Ten Surprising People Associated with KISS

Bob Dylan

Back in 1992, Simmons arranged to spend time with Dylan and work on some material, namely so he could say, “I worked with Bob Dylan.” Simmons took what was done and later created a song he initially titled “Laughing When I Want to Cry.” When working on his 2004 solo album, Asshole, he brought in the song for possible recording. It was reworked into “Waiting for the Morning Light” for the album.

Lou Reed

Another famous singer-songwriter, who had first won notice in the band the Velvet Underground. Bob Ezrin produced Reed’s controversial Berlin album in 1973 and was asked to help throw around some ideas during the recording of Music from “The Elder.” Reed came up with the title for “A World Without Heroes” and worked a bit on the song. Supposedly there is also video of Reed in the studio singing the song. Reed also co-wrote “Mr. Blackwell” with Simmons for the album as well as some additional lyrics to be used if there was to be a second album in the series. Speaking of Reed . . . .

I just finished writing a book filled with suicide, psychosis and the elusive meaning of life.  I turned it in and spent three solid weeks lying on my living floor, watching old metal videos and trying to untangle my brain.

My writer sort-of-mentor friend called while Judas Priest was ripping through “Diamonds & Rust”.

“Did you know that for at least one night in Memphis, K.K. Downing was the King of Rock and Roll?” I said when I picked up the phone.

“What?” she said.

“Never mind,” I told her, stabbing the TV mute.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

I can’t believe I’m only three days away from finishing this. I also can’t believe it’s so late and I’m still trying to figure this thing out. Today’s story is about a rock band and my dad and a telephone.

It’s not as exciting as it sounds.


Rock and Roll Calling

When eBay was new, I signed up like everyone else, looking for random pieces of pop culture nonsense. I bought an E.T. bumper sticker and a Chewbacca iron-on. You know–the essentials.

I also bought a cassette tape for $3 that had all the original members of KISS leaving outgoing answering machine messages. I guess this was a real KISS Army product that fans could buy in the 80s, at the height of the hilarious-answering-machine-messages craze. (Am I the only one who used to wish for that “Crazy Calls” tape so I could use that awesome “wait for the beep” rap on our answering machine!?)

When I got the KISS tape, I had just moved into a new apartment in Connecticut. I had a new phone number, and new voice mail system. When someone called, they’d hear me pick up and “transfer” the call to my new personal assistant, Paul Stanley. Then they’d hear:

Hi, this is Paul Stanley. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Maybe I’ll call ya. Bye.

The first voice mail I got was from my dad. It began with him speaking directly to my mom, as if my voice mail recorder was just a fly on the wall, observing a totally normal conversation that everybody’s dad has with everybody’s mom.

“Who is Paul Stanley? Linda. Linda. Linda! Hey, who is Paul Stanley?… I don’t know–some guy named Paul Stanley… It’s on her machine… No, first it was her and then it was some guy who said he was Paul Stanley… I don’t know who it is, I thought maybe you would know… Well, I don’t know either…”

And then: “Hey, there. It’s your Dad. Call us back.”

I love that he felt the need to identify himself. As if anyone else would have a five minute conversation about Paul Stanley on my voice mail.

When I called them back, the first thing he asked was, “Who’s Paul Stanley?” Even after I explained, he had no idea why I would let “this Paul Stanley character” leave my outgoing voice mail message. He wrote it off as another one of those “weird things” I did that he just didn’t get.

I should have known he wouldn’t know anything about KISS. He’s always been a fan of music, but KISS was not really his scene. My dad used to play guitar in bars for beer money, in the late 60s when he was living in San Francisco and fresh out of the Navy. But he was oblivious to everything beyond his scene.

Once, in high school, I was watching a documentary about music in the 60s and Jefferson Airplane was on the screen when my dad walked into the room. He looked at the TV and said, sort of nonchalantly, “Oh, I remember those guys.”

At first I was not impressed. Of course he remembered those guys. They are famous.

But after a few angsty remarks from me, he explained that he remembered “those guys” because he knew those guys. Sort of. My dad didn’t recognize the band on TV as psychedelic rock pioneers, Jefferson Airplane. He recognized them as “those guys”–a bunch of hippies who played some of the same San Francisco bars he played.

“But we didn’t really run in the same circles,” he said. He then lowered his voice to a whisper to explain, “I think they did drugs.”

“OH, YOU THINK?!” I replied, trying not to sound too terribly smart-assy.

Who knows what other rock icons my dad traded guitar picks with back then? He could have shared a green room with Steve Miller or peed in the urinal next to Sly and/or The Family Stone. And no one will ever know, because they are all just a bunch of “those guys” to my dad, who preferred the music of Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins.

I bet if James Taylor had left my outgoing answering machine message, my dad would’ve laughed his ass off.



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.