I quit the band in 1995. I packed up my drums and sent them home so I wouldn’t be tempted to play again. The hours I was getting from Stace were more than enough to make up for the lost income. He’d pay me whenever I wanted to work. I had set hours, but he was cool with whatever as long as the files were handled.
KISStory was released in March, 1995. This version was a mammoth hardback, 440 pages, numbered, and signed by Gene, Paul, Bruce, and Eric. Most distributors withheld the early numbers (I had one admit this to me on the phone) because everyone knew this was going to be a sought-after item.
I remember it being difficult to get this book ordered. There was a lot of confusion, which resulted in two books being billed and shipped to me. I called my dad and told him it’d probably be a good investment twenty years down the line, so he ponied up the money for the second copy. That second copy has never been opened. Both came in a cardboard hardcover slipcase. The one I opened is #7,863. It was supposed to be limited to 20-25,000 copies, but don’t quote me on that.
It’s a great read and I love this book so much. I’ve added several signatures to it, such as Bill Starkey of KISS Army fame and a few others.
KISS Unplugged was released on March 12, 1996. I bought it immediately and it’s a decent album. I don’t think it fully captures the feeling of the show, but it’s an important piece of history.
In May 1996, I graduated law school. Boom. That was also the month I quit working for Stace. From this point until the end of July, I did little but prepare for the bar exam.
On July 5, 1996, KISS hit Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas. Stace and I were there. We were directly stage left, such that we had a great side view of the stage. We could see Paul and Ace running up and down the stairs leading from backstage to full stage. It was spectacular. We could see everything, things you don’t normally see, such as roadies tossing guitars. To our right, as we faced the stage, there was almost nothing. To our left was the full-on insanity of the audience.
During the show, I thought If I die tomorrow, I’ll be happy with that. It’s a stupid thought, but seeing the original four in all their glory was a very satisfying experience. The show met all my expectations, and my expectations were extremely high.
From the early 80s until today, I’ve been to a lot of concerts. Starting around the mid-90s, I started wearing ear plugs because the 80s in Odessa were hard on the ears. I don’t care if I look like a dick. I’m used to that. What I do care about is whether I can hear you when you speak. I’ve been tested and, thank you, 1980s, I have an onset of tinnitus in my left ear. Big time. If you’ve never known the joy of hearing a continuous high squeal in your ear, count yourself lucky. Ears are, apparently, fragile things.
Anyway, on July 5, 1996, I stood with nothing to my right, everything to my left, and my gods in front. I pulled the plug from my right ear because, again, there was literally about 20 people to my right and then nothing. Black. Emptiness. I left the plug in the left ear because that way lay insanity.
What I hadn’t accounted for was accoustics. Sound bouncing like mad from the rear and settling into my right ear. Long and short, my right ear rang for a record seven days following this concert. I’m used to two, maybe three days of ringing. Seven was a new record, especially for my right ear which had never had a ringing issue before. Seven days is a long time. I don’t know how William Shatner has managed it.
I remember watching the band playing, watching my 20+ year dream unfold before my eyes, and silently thanking my parents for giving me the cash to make this all possible. As I’ve mentioned, I was preparing for the State bar exam, which is no joke. At that time, the exam was 2 1/2 days of solid testing. Six hours on day one, six hours on day two, and 3 hours on day three. It was a marathon of anything-goes questioning. It is not for the weak of heart. During this time, I had no visible means of support. My parents kept me alive and, smack dab in the middle, they also made it possible for me realize this dream. If it were not for them, this would’ve never happened. My parents are awesome people.
I used the KISS garbage can as part of my argument. That garbage can, in 1996, was selling for around $150. Any port in a storm, as they say.
This concert seemed like a one shot deal. As far as I knew, I’d never see the original four again. So I bought an obscene number of t-shirts. This was 1996. As I write this, it is 2013. That’s 17 years. I still have KISS t-shirts from this show that I haven’t worn. They’re in a dresser drawer, waiting to be called to duty. I mainly sleep in them, so they should last for another decade.
Eventually my hearing came back. My days were spent attending refresher courses in the morning and cramming as much information as possible into my head in the afternoons and evenings.
Paulie and I had parted ways in May. He was sitting for the bar in the Dallas area and I was holding tight in Lubbock. We took the bar toward the end of July. I immediately left for Odessa and eventually landed a job in Andrews, Texas. Our test results were announced around November 1. Paulie and I both passed.
On November 10, I was back at Reunion Arena for KISS’ second appearance on the Reunion tour. Stace was there as well. This time, I sat stage right (Gene’s side), about a third of the way to the middle. The show was spectacular and I wore both ear plugs.
Stace was sitting on the front row with a friend. I can’t remember his name, but he’s awesome. About 3 songs into the show, he walks up to me and screams Can I have some ear plugs? It’s so loud down there I’m having a hard time keeping my heart beating.
I am the king of ear plugs. And so said they all.
Around this same time, I discovered the Internet and joined the KISS Army email list, at the time owned and managed by a dude with the nickname of Dracola (aka Drac, Mark). It was a very active email list, so as I always do in a crowded room, I stayed in the corner, watched and listened. Over the first week or two, I managed to pick out who was who. Almost everyone on the list used nicknames, so I went with ShockMe, mainly because it was unused at the time. I’m not the first person to use that nick, and I’m certainly not the last. As with all things KISS, this email list was full of drama. Full. Of. Drama. But it was a fantastic source of information and, for the most part, everyone was awesome.
I made many friends on this list (yo, Pudlo!). Some more so than others. But Parasite (aka, Para, Steven) and Drac and I became very good friends. There was very little drama between us, although Drac and I had a golden moment at one point. We talked it out, like the gentlemen we pretend to be. I still talk with these dudes today. Sometimes my phone rings and, bang. There they are. And we talk as though we’d just been face-to-face yesterday. They’re great guys.
On June 25, 1996, KISS released You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!!, a decent but lackluster album. These songs were all recorded from previous years, circa 1973 - 1978. I bought it because it’s what I do. Still, Room Service, Two Timer, and Take Me are great additions. I still can’t believe they included Room Service and Two Timer. That was unexpected.
Around 1997, several of us from the KISS Army email list decided to descend on an unofficial KISS conference in Chicago. None of us can remember how many from the list attended, but I think it was at least 20 people. Mark, Steven, and I had a blast, and the weekend was over too soon. I purchased a set of KISS ceramic masks this girl had hand painted. They look fantastic and still hang on the wall in my study. I got my picture taken with Eric Singer (can’t find it) and got his autograph (still have it). I snagged a soundboard recording titled KISS Alive 3.5, which was taken from the video soundtrack of their 1995-01-31 concert at Budokan. It’s a great recording. There were only 500 copies made and I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Even today, I can’t find it on Google. I made the decision to purchase it while Steven, Mark, and I, along with several others, were drinking in one of our hotel rooms one evening. Steven has a great ear and he seemed semi-impressed with it, and that was good enough for me. I’m glad I bought it. It’s at least as good as Alive III.
I am 99% sure I met Pudlo on this trip. I know I met him somewhere. The dude is tall and awesome.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I do miss hanging with these guys and I wish we could figure out a way to meet at least annually. But life is a harsh mistress and time is a precious thing and, sometimes, shit just ain’t gonna happen.
Eventually we all left the email list. I was gone by 1998. I’m not sure when the others left. Mark maintains a private email list now where we, along with a few others, discuss music on our own terms with no drama. 1 The three of us have been friends for seventeen years nows.
On April 8, 1997, Greatest KISS hit the shelves because you can’t own too many copies of Rock And Roll All Nite. The US version focuses on 1974 to 1980, with a live version of Shout It Out Loud. I may or may not have this album. Hell, who can keep up any more?
On October 28, 1997, KISS released Carnival of Souls, the album they’d been recording prior to the reunion. By this point, almost every person who gave a shit about KISS had already heard it. Hell, I had the unofficial CD almost six months prior to this. But I bought it, because KISS. The only reason KISS released this album is because it was leaked online.
Carnival of Souls, while an obvious grab at the grunge market, is probably KISS’ most mature album. The songs are solid and the album has aged well. And at this point, it was a breath of fresh air. Even though it wasn’t the original four, it was the band’s first album of original material since 1992. I love it and highly recommend it, but it sounds nothing like KISS.
Throughout all of this, KISS was releasing remastered versions of all their makeup era albums. They were released about three CDs at a time, and I bought them all as they were released. I had a friend from elementary school who’d always loved the band, but his parents would not let him listen to them. Ever. He was married and working his ass off to support his wife and four kids. Although he loved the band, his responsibilities dictated his finances and he’d never owned their albums. So, I gave him all my old makeup era CDs. I had no use for them, so they might as well go to a fan, right?
Psycho Circus, released on September 22, 1998, would make everyone screaming for new material shut the hell up. This album is not good. At all. The title song, Psycho Circus, is very good. The other songs range from meh to turn that off. It’s painfully obvious that the band is not functioning as a unit and that they’d hired out musicians rather than recording as a band. While this wasn’t anything new, it was unusual that most of the material was submitted by only Gene and Paul. Material from Peter and Ace was pretty much ignored. This is easily one of the band’s worst albums. As of this writing, it’s the last KSS album I’ve purchased.
By 2000, KISS mania had run it’s course and I was disenchanted. While the reunion tour remains one of the highlights of the concerts I’ve seen, the band’s inability or straight up refusal to function as a unit was wearing thin. The reunion tour turned into a farewell tour in support of Psycho Circus. The fact is, in 1996 Ace and Peter had signed five year contracts and it was becoming apparent they wouldn’t be extending their commitment. Short of a miracle, 2001 would mark the end of the original four.
On March 29, 2000, the KISS Farewell tour hit United Spirit Arena in Lubbock Texas. At this point, I had left Andrews and opened my own practice in Odessa. Lubbock is about 140 miles, or 2 1/2 hours north of Odessa. So, of course, I was there. This concert was actually kind of a big deal. I was dating the woman who would become my next wife, and she came. She’d always been something of a KISS fan and was excited to see them. My parents, after years and years of hearing KISS blasting from my bedroom, had eventually become fans. They came to the show, too. Stace was there also. Skid Row opened, and they were okay. It’s tough to shine when you’re opening for KISS. Ted Nugent was there, and the lines to get beer were long. He sucked. I’ve seen him before, but his “I’m American and most everyone else isn’t” schtick was too heavy for most of us. And coming from West Texas, that’s saying a lot. KISS was 100% that night and put on a fantastic show. It was loud, bombastic, over-to-top, and everything a KISS show should be. Whatever problems these guys were having off stage, they were doing a great job of keeping it off stage.
I knew this would be the last time I’d see the original guys in makeup, so it was a special evening for me. And it was a great way to kick off a new decade. Goodbye to KISS, hello year 2,000. Man.
It’s a fantastic email list, with an intentionally low member count. I’m something of the odd man out. While everyone else’s tastes tend toward guitar-centric, mine tends toward the chunky, heavier, death-metal-like sound. I check out their recommendations and then wonder why I’m on the list. But they’re very cool dudes and I enjoy their posts. They’re enthusiastic about music, and I love that. ↩