This week was a big week for me for three reasons. First, our band released our new album Rock and Roll is Black and Blue. Second, the book Too Much Trouble: A Very Oral History of Danko Jones by author Stuart Berman was put out by ECW Press. And third, KISS, my favourite band in the whole world, also put out their 20th studio album, Monster.
This serendipitous convergence has had me bringing up the fantastically face-painted foursome from Queens, New York this week more times than usual during press interviews, and of course, brought out long-standing lingering conundrums I've always had with regards to the band.
Whatever side of the fence you're on when it comes to KISS is of no matter. KISS are an undeniable tour de force, more popular than ever, and from preliminary listens of the Monster album, in top form.
But there's always one thing that's bothered me about the band. If one could travel through a Rock 'n' Roll Time Tunnel and witness the greatest moments in rock, most people would choose to be in the studio audience when The Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show, or when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival. Not me. I'd choose to be in the room at the exact moment all four original members of KISS chose their stage names. It's a moment in rock history that's never considered but, on closer look, begs discussion.
Their countless gold albums, successful world tours and endless merchandise have not only kept them constantly in the public eye, but helped shape popular culture. The costumes, the makeup, and that world famous tongue have all become iconic and synonymous with the over-indulgent era of the '70s and the self-absorbed '80s. But what's always struck me as peculiar was for a band that strove to be larger than life, they sure as hell chose pretty dull stage names.
When Chaim Witz arrived in the United States from Israel it wasn't long before he became Gene Klein. Gene Klein changed his name again to "Gene Simmons." When Gene formed KISS he decided to change his whole persona and became "The Demon" -- a towering man-monster who spat blood. Despite changing his whole persona to something as menacing as "The Demon," he still kept the name Gene Simmons. And frankly, "Gene Simmons" sounds like a used car salesman, not some blood-curdling demon. It's kind of like if Spider Man insisted on being called "Peter" or "The Amazing Peter."
And that brings us to Peter Criscuola on drums a.k.a. "The Catman" -- half man and half cat. He preceded Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats musical by almost 10 years. Or maybe Weber got the idea from Peter? Either way, Webber's cats have much more interesting names than Peter, who chose to simply cut the last five letters from his surname and add an "S" to become known as "Peter Criss."
Andrew Lloyd Webber's cat characters have wild names like "Jennyanydots," "Grizabella" and "Rumpelteazer." Those are infinitely more enchanting than "Peter Criss." People with first names for last names like "Benedict Arnold," "Dave Matthews" and "Ricky Bobby" bug me. In fact, most people don't know that Peter's full name is actually "Peter George John Criscoula" and by joining KISS he became "Peter George John Criss." That's not just two first names, that's four!
Given the band was founded in 1973 there was still much hype from Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon that pervaded pop culture as evidenced with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character, and it couldn't help but influence the band, too.
Guitarist Paul Frehley, took the most appropriate name out of the four by using his real nickname, "Ace," and altering it to "SpaceAce." But frontman Paul Stanley, better known to his parents as Stanley Eisen, chose a puzzling stage name when he became "Paul Stanley, The Starchild." Stanley's decision to turn his first name into his last name AND THEN take his bandmate's real name, "Paul," as his first name, still seems bizarre after all these years. That's like turning around to your best friend, Bob, and telling him, "Bob, from now on, please call me Bob."
Now before I get the entire KISS Army barking down my throat, I have to again state that, yes, I am a huge KISS fan, probably bigger than your fat ass. My KISS fandom extends to rent cheques given to the band in exchange for trinkets that sport their logo and make-up designs. I don't know if that makes me more qualified or outs me as awfully gullible, but regardless, my extremist devotion allows for a certain amount of critical leeway when it comes to the bad boys from Queens.
The fact that KISS are so able to procure both my admiration and ridicule endears them to me even more. They truly are the people's band, meant to be poked at, parodied, and most of all -- worshipped. I love KISS -- Paul, Peter, Stanley, Chaim... or whatever hell they want to call themselves.