I must have been about 11 years old when I was first exposed to the rock group Kiss, but I was a big fan even before I heard any of their music. It must have been the album cover of their live album which was the band’s first big commercial success. Looking at the smoke, lights, guitars, costumes, and make up these guys seemed to epitomize COOL.
Aerosmith’s song “Walk This Way” off their new “Toys in the Attic” album was getting played on the radio quite a bit. Some words that song, “Started with a little kiss like this. . .” made me think that song was a song by Kiss, but of course it wasn’t. I had no idea what Kiss even sounded like, but that didn’t matter to me. Whatever they sounded like, I loved it. Why? Because they represented everything wrong: sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
Maybe it was my birthday or maybe it was Christmas, I really don’t remember, but all I really wanted was that Kiss album. When I got it I was hooked. I played it over and over while I jumped around playing my air guitar and imaginary drums set. I was soon reading everything I could about the band. My new obsession would last for years, and it wasn’t long before I had every album the band produced. Best of allm it really freaked out the adults in my life.
I was growing up in an incredible time of music history. The older I became I started following other bands and as I did I started realizing that Kiss really wasn’t all that good. However, what Kiss lacked in talent and musicianship, they made up for by marketing themselves to young rebellious children like myself. I’m not sure it was the music that attracted me, but I did like it and I still do but in smaller portions. What I liked about Kiss is what they represented: rebellion. I was fertile ground for their message.
Blake and my younger brother Jim
I was still in elementary school when I started smoking, drinking, and smoking pot. I had three older step brothers who all smoked and did drugs. But it was the youngest one, Blake, that would have the most influence on me. Blake and I were not buddies. He was very mean to me. But he was tough, had long hair, and he did his own thing.
Blake must have been about 14 at the time which was old enough to get a job corn detasseling and he would buy large amounts of pot with his pay check. Blake insisted that I tried some. I wasn’t exactly in any position to say no. Like I said, he was mean. He was the one to show me how to make a pipe out of a beer can and some aluminum foil, He also showed me how to smoke the resin when supplies ran low. Me and Blake didn’t like each other, but that didn’t stop me from doing my very best to be like him.
Blake had a ton of albums that he would crank up really loud after when the adults were gone, and they were gone alot. Blake didn’t like Kiss, but he showed me the way to a whole lot of other groups that I would grow to really appreciate.
Blake played Ted Nugent more than anybody else. Stranglehold must have been played ever day for months. He also had the album “Free for all” that was played just as much. At first I didn’t like these albums, but I grew to really appreciated Ted Nugent and I would have a good supply of his albums.
Blake also turned me on Lynard Skynard which I would really grow to love in the next couple of years.
Then there was Rush & Bob Segar. Blake would wake up the neighborhood with his music. These were still the early days of Rock and Roll and I grew in my appreciation of all the bands that Blake exposed me to.
Music paved the way to my smoking and drinking days. My step father drank beer all the time. We used to have to me carry the cases in from the car and for a boy that age, that was a task. With all that beer, it didn’t take us kids long to figure out that he can’t keep track of all that beer. Naturally, I would sneak some and take to with me to school to share with a friend of mine.
One day we got caught with the beer at school. I remember the principle calling me into his office and telling me that they had to call over to the Jr. High School to find out how to punish the crime since this was a first for the elementary school.
The family started to unravel around this point. My step-sister Lisa became pregnant and her father kicked her out of the house. The oldest boy, Brent, started showing signs of schizophrenia and he couldn’t make up his mind if he was the devil or the Christ. He eventually was put in the hospital where he stayed for years.
One night I was playing cards by myself at the kitchen table when my step-father came in for no apparent reason and started throwing me all over the kitchen while he punched me and kicked me. He was always a mean man, and so this wasn’t all that uncharacteristic. Afterall, I used to measure how much I was growing by the dent he put in the wall by shoving my head into it. But every other time, I had done something wrong. This time it was unprovoked.
Mom loaded up me and my brother and we went to live in Rock Island in the apartment above my grandparents house. For just a little while it was happier times. I renewed a friendship with a boy named Albert that I knew back when I first started school. He was a big Kiss fan too. We both got together on a regular basis and put on Kiss make up and walked around town. Albert was always Gene Simmons and I was always Peter Criss. Albert didn’t have the family difficulties I had so he was able to have some fun things for us to do. Albert had long hair and a very long tongue just like Gene Simmons. The two would stay friends even though I was always moving around. Unlike other rock stars, Kiss marked themselves through fan clubs and the sale of all sorts of merchandise and gimmicks. We both decorated our rooms with Kiss memorabilia and so forth which went on for several years even as I was moved all around.
Mom went back to my step-father and my family life really started getting bad. Just before I started into Jr. High School, I ran away with a boy. We took his father’s pistol, some pot and a pipe Blake left laying around and we started walking up to the county park where we figured we could live off the land.
We were both caught to by the Eldridge police which was my first encounter with a police department I would come to know well. Our family moved right after I started Jr. High School to Eldridge.
Mom had a friend named Lynn who took an interest in me and somehow managed to get me into the Knights Drum and Bugle Corps over in Geneseo. Lynn was the only one who encouraged me in my musical interest. She would show me stuff on the drums. I ran into many years later and told her how much that meant to me which she had no idea.
It was short lived. I got into trouble and got kicked out of the house before the summer competitions began. My brother and I stayed home from school one day and stole the family station wagon which was going to be Blake’s car. We drove into Davenport and as we were heading home I got nervous on a gravel road and went into the ditch which pretty well wrecked the car.
This point in my life gets all scrambled up in my mind. I was always in trouble. I was kicked off the school bus so often that they made it permanent. My sister Celia did not like my playing music so loud and one day we got into an awful fight. There was blood everywhere by the time our parents got home. I didn’t understand all that Celia was going through at the time. She was started to show signs of Schizophrenia herself, but I didn’t know it then. All I knew was she was always trying to bully me around and I resented it. I was getting older and I really didn’t like being ordered around by a girl. I was also constantly in trouble at school. My days of living with my mother were about over.
My father’s brother, Jerry, wanted to give me a chance since nobody seemed to want me. So I lived with Jerry and his wife Sally for little while. He didn’t know what he was in for. He tried, but I was too far gone. Now I was seeking out drugs and glamorized them. My Uncle Tom and cousin George were fellow smokers. I just think I took it to a new level.
I wasn’t doing the hard stuff at this point, but I was willing, as this picture on the left shows. I would be using intravenous drugs for a few years to come, but even at that time I was willing. It wouldn’t be long before I would come across the people to show me how.
By the time I went to live with Jerry and Sally, I had accumulated all sorts of albums. However, when I left mom’s house, I didn’t get to grab all the albums I had. I had every Kiss album that had been produced at the time. I believe Kiss Alive II was the last album I bought of theirs.
I stopped following the band at this point for several reasons. They next album started sounding more like disco than rock and roll. Peter Criss left the band and he was my favorite. Plus, I was now following much better bands like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith were getting more of my attention now.
Things didn’t work out at Jerry and Sally’s house. I think they tried, but I was always in trouble at school because I just wasn’t fitting it. One day I slit my wrist with a razor blade, it wasn’t a suicide attempt, it was just stupidity. I had to get stitches and when mom found out what I did, she blamed the influence of Kiss. So she destroyed all me albums and I’ve never re-bought any of them.
The slicing of my wrist didn’t have anything to do with Kiss. I was past that stage of my life by that time. However, Kiss did have horrible influence on my life, but they were far from the only ones. I seemed destined to follow a long dark road throughout my young life. I was an alcoholic and drug addict at a very young point in life, but I also turned it around at a younger point than most. I was was just twenty two when I quit the smoking, drinking, and drug use.
I look at music much different now. Now I am even able to play and make up my own. I like to read about bands like Kiss to hear their perspective as they rose to fame. I love to learn the guitar riffs and play around with the melodies. I didn’t start playing guitar until my mid-forties. I dabble at the drums and keyboard too. I may never be professional, but I have to wonder how things could have been a bit different if I could have discovered making music earlier instead of the rebellious side of it.
If you’ve taken the time to read this, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of your memories? How has music influenced your life? What kind of music do you like and why?