When I was in high school, my life was KISS. Sure, I had friends and family, but those people were victims of my endless rants about how KISS was the greatest-damn-band-in-the-world and why-they-should-be-listening-to-them. On Halloween I’d go to school in KISS make-up. If there was a talent show at school, I’d appear in KISS make-up to lip synch their songs. On every other day I was wearing a KISS t-shirt. My room was covered in KISS posters. I was obsessed.
Within months of buying my first KISS album I owned their entire catalog on compact disc (at the time, a luxury format). I scoured Heavy Metal magazines, both domestic (Circus, Hit Parader) and import (Metal Hammer, Kerrang!) for any minute shred of information I could get on them. However, those publications didn’t satisfy my craving. I soon discovered an alternative venue of KISS news, that was ALL KISS news: The underground world of fanzines. Before blog sites, there were fanzines (“‘zines”, for short). Fan produced magazines were the source of information you wouldn’t find in mainstream media. Not only would a music-based ‘zine contain articles and/or interviews on the subjects they covered, but also fan art and “For Sale” or “For Swap” classified columns, as well as fan art and photography. There were a plethora of such KISS ‘zines in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
My first exposure to one was “KISS Crazy” a UK based ‘zine, that I bought at my local record store. It had an interview with Gene Simmons that was more personal than I’d ever read in any national publication. Then there was “The New England KISS Collector’s Network”. The publishers (John and Karen Lesniewski) were also the authors of the “KISS Collectibles: Identification and Price Guide“.
They even had photos of themselves posing with Gene Simmons! In my eyes, they were living a fantasy-life that I wanted to be a part of. Shortly after I graduated high school, a friend said to me “Why don’t you do the same thing? That way YOU can meet KISS!”
I took him up on the idea. I got a hold of Karen at The New England Kiss Collector’s Network, and asked her how she did it. She explained that Gene had a guy he hired, named Brad, to run what he (Gene) called “KISS Central”. KISS Central was a conduit for fanzine publishers to set up interviews or get backstage passes to KISS shows. This way the ‘zines had content. Needless to say, I was in. Within a month I’d printed (well, photocopied) my first issue of “Washington State KISS Konnection”, and within three months I met Mr. Simmons himself.
The first time I met Gene was in late 1992. I knew KISS were going to play Seattle, so I gave Brad a call. He said he could hook me up with pre-show passes (backstage passes for before the show begins) and a photo pass (to take my camera right up to the front of the stage, with all the press photographers). I was 18 at the time, and drooling KISS blood at this prospect. “You’ll just have to pick them up at will-call,” he told me.
I lugged my grandfather’s 35mm Nikon camera to that show, hoping everything would go smooth. Sure enough, the passes were there. They were adhesive; so I stuck them on my shirt, below my jean jacket. At one point a security person told me “You can’t have a camera in the venue.” It felt great to open my coat and show her my photo pass. “Oh, OK. You’re good!”
When I got backstage I briefly met Eric Singer and Bruce Kulick of KISS, as they were walking from catering. But the real moment of transfixion was when Gene appeared. From a distance I saw him appear at the end of a hallway. Local Seattle strippers were in wait (they were there as stage dancers for the KISS song “Take It Off”). Gene picked up the blonde one and started making out with her in front of everyone. After he had his way with her, he slowly walked over to the gaggle of fans—including me—who were await.
He had brief conversations with everyone. When he got to me I was in complete shock. I showed him a copy of my ‘zine, and rambled about how Karen gave me pointers for the fanzine, that I used to be into Duran Duran before KISS (he gave me a leery eye at that one), and on, and on. I kept yammering, and he began imitating my lips moving up and down. I calmed down and asked for a photo. I asked if he’d take a photo of us sticking our tongues out together. Gene sticks his tongue out often for fans, but you don’t see many (at that point, I’d seen none) where he sticks his tongue out with a fan. He furrowed his brows and leered again, signaling that I may be asking for too much. But I was 18 and desperate.
“PLEASE! PLEASE!” I begged him, like the whiny kid I was.
He reluctantly said, “OK.”
The night was fantastic. I got plenty of photos of the band onstage, and went home having had one of the best experiences —at that point—of my life.
Here’s some shots during the first 3 songs of their set:
In 1993 I would find myself corresponding with KISS by mail and phone. Check that out in Part II.