Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Kiss off

Kiss, as most of you have probably heard, are being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a dubious honor at best, but one which the Kiss Army had gotten excited for.

I already declared Kiss Dead, which nothing, including an album that followed that article, has convinced me the band is really a an actual living creative organism, rather than the world's most expensive Kiss Tribute Band, which is, in a sense, fine.

The problem is that in rock & roll, there's still something disgraceful about touring about and flogging your old hits and not being a creative force. I'm not sure how many musical figures were major creative forces into their 60s, but few, if any, of them have been in rock & roll. I think we should drop that silly myth that they should be.

Now, continuing members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have decided not to perform at the induction at all because they were unable to come up with an arrangement to play with or without fellow original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

In the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Statement From Kiss, they state, "Our intention was to celebrate the entire history of KISS and give credit to all members including long time present members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, and additionally Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr all who have made this band what it is, regardless of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's point of view."

It's well set-up. No Kiss fan can be happy that Eric Carr isn't being inducted with the band. He did two albums in makeup, as The Fox, and was always a fan favorite, a nice guy, a fellow fan, an enthusiastic band member and stellar drummer.

Bruce Kulick also comes across like a terrific guy, a good player, all-around positive force in the band and it's music for a dozen years.

However, an observer can easily note that a couple of names at least are missing from their official statement, in a way that hardly seems accidental. Vinnie Vincent and Mark St. John, both of whom are officially on one Kiss album each, although Vincent has songwriter credits on three albums and is now acknowledged to have been the major guitarist on Creatures of the Night, an album whose reputation has grown considerably in the 30 years since its release.

Here are some Kiss songs co-written by Vinnie Vincent, "I Love It Loud", "Lick It Up", "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" and "Unholy". These are songs that are familiar outside of the Kiss Army. They are not, assuredly, the biggest hits in Kiss's history, but I bet you could find 50 people on the street who recognized one or more those songs to every 1 that Tommy Thayer wrote or played on.

And, hey, I agree that Vinnie Vincent seems like a raging asshole and his Vinnie Vincent Invasion material is straight up embarrassing. And Tommy Thayer might well be another great dude and if he has embarrassing solo material, I've never heard it.

On the other hand, if you turn on the radio and hear a Kiss song, how likely is it that it's not only the original lineup, but from their first six albums. I don't mean that as a dismissal of their career since then. I'm a fan, for better or worse, and I like a lot of the things they've done in the 35 years since Love Gun, but I'm realistic enough to know what their legacy is.

A lot has been variously made, by fans as well as the band, of fact that Thayer and Eric Singer have been in the band longer than Frehley and Criss, but I think that ignores the basic fact that Thayer and Singer are not only specifically performing the "roles" that Frehley and Criss originated, but the sounds they developed and, in the vast majority of cases, playing songs that Frehley and Criss originally played on. I don't mean to disrespect what they've done over the last years, although I'm sure it comes across that way, but I don't see how they deserve to be inducted at all, even less above Vinnie Vincent.

But the question I found myself with is, what were Simmons and Stanley imagining as a career spanning performance. It seems to me that most performers do two or three songs. Last year they showed two performances by Heart, one with the classic lineup, including Howard Leese, and another couple from the current lineup, which made enough sense. And admittedly, those were all classic lineup songs and I wasn't entirely comfortable with that arrangement, although it's worth noting that none of the current members are listed on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Heart Biography as being inducted as members of the band.

I am now curious how exactly later members qualify. Quite a number of fellows are listed as being inducted according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rolling Stones Biography, for instance.

In the early '90s, they could have managed a nice bit of continuity, done "Rock and Roll All Nite" or "God of Thunder", probably the former, I know, in make-up, and then done "Beth". The lights could have slowly faded as the song came to an end, Simmons and Stanley could have gotten offstage as Criss sat in the spotlight and returned with Kulick and Singer out of makeup and done a post-makeup hit, probably one of the songs I mentioned as being co-written by Vinnie Vincent, although perhaps "Heaven's On Fire".

Now, what would you do? What did they propose or imagine they could work with that would honor all of that and would make logistical sense? How do you slide a performance that honors the non-make-up period in there or was that brought into the argument, as I suspect, somewhat disingenuously?

I think the only real way you could show the legacy of the band would be to have Criss, Frehley, Simmons and Stanley, four total pricks, none of whom, I suspect, can stand another of them at this point, although obviously Simmons and Stanley have found a way to put up with each other, no make-up, one last hurrah of the original band, symbolically naked and only presenting the music and sound they originated together, for the sake of celebrating its enshrinement into whatever it is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to represent. Thanks to the Kiss Army for working so hard to get them there.

Oh, well.

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