Hall of Fame Cannot Repel the KISS Army

By BOB WIRE

Now that the latest round of Congressional posturing and finger-pointing, hand-wringing, brow-furrowing brinksmanship is over, it’s time for the divided factions to come together and begin the healing process so we can move forward as a nation.

Because we have to talk about the nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Missoula weatherman and softball dabbler Russ Thomas sparked a passionate Facebook debate this week with the question (including his own long-winded answer) of which single nominee most deserves induction. The replies came fast and furious, and I figured I’d use my own bully pulpit to express my opinion. Which is rarely humble.

You may be among those who think the Hall of Fame is silly, irrelevant, phony and stupid. But for rock and roll, an art form that’s younger than Stevie Wonder, it’s the only way to officially enshrine its top practitioners. Besides, is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame any less legitimate than the Roller Derby Hall of Fame (Brooklyn) or the Polka Hall of Fame (Cleveland)? The Hollywood Walk of Fame (movies)? Hell, even the Baseball Hall of Fame or Football Hall of Fame could arguably take a backseat to their rock and roll counterpart. Which do you think had a profound effect on more lives, Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” or Bruce Blyleven’s curve ball?

But that’s an argument for another day (perhaps I’ll revisit the topic during the next government shutdown in January). Any Hall of Fame is kind a Greatest Hits album. It’s a way to quantify the unquantifiable, to pay official homage to those who have already spent a career being smothered with adulation from their adoring fans. And if you’re lucky enough to be nominated, it’s a great forum at which to announce your new chain of themed chicken ‘n waffle shacks while you enjoy an open bar and a spike in sales of your back catalog.

The RRHOF has drawn criticism over the years both for the artists they’ve inducted, and the ones they turned away at the velvet rope of esteem. Rock and roll, by its very nature, is anti-establishment. So when a bloated, archaic organization like the Nation Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, for example, pulls a boner like giving a Grammy to Jethro Tull for Best Heavy Metal Record in 1989, their credibility takes a serious donkey punch right in the WTF.

The RRHOF began to patch up their own crumbling cred when they finally inducted Rush last year, after ignoring one of the most successful trios in rock history for nearly 15 years. Someone with power and taste (*cough* Dave Grohl *cough*) must be whispering in the Hall’s ear, because this year they’ve finally gotten around to nominating a few more seminal rock bands, including Deep Purple, Yes, and KISS.

Nominees for the Class of 2014 also include Hall and Oates, Linda Ronstadt, the Replacements, Chic, Nirvana, NWA, and some others. All deserving, perhaps (and for different reasons), but none have been overlooked like Yes, the progenitors of prog-rock, fur vests, and music-nerd superiority; Deep Purple, the band widely credited with inventing heavy metal (they were first nominated in 2012 but the fax was accidentally sent to Whitesnake); and of course KISS, the dumb-rock masters of endless merchandising and concert bombast.

In the side of beef that is their 40-year career, 1974 to 1978 is the filet mignon. KISS was the biggest band in the world. But also one of the most polarizing. They were so in-your-face and over-the-top with their image and stage show, the visual aspect quickly overshadowed the music. Their songs were workmanlike hard rock at best, derivative and silly pud-rock at worst. But the thing was, KISS let you in on the joke.

They knew that musically speaking, they weren’t in the same class as the Beatles or Zeppelin or the Who. They never claimed to be (well, except Gene Simmons, who has claimed everything from sleeping with every woman in South America to inventing Play-Doh). KISS took the classic template of a rock and roll band—two electric guitars, bass and drums—and added elements of pro wrestling, comic book hero-worship, vaguely Satanic posturing, and a cartoonishly overblown show that started with the Stonehenge-sized logo flashing at the back of the stage, and ended with pyrotechnics exploding at the front.

We ate it up. The costumes, the make-up, the hydraulic drum riser, the blood-spitting, the spark-showering guitars; there was no rock and roll cliché that they didn’t co-opt and supersize. Up to that point, a few colored spotlights and some glittery eye makeup was about as far as a band would go to add some excitement to their shows, but KISS got it.

Picture11

I knew I’d seen that move somewherebefore…

From the very first time Gene Simmons spit flames at a New Year’s Eve show in 1973 (accidentally setting his hair on fire), these boys knew that rock and roll is a visual art form. Yeah, you want to rock their socks off with the sounds, but you also want to blow their minds with the sights.

I was first in line at the record store in my little SoCal desert town on October 14, 1977, the day they released their second live album, the brilliantly titled KISS Alive II. Okay, there was no line. But I was a diehard fan and I had to be the first in town to own the album. And there were plenty of chances to be first in line. These guys were crazy prolific (and their label overlords were crazy greedy), putting out six studio albums and two live albums in just four years.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that double-LP I carried out of The Desert Rat, stuffed with a booklet, posters, temporary tattoos and KISS Army stickers, represented the final chapter of KISS’ heyday. One year later they would become the first band ever to release four simultaneous solo albums, a stunt that said, “We’re out of steam and we abdicate our throne to New Wave.”

Should Nirvana be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, their first year of eligibility? By all means. They were the right band at the right time, and Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide ensured that their legacy would be finite. Unsullied by weak albums, reunion tours, and the creeping Yokoness of Courtney Love.

But they should be second in line behind KISS. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to acknowledge their huge and lasting impact on the culture of rock ‘n roll.

Besides, who’s ever heard of the Hall and Oates Army?

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This is for an online fan poll. The top five vote-getters from this year’s nominees will receive ONE “fan vote” to add to the MORE THAN 600 secret ballots cast by other musicians, industry hacks, critics, etc. http://www.rockhall.com/get-involved/interact/poll/

(Okay, this is Tom Snyder’s hilarious interview with KISS in 1979. Gene Simmons is pissed. Ace Frehley is drunk. Tom Snyder is befuddled. Peter Criss talks about his gun collection. Bizarre stuff.)

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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