At a certain point, every man must admit that he will not be the king of the nighttime world. Maybe becoming the king of the nighttime world wasn’t even a worthwhile goal. Perhaps the phrase itself–let alone the concept–didn’t even mean anything at all,was just some glossy la-la never given a second thought beyond its number of syllables and utility at yelling at drunken youths.
The fact looms that they were both organizations of young men (and Mrs. Donna Jean) that traveled the roads of America playing loud music in hockey arenas for white people in exchange for cash and blowjobs. Dark Star and Strutter? Just variations of the E pentatonic scale: same notes, just in a different order and amount.
KISS had three drummers; one of whom is dead, and two of whom were named Eric. The Dead had three drummers if you count Mickey twice; none of them are dead, and two of whom were named Mickey. The Dead had five keyboardists, four of whom are currently deceased, while KISS went through five lead guitarists, all of whom are still alive, but one of whom is currently Vinnie Vincent.
For the omnipresence of the “show” in the Dead universe–as text (what does the show reveal, contain, say); praxis (the show as the intersection of thought and belief manifesting through combined intentional action); synecdoche (the show as fractal representation of the tour, the year, the lineup, the location, etc.); and anchor point to reality, immune from opinion or Time Sheath technology capers (this show equals this particular grouping of foul beasts calling themselves the Grateful Dead playing these specific songs in this exact order in this dilapidated theater on this night, having played a similar theater the night before in a city 1200 miles away because their bookings were being done by a drug-soaked foreigner)–they never bothered to actually put one on.
KISS liked to open with Deuce and slam into its priapically dumb opening riff, asserting their power like a man french-kissing your mother while maintaing eye contact with you: KISS didn’t get your attention, didn’t even earn it. They seized it, culled it, scythed it from you and sweated all over it. They set everything they could find ablaze at once (intentionally, unlike Garcia) and played at 130 decibels and they would play this opening riff (while everything was on fire and exploding) while they ran full-speed towards you dressed up like samurai minstrels and their hair was so very ethnic.
The Dead would often find themselves onstage accidentally. Then they would argue about what song to play, tune for fourteen minutes, realize Phil wasn’t there, play Funicculi Faniculla, retune, and finally begin the concert. It was less drama than cinema verite. KISS was Michael Bay; the Dead, John Cassevetes.
That previous sentence contains a perfect example of Kloster-fucking, after the writer Chuck Klosterman. To klosterfuck is to apply a veneer of critical theory and post-modern high (smirk) analysis to a subject that just simply doesn;t deserve it. To think about a piece of work harder and with more sincerity than its own creator did, while allowing the reader in on the fact that you’re aware of the irony and at the end of the day, we’ve been discussing Motley Crue. For the sports version, see to argue Simmon-tics.
Plus, pyro wasn’t for the Dead. Pyro assumes a level of technical prediction: the song’s really gotta go the same way every time for it to work. Also, the men that will be onstage when the charges go off need to be able to follow basic directions about where to stand. Neither of these were the Dead’s strong suit. This is not to mention the fact that using pyro means travelling with pyro: just lugging explosives around in a truck, and pretty soon there’s going to be a visit from the long afternoon fairy and Billy exists, so no pyro.
(While Billy’s responsible for some fucked-up nonsense, he was never allowed to cause third-degree burns to a hotel bar-full of groupies and drug dealers in Sioux City, and for that we should be thankful.)
There are more differences when we get to the songs. The Dead have material that still holds secrets from me, from all of us. With no warning, I discovered–not two weeks ago–that Truckin’ doesn’t have a chorus. A solid quarter-of-a-century, I’ve been listening to Bobby forget that song, and I just realized that. You get all the nuance of one of Gene or Paul’s tunes the first time around. Christine Sixteen was about a teenager named Christine that Gene wanted to stick it in.
(Not to stick up for Gene, as he needs no help there, but rock stars were fully permitted to stick it in teenagers back then. Several rock stars, none of whom were in KISS or the Dead, actually legally adopted the teenagers they were sticking it in to avoid problems transporting these teenagers across state lines. This is a thing that not only happened, but was reported on in major publications and no one had any sort of problem with it in the 1970’s. Ask your parents, kids. Ask them tonight, at the dinner table, about the Mann Act and then refuse to tell them why you want to know and keep texting real sneaky-like while it’s happening. Then send me the video.)
KISS just needed some bullshit to shout over stolen Humble Pie and Who riffs, so they explored the dual lyrical pastures of their dicks, and rock and roll(!). Anything could stand in for their dicks: weapons, vehicles, the healthcare system. The only thing KISS liked more than using their dicks was telling you and everyone in the room what they had just done with their dicks.
And rock and roll. “Rock and roll!” was to KISS what “party” is to Andrew W.K.: an ethos inchoate, never quite defined, only defined by absence. Your parents? That school? This dead-end town? That ain’t rock and roll! The grown man in kitten make-up singing the country song about a sailor’s daughter? That was, somehow, rock and roll(!). It just kinda meant “whatever KISS was doing or yelling about at the time;” it was a bit of a tautological ejaculation, if we’re fancy about it.
KISS used “rock and roll!” like “smurf,” as it could mean pretty much anything and was fairly easily gleaned from context clues.
(Speaking of which, in the category of Rock and Roll(!)ing All Night, the Dead have KISS beaten hands down. From the opening blast to the closing fireworks illuminating Paul windmilling his ultra-cool Ibanez Iceman to death, a KISS show was 90 minutes. It went like this:
- Big opening explosion, also song of some sort.
- Paul starts in with his gibberish.
- Firehouse/Hotter Than Hell. Many flashing lights, which people enjoy.
- More gibberish from Paul.
- Something from the new album/Ace gets to sing.
- Mid-level explosion.
- Blood spat.
- Drums soloed, raised.
- Fire breathed.
- Massive explosion, also song of some sort.
- The removal of the codpieces.
- The rogering of the groupies.
That was all of their tricks, and no one would have minded if the drum solo didn’t happen. There were no all-night RFK or Fillmore East shows for KISS: they didn’t stretch out, they didn’t jam, no special guests dropped in to play half-assed Chuck Berry covers. There was certainly no 15 minute set break that lasted for an hour: you were promised a Nighttime World of Weaponized Dongs and Dr. Love Gun and the God of Thunder weren’t going to be drinking Cold Gin with a Strutter via improvisational composition. You can either be Makin’ Love in the Ladies Room or Playing in the Band: couldn’t do both.
KISS got up there and played their songs like a master carpenter hammering in nails: ready ready WHAM, ready WHAM. There was no fucking around: sure there was a bass solo, but it was accompanied by literal centuries-old sideshow tricks, not blooped and bleeped out for ten minutes with the backup keyboardist. There is no KISS equivalent of Ned Lagin.
, Are they mirror images of each other? Yes and no, but also “maybe” and “sure, what the fuck, why not?” If we take art and performance as intentional, then the same level of decision and agency lies behind the deliberate non-cultivation of an image as does the monomaniacal creation and bolstering of a persona. Both groups made a rational (okay, I’m pushing it) choice as to which pair of trousers they were going to wear onstage that night: one band chose the pants with the codpiece; the other just put the same pair of jean shorts on for the ninth day in a row.
They had different relationships with money: KISS is openly trying to steal yours, while the Dead would ask politely, then immediately lose it. Or so the Official Story has it. Those lovable scamps, the Dead: they don’t care about money, man. They’re ARTISTS, MAN.
Settle down. The Dead loved money. Everybody loves money: that’s why it’s money. Billy fucking loooooooved money, especially money that he believed to be “his money.” They threw their hand-made instruments into the trunks of their Corvettes and BMW 7-Series and then crashed those cars on the way to their hip places on posh mountains and distant islands. Three times a year for five or six weeks, they would live at Ritz-Carltons and basketball arenas. Hand-jobs were always available. It was a good life, if you didn’t weaken.
KISS did weaken, though: the simple fact that four aging white men stood on the same stage without karate-attacking each other on sight was news because 35 years ago, these men met and instantly began hating each other publicly and it has been particularly ugly lately. But the two lunatics acted reasonably, and the two assholes acted pleasantly; it was as if each of them had not, in fact, written a book accusing the other three of things including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, bisexuality, premature baldness, poor personal hygiene, not knowing how to actually play, not writing their own songs, spousal abuse, and more. At one point in Peter’s book, he accuses Gene of assassinating Arch-Duke Gavrillo Princip, leading to…well, you know that anecdote.
Because KISS fans know all their anecdotes. They only have so many and they have become a sacred chant to invoke the rise of continued, never-ending (according to them) success of KISS. It is mentioned that Ace showed up for that first audition wearing two different color Chuck Taylors. The colors are usually orange and red, but this varies. Much like Spider-Man’s origin story, no one enjoys it anymore and there is no juice left in the berry, but the story has to be told. You could ask Paul Stanley for a glass of orange juice and he would launch into a defensive rant about giving it 100% all of the time and three conflicting answers on how overdubbed Alive! was.
Paul’s book is the latest to come out; it is a hoot and a holler and if my ancestors are not worshipping it a thousand years hence as Holy Writ, then they are not worthy of the seeds of my powerful loins. It is glorious and monstrous, 500 pages of Paul on neatly-bound, high-quality paper. It is a quality product, and it comes with a free sample of Paul’s cologne, Uh! by Paul Stanley. It smells like Paul Stanley.
All of the KISS books are about two things: dealing with Gene’s bullshit and fuck those other two also. Paul, however, dedicates easily 40% of his biography to saying mean things about Peter Criss. It is relentless: when writing about the period of his life where he does not see Peter regularly, Paul will end chapters with, “And Peter Criss is an asshole.” And it is vicious: the attacks could not be more personal had Paul kicked down the door to Peter’s condo and whipped him with an extension cord.