Being a Male KISS Groupie: My Life as a KISS Fanzine Publisher (CHAPTER III)

KISS.Conventions.CYRUS

Tour Program Cover. May as well have called it the “1st and Only.”

When I was 20 years old Gene Simmons called me at my house. OK, it was actually my grandparents’ house (I was living there during college) and it was KISS‘ tour manager Tommy Thayer who called, with Gene next to him.

“Hi Cyrus, this is Tommy Thayer, KISS’ tour manager. I also have Gene here with me. Do you have a moment?”

“Of course!” If he’d been Gene’s limo driver’s second cousin I would’ve had time.

Tommy told me of the bands’ plans to do a “KISS Conventions” tour. At each convention local KISS collectors would sell merchandise, KISS would display their ’70s costumes and the event would conclude with a live acoustic performance by KISS, with a local KISS cover band opening for them. The record label wasn’t footing any of the bill, so the band needed the help of KISS fanzine publishers to promote and work the event. Through the fog of enamorment I didn’t see that I was about to become free labor for Gene.

After Tommy talked, Gene got on the phone. “Hi Cyrus, this is Gene. You’re in Washington aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“How is he?”

After Gene’s corny joke he went into what he needed from me. First was helping promote the event. They would send me promo posters to put up in Seattle record stores. If the store let me, I’d take a photo of the poster on the store’s wall, write the store’s address on the back of the photo and then mail it to KISS. Once received, Gene would make sure the store owner got tickets to the event. These were the convoluted measures taken when a vast majority of Americans didn’t have access to the Internet.

Gene explained how I would “help run the event,” and that I’d get an “exclusive interview with the band.” Before passing me to Tommy to discuss logistics,  Gene said (in an overly drawn out, dramatic tone) ”Gooodbyyye, Cyrus.”

KISS.Conventions.Poster.Cyrus

Seattle Promotional Poster

A week later I received a shipment of about a hundred posters. I drove from my hometown (Olympia) to Seattle, about a 60 mile trek, to get as many as I could up in record stores. Shop owners who were KISS fans were stoked about getting free tickets and promoting the event. I was smitten by being able to say I was representing KISS. The stores probably took me more seriously than they should have, as I wasn’t getting paid. I didn’t care though, I was doing it for the glory of KISS!

When the band came to Seattle I had to be there early to help with set up. The event was held at Seattle Center (a city block that contains performance halls, museums and the iconic symbol of the city, the Space Needle). I was still under the impression that I was somehow helping to “run the event.” When I arrived with my friend—the “Vice-President” of my fanzine (yes, we gave ourselves titles)—we encountered organized chaos. KISS staff were milling about with tables, electrical equipment and props. A manic lady with blonde hair and crazy eyes seemed to be running everything. She was at a folding table looking through papers attached to clipboards and giving terse directions to people. I made eye contact with her and timidly introduced ourselves.

“We’re from the Washington State KISS Konnection. I’m supposed to meet Tommy Thayer. He said to find him.”

She looked annoyed.

“Who are you with?” she asked.

“My name is Cyrus, and this is my friend. We’re supposed to be helping out. We run the Washington State KISS Konnection. Tommy Thayer…”

“I don’t know where Tommy is right now,” she said, curtly. “Here, sign-in and I’ll get you started.”

After signing in she handed us our VIP laminates and called over one of the workers. “Can you get these guys started on something? They’re from one of the fanzines.”

He had us follow him to a nearby room. Displayed in it were mannequins of KISS in their stage outfits and face paint. Each mannequin was displayed in its own plexiglass housing. The guy handed us paper towels, window cleaner and said “Go ahead and start working your way over each pane, top to bottom.” My friend was incensed and I held out hope that  there were bigger tasks we’d get to do.

After finishing cleaning we went back to the lady in charge.  She gave us a greater role: Get the ATM card reader that was mailed to KISS’ hotel. We drove to the Seattle Westin. When we arrived I told a Westin employee that I was there to pick up a package for KISS.

While I signed for the package the employee asked, “Are they here playing a show?”

“Yeah. Are you a fan?” I asked.

After a slight pause, he furrowed his brow and said, “Sure… yeah.”

Once back we handed off the package to the lady and I asked for Tommy again. He was still unavailable. We hung out for awhile, meeting some of the other VIP guests who were there. There were two guys from Dark Horse Comics that were also invited by Gene (a few years later Dark Horse would publish a line of KISS comics, in partnership with the band). We also talked to the lead singer of “Gene’s Addiction” (a play on “Jane’s Addiction”), a KISS tribute band where all four members only wore The Demon’s make-up and sang his songs. Each KISS Convention had a local tribute band as the opening act. He was amused that KISS was actually opening for them, due to a rearranging of the schedule.

Eventually doors started opening for the long lines of ticket-holders. They were handed “free” tour programs (tickets for the event were $100 each). Once inside they looked for what there was to do. It wasn’t much. Besides the display of KISS mannequins there was one large room with approximately 20 dealer tables, where people from across the Pacific Northwest sold KISS memorabilia. One guy only sold KISS CDs that were made in Japan (he was emphatic about the improved sound quality). Another table had toys and old tour programs. Other fanzines actually leased their own tables to represent themselves. It was cool to meet some of my peers in KISS publishing, putting faces to the zines I was familiar with or had read.

KISS.Conventions.CYRUS.2

First 2 pages of the KISS Conventions program.

About an hour later there was chattering commotion amongst everyone, and then the fans quickly herded out the doors. KISS was arriving. I got my ‘70s Kodak camera—with macro zoom lens—at the ready. I followed the crowd to the street where the band’s tour bus just rolled up. I saw all four members standing inside, being interviewed by the local rock FM radio station, KISW. Fans were clamoring, shouting out their names: “Gene!” “Paul!” “Bruce!” “Eric!” When they exited, Gene and Paul were in the lead. They were hounded by people asking for autographs as they walked swiftly to the building.

Kiss.Convention.1

A photo I took form outside the bus. From L to R: Paul, Bruce & Gene being interviewed.

I walked beside Gene to get his attention and said “Gene, I run the Washington State KISS Konnection!”

He replied “You’re Cyrus, right?”

That was it. At that point I could die a happy man.

“Yeah! Are we going to do an interview later?” I asked.

“We’ll see. There’s a lot going on right now.” he said.

My spirits were dampened, but I held out hope.

Soon after KISS took the stage. The show was advertised as an acoustic performance that would include fan requests with a Q & A session after. It sounded great. Imagine your favorite band is going to play a small show, with less than a couple of hundred fans, and will take shout-out requests form the audience. Some would consider this too good to be true. It was. Not too long after the event I read a fanzine covering a performance they did in Australia. Same exact set-list as Seattle. Nevertheless, they made it appear that they were taking requests. I would hear Paul shout out (in his high-pitched, stage-banter tone) “What do you folks wanna here?!” Fans would reply with different songs, some louder than others. Eventually the fans would end up shouting the name of a song that they seemed to agree upon. No matter what was requested, Paul would nod his head and pretend like the audience requested the song he was going to play anyway. “OK, you wanna hear “Heaven’s On Fire?” At this point my friend looked at me, shook his head and said “They’re not taking requests at all.”

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Q & A session. This is what happens when your flash isn’t set in accordance with your shutter speed.

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Another Q & A photo.

The venue was standing room only, but everyone was sitting on the floor cross-legged. Since I was still under the delusion they were taking requests, I began shouting out the name of a very lesser known Gene song, “Naked City.” It appeared on their 1980 LP “Unmasked” and doesn’t sound like a KISS song. It’s a quirky favorite of mine. I began calling out “Naked City!” I then solicited others sitting around me to do the same. Everyone was buying in to how it would be cool to actually hear Naked City. It became a fervor. The small group around me began shouting out “Naked City!,” and then it began spreading to the rest of the audience. I was only a few feet away from Gene, who was sitting on a barstool playing acoustic bass. There were no security or barriers in-between the stage and audience. I had an idea.

I ran to the registration desk up front and asked if I could get paper and a pen. I was given both, and then ran back to my spot on the floor. I tore a piece of paper off and wrote “Naked City” on it. I then asked the people in front of me to pass it to each other and get it on the stage next to Gene. I had us do it in between a song so Gene would take notice. The note hit its destination. He saw it, picked it up, shook his head, and crumpled it to the floor. I wasn’t deterred. A few more notes were passed up, all with the same fate. There was no doubt. Naked City was not being played.

Not long after the “Naked City” campaign, Paul began playing the acoustic guitar intro to “Rock Bottom.” The live version always has the same routine: Intro is played, there’s a couple of seconds of silence, and then Paul shouts “HIT IT!” the band following with hard rock drums and guitars.

This time though, there was an interruption.

Paul began playing his acoustic intro. Bruce Kulick joined him with his acoustic guitar. Then, when the acoustic intro silenced, an angry fan shouted:

NAKED FUCKING CITY!!!

Gene smiled.

Paul, not distracted, shouted “HIT IT!” and the band played on.

Leveraging our VIP passes, I was able to get side-stage for a few songs, able to see the band only a few feet away. There were a couple of other VIPs there with us, one being a super groupie. She was a heavy set woman, appearing to be in her mid-30s, with bouffant black hair and bright red lipstick. I was curious, so I asked about her history. She said her relationship with Gene began back in 1983, during the “Lick It Up” tour at a show in Texas, where she used to live. She caught his eye and he teased her by flicking guitar picks into her hair. After that he saw her anytime he was in her town.

When the performance ended the band stood on stage and began signing stuff handed to them by the fans. I’d even brought my own poster to be signed by Gene and Paul.

While Gene was signing autographs I shouted to him “Gene, are we doing the interview later?”

Avoiding eye contact, and still signing memorabilia, he said “I don’t know Cyrus. We don’t have much time left and there’s a lot of fans here right now.”

Feeling a bit miffed I found Tommy. I had a chance to see him earlier in the day as well, so he knew it was me. He was an incredibly nice guy during the whole time I interacted with him. I asked if I could see Gene and Paul onstage. Without hesitation he said “Sure! Of course! Follow me.” Once onstage, Tommy introduced me.

“Gene, this is Cyrus. He does the Washington State KISS Konnection” fanzine.

Gene looked surprised and a little annoyed. He sounded apologetic for not doing an interview with me, explaining that they had things planned after the show. We then posed and took a photo together. Tommy then introduced me to Paul, showing him my fanzine. Paul said “Oh, cool!” and took a photo with me as well.

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Me & Gene. More shutter-speed butchery.

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Me & Paul.

Later that year KISS ended up performing with founding member Peter Criss at one of the convention shows. This would eventually lead to a highly successful MTV Unplugged performance, reuniting the original band for the first time in 16 years. The following year the original line-up came together and went on their 1996 “Alive/ Worldwide” tour and broke concert tour sales records. With their renewed popularity Gene dissolved “KISS Central” as an intermediary for KISS and the fanzines. It would be the last time I had any involvement with them for nearly 15 years until, in 2009, I contributed to their book “KISS Army Worldwide!: The Ultimate Fanzine Phenomenon.”

The time I spent running a KISS fanzine was a wonderful chapter of my life. It afforded me the ability to interact with the band as well as a wide variety of other KISS fans, including fellow fanzine publishers and subscribers.  Before the fanzine I wouldn’t have imagined I’d have the opportunity to talk with Gene multiple times (let alone take a photo with him sticking our tongues out together). Gene keeps every iota of KISS memorabilia ever produced. He has cavernous rooms in his house dedicated to KISS collectables. He even has a seperate room just for officially licensed Hello Kitty KISS figures. I’d like to think that, when he was reviewing the final proof copy of “KISS Army Worldwide!: The Ultimate Fanzine Phenomenon,” he gave a cursory glance of my entry and thought “Oh yeah… Cyrus.”

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