My parents got home from Bible Study, and asked if everything was alright. I said, “Yeah,” and kept fiddling with my homework.
“So what's the air rifle doing next to the door?” asked my father.
“Oh,” I said. I'd actually tucked it beneath the coats on the rack, to keep it from being seen, a ploy that apparently failed if you were hanging one up. “Right. I meant to put that away.”
“Ah . . . I got this weird phone call, kinda freaked me out a bit.”
“What'd they say?”
What, indeed? It was hard to explain, so I took it from the top: I was seated at the basement desk, toiling on my homework. The phone rang. In those primitive days before Call Display, if you wanted to know who was calling you, you picked up the receiver and answered the phone. In this case, my caller didn't identify himself. “How old are you?” he asked.
“Fifteen,” I said, guessing at the age of my caller and hoping to one-up him. In fact I was 12.
“Perfect. Who's the greatest rock band in the world?”
“Uh . . .” The truth was I'd only started listening to the radio, and couldn't name more than two, maybe three bands, tops. I was nervous, and lunged for the obvious answer. “The Beatles?”
“The Beatles? No, no. I'm talking about your favourite rock band, the one you listen to the most.”
“The Beatles,” I said, resorting again to the lie. I didn't yet have a favourite rock band, but would have chosen one with a “harder” sound to it than the Beatles.
“Seriously? The Beatles?”
“Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “Well . . . I was looking for KISS.” Then he hung up, and I retrieved my air rifle, lest some goon barge through the door to deal me the physical harm I had invited by giving the wrong answer to this improvised bit of polling.
With KISS you never knew. They were obviously tapping into something beyond the pale. The pancake makeup, the flash-pots. Breathing fire, spitting blood. The theatrics tended to inspire a similar degree of extremity in the fans. So far as I knew, none of my Mennonite friends listened to KISS, but there was a Ukrainian Catholic kid in my class who doodled the KISS logo on anything within reach. His locker was papered over with pictures of KISS concerts — a modest shrine compared to his bedroom back home, if you believed his claims (and I did). I wouldn't have classified my classmate as crazy, but I had read the story in the paper about the kid who took his father's shotgun to shop class and blew away another kid, later claiming he'd received direct orders from the band.
The fans called themselves an “Army” and I wasn't about to take any chances. Hence the air-rifle. Now that my father was home I figured I was safe enough. He could absorb the invasion's first salvo, while I crawled out the window and fled for my life.
|That ain't workin'...|
Thirty-five years later, there's a video of the band making a guest appearance on a sketch comedy show. They show up in regalia as a high-school girl's prom date. Her square parents are shocked and appalled. You can find it pretty quickly, but I'd advise against it. It's gratingly unfunny theatre, because it gets the social positioning completely ass-backwards. These days the scary, dangerous people from the fringe are Dad in his belly-cinched pants and Mom in her high-maintenance coif. The Munsters' high concept has been perfectly reversed, thanks in no small part to KISS.
Indeed the alleged “Knights In Satan's Service” aren't just identifiably human, they're struggling to keep the paint fresh on an increasingly bourgeois facade. Another round of memoirs, another season of Gene Simmons' meta-antics; costumes held together with duct-tape, an inveterate pussy-hound whose marriage is held together with the duct-tape of constructed celebrity drama.
There's the Wizard of Oz, and then there's the chap behind the curtain. Is there a curtain behind the curtain? Is there anything in the comic books that somehow peels back the vital layer and catches a glimpse of the edgy, conceptual power that once summoned an Army?