It’s a little hard to explain the type of rocker I was in early 1977. I had started playing in bands when I was 16 in 1968, but immediately previous to that, I had been an INCREDIBLY shy, backward, book-loving mass of neuroses. I never trusted drugs. From a very early age I could see that drugs were gonna have a very deleterious effect on my beloved rock & roll. By the time I was a freshman in college in 1971 we had lost Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix & Janis Joplin (within THREE FUCKING WEEKS of each other) and Jim Morrison to drugs, in one way or another. I had seen the latter three of them – Hendrix in the Experience, Morrison in The Doors and Joplin with The Full-Tilt Boogie Band at Vet’s Memorial in 1968 and ’69, while I was still in high school.
Meanwhile, all around me, my friends – former hell-bent-for-leather West Side rocker boys & girls – were now either laid-back, patched-jeans Crosby, Stills & Nash and singer/songwriter devotees or nodding out to heavy metal with Seconal juice & red wine running down their chins. At that juncture my viewpoint was that, from everything I could see, drug use led to listening to and actually enjoying the music of Santana, something I just could not abide. At any rate, as the 1960’s became the 1970’s, I made a very conscious decision to be the only rocker on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, to never smoke pot. (In that respect, Jonathan Richman – the leader of Boston band The Modern Lovers – was my hero, and Richman’s 1971 tune “I’m Straight” was my anthem.)
(editor’s note: Kiss, Ricki, the subject of today’s blog is KISS. Okay, okay, okay, I’m GETTING THERE.)
I hated Kiss from the first time I saw them back in March 1974 when they debuted on In Concert, ABC’s totally lame rip-off of Midnight Special and EVERY-FUCKING-BODY on the West Side of Columbus stayed home from the bars that Friday night to see them. In the rock & roll community – and that was a thriving entity in those days – that show was hyped every bit as heavily as the Beatles had been on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. (See video below.)
From the first moment I laid eyes on Kiss I knew my rock & roll future was in desperate, desperate trouble. It was painfully obvious that Simmons, Stanley & Company (and I mean Company in the strictest Corporate Sense) had absorbed everything they could from my beloved New York Dolls, dumbed it down with hopelessly generic Foghat/Deep Purple/Uriah Heep riffs, and threw in every extra-musical element – monster make-up, sirens, smoke machines, breathing fire, bullshit “overdubbed” fireworks ‘cuz Kiss wasn’t allowed to use pyrotechnics on TV – they could possibly think of. Those guys KNEW what was gonna play in The Great Midwest. My West Side brethren might not have been able to stomach queer-boys in rouge, boas & platforms like The Dolls, but they dearly loved ‘em some Godzilla movies, comic books & quaaludes.
Jump-cut to 1977: a mid-70’s band I loved beyond comprehension was The Dictators – the pride of the Bronx, the link band between The New York Dolls and The Ramones in New York City rock & roll lore. I had my own punk fanzine – Teenage Rampage – going at that time, inspired partly by Dictators’ lead singer & songwriter Adny Shernoff’s early-70’s Teenage Wasteland Gazette. Adny and I corresponded back in the day (see postcard below) and he would let me know when The Dictators were gonna play Columbus.
The problem was, the first two times The Dictators were supposed to play (opening first for Styx and later for somebody else TOTALLY lame that I can’t remember, possibly Marillion) they didn’t show, because they had been kicked off the tours for behavior unbecoming an opening act. (i.e. Rocking harder than the headliners, being sarcastic & hilarious in the DEADLY SERIOUS age of overblown prog-rock, fucking with the headliner’s gear, etc.)
March 6th, 1977, Kiss was scheduled to play St. John Arena on campus, with The Dictators opening (see ad below). And if you don’t think it fucking KILLED me to plonk down my hard-earned $7.50 (see ticket below) to pay to see Kiss, you better think again, mojumbo. So three of my rock & roll compadres and I arrived at St. John's just after 7:30 pm so we wouldn’t miss The Dictators’ 8 pm opening set, except there was already a band PLAYING while we were getting the de rigeur 70’s pre-concert booze & fireworks patdown, and I was yelling at the cop that he was making us miss The Dictators.
Only we weren’t missing The Dictators, we were missing some jag-off L.A. band called Legs Diamond, who had taken Adny & the gang’s place on the Kiss tour, bringing to THREE the amount of times I paid good money to NOT see The Dictators, and to have to sit through a band I despised. Except I didn’t even get to SIT through Kiss, I had to stand ON MY RICKETY FUCKING FOLDING CHAIR the entire concert, because those dumbfuck Kiss Army idiots STOOD ON THEIR CHAIRS through every lamer-than-the-last Kiss opus, and ladies & gentlemen, I gotta tell ya, Kiss sucked BAD that night.
First - and most problematically to somebody who had seen and been deafened by The Who when I was 17 - Kiss wasn't NEARLY loud enough for St. John Arena. It was absolutely THE MOST ANEMIC sound system I have ever experienced in a venue that size. (And I saw a LOT of other shows at St. John: from The J. Geils Band to The Faces to Joni Mitchell to Aerosmith . It’s quite possible the Joni Mitchell show was louder than Kiss. Unforgivable.) And Peter Criss’ drumming? Jeez, it was an embarrassment to behold. There were times in the show that guy couldn’t have found the beat if it fucked him in a closet. At some point, the lunkhead stoners next to us, oblivious to the fact that we weren’t friends of theirs, passed over the joint they’d been puffing, something I normally would have disdained with the “No thanks, maaaaaan,” response I’d been employing years before Johnny Rotten snarled it in “God Save The Queen.” That March evening, however, I was so depressed over the fact that I was at a Kiss show that I took the joint and availed myself of a good, hefty hit.
I was no longer the only rocker on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, to never smoke pot. And it was all Kiss’ fault.
It was lucky that I was high for the rest of the show, though, because by The Big Finish – when Paul Stanley swapped the Gibson Flying-V guitar he’d been playing the entire set for an obviously plywood, not-remotely-plugged-into-anything facsimile of a guitar to smash – I’d have probably been moved to enact some kind of violence against those clowns onstage. As it was, I just stood there on my chair in Row 17 of St. John Arena, hitting the joint that I had refused to give back to my aisle-mates, and thinking, “Jesus, these guys are the biggest band in America, they’re making millions of dollars and they can’t even be bothered to smash a REAL guitar to close the show. Rock & roll as I know it, and love it, is OVER.”
I realized in that moment that there was to be no more power & passion in arena rock & roll, just plywood & play-acting.
In March of 1977 Colin Gawel was 7 years old. I was 24. Generational differences abound. - Ricki C. / March 29th, 2014.
Laying The Groundwork For Kiss: The New York Dolls, 1973
Kiss' First T.V. Appearance, 1974
I Fully Realize It's Comparing Apples To Oranges to Plug In Dictators Footage From
2004 After Kiss In 1974, But There's Not A Lot Of Dictators Videos From the 70's
Available On The InterWideWeb, So Bear With Me, Folks
(writer's note: I was AT this show. I'm the brown-haired guy with the cowlick right in
front of the white-haired guy in the white ball-cap from the 7:21 mark on.)