Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: gene simmons

A Problem Custom-Made

I’m not qualified to give advice, but I do like telling people what to do; in this case, my counsel is required. Someone needs to speak to Oteil and warn him off this dangerous path he’s set himself down: custom guitars made from silly shapes can lead to no good.

A short, biased, and incomplete history:

between 1955 and 1960, New York, New York, USA --- Bo Diddley --- Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

Bo Diddley was the progenitor of the Ridiculous Guitar, but the cigar-box is not a true Ridiculous Guitar, as RGs require that you be embarrassed for the owner; Bo pulled it off. According to Wikipedia, he came up with this shape after whacking himself in the nuts with a normal guitar. That sounds true enough.

Some will argue that Jimmy Page and his iconic double-neck belong on this list; they do not. First off, a Ridiculous Guitar can’t just be, you know: bought. It has to be designed, and preferably over-designed, and there can only be one of them; the double-neck was a production guitar, the EDS-1275. You could walk into Sam Ash on 46th and buy one: this disqualifies it. Second, Jimmy Page did not look uncool when playing the double-neck. He looked like this:

jimmy page double neck

And that is the opposite of uncool.

Nor does Junior Brown and his trademark guit-steel:

[PDF] Junior Brown at SXSW -

While the guit-steel is certainly silly-looking, it’s 100% functional, and a Ridiculous Guitar prizes aethetics over all. Also, a man dressed that well can play anything he wants and look good doing it.

Others might bring up Rick Nielsen’s five-neck Hamer, but they would be silly simpletons: the five-neck is patently a joke, and therefore not on the cool/uncool spectrum. Even though it’s pretty darn cool:

rick nielsen five neck

I like how they couldn’t figure out what to do on the last neck, and just said, “Fuck it: make it fretless.”

Now, one of Rick’s many, many guitars might fit the definition of a Ridiculous Guitar. It is ludicrously shaped and custom-made and all, but I am making a ruling that Rick Nielsen’s self-awareness pushes this one into the “acceptable” category:

rick nielsen cartoon guitar

That’s just funny. Guy’s playing himself. Also: you see all those picks on the mic stand? Uncle Ricky’s gonna throw ’em in the crowd; folks go home with a souvenir. Cheap Trick’s awesome.

We now leave the realm of the self-aware, and when you think of someone with no self-awareness, you think of Gene Simmons. I’m surprised he’s only sported one Ridiculous Guitar throughout his career, as he’s the perfect candidate: clueless, cheesy, rich, and doesn’t give a shit how the instrument actually sounds.

[PDF] Gene Simmons Axe

That is a bass shaped like an axe; it was called the Axe Bass. Gene is imaginative. (Eagle-eyed gear nerds will note the split headstock: the neck was aluminum just like Garcia’s Travis Bean.) He had his built by a guy, but–of course–licensed out the design and his name, first to Kramer in 1980. They made 175, and if you want of of them, then get to Ebay in the next 27 hours (and bring eight grand).

Gene has since brought the rights to his guitars elsewhere, and you can buy an Axe Bass from him; it comes with a presentation ceremony and meet-and-greet with Gene. Go check out the site, and see if you can find out any information about the instruments. I found page after page about different payment plans, but would be hard-pressed to tell you what kind of pickups the sucker has.

Remember Pat Metheny?

pat methany gutar

Ever see that film of spiders who have been given acid trying to spin webs? (Mickey gave the spiders acid.) This makes the list of Ridiculous Guitars due to arrogance: Miles Davis played a normal trumpet like a human being, but you needed this? Suck my balls, and buy a Strat.

We’ve been beating around the bush, Enthusiasts. Everyone here knows that for the true mainline RG high, you need to use a metal syringe.

This was/is Michael Angelo:

michaelangelo double guitar

In the 80’s, a lot of shredders shredded, but when it came to shredding, Michael Angelo was the garbage truck sized shredder that pulls up to offices and shreds tons of documents at a time. In fact, he played so many notes that he maxed out the potential of one guitar, and had to play two simultaneously. Mr. Angelo was ambidextrous, and could play both guitars at the same time. Should he? I don’t know. But: he could.

Until two guitars weren’t enough.

michaelangelo four guitar

In addition to being a Ridiculous Guitar, Mr. Angelo’s custom whatever-that-thing-is was surprisingly good as a melee weapon, especially against a bat’leth. (Another aside for gear nerds: this monstrosity has Floyd Rose tremolos because that was the law in the 80’s.)

Mr. Angelo was also skilled at sweep picking, which was the thing after two-hand tapping. From four minutes into the first Van Halen record until the mid-80’s, you had to be able to hammer-on and pull-off and make that high-speed burbling noise to be any sort of axe-slinger. The problem with two-handed tapping is that, if done right, it sounds good; sweep picking never has that problem, as it is a distinctly unmusical musical trick. It’s just a stupidly-fast arpeggio, but if you aspired to be the next Reb Beach or Vito Bratta, you had to practice it.

And, of course: Steve Vai.

steve vai heart guitar

Bonus points for the heart theme, instead of just gluing two guitars together, but holy shit. I understand the point of this–making homicidally drunk teenagers holler in a basketball arena–but again: holy shit. Also: hey, Steve Vai, we heard you liked guitars so we put some guitars on your guitars etc.

But the winner is clearly…

michael anthony jack daniels

…and here’s why: because it is, that’s why.

And now that Sammy Hagar is in the Grateful Dead, Michael Anthony will be attending cook-outs and movie nights and he will start discussing basses with Oteil, and then Oteil will show up on stage with a guitar shaped like a giant pot leaf.

This will end poorly.


A few last thoughts about KISS:

  • One of their books (Ace, I think) accuses Paul of dressing up in a suit and tie and trying to act all professional in business meetings, but quickly getting bored and doodling large, veiny dicks all over his note pad. This would happen, Ace wrote, at every single meeting for years and years. That fact makes me so happy, I couldn’t give a single shit whether or not it’s true.
  • And Gene would also be in a suit and have a briefcase with just crackers in it. And Ace would sit there with a tall boy, and he  was the asshole?
  • The Dead also released solo albums on the same day, except it was the Dead, so instead of the same day, it was over the course of a few years, plus some of the albums never got released, and Phil forgot to make his.
  • Having read all four of the original members’ autobiographies (there will almost definitely not be a Bruce Kulick book), and ones from the former manager, and tour manager, and accountant, and the recent authorized oral history, I can confirm very few things. Here are some: Gene absolutely refused to get naked in front of everyone else, Ace banged several (at least) dudes, Peter was the weak link in every way available to him, and Paul will cut a bitch.
  • Seriously: Paul’s the bad guy. Gene is Donald Trump; Paul is the human-trafficking/arms-dealing billionaire whose name you wouldn’t recognize. Gene is Darth Vader; Paul is the Emperor.
  • The Sex Pistols closed out 1977 at Winterland. KISS had played there the previous December. Politics and importance, maaaan, aside: only one of the bands were actually entertaining.
  • Also from Ace’s book, his thoughts on John Belushi  “We were both famous, and we both loved music and comedy, and we both enjoyed getting fucked up.” Then Ace is summoned to a Blue Brothers concert to give Belushi a pep talk in an anecdote that almost certainly did not actually take place.
  • The Dead often hired ne’er-do-well family members, obvious hucksters, and Hamburglars to manage their finances, but KISS once signed on with Paul’s former psychiatrist, who in short order: fucked up the books, stole all the money, faked his own death, and became an international fugitive. That is high-level rock star crazy bullshit right there.
  • Peter has an enormous penis, about which there are many stories; he will share them all with you, if you like.
  • One of the two of us has seen pretty much every episode of Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Is it you? No? Oh, right: it’s me.
  • Credit the Dead with professionalism: for all the felonies and capers, none of them was ever so regularly tardy that a backup musician in a costume had to be employed as an emergency measure. KISS had to–on numerous occasions–grab a drum tech and dress him up like a clown/kitten because one of the intolerable ones  had missed seven planes in a row again.
  • Ace and Peter were the intolerable ones; Gene and Paul were the unbearable ones.
  • One time–and this is something being kept from you by not only Big Dead, but by Big KISS as well–Gene and Paul explored the possibility of writing with Hunter. They weren’t Hunter’s thing, as you might guess, but he was reading a lot of Buddhist stuff and was doing the whole openness deal and–hey, whatever you thought of their music, they were selling a lot of records lately and a couple bucks could never hurt, so when they called, Hunter picked up the phone. He asked Gene and Paul whether they had any ideas for lyrics, or a theme. They said, “The song should be about pussy,” and Hunter pretended that there was a bad connection, but there wasn’t, and he hung up the phone.
  • There has been, and quite possibly will never be, a full recounting on what’s going on with Gene’s head. Lately, he’s been pretending to have a sense of humor about it, but he has absolutely no sense of humor about it whatsoever.
  • Out of the four of them, Ace seems like the only one it might be at all pleasant to spend an afternoon with, as long as you had your own ride or cab fare or nowhere to go. And Ace wasn’t waving his guns around. (Ace would assuredly be waving his guns around.)
  • Ace and Peter deserved to get thrown out of not just the band, but maybe even the country: their behavior was so fucked-up that they should have been stripped of the citizenship and forcibly expatriated. Showing up reasonably on time, reasonably sober is doable. It’s doable.
  • Bobby could do a real nice acoustic Hard Luck Woman.
  • KISS could maybe handle Bertha, but that was pushing it.
  • Their road crews were both equally large and psychotic and feared and well-practiced at violence: a clash would have pitted city boys vs. country boys and would have been instigated by Billy.
  • Speaking of Billy, we’re talking about a man who, during every full moon in 1981 and half of ’82, would dress up like a werewolf and run around biting the shit out of people. He would break the skin; it was awful, and yet when the bus left the hotel at one o’clock, Billy was on it. That’s the thing Ace and Peter couldn’t handle. Not even on their own: there were people who got paid to lead them from place to place, and they still couldn’t show up anywhere vaguely on time. That takes doing: Ace and Peter were more dedicated to being bad at their jobs than most people are at being good at theirs.
  • Paul takes up painting to help him get through a divorce because of course he does.
  • Any second now, an art dealer is going to realize that Gene’s collection of Polaroids is as valid as cultural history of the times as anything else and it’s going to be unbearable.

Guitar Player Wanted With Stash And Goofballs

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:

  1. Big opening explosion, also song of some sort.
  2. Paul starts in with his gibberish.
  3. Firehouse/Hotter Than Hell. Many flashing lights, which people enjoy.
  4. More gibberish from Paul.
  5. Something from the new album/Ace gets to sing.
  6. Mid-level explosion.
  7. Blood spat.
  8. Drums soloed, raised.
  9. Fire breathed.
  10. Massive explosion, also song of some sort.
  11. The removal of the codpieces.
  12. 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.

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