My brother Mark had moved into a small house with a friend shortly after the house fire. He had just graduated high school and was cooking at a hotel restaurant. People thought the hotel was kind of fancy because it was on a piece of land that jutted out into the Columbia River. It was called Clover Island.

Some people still believed he had something to do with the house fire but nothing was ever proven.

Every time I went to the new house that he lived in, it smelled of thick pot smoke and thin beer. Mark was also becoming more interested in motorcycles at this time. I thought this combination of things added up to being a Hells Angel or something. Dad didn’t like me going over there because he probably knew what was going on.

One night though, I made up some kind of story and went over there to watch a KISS concert on HBO. There were other people there, most of them sitting on the floor as Mark and his roommate tried to figure out how to hook up the stereo speakers to the TV. About halfway through the concert, Gene Simmons began an ominous bass refrain between songs and then started spitting fake blood out of his mouth. But he wasn’t really spitting. It was more like he was just letting it gurgle out of his lips and down his chin. When he was done, he stuck his long tongue out and gave a devious look as the band started into “God of Thunder.” Everyone watching the concert totally loved this, except me. I thought it went too far and I was afraid I might have nightmares about the bloody face. Someone said it was a trick, that Gene kept a packet of goat’s blood in the back of his mouth until it was time to bite down on it. The person who explained this said it was easy to hide stuff in your mouth. He pulled at the corner of his mouth with a finger and showed us a wad of gum stuck to one of his stained wisdom teeth.

I always liked Paul Stanley, the star-eyed guitar player and singer, better than Gene. I liked the pucker of his lips, the androgynous superhero quality that he had. Plus he owned a certain cool quality the rest of the band lacked. He would never stoop to spewing blood.

Later on, when Peter Criss stepped out from behind the mammoth cluster of drums and sat at the edge of the stage to sweetly serenade the fans with their unlikely hit “Beth,” one of the floor sitters nodded at me and said something to Mark. “He’s cool,” Mark said. Then suddenly there was a joint being passed around.

Being “cool,” I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. I was maybe eleven or twelve and I hadn’t even puffed a cigarette yet. When the joint was offered to me I simply passed it on to the next person. By the end of the ballad, it was so small that someone had put a tiny clamp on the thing. I started to think that the whole getting stoned thing was looking pretty desperate.

Dad never found out that I went over there to watch the concert but he did give me a disappointed shake of the head a few months later when I got a t-shirt with a KISS picture ironed on it. We were out at Skipper’s for our Friday night fish dinner and he said, “Do you know what that means? It means Kids in Satan’s Service.”

Fried fish was the only food I liked with ketchup. I squirted the thick red goo into the little paper cups and thought about the bloody face as we waited for our dinner.

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KEVIN SAMPSELL is the author of the short story collections Beautiful Blemish (Word Riot Press) and Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus) and the editor of Portland Noir (Akashic Books). His memoir, A Common Pornography, was recently published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Portland, Oregon and works for the legendary Powell’s City of Books. His micropress, Future Tense Books, has been publishing books by new and exciting literary talent for nearly twenty years.

13 responses to “My Brother Mark: An Excerpt from A Common Pornography

  1. jmblaine says:

    I saw a Kiss concert when
    I was a little kid and it was like

    Screw the Justice League!

    Ace Frehley…Shock ME!

    I have that HBO concert on DVD.
    I still get giddy.

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    Older brothers, man. They’re the passport to a life well-lived.

  3. “I got a t-shirt with a KISS picture ironed on it….”

    I love those days. You don’t just go buy a shirt like today’s lazy youth. You have to pick out your decal first. Steve Miller Band or Certified Sex Inspector or whatever. Then have the lady steam it on. Unless, of course, yours came in a box of Frankenberry or whatever, and mom ironed it onto an old fruit of the loom….

  4. jmblaine says:

    One of my favorite stories from nashville:

    Kiss were playing a show here in the 80s – apparently a
    sparsely attended one on a weeknight
    and Paul Stanley took it as a challenge
    and did those “PEOPLE!” raps all night long
    (a bootleg exists of nothing but Paul Stanley
    between song patter)

    Either way at one point the StarChild pointed out over the crowd
    and introduced a song with this:


    Crowd: “Whoo!”


    Gene Simmons: “Oh YEah!”



    Pyro: “BOOM!”

  5. Jordan Ancel says:

    When I was a kid, I was obsessed with KISS. I remember getting Double Platinum on cassette for Christmas one year, and listening to it over and over and over and over.

    To this day, I still love them, although I haven’t listened to them in a long time.

    Maybe I’ll put on Detroit Rock City this evening and try to recall some key scenes from<KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

    • Joe Daly says:

      AAAAAAHHHHH!!! I was just writing about getting that album on vinyl for Christmas, probably the same year. The vinyl was good because the album cover was raised, so you could put a piece of paper over it and make etchings of their faces.

      Wow. Talk about some memories!

      • Jordan Ancel says:

        Great minds…

        That’s awesome you had it on vinyl! I hope you still do, and that you dust it off from time to time.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Oh man.
    I was made for lovin’ KISS.
    My babysitter had all their albums and I used to sit quietly leafing through them, taking care not to put my fingerprints on the covers. That babysitter had it sweet – she’d just hand me the KISS LP’s and I’d sit quietly all night.
    I will always be grateful for my Mother for taking me to – and sitting through without complaint – Phantom of the Park.

  7. Joe Daly says:

    >>I always liked Paul Stanley, the star-eyed guitar player and singer, better than Gene. I liked the pucker of his lips, the androgynous superhero quality that he had. Plus he owned a certain cool quality the rest of the band lacked. He would never stoop to spewing blood.<<

    Amen! Same here, man. Paul had that swagger that none of the other guys had. I used to try to suck my puffy cheeks in with the hope that I could pull off the high cheekbones that he had. It didn’t work so well on an 11 year old pasty-faced Irish kid from Boston.

  8. jmblaine says:


    Phantom of The Park was released in theaters in your country
    with bonus scenes!

  9. KevinS says:

    By the way, that’s an orange Otter Pop I’m sucking on in the photo, not a packet of fake blood.

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