Interview – Transcript
James Campion, author of Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon
Brian McCollum /Detroit Free Press – October, 20, 2015
Brian McCollum: Hey, James. Really great to speak with you. Just read the book and enjoyed it. It was personally resonant to me because not only do I write about music in Detroit, but I’m from Charlotte and I worked at the Observer. You wrote about your time spent researching this mystery behind the song “Detroit Rock City” and working with people from that paper like Marie David. I’m not positive… when would this have been, when you were dealing with her?
James Campion: Last year. 2013 into… I pushed it as far as I can go – I think I sent the final version of the manuscript in February, so I want to say through last holidays into the beginning of 2015, yeah.
Did you ever meet her? I may have known her. Is she young? Because I was at the Observer in the early 90s, so it’s been awhile.
She did not sound too young, but I did not meet her and I’m bad at guessing ages even when I am in the same room with someone. We spoke mainly on the phone and through email. The only people I met were the people at the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, they were very nice. I flew down there last October. My parents live there. They’ve been down there since the 80s. I stayed with them for a couple of days and they drove me over to the state building at the capitol and I spent probably a whole afternoon and another morning going through microfiche and any other archived material from 1975 trying to find some semblance of a story that might have… my hope was to find the actual story that Paul Stanley might have been reading on an accident he cites as the inspiration for his song, “Detroit Rock City”, that was the dream. I thought for sure I’d stumble across this thing, “Teen dies on the way to KISS concert,” and Paul goes, “Oh, I’m gonna’ write this song,” They’ll have the name in the article and that will be a great ending to my book, which became Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon. But it eluded me, and I was able to… as you said, you read it… I pulled up about six or eight names that it could have been based on age and proximity to those concerts, the dates – a couple of people that worked for the band helped me by saying “It wasn’t ‘75 it was ‘74.” I went back in… it was quite a run. Everybody was so helpful, Marie specifically, she went back in twice for me and got me everything relevant.
Gosh, where to even start? It’s a complicated… it almost seems it became this obsessive quest for you in a sense to track down this teeny nugget of information that’s kind of been lost to time in a lot of ways. Let me start with this… What is your sense of how well known this anecdote was in the first place? I guess the KISS die-hards would know this, this idea that “Detroit Rock City” was actually inspired by an incident somewhere down South. Did you get a sense of fairly conventional wisdom? Because it was news to my editor.
Yes it is. Let’s put it this way; KISS fans are nuts. I just did a podcast with a great gentlemen who does all of this KISS FAQ sites since the late ‘90s and has several books he has self-published. (Julian Gill), and we just did a podcast for an hour and he asked me the greatest minutiae questions, and I enjoyed it but you’d be amazed at the details these people absorb. I read everything that was ever written about KISS. There’s not as much as you would think, considering KISS’s popularity and impact on pop culture, even today, which was one of the motivations to do the book in the first place, but it hasn’t stopped KISS fans from filling the Internet with tons of minutia about the band and its history. When signed on with my publisher, Backbeat Books, they thought dissecting KISS and their seminal album, Destroyer was a great idea, because most KISS books are just about the makeup and merchandising, the salacious stuff. There are a couple of books where more is covered. The first place OI saw the quote was in Ken Sharp and David Leaf’s authorized biography of KISS, called Behind The Mask in 1996 when the band got back together for the reunion tour. There’s an entire quote there where Paul says, “I got the idea from this story that I heard… about a KISS fan driving to the show and loses his life… he was driving to someplace where people are celebrating life and he loses it, and that really affected me.” Something like that. I’m paraphrasing, of course. The actual quote is in my book as well. He mentions Charlotte specifically. I should say I interviewed Paul in 2006 and he told me that it was down South. I interviewed him for an unrelated thing, a solo album he was doing then in 2006, but I was always fascinated by Destroyer and that song so I asked about it.
And then if you go online and really dig deep, like on Facebook and other places, there are people actually arguing about where it was… Ashville or Fayetteville North Carolina, Charlotte, towns around there – there is one place the woman was swearing to me, I can’t remember the town now… I wish I had the book in front of me…that the accident occurred in Fayetteville Then people from Detroit started saying no, because it’s “Detroit Rock City”, after all, why didn’t he just write “Charlotte Rock City”? Well, Charlotte is not really a rock city, per se… I think Paul really wanted to have a tribute to Detroit, because of what Detroit meant to bands like KISS and Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. The Big 8 that used to broadcast out of Canada that really dominated Michigan and that whole area there… to Ohio, etc, and how bands really… raw bands…were accepted unequivocally, and what Cream Magazine did for those bands. I think there is something iconic, the fact they recorded their best material for Alive at Cobo Hall, all of that stuff led Paul to write about Detroit, but the incident apparently happened in the South.
Then, finally, author Jeff Suhs, who wrote a book about KISS back in the ‘90s (KISS Alive Forever) as well, he had gotten some key info from KISS’s 1974 road manager (Peter “Moose” Oreckinto when he and I were going back and forth, because I tried to get everybody’s input. Moose told Suhs he remembers hearing, not reading, about someone dying going to a concert either in Charlotte or one of the three or four cities they were in down South, so…
This was your interview with the road manager?
It was actually my discussion with Jeff Suhs, the author who had gotten that information from the road manager, the only thing the road manager said – and I was going to quote him, but this is toward the very end when the manuscript had to be in – “Look, I don’t remember anything about it, I just know I heard it. I heard about it at that point in the tour when we were down South, that someone had died driving to the concert.”
Right. Is he deceased now himself, the road manager?
No, he’s still alive. This was a recent discussion, late last year, early 2015.
Yeah, which again I’ve read, your book is just so packed with details you almost need a road map.
It’s a detective story, yeah.
Quite a mission you went on. Okay, back to my original question. It sounds like this is kind of a known thing among the real die-hard, “trainspotter” type KISS fans, but it’s not something the average joe rock fan in Detroit is going to know about, this idea that the song was inspired by someone else.
Right, or that it was inspired by a real event, because it comes on very much… I mean the record opens up with the announcement on the radio they did with the binaural recording with the radio announcing that a young man died on the way to a concert or whatever, and you hear the guy get in the car and start it up and plays “Rock and Roll All Nite” and he’s singing along on the way to the concert, and then the song starts and all of the lyrics there. It features that great middle section that Bob Ezrin ended up writing for the band that sounds almost like an aria. It’s a great rock song, but it’s also a beautiful sort of operatic melancholy tribute to no matter how young you are or how invincible you feel by rock music, there is always mortality involved, you know? And that kind of song is replete in rock history, whether it’s “Leader of the Pack” or “Wreck on the Highway”…many of them.
Yeah, Jan and Dean… Yeah. Absolutely. What was “The First Kiss”, right? The song Pearl Jam remade a few years back. Yeah absolutely.
I should say this, producer Bob Ezrin admitted to me a mistake in the lyrics. The original lyric is “I’m speeding down 95” or something. They meant to say 75, since 95 is in New York and New Jersey, going up the East Coast and they were all New Yorkers. They ended up changing it on the lyrics sheet to “We’re doing 95,” which means the driver is going 95 mph. But they meant speeding down 95, when they meant 75. So that was an interesting little tidbit I learned from interviewing Bob Ezrin for the book, that they had to end up changing that in the lyrics sheet because they got the geography wrong.
Right, right. Yeah, I didn’t know that either actually. When I read that in your book, I was sitting there scratching my head like, “Well how has my brain always heard this?” I had never even picked up on that, that they might have meant 75 here. Maybe I just, all these years, interpreted it as the speed and not the highway. But yeah, really interesting. So yeah, to dig into the story, you had gotten wind of this, or you knew of Paul Stanley’s story here, this brief backstory of the genesis of the song, which sent you… I mean why did you feel it was so important to dig up, to try and find this original incident down South? What really drove you?
It was twofold. The first is that I’m writing a 300-plus page book on a single album, and that album’s initial song, which aside from the hit “Beth” and I guess “Shout It Out Loud”, is one of the top three songs, certainly on the album, as far as popularity in the KISS canon goes. But also it was my favorite KISS song. It was my favorite rock song, one of my favorite rock songs of the 70s. I love the opening, I love the car crash at the end, I love the middle section with the guitar solos and the harmonies; so it’s always been sort of interesting to me and I’ve always wanted to know its origins… and then when I found out it was a true story, I thought to myself, “Would any journalist or author worth his salt ignore this?” I mean, three years of my life, 300-plus pages, come on! Find out who this kid is. People talk about it as if it’s a thing, but they’ve never had a name. There was some point, I think I write about it in the afterword, I was almost convinced for about a week that Paul Stanley made it up. Because Gene and Paul make stuff up all the time, that’s the KISS thing right? Make it up, it’s a cool story. But it really did, I’m convinced it really did happen. But there was no report, and even if there was a report I’d think to myself, “In 1974, would anyone really give a shit if KISS was playing a concert in the South or really anywhere?” I mean, if someone died on the way to an Elvis Presley concert, sure. Yeah, I get that. A Paul McCartney concert, maybe, but KISS was still kind of coming up, so even if this person died going there I don’t know if that would have been put in the police report or the newspaper report that they were on the way to a concert, much less a KISS concert, so that kind of made me keep going.
The second part of it is that I really think I was always intrigued by the song and the album, enough to embark on this project, for sure. I just wanted to know. I was in the final weeks of getting the manuscript done and I said, “You know, let me just go full bore as a detective…” And once people started to help me, they got excited. People in the archives departments of all these newspapers and the people at the state archives in Raleigh were rummaging… “Let us try this. What about that?” It was great! Different police guys were saying, “Well we wouldn’t have reports of that, but why don’t you try this?” So almost everybody I talked to was kind of excited by the whole search, so that kept me going, kept me motivated.
You’d also made the point in the book… You said you did have that one moment you were convinced Paul had just made it up, and then you realized why make up… If you’re going to make it up, say it was in Detroit to begin with? Why throw Charlotte into the mix? It’s almost random. He’s writing a song about Detroit. If you’re going to invent an anecdote, just say it happened in Detroit.
I went to Israel in 1996 to do research for a book I was working on around the historical Jesus (Trailing Jesus), from the standpoint of a journalist going there and trying to figure out when these incidents could have happened and how… it was always an interest of mine, like Destroyer. One of the things I noticed, that a lot of the Jesus scholarly approaches, people outside the canonical biblical stuff, they would say there were certain sayings attributed to Jesus that makes no sense, in another words if you’re going to make up a figure that’s supposed to represent God or be the Messiah, why would he ever say “Love your enemy?” That makes no sense. If you’re going to write something, and as a writer, I understand the argument that such a statement would be considered completely antithetical to the concepts of Christianity or First Century Judaism… so biblical scholars consider that statement an authentic piece of evidence to the historical Jesus, something not made up for the purposes of starting a religion or creating a myth. And that’s how I feel about Paul’s use of Detroit as opposed to mentioning being inspired by events happening in the South. I think that was the touchstone for me. Why would Paul say Charlotte? Why not say Detroit? It’s so much cooler. It’s a great rock town. It’s a car town. Everything about it just begs to put the song in Detroit, which he in fact did! Right there, I said to myself, “That must have happened, or at least he thinks it happened.” But then when the road manager kind of confirmed it through this writer Jeff Suhs, he just said “Here’s a little tidbit, I just talked to Moose and he says, it was ‘74. I don’t remember if it was a guy or a girl or a car accident or a motorcycle, I don’t remember what arena we were at, but I do remember hearing about it and me and Paul talking about it very briefly, and how Paul was affected by it.” Of course you would be, it reminded me of the stampede in Cincinnati at The Who concert, those guys were forever changed by that.
And the story that these guys were hearing was that it was an accident after the concert, right? The kid or kids on their way home from the show.
Yeah, I believe that’s true. That’s as far as I got. The song portends or eulogizes or whatever word you want to use… legendizes… the idea that the kid is speeding on the way to “the midnight show”, smoking and drinking and driving fast, singing along to the songs of the band he is going to see, very romantic in a doomed sense, which again, was perfect for ‘70s music, because that was that period where the ‘60s had kind of died and this whole peace and love and we’re gonna change the world with rock music… this was a new era to find out what that was all about; “How we can reveal the realities of life” through song. And not that KISS dealt with that much, which is one of the reasons I love that song too, and how the album Destroyer changed what KISS was about. Because normally they would just write about sex and drinking or whatever, yet here was a situation where they were writing about mortality and about how a lot of their fans think they’re invincible, but, as we know, they’re not, none of us are, and that’s always hovering over the idea of being a rebellious character. I was always fascinated by that kind of theme to the song, you know?
You know, certainly, simply because of the title alone of course, it’s been kind of adopted as something of an anthem here in Detroit. The phrase “Detroit Rock City” has really entered the lexicon as a nickname. Maybe not quite on par with Motown, but it’s something you hear pretty regularly and in a lot of different contexts up here.
Right. I read a book called Detroit Rock City last year that I reviewed it for The Aquarian, where I’m a contributing editor here in Jersey. I think the guy’s name is Steve Miller, I don’t think it’s the same Steve Miller…
Yeah, no relation.
Right, fantastic book. And it was something important that I wanted to read, having written a book about KISS in the ‘70s and rock music and I quote Lester Bangs in the book and how much Cream magazine meant to the band, everything Detroit was about. So yeah. I mean it truly is the rock city, it’s where rock and roll became rock, that heavy MC-5; it’s where Alice Cooper went; it’s where KISS had to go when people were just booing them off stages. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, obviously, working in Detroit and writing about music, but it’s a huge part of the pantheon and an undercurrent to my book. Obviously it’s an excellent subject for a song and it has survived all of these years. It’s funny, when I was finishing up the book and I was writing the final chapter, it was last year, and the opening night of the NFL season was Giants – Lions, and as they came out of the break they were playing “Detroit Rock City” so it was still very much relevant.
Of course, it became transmogrified into a film version (Detroit Rock City), Detroit is like the Emerald City of… guys on their journey to get here…
And it’s well-earned. It’s one of those things that’s well earned and not just thrown on for effect or tourism. Detroit is the rock city of America. It is also famous, obviously in the ‘60s, for Motown, and what that meant… but there is something… there’s a real serious… I’ve often said many times that England is given credit on a glamour or pop culture sense for punk music, but punk music was invented in The Bowery in Manhattan, and so was hip-hop in the Bronx, and disco in many ways in Hollywood, but also in New York. Hard rock, American hard rock… if it wasn’t invented in Detroit, it certainly gave it a place to gestate and explode. Even bands like Black Sabbath would go there for a respite, to really get a feel for where they were in the American idiom. They weren’t accepted that way in New York or Los Angeles, but they certainly were in Detroit, so that’s an earned moniker, Detroit Rock City, for sure.
Of course, when it was all said and done, your quest did not turn up… the story does not have a nice-pat ending. You got this handful of names, candidates I guess, of accident victims who could have been the story they heard. How confident are you that one of these names is the story really was the story they wound up hearing?
Well, they’re the only ones I can honestly tell you… the only ones that were in print over any of those periods and ones that ended up in Shout It Out Loud. I went through every KISS concert in those areas for that period of time, and those are the only accidents on record. It’s interesting because over the Thanksgiving weekend in ‘74 that they were in that swath of shows in the South that there was a spate of accidents. There were a lot. It became a story, almost in every paper, there was an eight-piece story about how an extended amount of accidents for some reason during that holiday.
This is why I’m so glad you’re doing this article, and I just mentioned this on the podcast (KISS FAQ with Julian Gil) and I was telling Julian, “If someone out there, because I know they are out there” – ‘My cousin… my friend knew a guy…’” I tried the Internet, I tried to go on the blogs for KISS, I asked, I threw it out there to the fandom, got all of these different things… “I don’t know the name, but it was a guy, he was 25, and he was coming from…”, but nobody really gave me an actual name or place, so I couldn’t put much of those back-and-forths in the book… but I got the feeling that it’s out there and somebody knows it and they are fairly confident of it. So it would be great if you put this thing out and it made its way around the Internet and somebody saw it and said, “Wait a minute, I’ve got it!” And we can corroborate and we can see if it is true. I was going to get… I just wanted to make certain so I don’t leave you without being certain, because I want to grab the book right now…
I think the town that kept coming up is Fayetteville, North Carolina. Okay. Here it is. Yes. That’s the one. If you type that into Google or you go on Facebook, you’ll find people that mention Fayetteville faithfully. I was told during my search, and I don’t remember who told me… I think it was… You have to remember it was 40 years ago now, next year it will be 40 years since Destroyer came out… that somewhere in the ‘90s, when it was the 30th anniversary of the thing… whatever the hell it was, the 20th… Fayetteville was really the epicenter for this rumor… there was a huge swell… there was a record store there that had a picture of the kid, or a name, or RIP, or something… of course it’s gone now. Fayetteville was the one place everything sort of comes back to. Outside of Paul’s Charlotte comment, which remember, he only says Charlotte once, he said that in Behind the Mask… He told me, “the South.” I thought it was ‘75 during the Dressed to Kill tour, and I really exhausted myself there, until I got that tidbit from Moose, through Jeff Suhs, who was not with the band in ‘75, he had injured himself and was not able to… he blew part of his hand off with their crude pyrotechnics and was unable to continue… and so he would not have been with the band after that initial ‘74 tour. In my mind, it would have had to have been then, and Fayetteville seems to be the place that everybody…
Yeah I mean especially with what you just said about the 20th anniversary stuff, you would think… Here’s a possible lead I can chase. I actually dated a girl in Fayetteville who I’m still very close to… who grew up there during that time period and was very much part of the teenage rock and roll world there. So I’ll pick her brain, actually, and see if she can put some feelers out. She may at least know somebody who knows. I’ll try that route, actually, after we hang up.
Oh that would be great. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve been taking…
I may get roped into this as much as you were, if I’m not careful. My own obsessive tendencies will have me hooked on this detective history.
Well that’s why we’re journalists, or like to write about stuff. This is eminently fascinating, it does have a sort of American pop culture aspect to it, it is 40 years ago now, plus KISS has a lot of mysteries behind it where they just make up stories for fun. That was the hardest part about writing the book was getting through all of the treacle and the impenetrable KISS facade. That’s one of the reasons why… even though I really attempted to get their quotes down, you know, Peter and Ace were writing memoirs and I got a lot of deflection from Paul and Gene, but I decided to just quote them from the period to keep them in the period, and I interviewed all of the people around the making of the album because their perspectives were very sober, they seemed very excited to talk about it. Mainly because they’re not inundated all of the time talking about KISS, this was a chance for them to come out of the shadows of this hug thing called KIS, you know?
I just wanted to let you know for the last ten minutes or so I have been taping what you and I were talking about because you’ve excited me to try and go back in and rediscover some of this stuff, so by talking to you it’s almost like I’m remembering some of the things, and so it will just be for me to review, if you don’t mind.
Yeah sure, no problem. Yeah, you’re right. A lot of the band’s mythology is just
stuff these guys have just made up. Gene and Paul are such great marketing brains. And they know how to sort of have fun with the press, and I’m sure a lot of stuff… Yeah as you said, going back to those contemporaries, you know the stuff they would have said at that time I would think should be fairly reliable, you would assume.
Because for the most part they were still nobodies.
Right, exactly, that’s what I mean. What motivation would they really have had to… fake it in that particular way?
There’s still bravado there, but it was almost a desperate bravado. Now you get this stuff from them about the early days “We knew it was good.” No, they didn’t! They were scared shitless, and they ran to Bob Ezrin and said, “Please help us, our studio albums are awful, they sound like shit, it takes us two weeks to record them, we had to record a live album but 75% of it isn’t even live.” And this is the argument I make in the book, and I know it’s dangerous because KISS fans are very possessive, but I’m very hard on them with the early stuff because I think it’s true, I don’t think they really reached their potential until Destroyer. And unfortunately they never repeated what they did on that record. They went back to recording balls-out songs about sex and everything after that… But on Destroyer you’ve got everything from Greek mythology to sadomasochism to torch songs to beseeching, you’ve got introspection on death. This stuff is not in any other KISS record.
Did you try and get the guys in the band for this?
Yeah, like I’ve mentioned they cold-shouldered me. When I was working on the book furiously, I was deep in it, talking to the engineers and designers and talking to the guy who painted the cover, Ken Kelly… I kept sending out feelers. I know some people who work for Ace Frehley, he was writing his memoir at the time I was working on the book, now I understand they tell me he’s writing another one… Peter Criss, who lives about 30 miles from me, was writing his memoir and he was going through the breast cancer thing… Gene and Paul are just… unless they’re promoting something or they own it or they can make money on it, they just don’t want to know. And I understand that. I’m working on a Warren Zevon thing right now, because I love Warren and I think he deserves a book, and I’m working on that with the same publisher (Backbeat Books), and I’m getting a lot of blowback from people around the family and I’m thinking, “What am I doing exactly?” I’m trying to give him his just desserts. They want to get him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The guy’s been dead for 12 years, he hasn’t been famous for about 30… It’s the strangest thing when people sort of hold you off. I understand I’m kind of making some money I guess you could say, or whatever, off of the legacy of KISS, but you’re not allowed to write history books about rock music? It’s crazy. Without everybody having their hands in your pockets… So they kind of stonewalled me here and there. I was discussing this with a good friend of mine who works for Rutgers University, he works in the archives department, he’s a library scientist and he went to school for history. He said “Look, if you’re going to be a real historian, and this sounds like a history book, you can’t be talking to people 40 years after the fact, they don’t remember. They say things, they make it up, the fish is always bigger that they caught, you know. You gotta’ go back to the magazine articles and the interviews and you gotta’ get their comments then because that will take the person back.” And he was right, because I really do think that’s the best part of the book.
Oh I agree, absolutely. And sorry to hear that about the Warren Zevon people. It’s weird sometimes, after these celebrity deaths. The family dynamics get really bizarre and people get really possessive and protective and God knows what agendas each…
…and sibling and daughter and whoever had, so…
Yeah, I didn’t expect that from them, so far. But I’m just beginning and I’m hearing it from people close to them, so I don’t know. I hold out hope for the project. I got to know Zevon’s ex-wife after she wrote the book about him a couple of years after he died and she was always very friendly. Anyway, I don’t want to get into that project, but there is a bit of the overly protective when it comes to celebrity profiles or histories… And I’ve said, I’ll send you the essays I’m working on, and the research I’ve done, I’ve had a couple of his really close friends, his stage managers contact me… It’s still happening, so I don’t want to completely whitewash it… but I’m always stunned when it comes to that. You would think you would want more stuff out there. I understand if they think it’s shit… But the other thing is that I had no interest during the writing of this book of getting the approval of KISS, none at all. I did not want to kiss any of their asses, no pun intended. I tried to write a history book. I tried to write the best I could about this album I loved. I thought it was underrated and needed a plug, and then I got caught up in it and I realized how fascinating it was. It’s so cool we’re talking about this particular story, because I was hoping, really, a dark macabre part of me was hoping that somebody would write about this or it would get it out in the ether and I would get the answers I need. I don’t even care if it didn’t make it into the book. Of course, I was torn… “Watch, a week after the book goes to press, someone calls me with proof!” I don’t even care anymore, I just want to know.
Right. And there’s always the chance of a second edition or whatever, or a re-print, or whatever they call it in the publishing world.
Well, I guess if you throw something against the wall… This is not the same thing in any way, shape, or form… I’m always amazed when there’s a missing person… especially a kid, God forbid, or something, and the parents get on TV, and I think to myself, “If my kid was missing, I wouldn’t be able to get out of a room, you’d have to peel me off the ground with a shovel.” But I understand the reason they go out there is because once it’s out there, now you’ve got thousands and thousands of people on the case, people who are looking and wondering and seeing who looks suspicious… so to have articles, to have the book out there and have people go, “Wait a minute, this guy’s wrong, it was this.” Good. Good. I hope that happens. I want to get to the bottom of this, for no other reason but it’s just haunted me, it really has.
Was it frustrating… sorry my computer is screwing up again… there we go… temporary glitch… Was it kind of disappointing, you said it was toward the end of the manuscript, this final rush to get this name; was it disappointing to not have nailed it down, or do you feel it made the book better in some sense to leave the mystery still dangling… just speaking as a writer, was it frustrating?
Yeah. I’ll go with the latter, because it sounds better. Sure, it’s nice to have the mystery still floating around, and I’m sure it was nice to at least put some names out there. I think I was right to do it. I battled with it because I don’t want these poor people who died, and I know it was a long time ago, to be some sort of afterthought in some rock song, or in some book, just to get people talking. But I also thought if Paul was going to write a tribute to someone, I think he genuinely wanted to write a tribute to one of the fans, a fan who died, then I think if he could have put the name in there, if he could have remembered it, I think he would have. I asked a couple of people who knew Paul, and they told me this. Because I said, let me at least get Paul back, because I interviewed him years before, and they said, “He doesn’t know any name. And he probably didn’t read about it. He heard it and was inspired to write this tribute.” It was one of those things… any songwriter, floats in, you go, “Holy shit, that happened? I gotta write about it.” To his credit, he did a really nice job of it, and Bob Ezrin made it into a true rock aria. But to me, as a writer, I was, and I say I use the word haunted… I am haunted by the name and that moment, because I can’t get out of my mind in a weird sort of way… because I do dig drama and as an avid reader I do look back and say, “I can imagine this kid in a car driving, maybe having a joint, maybe he was distracted, maybe he was in a fight with his girlfriend, maybe he was just tired driving 60 miles to see his favorite band and he rolls the car…” And there but for the grace of God go I, you know? How many times have I had one too many or drove too rapidly or was screwing around, distracted and BAM!
I lost a friend of mine in high school, Sheldon Broner, and wrote a piece about him years ago for some compendium (In Our Own Words). They asked me to write about my generation, which is kind of a lost… I was born in ’62, so I’m at the butt end of the Boomers, but I’m not really a Boomer, because to me a Boomer would be somebody who got naked at Woodstock or protested the Vietnam War, I was seven years old in ‘69, six years old that summer, so I don’t really fit there and I’m not really a Gen-X’er, so I’m kind of in the middle… I remember the Toure book about Prince (I Would Die For You), and he named the generation, I can’t remember what he said… So there’s a part of me that kind of feels like it’s a tribute to Sheldon in a way because when I wrote about him it was all about him dying in 1979 and… look at all of the things he’s missed! And even when I wrote that piece in 1998 or ‘99, it was towards the end of the millennium… we didn’t even have half of what we have now. Tweeting, smart phones, social media… the world is completely different, never mind how different it was in the ‘80s and all of the stuff he missed. So I kind of feel that way, this kid who died on the way to the KISS concert was my age or a little older, and he never got a chance to live his life, so all of that stuff haunts me in a way and I would have liked to at least get the name out there so it kind of finished Paul’s work in a way, in an artistic sense.
I get what you’re saying about that sensitivity of… the battle of do I do it, do I publish these names or not? But you know, it was a long a time ago, and frankly whoever this actual individual was… they were a KISS fan. I can’t imagine they would have a problem with being the guy who inspired one of the band’s big songs.
Right. But if you have six or eight or twelve names, because it’s almost like… you know, when they were trying to figure out who the Boston Strangler was, there were several names. Even to this day, for instance Jack the Ripper: There are history books that they say “This guy was Jack the Ripper.” What if he’s not Jack the Ripper? Then it’s horrible, it’s in a book! So if I had the one name, yeah, but the fact that I put names in there that might have been Joe Schmo going to get a carton of milk and he finds himself in a KISS book… maybe he would be flattered or humbled to be in any kind of book… but then there’s another part of me that feels… Am I exploiting that? It’s a small part of it because I think in the end journalism kind of wills out… You’re writing a book and you need to get to the bottom of it and I feel like that was a big part of what made that album, certainly that song mystical, so how could I not at least try?
Right. Yeah, and those kinds of things are just a gut call, you really have to think… “Alright, it has been four decades.” If you were talking about people who died five years ago, it just feels different, you know what I mean? And that’s just the reality of it, for better or worse, you know.
Right. You can joke about the Kennedy assassination now, but you couldn’t do it in 1965.
Yeah, same school of thought I guess. So, I’m just kind of scrolling through to see if there are any quick questions to snag you on.
And you can e-mail me too, you have me e-mail if something pops up tomorrow when you’re working on the piece or whatever.
Yeah, why don’t we reconnect, let me kind of absorb what I’ve got here so far and figure out when we’re gonna run the story, I’m guessing maybe this Sunday, so I will keep you posted. But yeah I definitely plan on touching base with you again. I also like this idea of this story also serving as this callout… “Hey, if you have any clues or leads, we’re all ears!” And I’ll call my ex this afternoon and actually see what she might know. She’s actually… she herself has lived in Charlotte now for 15-20 years. But she grew up in Fayetteville and she still has family there, friends, and was certainly around in the ‘70s during that time period. So yeah, let me see what she might know.
I’ll tell you this though, that’s what I’m saying. I’m willing to go on record that Fayetteville is the ground zero of this story. At this point, I would be shocked if it’s not. I believe they either played the day after or the day before, so that makes sense if they’re in Charlotte and Paul Stanley reads or hears, “Hey man, last night, after the gig I heard some guy died.” He says Charlotte because maybe he heard about it in Charlotte because the day before it’s Fayetteville and then… the only mentions anywhere, and the story I heard about that mysterious record store that used to have that RIP or a picture of the kid… it might have just been some guy they were making fun of and just threw it up there… my point is that it definitely happened. There was some scuttle about it, I got it third person, I didn’t get it first-hand, and it was four decades ago and all that other stuff, but I would say Fayetteville was our ground zero for this story.
Okay, very interesting. And you’re right, you can totally see how… especially back in those days, we were talking to people on pay phones. There’s no Internet, you don’t have the cable television station to turn on in your hotel room… Everything is just kind of second and third hand info that’s getting passed along and it’s very easy to see how he would get Charlotte into his head even if it were the show the next night or whatever.
I looked at newspaper reports the weeks after. My other thought was… Okay, there’s no way you would report on an accident and know right away that the kid was on his way or back or to a concert. Whatever concert! But there may be a story weeks later that they do an investigation and the family says “You know, he was on his way to a concert.” Even if I got that I would have assumed it was a KISS concert. I would have, simply because of the dates that I had of their shows, I had all of the dates of every show they played, and the times, and how far the accidents were from the places. And as you know, it is convoluted, but that’s the way it kind of happened to me, I tried to trace how many miles, when the person would have had to leave, when the accident happened… so all of that stuff, I kind of became a macabre detective in that sense to try to piece this together. And it all kind of had to connect together. If there was any mention of a concert, or even on his way to a show, or was coming back. That’s why I included names of some of the ones that there were friends in the car, because very rarely does a person go alone to a concert, especially young kids. So, if I noticed there was an accident with two or three young kids… which were quite a few… I tried to include it as long as it was within a certain amount of miles… because I’ve driven an hour and a half to two hours to see a concert when I was a kid. Hell, I did it, so if people say, “Why would they…?” Of course you would. Especially KISS fans! And especially KISS fans then. They were real die-hards at the very beginning, people who just thought that was the coolest thing ever, these guys with their faces painted blowing fire out of their mouths! They didn’t sell a damn record, but people did kill themselves to go see them, no pun intended.
Yeah. I think in addition to Detroit picking up on KISS pretty early on, I’ve always had this sense that they built a Southern base pretty quickly as well in the early days. The South, or at least certain parts of the South, jumped on the KISS thing sooner than other markets.
Yes. Excellent point, I forgot about that. I have a Facebook page for the book, Shout It Out Loud Facebook page. So I’ve been getting “likes” over the few months leading up to it, posting interview clips I did and some interviews I did with people interviewing me, or audio clips of me interviewing Bob Ezrin or whomever, and I would say most of the people from the South and the mid-West. What KISS did was they were the one band that went everywhere. They didn’t care. Their first tour they called the Star of David tour because they would drive to one town and then a completely out of the way and then back again… it made no sense, they would just go wherever anybody would have them. It’s a real grassroots… enviable thing. It wasn’t the best business model, but they did it. What are those places? Places like Fayetteville, who the hell plays Fayetteville, North Carolina? But they did it regularly. That’s why it was so vexing, they did it three times on three different tours and I had to keep looking, so people really dug them down there, absolutely.
But I would say Detroit, more than any other place… all of the guys in KISS, everybody, and Bob Ezrin who had camped out in Detroit because of his work with Alice Cooper… unequivocally everybody agrees that that was the place that embraced KISS because they embraced all that kind of ballsy, no holds barred, we’re gonna give you everything we got for an hour and a half – two hours, burning the place down rock… they really were attracted to that. And that’s what Lester Bangs… To quote a great Lester Bangs piece he wrote about heavy metal or heavy rock, and he was equating it to the “rattly clankings” of those people working in the assembly lines building these cars… and they just related to this heavy, literally heavy metal, rock, this is before the term was coined officially… And that makes perfect sense to me, and KISS would always go there as a haven… whenever they were booed or kicked off of a tour or having problems connecting with other places… I would definitely say the South and Detroit were the two regions they would always find solace.