Flipside Issue 2 - March '99


Part comic book superheroes, part horror monsters and part screaming rock and roll band, KISS have sold 75 million albums in a career which has spanned three decades. Their multi-million dollar stage show includes rocket-firing guitars, 20-foot flame columns, a flying, fire-breathing, blood-spewing bass player, and more explosions than an Iraqi no-fly zone.  Oh yeah, they also play songs: three chord flash-points of brilliance which demand air-guitar (and tongue) participation.
Don't believe me?  Then ask Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Lenny Kravitz, Courtney Love, Garth Brooks, Nine Inch Nails and, er, Craig McLachlan - all devotees to the KISS cause.  Even Nirvana paid lip service, appearing on a KISS tribute album.
But KISS weren't always the Gods of Thunder.  Back in 1973, they were struggling musicians who decided to appropriate the swagger of the New York Dolls and the theatrics of Alice Cooper to create the ultimate rock spectacle. Trawling their psyches for inspiration, the band came up with alter-egos defined by their black and silver costumes and kabuki make-up. Tongue-waggling Gene Simmons devolved into 'The Demon', pouting vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley became 'The Starchild', gravitationally-challenged guitarist Ace Frehley metamorphosed into 'Space-Ace', and feline drummer Peter Criss turned into 'The Catman'. Wearing home-made costumes and performing in front of an imposing stack of mostly empty speaker cabinets, the band spent the first few years of their career touring non-stop and recording three albums in 18 months - the type of work schedule that would send today's sensitive musicians sobbing to their therapists...
None of the records left the shelves, however, until 1975s ALIVE! package, a double-album set which captured the band's onstage intensity and molar-rattling pyrotechnics. The album quickly sold four million copies, and KISSmania began.
The nest crop of studio albums shipped platinum. The stage shows became even bigger... as did Gene Simmons' codpieces.  KISS' iconic features were plastered on a dizzying array of merchandise, ranging from lunchboxes to pinball machines. They even starred in their own MARVEL comic book which included real KISS blood mixed into the ink -  a stroke of frenzy-generating brilliance unlikely to be repeated by anyone in the post-AIDS climate.  That pre-AIDS era also saw a drink/drug-free Simmons becoming friendly with groupies of every race, shape, age and size, notoriously capturing their 'friendliness' for posterity in a series of Polaroids.  Last count, the snapshots had passed the three thousand mark.
In 1978, the band members recorded solo albums, releasing them on the same day in matching covers.  Each record sold a million copies. That same year, Hanna Barbera produced the TV movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park which was in turn followed by their smash disco (!) hit 'I Was Made For Lovin' You'.  It seemed for a while as if there was nothing that KISS couldn't do.
Come 1980, despite presenting a united front, cracks began to appear beneath the make-up; first, Peter Criss was dismissed from the band, after The Catman developed a taste for something a little stronger than milk.  Shortly after, Ace left - also stumbling off in a chemical haze. Undeterred, Simmons and Stanley recruited a series of replacements and soldiered on, even dropping their trademark make-up for 1983s Lick it Up album. The albums still sold, the concerts were still fun... but it just wasn't KISS.
Then - over a decade later - on August 9th, 1995, lightning struck twice. The four original members appeared (unmasked) for an MTV Unplugged appearance, which, inevitably, led to a full-blown, back-in-make-up reunion tour. Clean and sober, dressed-to-kill and performing on a hi-tech update of their 1977 stage, the band's 1996/97  Alive/Worldwide Tour took a staggering $150 million and set attendance records around the globe. The resulting deluge of baby-boomer-satisfying merchandise has run the gamut from toilet paper to a $70,000 KISS car!
KISS recently followed this with a new studio album 'Psycho Circus' that found  the band sounding more gonzoid than ever - who else besides KISS would get away with a song entitled 'I Pledge Allegiance To The State Of Rock And Roll'?
And now they're here in your own backyard, with a gig at Wembley Arena on March 25th billed as the first 3D tour (don't you just hate all those 2D gigs?!). Attendees can don 3D glasses and experience Gene's tongue upclose and personal...
As for the future? Well, don't be surprised if a KISS reunion tour is announced around the year 2099 - featuring band members cloned from the blood of their 1977 comic!

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