrashes & Hits, Hot in The Shade, Revenge, and Alive III from a now-defunct used CD store that was located on University Avenue in Lubbock (and no, it’s not the old Ralph’s Records).
Smashes, Thrashes, & Hits was unexceptional, except for the fact that 10 of the 15 songs were from the makeup era. This was, to date, KISS’ greatest acknowledgment of their history. Everything prior to this had all but ignored, overlooked, or minimized the makeup period. In my mind, this was huge. I figured it was a nod to the possibility of either a reunion tour or a boxed set. The truth was anyone’s guess.
Hot in The Shade was Eric Carr’s last album. He co-wrote and carried the vocals on Little Caesar and, sadly, that was his sole credited contribution. Notably, this is the first album since Music From ‘The Elder’ to feature someone other than Paul or Gene on lead vocals, and that person was Eric Carr. The rest of the album was pretty much a Stanley or Simmons affair. Tommy Thayer appears on two of the credits, a sign of things to come. Overall, this was a solid KISS album, but it was nothing spectacular. I’ve listened to this more than is reasonable. It’s a good album.
Revenge returns to the Stanley/Simmons vocal onslaught that we’re all used to. All writing credits are attributed to Stanley or Simmons combined with someone else, with the exception of Carr Jam 1981, which is solely attributed to Eric Carr, as a tribute to his passing. KISS did not have to do this, but they did, and regardless what anyone might think about how KISS dealt with Carr’s passing, you cannot deny this tribute. No other song on the album is attributed to only one person.
All told, Revenge is one of KISS’ heavier albums. From Unholy, to Domino, Take It Off and Heart of Chrome, this album kicks ass. Gene’s influence lays heavy, and this album marks Gene’s full-time return to KISS (for now). This is also Eric Singer’s first appearance. Singer had played during Stanley’s solo tours over the years, so he was something of a natural fit. Eric Singer is my third favorite KISS drummer, in spite of the fact that he’s the more capable and technically proficient of them all. Revenge is easily their heaviest album since Lick It Up or Creatures of The Night.
In my mind, the greatest takeaway from Alive III was that 50% of the album came from the makeup period. At this point, I was all but convinced that a reunion tour was on the horizon. I was not alone in this thinking, but I had no way of knowing it. This is a solid and very heavy album. Singer killed it.
During my first year of law school, 1993 - 1994, I had a difficult time meeting people. I’m fairly antisocial, and I was at least 5 to 7 years – minimum – older than most students. I’d been in school for almost 2 months and still had not made a single friend. One morning, I looked in the mirror and told myself Today, you will have a conversation with at least one person. And I did. That afternoon, I met Paul, aka Paulie, and we’re still fast friends today. We’re both huge Buck Owens fans, saw him perform several times live, and traveled to Bakersfield twice to see him before he passed on March 25, 2006.
That seems like a tangent, but Paulie comes in later.
During my second year of law school, 1994, I was divorced and needed a job. The weekend gig playing drums was awesome, but it wasn’t enough to keep the lights on. So I scoured the law school paper and found a solo practitioner looking to hire. I called Stace, he answered, we talked, I went in for an interview, and he hired me. During the first week, I discovered he loved KISS. I asked him about Alive II’s Calling Dr. Love, which is my go-to song when talking about KISS. I was surprised to find that, while he loved the band, his exposure was limited to the late-80s and early-90s. The next day, I showed up at the office with a stack of albums, insisting that he start with Rock and Roll Over and Alive II. Stace ate it up. 4
About two to three months into the job, I got Paulie hired on. So every day became a day of KISS music, laughing, and passive-aggressive threats and compliments. Paulie was not a KISS fan, but over the next year and a half that we worked for Stace, he learned a ton. As a non-KISS fan, he knew more about the band and their discography than probably 50% of the KISS Army. And he even admitted to liking a song or two. Maybe three.
KISS played their KISS Konvention tour in Dallas on July 2, 1995, at the Airport Marriot. Stace and I were there. It was very crowded because a previously announced date, either San Antonio or Austin, had been canceled and rescheduled in Dallas. It was a slow day, but it was KISS-filled. We bought some cool, hard-to-find stuff, and Stace managed to get Paul’s autograph. We had a great time.
Bruce Kulick won me over that day. Prior to this, I’d only cared about Ace and Mark St. John. Everyone else was suspect. During the Q&A, someone asked Bruce how he felt about being seen as Ace’s replacement. Bruce’s answer was so calm, cool, collected, and full of truth, that he completely won me over. A couple of years later, I sent him an email (back then you could easily find an email, if you knew how to work the search engines), and told him this. About 2 weeks later, Bruce responded, thanked me for the email, and told me how cool it was to read it. That was a huge feather in my cap.
During the same Q&A, someone asked Gene and Paul if, sometimes late at night when they were all alone and a little lonely, they didn’t put on the makeup, just to remember. The look on Paul’s face was priceless. He was shocked and stunned. The dude literally had no idea how to form words. That dude was totally putting on the makeup. Gene, seeing Paul’s hesitation, jumped in with some typical Gene mumbo jumbo and quickly moved on to the next question. I have laughed about this for years now. Paul Stanley, King of the Night Time World, sitting at home alone, a little lonely, putting on the makeup, just to remember how things used to be. Given all Paul went through in the 80s, all those times when Gene was off making movies and Paul’s entire life consisted of the studio and going home alone … I don’t begrudge it. But it still makes me laugh. Humans trapped in spotlighted humanity has it’s funny moments. This was definitely one. Rock on, Paul.
Throughout 1994 - 1999, give or take a couple of years, Stace held an annual Halloween party. Every year, he dressed as Gene and I dressed as Peter. Over the years, our costumes grew more elaborate. My costume evolved to this:
The costume was dead-on. Sober, the 6-inch heels were hell. Drunk at the Halloween party, well, I had a friend follow me around. I once fell as I entered a room. My foot rolled to the right instead of landing solid. I managed to neither destroy my ankle nor spill my beer. That’s professional, people. Give it up. I got huge gasps as I collapsed to the ground and a standing ovation for the non-spilled beer. Party priorities. That night was mine.
On August 9, 1995, Paulie and I gathered at Stace’s house to watch MTV’s KISS Unplugged. This was huge for us. We already knew that Peter and Ace would be appearing. The entire thing was over too soon. As it cool as it was, it wasn’t a true reunion. The entire time Peter and Ace were playing, Bruce and Eric were on stage, playing along as well. Still, the fact that the original four were in the same room together, playing KISS songs, was a huge deal. I have an unedited version of this show on VHS that spans something like three hours. At some point, I need to get it transferred to digital.
At the time, understanding this was pre-Internet, I was on an unofficial KISS mailing list. In other words, it was a newsletter that arrived monthly via the postal service. I had to pull it out of my mailbox, the physical mailbox outside my house. Sometime during the first of 1996, maybe February, the mailing announced the reunion. I took it to the office and showed it to Stace. He refused to believe it. I told him it had to be true. These guys wouldn’t be printing it as fact otherwise. This wasn’t a rumor letter. It was a news letter.
It had to be true. I needed it to be true. Everything inside me suddenly depended on this thing being true.
On February 28, 1996, I sat on my couch with a law school friend and we watched as Tupac Shakur introduced KISS, the original four, during the 38th Annual Grammy Awards. It was surreal. I walked up to the TV and knelt. I looked closely at their faces. I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around what I was seeing.
It was true. All my KISS-related dreams were suddenly revived and on the horizon, marching toward me. This was going to happen.
The game was on.
A remixed version appears on Double Platinum, which other than the Alive! version, was all I’d heard at this point. ↩
I’m not opposed to Christianity. I count among my friends many who claim and actively practice, and they’re incredible people. I’ve just never been convinced that Christianity is the sole arbiter of all things redemptive, assuming redemption is a necessary thing. Christianity is “the truth,” but only in the sense that each piece of a shattered mirror represents the entire mirror. I love my friends. I respect their beliefs and they respect mine. We challenge each other occasionally, but that’s what good friends should do. ↩
Seriously, during the time I was in that band, we drank a metric shit ton of tequila. ↩
I think Stace thought I was kissing his ass when I initially said that I was a huge KISS fan. I mean, anyone can claim that, right? When I showed up with all those CDs the next day, barriers came down and we’ve been great friends ever since. ↩