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Ace Frehley Is My Copilot:
My Day at the Kiss Convention

05.26.2000 | CULTURE

Nuremberg Rock City

Kiss was, and is, a worldwide phenomenon. Therefore it stands to reason that like the Huns and the Allied forces before them, the Kiss army would eventually overrun Germany. The surprise lies then not in the occupation, but the packaging. Kiss's ensignia (the one that was notoriously alleged to anagram-itize "Knight in Satan's Service" and something vaguely homoerotic that I don't remember) is composed of a fascist "K," an incidental "I," and two lightning "S"'s. The "S"'s were thought too close to the Nazi storm trooper product logo, so the pre-unified, thirty scarce years removed from Nazi rule Germany demanded that Casablanca (their label) change the offending bolts to two inverted Z's for all of Kiss's German releases. The moral of this story: American Kiss albums command the mighty second hand sum of between 50 cents and a dollar, while the price of their German cousins begins at $70.

Rites of Springsteen

The 2000 Kiss expo was held in Farleigh Dickenson University in Teaneck New Jersey, 2 hours north of hard-core Springsteen country, but still close enough to make the event a mullet-orium. As I pulled my car into the parking lot the local DBR (Dirt Bag Rock) radio station pumped out "We're not Gonna Take it" by Twisted Sister. Outside the college gymnasium, the convention's home, a tall man in latex pants, a red tee shirt with gold trimmed shoulders and Kiss make-up walked around and talked to a group of women. His make up was not derived from the holy quadrinity of kiss--Ace, Gene, Peter and Paul--but from Vinnie Vincent, of the eponymous Vinnie Vincent invasion. He and some drummer whose name escapes me replaced Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in the late seventies. They were in make up for all of about five minutes before Gene and Paul announced the "exposed tour" and let the band's faces go naked. My point is that there is some dude in North Jersey whose affection for and knowledge of Kiss esoteria allowed him to not only emulate Vinnie Vincent's make up, but to think that it was a good idea to do so.

Welcome to the Jingle

Once inside, my friend and I were met with a smell that mixed the delicate overtones of the bathroom at CBGB's with the bouquet of a children's playroom at a bowling alley. A room of men and women, mostly 10 to 20 years past their rock and roll prime, had come, kids and wheel chair bound relatives in tow, to drool over a king's ransom in crap: Comic books, dolls, lunchboxes, garbage cans, Halloween masks, matchbox cars, smashed guitars, videos (kiss related and non-they had about 1000 bootleg concerts and the star wars Christmas special), vynil (including the aforementioned Kiss Aryan Army releases.) teddy bears, the "kiss on tour" board game, guitar picks and a Kiss car.

Miss Nicotine Fit

Teaneck New Jersey is flush up against Lodi New Jersey. Lodi is notable for three reasons: Satin Dolls (the real life template and setting for the Soprano's Botta Bing's), its Scorcese-cized population of beefy Italian dudes, and for being the hometown of the seminal goth/punk/metal band The Misfits. All these things I mention for one reason; the guitar player of the misfits, he of the single spiky tendril haircut and Alice Cooper-esque eye make-up, was there. He was selling something, I don't really know what. Just as I was approaching him a dozen midgets walked by. They were rolling in tough, like a bunch of Lilliputian reservoir dogs. My friend followed them with a video camera and I missed the opportunity to ask them what they thought of Metallica's cover of "Die my Darling."

Blue Oyster Cult De-programming

My conversation with the bass player of Blue Oyster Cult, also at the Expo, went like this:

- You were in the Blue Oyster Cult?
Yeah. Bass Player.
- You play on all their songs?
- You play on Godzilla?
- That's like my favorite song, dude.
Stick around. We [indicating the man standing to his right who played in the Alice Cooper band] are gonna play later. We might do that one.
- Cool. Make sure you play that part [I hummed the post-bridge break down while mimicking playing the line on the bass guitar. He turned his head away, signaling that the conversation was over.]

Hey Hey, My, My, Rock And Roll Can Never Diet

Gene Simmons did not attend the convention. He was, however, omnipresent; the room was plastered with posters of him performing, both in the seventies and today, and there were at least ten people dressed up like him, male and female. I overheard a lot of remarks about how well his stage outfits show off his present day, let's say, "ample" carriage. People seemed to get a joy from making fun of his weight, or even his music. The words "Paul Stanley" were often followed by the words "pussy," "asshole" and "lame." Which makes me think that a lot of Kiss fans aren't really that much into Kiss as a band, but as a spring board for merchandise. There's something weird and self-conscious at work in this culture. You know the culture I mean; the one that attends conventions like this, the one that packs bars who have tribute bands play, the one that will pay $80 for an e-bay auctioned tour tee shirt. In many--perhaps in Kiss's case, most cases--the erstwhile fans tolerate the music more than like it. The real fanaticism is focused on the accoutrements, the merchandise, the lunchboxes and garbage cans. Incidentally, in case you're interested in knocking me off some kind of high horse, I was really excited to meet a playboy playmate at the convention, and I spent $10 on old issues of Cream magazine.

About the Author
New Jersey native Adam Bulger currently resides in Hartford, CT. As a free-lance writer he has written numerous articles on booze, cops and robots.
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