THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS

Aquarian Weekly
4/17/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS 

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
– Genesis 1:26-28

You know the deal; if there is a choice to be made – the environment or the human need to destroy shit – the latter wins out. Every time. If we had a slogan it would be; Humanity – Fucking Up Everything Natural For 200,000 Fun-Filled Years. This was true long before anyone thought to write this concept down, and then some enterprisingly insane Israelite decided to frame it as a holy edict by this God thing they made up: Dominion. The Torah (or as the Christians started calling it a few centuries in) the Bible is silly with it. Webster’s defines it as “sovereignty or control” or in more detailed conventions, “a governmental system”. Given this, we are “responsible” for this, but more times than not provided a choice between the planet and us, we choose us. Welcome to humanity, the virus of our terrarium.

Okay, so there is my opening paragraph for Earth Day.

When my fantastic new managing editor, Dan Alleva asked me to add my two cents to this occasion I shuddered. But I like Dan. He is doing a fine job already. He deserves much better than this, because I believe he generally cares about this thing. Enough that we should devote an entire issue of this paper to it. And that is quite noble, if not a tad naïve, at least from this damaged perspective. Yeah, we know, Campion; we’re all doomed, blah blah blah. Well, this seems about right, especially when considering I was asked to play at a No Nukes rally in the mid 80s and showed up with a song I wrote titled “Living in the Underground” that gleefully hoped for the end of times so we can all dance around in a tunnel to Elvis Presley records, or that I was invited to speak at a Tea Party thing in the late aughts in which within the first two minutes I called everyone there a blithering idiot before being roundly booed off the stage, and then there was the time a thoughtful and brilliant writer asked me to pen a screed on freedom of speech for an online community of creatives and I handed in 3,000 words of such rancid bellicosity that she could not run it.

So, considering the source, you were probably not going to get any kumbaya out of me. And to be fair, even in the context of the great human experiment, America, the previous administration was the kindest ever to the earth in its policies, I believe most of it was overkill and hindered our economic growth, and so I am as guilty as anyone in assisting in the planet’s demise. Quite frankly, I will always be guilty of choosing my own comfort over the earth. We all do. Come on. Shit, Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it. We mean well, or we think we do – coming up with fancy philosophies and mottos and (ahem) Earth Days, but we still merrily burn fossil fuels and use plastic all over the joint and eat animals who are filling the ozone with methane.

Right now, as I write this, coal is being burned to make the electricity that lights my way and I used a car to get here to write it. Wait, I have to sip water out of this Styrofoam cup to keep hydrated, so I have the energy to slowly and quite deliberately erode the livable space my kid will have to inhabit.   

But for the purposes of mocking the doofus that sits in the White House today, who doesn’t believe in things like science or really any ounce of reality, I offer what our God-fearing country is now doing to help speed (and I do mean speed) along the destruction of the planet, or as Master George Carlin put it, us: “Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

First our game show president, after he struck Climate Change as a threat to national security, appointed a man who had sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times to run it. Scott Pruitt, a science denying ambulance-chaser from Oklahoma, immediately bragged to the Washington Post that he has “moved to shrink the agency’s reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules.” Then, within weeks of making a move akin to choosing Al Capone to head of the FBI, Pruitt loosened all regulations on toxic air pollution. Because, you know, it’s not bad enough we don’t give a shit about the planet, but we need to use kill-friendly toxicity to ramp it up.  

Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it.

Pruitt then began gutting every clean-water act known to modern law before he had to quit in ignominy under 14 different counts of fraud and who knows what else? The man is scum, even by human standards. But wait, he was replaced by an anti-environmental lobbyist for coal, Andrew Wheeler, who is currently poisoning something.     

But these two are merely poster boys for what has transpired thus far over the first two dismal years of this farce.

The United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement that was not necessarily one headed by Barack Obama but fit into his agenda to “save us” from ourselves. Poor bastard. But the Clean Power Plan was Obama’s baby and of course the Trump Administration has rolled back even the most commonsense aspects of it to “save the coal industry”, which is also dying a slow death that has actually accelerated during Trump’s silliness.

And my favorite, since we all claim to love animals, but really, really don’t; in July of 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to change the way the Endangered Species Act is administered, saying more weight would be put on economic considerations when designating an endangered animal’s habitat, this includes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act reinterpretation, which means as long as you can make a buck you are allowed to kill birds, lots of birds, endangered or otherwise. It is, well, a Bird Holocaust, if you will.

I wish I could put that in the lyrics of my new Earth Day song; The bird holocaust is underway / Construct your power lines / Install your wind turbines / And smile, smile, smile until we slowly waste away. Something like that. I’m working on it. Maybe put it to the tune of “Imagine”, so John Lennon can be the first corpse to puke.

There’s more horrible shit going on, and I haven’t even gotten to China, which will surely erode the ozone so drastically that everyone will have some form of skin cancer to go with all the poison food and allergies and out-of-whack hormonal damage our offspring’s offspring will suffer until we indeed mutate into every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Did I mention the oceans?

Who has time for that condemned shit? Not me. Gotta get back to polluting.

Happy fucking Earth Day.

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CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Aquarian Weekly
3/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion

CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE 
Or…The Death of Choice in The Cyber Age

I live in a fortified compound in the mountains. It is my life choice, well, my wife’s and mine. I choose only to live an urban or rural existence. I want to be either lost in a sea of humanity or invisible in nature. Splendid, if I may, dear Warren, isolation. Suburbia is not for me…or us. As a consequence, we do not have broadband up here yet. Therefore, if we want access to the Internet – let that read, phones, web service, television, ANYTHING…we need to use Cablevision. If you are unfamiliar with this company, it’s because they choose to go by the “hideout” title of Optimum. Why? Mainly, because they suck, and their owner is a bleating troll of a man and his family is the vermin that have single-handedly destroyed the NY Knicks. But that is for another column. For now, we concentrate on this monopoly and how it is wholly unconstitutional. 

So, how come it exists?

Well, you say, there is plenty of unconstitutional shit that exists: income tax, health insurance monopolies, bullshit drug laws, the Patriot fucking Act, but that is not bothering me now. This is. So stick your “what abouts…” somewhere and follow along. 

Recently, I was mere days late with a payment to Cablevision. It was the first time since the 1980s and certainly for the first time since I have been at my current address here in the mountains that this has occurred. But I noticed a ten-dollar charge on my current bill as a consequence of this heinous faux paus. Now, I’m a big boy and I take what I have coming…mostly. I am willing to pay my due for tardiness or driving into a temporary police barrier or for the bizarre things I did in Freeport, Bahamas lo those many years ago. However, I did have a point here. 

You see, in the weeks after the Hurricane Sandy recovery, I entered a debate with the upper regions of management at Cablevision on how ten days of non-service should be deducted from my bill. They disagreed, claiming, perhaps quite rightly, that circumstances being as they are, a natural disaster dictated that they could not provide service. To refute this sidetracking, I actually used the example that would come to befall me this week: “Well, I bet, that if I were late ten days with my monthly payment, I would suffer the consequences.” They hemmed and hawed with that, never mentioning that for a late payment (one day or one month) there is a charge. 

And so, I went hard at Cablevision this week, who, predictably hid behind some poor woman from India, who answered my complaints with great aplomb. Although it was nearly impossible to understand her apologizing and saying she could do nothing about the charge due to her heavy accent. Despite this, I tried to explain that for three-plus decades I have been duly paying my bills promptly without fail, and shouldn’t there be a special dispensation for loyal, on-time late bill payers? “Sorry, sir…” was how each of her tack answers, clearly read from some sheet, began. 

You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service.

I asked, as is my wont, for several supervisors, but not surprisingly none came. What may have been surprising to the woman halfway across the globe was I patiently waited for nearly 45 minutes for one of these cowards to emerge and handle my growing recalcitrance. The hearty customer service woman even stayed on the phone with me and after a time too became a little miffed. 

You know who gets away with this shit? Companies that have a monopoly.

You know how I know Cablevision does not care if I am screwed around or to even give me an audience to my complaint?

Allow me to demonstrate…

I thanked the woman and offered my condolences for the unforgiving gig she had to perform and proceeded to check and see what other providers of the Internet I may procure.

Spoiler alert: There are none.

Actually, that is not entirely true. Verizon (after several and varied calls to them and enduring its rather cumbersome web site experience) finally offered my home a direct DSL line, only if I would commit to two years with them and accepted their TV package, which I do not need. I just want Internet, and quality Internet. I have two girls at home, helping me clog up four devices and three televisions, who would skin me alive if they had to suffer sub-par Internet speed. DSL would not cut it. So, really, it is partially true that I cannot find competition for high-speed Internet in the Jersey mountains, a mere 34 miles from the biggest city and largest media center on planet earth. Not to mention residing in a country that busted monopolies in the early 20th century.

My quandary, of which I stated to the overly bubbly representative from Verizon named Ethan, was “I would as soon as pay a homeless man to stand on my lawn with a rusty antennae than to hand over another dime to the veracious monstrosity that is Cablevision, however I cannot live for five minutes on DSL with my daughter’s Herculean tick-tock output and the constant stream of anti-Trump rhetoric blasting from every monitor in the house.” 

This was vexing to say the very least. The amount of hate and rage that filled my otherwise dormant heart over ten bucks may seem like abject craziness to you, but at that moment it was to be my Alamo.

So…?

I finally swallowed hard and manned up. Calling into Cablevision with the express purpose of ending my relationship with this demon corporation and begin extricating myself from the soul-crushing grid had become a moral imperative. This had transformed from a meager customer/company spat into Armageddon.

Strangely, but maybe not so much, the phone prompt wait is next to nothing when one chooses “Ceasing Service”. The voice on the other end sounds as if it were down the block and not in the Middle East. It is warming and congenial and did not ever respond to my whining with anything less than empathy. The name, blessedly, of this avenging angel was Jessica, who even echoed my sentiments with a positive, “Oh, yeah,” when I mentioned that in this day and age Internet service is as important as heat and electricity (well maybe not electricity, since you need electricity to get the WiFi going, but still). And this sweetly accommodating soul not only waved the wicked ten-dollar late fee, but duly discounted my bill the same tenner in perpetuity.

Suddenly, miraculously, my anger was assuaged, and I was $130 richer. 

Who cares? is how you would correctly respond if you read most of this piece. You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service, you might say. And you would be correct. But, come on, DSL? What year is this? And how can my girls handle an entire Sunday without adorable cat videos on YouTube or how can I get through a day without Tweeting something horrible?

So, I guess, let’s look into this appalling stain on our liberties at a later date and excuse me while I order something I definitely do not need on Amazon.  

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TRUMP vs KIM II

Aquarian Weekly
3/6/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP vs KIM II
This Time It’s More Stupid & Just as Meaningless


I know much should not be expected from a game show host posing as president, but this one takes the cake – even for The Donald. How he was now twice suckered by this fat little shit heel in North Korea is beyond comprehension. The guy is pushing 73 years-old, obese, on a myriad of medications for old guys and he has to schlep halfway across the world to suck up to a dictator, offering one gushing compliment after the other and tossing around words like love as if a 1960’s soul song parody, and he gets the same thing; North Korea and Kim Jung-un have zero intentions of ceasing their nuclear capabilities or giving up their cache of weapons for America or China or anyone. Nor should he, since the last meeting between these two submentals, when they both shook hands, took photos and told everyone everything was fine, he has gone his merry way. And it appears will continue to do so.

Well, as long as Donald Trump loves him, like the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, American Enemy #1, Vladimir Putin, accused pedophiles, rapists, sexual harassers, sleazy NFL owners, and Virginia Nazis, we’re okay.  

So now, after all the pomp and blather and the usual pressers and fantastic publicity Jung-un gains from having the leader of the world’s most powerful nation fawning all over him while he continues to make a mockery of human rights, the whole thing falls apart with no deal, but plenty of finger-pointing contradictory post mortems from two lying-ass camps, and a steaming pile of embarrassment for the United States.

I don’t have to ask this question, but I will: Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic? Because it sure seemed like he and his sycophants were hinting that for months. This is after the first détente in which Trump kissed Jung-un’s ass and was certain that North Korea, shuttering in his wake, had already agreed to stop proliferating its nuclear arsenal. When his intelligence agencies, the ones he daily vilifies as if Russia’s carnival barker, showed him proof this was not in fact the case, just the opposite, that North Korea had ramped up their weapons efforts since, the president told them they were nuts and went back to eating cheeseburgers and watching FOX & Friends.

And so, entering this farce as he does everything – ill-prepared and breathing in his mind-numbing double-shots of delusion – the president was rife for being duped and duped he would be. Within hours of ramping up his heretofore woefully lacking negotiating skills, Trump bailed on the negotiations. He claims Kim-un would not budge on his weaponry (no shit) even while asking for the U.S. to lift all sanctions. Predictably, North Korea claims they would have gladly (I am sure, heh-heh) stopped their nuclear program for only a handful of lifted sanctions.

Let’s review: Lying sack of shit tyrant and the guy from North Korea both lied to each other, their own countries, and the world…again.

And while Trump was over in Viet Nam (he finally got there after his bullshit deferment during the war) lap-dogging a dictator who spat in his face and sent him home with his tail between his knees, his scumbag hood lawyer/fixer was telling the U.S. Congress what we already know – he’s a cheat, a racist and a con artist. This also bodes well for the international press, who snicker behind our amateur president’s back as he takes everything from diplomacy to government shutdowns to twitter fights with Spike Lee as performance art instead of actual governance.

But listen, unlike Trump himself, who mocked an actual working treaty with a tyrannical regime in Iran as “the worst deal ever”, I believe in trying new things with crazies, instead of the same old. So when the president was selling this idea that if he couldn’t get to Kim with nastiness and then smooching, no one can…so why not try? I did not disagree. I had doubts this moron could pull it off, but the idea was sound. Why continue to do what we’ve done for over a half century with North Korea? This was and is my point about the Iran deal, which Trump claimed to hate, while knowing nothing about it except it was conceived and executed by Democrats during the Obama Administration. Thus, in his usual spectacular level of hypocrisy he does the same thing as Obama did with Iran with Jung-un, but instead of bringing actual diplomats or representatives from the state department and written agreements that must be documented, he sits for tea and chats with a man who has him over the barrel, kicks the American press out of the room – because he knows he is getting his clocked cleaned – and then tells everyone he’s ending the proceedings.

Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic?

This hokey clusterfuck Trump has weaved in North Korea is just the tip of a foreign policy disaster he has going. Never mind the dozens of people in the defense and state departments that gave abandoned ship on this lavish foreign policy in which it is a one-man fantasy camp – as in standing next to the aforementioned Putin on foreign soil and telling the American press he believes a Russian despot over his own intelligence that Russia did not, in fact, commit a single hacking crime against our presidential election.

To wit: Standing at a press conference in Viet Nam, Trump defended Jung-un over the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died after suffering a massive brain injury while in a North Korean prison. “I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump told reporters.

This is the kind of idiocy that sent the former Defense Secretary James Mattis running for the hills. Infamously, it was Mattis who had to explain to the befuddled El Douche in January of 2017 that we need U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula “in order to prevent World War III” when Trump couldn’t grasp why we spend any money there. Later, Mattis would tell his subordinates at Defense that Trump “has the understanding of a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

This is an insult to my daughter and her friends, as I believe they would comprehend a need for defending the region, but I’ll take that up with Mattis at a later date.

But digesting these nuggets, all of this North Korea goofiness makes sense now, doesn’t it?

I am never going to assume anything with this mess of a presidency, but I would guess this will be it for the Trump/Kim love affair. Who knows if there will be more threats, vindictive nicknames or bizarre tweets, but with the Syrian situation in flux, this weird pussyfooting with Venezuela (troops in Columbia?), India and Pakistan (both nuclear powers) on the brink of war, and the powder keg Middle East, it is good to see a complete dunce has our back.

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WHERE WE ARE ON WEED

Aquarian Weekly
2/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion


WHERE WE ARE ON WEED
NJ Finally Poised to Vote to Legalize, Tax & Regulate Recreational Marijuana 

You know you’re close to actual legislation when committees are being formed, with fancy titles, and taxation has numbers to it and government officials, including the governor himself are going on the record with time tables. This means, at least as it currently stands, we are as close to an actual vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of New Jersey than we have ever been, and that is pretty damn cool and about friggin’ time.

“We’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line, but I think we’re all working really hard to get this done,” Governor Phil Murphy told reporters this week, tamping down too much excitement. “We’ve said all along that this is not a light lift.”

The pulling back of expectations is also a good sign, as NJ legislators begin massaging the vote with numbers that everyone can live with. We are just about through the morality bullshit stage where people warn against blood running through the streets and a plague of frogs. We’re into reality time here (oh, if only the federal government worked in this construct) and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

With New York suddenly breathing down our necks, the Garden State needs to make this happen – beyond even the promises of Governor Murphy, who was supported in this space in 2017 for this and this only. It is a very lucrative and successful business model currently seeing a variant of successes in eleven states. But just like anything else going state-to-state without a federal law to back it up, these are vacillating experiences. Each state has taxed, regulated and policed the new laws in differing ways. In fact, some have “relaxed” restrictions now, sort of a test pattern of legislation most recently in Michigan, Utah and Missouri – in all cases the popularity of legalizing recreation weed is well over 60 percent.

Here in NJ we’re at 62 percent, but much higher among people under 50. How this is being represented by our…ahem…representatives will to be determined. The measure needs 21 votes in the Senate to pass. The conservative estimate of absolute votes on record currently is 16. The hold up on some of these potential thumbs-up votes have to deal with reaching agreements on the initial number of licenses to be distributed and how many public consumption sites would be allowed. There is also language in the latest bill which include expungements — clearing marijuana convictions from criminal records – that has to be ironed out. But perhaps the most pressing hurdle was traversed over the past month when taxation was put to rest.

Ah, yes. Taxation. This is the main reason this space had called for this measure – beyond the hypocrisy of having alcohol, sport-book gambling, bear hunts, et al being legal and a profitable substance being viewed with an early 20th century lens – is the money that could curtail the high cost of living in this state; property and school taxes being the big culprits. How lawmakers came to an agreement makes perfect sense, which scares me, because usually making sense is enough to doom any bill. “There will be a $42 excise tax on every ounce that is sold, regardless of price,” State Senator Nicholas Scutari told CBS News this week. “There will be a three-year look-back in case we need to reevaluate that because it is a possibility that the price goes down so low that $42 becomes unmanageably high.”

We’re into reality time here … and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

The reason why taxing by weight is important is the simple supply and demand shift in the pricing of a once illegal substance brought into the economic structure of a state. For instance, a Cuban cigar is somewhere in the range of $32 to $35 right now. A similar quality cigar, like my favorite, the Ashton Magnum, singularly goes for anywhere from $11 to $15. The mistake is in thinking that you’re taxing a $32 item once it is legally and thus readily available, but if the U.S. Congress were to lift the ridiculously meaningless embargo on Cuba the price of these cigars would plummet to the range of Dominican cigars (Ashton is Dominican), which are in the class, but in my estimation have not yet reached the level of quality of the Cuban. All of this, of course, effects how the cigars will be taxed.

There is not enough time to go into the ridiculously high tobacco tax here, but holy shit, man.

In essence, this kind of market shift is what happened to flat-screen TVs over the past decade-plus. What used to be a luxury item, priced as such, flooded the market and became pedestrian. And this is where the government has to be prepared to ride the decrease in price for the legalized brand of pot, as opposed to those who may still choose the black market to purchase theirs. I personally think it is silly not to since now one will know what one is actually buying.

The price of an ounce of marijuana has plummeted to half in the past year in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize it in 2014. It has reportedly generated over $5 billion in revenues for the state in the past five years, but I am not sure if Colorado legislators provided a failsafe for the free market to dictate the price, which it always will. My guess is they are getting hammered in their projections – for a good example of this see the federal government’s projections for the success (not) of the passing of the Affordable Care Act or the recent Republican tax reform law (not), which both woefully misread the actual pace of its returns. This is something governments due by rule. NJ has to be on this, and it looks like it is.

Governor Murphy originally wanted a tax closer to 25 percent, but with the tax-by-ounce agreement it will be closer to 12 percent to start. Either way the projections are good for added tax revenue immediately for the state.

All of this to say that we are close, as close as we can possibly be to getting there, but we are talking about votes and changing the laws dramatically for a controversial subject. Nevertheless, one that has rightfully been discussed in rational ways in the past half-decade leading to us profiting from it.

Hooray for the free market and democracy. Only a half century to make a plant legal.

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THE NEW LEFT

Aquarian Weekly
2/13/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE NEW LEFT
& The Dawn of Generation Progressive 


The abysmally erratic first two years of our Game Show President unleashed an explosion of women into the U.S. Congress this year, most notably a 29 year-old no-nonsense balls-out Bronx kid named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aka AOC – in the social media parlance of our times. AOC is an unapologetic, vocal, and bring-the-pain socialist. Trust me, this is coming from someone who was registered as one in the late 1980s and hounded for half a decade to write for and speak on behalf of its tenants – so much so that it eventually sent me running screaming back to a libertine level of capitalism. But this ain’t the 80s, it is the age of Trump, whose inability to form a sentence or have an original thought or understand much less embrace any ideological concept has allowed him to be hijacked by isolationists, evangelical nuts, and the age-old GOP Trickle-Down thing that is coming home to roost for middle-class tax returns this year. Since, the tribes have gone to their corners. Trump holds on to his 35 to 40 percent zealotry while the New Left has taken control of a third of the federal government that will challenge where the Democratic Party may go into the fast-approaching 2020 presidential scrum.

All of the above would have been considered fair political analysis before things went way off the rails. Now anything goes, because if this current craziness is acceptable than bring on the opposite craziness, right? Compared to the pall of 2019 DC, which has no real agenda beyond feeding the fragile ego of a maniac, and the general feckless capitulation therein, we have ourselves a vacuum, and it is being filled.

But, really, how crazy is socialism in a country with income tax, Social Security, Medicare and the most popular entertainment on the planet, the NFL – a completely socialist construct that controls wages, shares revenue, shuts down free speech, exploits bullshit patriotism, blackballs its employees, awards liars and cheaters, and forces American cities to build giant edifices in which to ply their brain-damaging trade? Shit, they want to kick people off their land to build a southern border wall no one needs or wants. Socialism is everywhere, bub, and to be fair it is really popular and it’s getting more and more so. There is now an entire generation of kids who are finally seeing our fixed game and now with a bunch of demented old white men running things into the ground, giving each other tax breaks and attacking minorities, immigrants and the socially progressive, they have awakened from their normal level of stupor to get involved.
 

And they are not alone. What AOC and nearly every early Democratic candidate for 2020 has learned is everything they are bringing to the fore is amazingly mainstream.

At the top of the list is an expansion of what is suddenly not only an invincible Affordable Care Act, which is the main reason the House of Representatives flipped in such a dramatic way last November than anything else. Clearly unpopular in 2010, ironically costing the previous president the House, it now costs the current one its chamber. The ACA has become a major plus for progressive candidates. In fact, a FOX News poll right before the 2018 midterms revealed 51 percent of Americans support the ACA while 40 percent despise the 2017 GOP tax cut which is predictably unraveling among middle class voters, especially in the states that made Donald Trump president, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. And that is FOX News! The others, as you can imagine, lean further left and were even higher. This has also been exacerbated by the realization that the jobs El Douche promised these poor suckers are not coming back. For instance, the coal industry, despite a massive deregulation campaign, has been losing more jobs under Trump than Barrack Obama, but this of course has nothing to do with presidents. It’s called capitalism and progress. If only Trump or those who voted for him understood this before it was too late.    

The New Left isn’t coming. It is here.

You would think nothing could compare to the power of the ACA or the fury building out there against the rich. But let’s consider the 77,000 desperate Rust Belt Trump voters also supported another admitted socialist, Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders was the populist, isolationist, anti-trade, pro-American working-class candidate standing against Hillary Clinton. There is enough post-2016 data that makes it possible that had Sanders not been ripped off by the Democratic Party and the Clinton Campaign, he may be the 45th president instead of whatever the hell this thing is in the White House. This has always been about Hillary Clinton and not Trump or Sanders for that matter.

The numbers don’t lie. In fact, we should have seen this coming. For instance; the only right-leaning president to win the popular vote in the last quarter-century-plus is George W. Bush in 2004. Obama won it twice. And despite the propaganda, Obama, a pro-free-trade, pro-Wall St., geopolitical centrist was not remotely as “radical” as AOC or what is a large Democratic caucus in the congress right now. In fact, The New Left is the final nail in the Clinton/Moderate/Electable coffin. Those days, like the days of pure conservatism Trump has slaughtered, are over.      

Need some more samples of how The New Left is more mainstream than you think? How about two out of three Americans, and its building monthly, support gun control measures? Many of them are starting, for the first time in my lifetime, to inch this majority to challenge the Second Amendment, which I thought silly in the 1980s. And no one can blame a generation filled with kids who’ve been shot at now in record numbers for over a decade. I kind of predicted this one a while ago, and it is starting to happen and happen with a wind at its political back.

Marriage equality is not even up for debate anymore, obviously, but its support is now in the eighty-percent level, which is stunning, even for an old marriage equality warhorse like me. Roe v Wade? Holy crap. While the numbers for restrictions on abortion have risen in recent years, with the advent of science, still a solid 60 percent of Americans do not support overturning it.

Finally, the two new ones that have rightfully brought the fear of Allah into the hearts of the ultra-right across the board is AOC’s call for a Green Initiative. But eight out of ten Americans accept the overwhelming science on Climate Change, including 65 percent of Republicans, while the president thinks it is – like all things with this guy– a hoax. And the 70-percent tax rate on people making over $10 million a year that has sent the Right into paroxysms of fear and loathing? Eighty percent of Americans agree with this idea. Factor in the over three million popular-vote even Clinton accrued and the sheer volume of voters that came out for Democrats in 2018, those are the kind of numbers that win elections. As long as we keep having them and the new generations who support socialist measures come along, you can see why GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing backflips trying to pass laws to suppress it.

The New Left isn’t coming.

It is here.  

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THE DISHONEST ARTIST

Aquarian Weekly
1/30/19

Reality Check

James Campion

Guest Columnist – Sean Barna


THE DISHONEST ARTIST

This week I turn over this space over to a guest columnist for only the third or fourth time in my nearly 22 years of Reality Check. Sean Barna is a wonderfully honest singer-songwriter that I have personally interviewed and featured in this music paper last year after the release of his brilliantly courageous Cissy EP, but most importantly I am now proud to call him friend, colleague and brother-in-arms. His work inspires me, his songs challenge me, and his performances are experiences. My place in all of what you are about to read may be minor but nonetheless noteworthy. His recent personal and familial revelations and how they have reflected and effected his art written beautifully below was sent to me out of the blue this week and I asked the author if he would allow me to share it with my readers. Fortunately, for us all, he said yes. And so it is with honor that I bequeath my little corner of the world to Sean’s voice. 
                                                                                             – jc 


Every year, on the Friday evening of MLK weekend, I park my car on CO-RD 30, at the base of Red Mountain, in Lake City, Colo., and trek through the snow for an hour to my friend Kale’s cabin tucked away from civilization at 10,500 feet. By the time the sun is down on Friday, I am joined by twelve to fifteen of some of my dearest friends, not to mention a newborn baby, two toddlers, and four or five dogs. We have all the eggs, cheese, tortillas, and chili we will need for the weekend, and plenty of cheap beer and whiskey to pass the time between meals. There are almost too many of us to fit comfortably in this two-bedroom cabin, but when I get anxious, I open the sliding glass door and walk out onto the porch, where I can stare down at frozen Lake San Cristobal to find solitude and silence.


Most of this group met in 2009 and 2010, when we were all living in Paonia, Colo. Many have moved on from that place of magic, but Paonia is our common thread. From these people, and from the majesty of the snow-covered San Juan Mountains, I draw life-affirming energy. While I traverse up the mountain atop six feet of snow pack with borrowed snow shoes, my city-ravaged body toiling through every step, I feel powerful and free.

This past Sunday, January 20, while two of these friends encouraged me from the saddle of a parked snowmobile, I sent a voice memo to my parents telling them, “I am definitely a queer person, and have been for a long time. I’m also with someone, and happily so.” Then I turned off my phone and ascended 2,000 feet up the mountain, breathless from the altitude and hoping to calm the anxiety and ignore the feeling that I needed to vomit.

I am 33 years-old. The negativity and anxiety I invited into my life by staying silent about my sexuality has been unbearable for a while, as was the near-constant focus on worst-case scenarios of coming out. My dentist asked me once, “Do you suffer from anxiety? You are grinding your teeth so hard at night they are actually breaking.” Not cracking — breaking.

Of course, every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it. In 2003, an inattentive driver with a suspended license hit my brother with a car and killed him. The effect on my parents was immense, devastating, and remains the great tragedy of their lives. Of course, this was also a tragedy for me, and any decision to come out as queer had to be made in the fog of grief. What I thought for a long time was that I could not hurt them anymore, even if protecting them put an extra burden on me. My queerness, I thought, would be inherently painful for them.

But my brother died fifteen years ago, and at this point I’ve released two EPs and one LP that do not shy away from queer themes or, for that matter, the grief of losing my brother. Especially in last year’s EP, Cissy, I deal with queer themes in nearly every lyric. “Serious Child” is about the underbelly of Brooklyn nightlife, “Danger Baby” is a tragic story of a trans woman who loses her battle to an intolerant society, “Modern Man” is a searing dissection of masculinity, and “Queer Mad Blues” is a love letter to queer people having a hard time. My observations of queerness did not go unnoticed, including by the gay-centric publication, NewNowNext, Billboard’s LGBTQ column, Aquarian Weekly, and a few podcasts.

On the podcast Underwater Sunshine, author James Campion and singer Adam Duritz of Counting Crows spent nearly an hour going lyric by lyric, dissecting where Cissy fits into the canon of queer songwriting. Adam sings on one of the songs and is one of my best friends and he tried to steer the conversation away from it actually being stated that I am, myself, queer. James did not realize I was not “out” and could not help making the obvious observation that the scene I was describing was, in fact, my scene.

Every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it.

I understand — my lyrics are honest, and I am proud of them. Because of this, my friends thought I was being ridiculous. They would say, “Haven’t your parents heard the lyrics? They must already know.” In fact, they know all the lyrics by heart, but in public interviews I would instead discuss the honesty and fearlessness of the drag queens I had come to know in the Brooklyn drag scene. Much of Cissy is about these drag queens. Instead of talking about my role in queer art, I would talk about theirs. Then, in mid-November, on the third floor of a typical walk-up apartment in Brooklyn, one of the queens, Misty Meaner pulled me aside and dressed me down. Or as it is known in gay culture, she read me — hard, brutal, and for more than an hour, while our friends barely pretended not to notice. She said I owed it to my parents, I owed it to other queer people who have come out, and I owed it to myself. “You better get your shit together and stop being a coward,” she said.

I was playing a role I was ashamed of, that of the dishonest artist. In the midst of finalizing the lyrics for my next LP, Margaret Thatcher of the Lower East Side, and on the eve of a tour and official showcase at SXSW that will bring more publicity, I knew I had arrived at an unsustainable situation. I started telling my friends that I would come out while I was in Colorado. I knew the reflection of the sun on the untouched snow of a 13,000-foot mountain peak would make me feel small and impermanent, its cleansing brightness reminding me that it’s a miracle any of us exist at all. Standing in this place, reaching the peak after hours of arduous hiking, you can always look back and see the footprints to be reminded of your journey. I knew that if I could carry my secret all the way up this mountain and then back to New York City, I might carry it forever.

In the end, I told my parents my secret by texting them a voice memo. I did not know how they would respond, so I climbed. When I finally unlocked my phone to read their reactions, I was halfway up the mountain. I saw that within three minutes of receiving my message, my parents responded with grace, kindness, and love. Every fear I had was unfounded. And, of course, they already knew.

They’d heard my songs, after all.

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ACE FREHLEY LOOKS BACK IN PRIDE

Aquarian Weekly
4/6/16

BUZZ

James Campion


ACE FREHLEY LOOKS BACK IN PRIDE
Space Ace Hits the Road with New Album of Rock Classics and Talks Guitar Worship, Rock Star Team-ups, Imposters and a KISS Reunion?

Far from the noise of the rock star life; the clamoring fans, the roaring crowds, the constant bickering with ex-bandunnamed mates in the press, a recently minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer lounges on a couch in his suite high above Manhattan. He sips tea while blithely glancing at a muted TV across the room. This is Ace Frehley at 64; the fret-blistering Space Ace of KISS; the dominant and iconic harlequin outfit of 1970s fame, dressed rather casually in a blue tee shirt and jeans. An ace-of-spades locket, a reminder of his persona, dangles from a silver chain around his neck. He bends an ear to hear my questions and squints to remember the details of his answers, mildly clearing his throat, as if to conjure the wild mystery of his past. This is a genuine rock rebel in repose, a man at peace, but still very much rocking. Big time.

His latest album, Origins Vol. 1, sounding fat, bold and heavy, is due out this week, and he is very proud of it; the songs he’s chosen, beloved covers from classic rock acts, and his guest stars, not the least of which is former brother-in KISSdom, Paul Stanley. He is proud of having conjured it in his private studio in San Diego, where he now calls home, and his engineering and editing of many of the solos and vocal tracks on it.

Mostly, he is proud of his legacy in the pantheon of rock; the lineage of which is profoundly presented on Origins. Perhaps the most influential guitarist of his generation, whose unique shoot-from-the-hip style is often imitated but never duplicated, now pays homage to his heroes; Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and many more.  And although it is difficult for him to wrap his mind around his impact in the wake of such musical giants, what does find its way through resonates. KISS was indeed a major rock spectacle. Its anthemic songs, burlesque imagery, and groundbreaking theatrical concerts turned the whole culture upside down. He was there; designed its logo and was the first to don its make-up – showing up at the annual New York Dolls New Year’s Eve bash in 1972 with silver hair and that striking Spaceman face-paint.

We spoke for nearly an hour about his music, his legacy and his love of the guitar, which took this fellow Bronx boy from a dead-end subsistence to the top of the world.

This is Paul Daniel “Ace” Frehley at 64, unplugged; honest, reflective and charmingly defiant.

 

jc: I’m going to start with something I’m sure you’re bored with talking about, but I have to ask you; why a covers record now?

 

AF: Well, actually it was the record company’s idea. To be honest with you initially I wasn’t that excited about the project, because I had just come off the high of the success of Space Invader, which is all originals except for a cover of “The Joker”. It was almost like, “Okay, I’m going to go through the motions and get this out of the way and then jump into the studio for my next real studio album.” But I gotta tell ya, man, once I started the process and started remembering the groups that influenced me, narrowing down which songs I thought were going to be best for the record, and then started the recording process; I really started getting more excited about it.

Then once I got Slash on “Emerald,” he was the first guest star that recorded, and Paul (Stanley) agreed to do it. I was trying to get a hold of Gene (Simmons) and for some reason Gene didn’t get back to me. But when Paul agreed to do it, I already had Slash in the can and I knew I could count on Lita Ford, because I already spoke to her about it last year, and John 5. I also spoke to Mike McCready a year or two ago and he said he was up for doing a track on my new record. So, all the ducks were in a row.

The last two weeks of the record I went up to L.A. I got John 5 and Lita Ford on the record the same day and that weekend Paul recorded the vocal for “Fire and Water”, while I was doing overdubs, and then he emailed the vocal back to us. I put a guitar solo on and we just mixed it. That was it. The whole process for “Fire and Water” was about four days from beginning to end.

 

How long did it take you to make the record?

 

Well, I started tracking last spring, but I went on tour last year to Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, and then came back and finished the record. Maybe the whole process took six months, leaving out the time I was on the road.

 

I understand you recorded some the tracks in your home studio in San Diego?3dedf7c2-a7ce-438d-917e-4e36d61dad10

 

My place isn’t big enough for drums. We have a two-story townhouse, and I have a really great room with preamps and mikes and stuff. I can do everything there but drums. There’s a studio in San Diego called Signature Sound and that’s where I did a lot of the basic tracks with drums. I tracked the drums and then I flew my engineer in from New York (Alex Salzman), who I like working with since Anomaly, and we did a lot of the overdubs, and then I went up to L.A. to do the remainder of the overdubs. A lot of the solos I engineered, like “Fire and Water”, the intro solo and a lot of the guitars on “Bring It On Home.” What else did I do? I did the solo for “Till The End Of The Day” in my studio alone. I’ve really gotten good at Pro Tools, where I can actually engineer myself. The only drawback is when you are engineering some of the creativity goes out the window, because you’ve got to stay focused on what you’re doing instead of just thinking about creating. I prefer working with an engineer, but when I don’t have one around I can do it myself.

 

The record sounds very heavy and fat. Is that something you guys were going for or you just stumbled on?

 

No, that’s what I was going for. Warren Huart, the guy who also mixed Space Invader, he’s got all that stuff; SSL-board, and he uses old preamps. On some of my vocals he’s actually using real tape delay.

 

So, you did a lot of analog recording then?

 

Well, a lot of it was recorded digitally, but in the mixing and overdubbing process, we used a lot of analog equipment to achieve more of a vintage sound.

 

One thing I’ve read about you over the years, specifically your first solo album when you were still in KISS in the 70s, which I love – it’s the only one I bought – is that you use many different guitars and various amps and effects. Did you do the same thing for this since you were covering different kinds of music from a variety of artists?

 

I use a lot of Les Pauls, but I like doubling Les Pauls with Fenders. I’ve got about a half a dozen Telecasters and a half a dozen Strats that I use, but in conjunction with different amps. I have a couple old Vox amps, a couple old Fender amps, and some old Marshalls. Last year I picked up a 50-watt Marshall I got in a pawnshop outside of Palm Springs. I picked up the head for $900 bucks. (laughs) I stole it! It was from the 70s, so, you know, it’s the combination of all that stuff. Vintage microphones. Vintage preamps. Everything tube. That’s how I achieved that fat sound. But layering Les Pauls and Fenders are really one of my trademarks that I’ve been using since the 70s.

 

When I saw that Mike McCready was joining you, because I know he’s is a big KISS fan, I was reminded of your solo on “She”, which is very reminiscent of Robbie Krieger’s solo on The Doors’ “Five to One,” and then McCready took that solo and used it in Pearl Jam’s “Alive”. It’s a great lineage. You guys ever talk about that?

 

Yeah, we’ve spoken about that. I met Mike several years ago, because my daughter was a big Pearl Jam fan when she was a kid. They took care of us at one of the concerts. Then I found out he was sober. I got sober. So we had that common bond. I ended up jamming with them at Madison Square Garden one night. We did…

 

“Black Diamond”.

 

“Black Diamond.” I jammed with them at Atlantic City at the Borgata Casino. I have a good rapport with him and Eddie (Vedder). I’ve wanted to get him on one of my records for a long time and finally it transpired.

 

I love the way the different vocalists change the style of each track, but you’re the constant throughout the whole record. With Paul, how difficult or how easy was that when you guys first got together? Tell me the whole process there.

 

We actually were never in the same room together. (laughs) Like I said, once me and Paul decided on which song to do, I was up in L.A .doing overdubs with John 5 and Lita and that same weekend Paul recorded the vocals at a different studio. We just emailed him the tracks. He did the vocals, engineered it, and emailed them back to us, and boom. Technology has changed the recording process so much.

In the 70s, we had to carry around these bulky, two-inch thick reels of tape that only held two or three songs depending upon the length of the song. Big tape machines. Every time you wanted to do an edit was with a razor blade. Now with digital editing, it’s a dream. I mean, the sequence of solos that me and Slash did on “Emerald,” we had a dozen passes or more of solos and I pretty much put that together piece by piece; picked the best ones from each performance.

 

I’m sure these are influential songs, but did you realize while recording them where your influences came from?

 

I didn’t connect the dots in that way. It’s just that I thought back to all the groups that influenced me. I really wanted to do a Who song on the record, I just couldn’t get that together.

 

Which one would you have done?

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I couldn’t decide. That was the problem! (laughs) Actually, towards the very end, prior to deciding on “Fire and Water,” Paul was kicking around the idea with me to do “My Generation.” I just wanted to do a song that was a little more obscure, like in the same way with the Hendrix song. I did “Spanish Castle Magic” instead of “Purple Haze” or “Manic Depression” or something off the first album, which everybody is more familiar with. So I kind of went down that road when it came to choice of certain songs, but I’m really happy with the end result. It always amazes me, because some of these songs, it was just so easy to do. It was effortless to me. I’m just amazed after the mixing process how strong they sounded, ‘cause I don’t really pay that much attention to detail when I’m recording. I just go for feel. But I work with some of the best musicians in the world, so that must be the secret. (laughs)

 

It sounds like you gave some real love to the songs, a respect to the origins of them. I’ll take “White Room” for an example. You achieved that signature wah-wah sound; that great (Eric) Clapton wah-wah sound throughout the song and then into the solo. Did you make a concerted effort to pay sonic homage to each song?

 

I had two wah-wahs in one of my boxes and me and my engineer plugged in both of them and they were way too noisy. They were old. The potentiometers were all dirty and it was making a lot of noise, so we ran out to Guitar Center and bought a brand new wah-wah, (laughs) a Vox wah-wah. I only did two or three passes of the solos, and out of those three passes, my engineer pieced together one solo. Everything kind of came together really… I’m still sitting here listening to… I still listen to the album almost every day. I keep hearing things that I didn’t hear from a prior listen.

I improvised all the solos on the record. I didn’t play the other people’s solos, note for note. I stayed pretty true to most of the arrangement. I ended up extending “Emerald” by redoing the second half of the second verse when I came out of the solo, which isn’t in the original arrangement. I actually like my arrangement better. (laughs) It kind of brings the whole song to an end nicely.

I had a lot of fun with the record. Sometimes when you have too many chefs in the kitchen it spoils the stew. I work very streamlined. In most cases, I’m recording with just me and one other person and an engineer. More than three people in a studio is a lot for me. I don’t like it that way. That’s how I did my very first, 1978 solo album with “New York Groove” and that form has always worked for me.

 

The thing I found researching my book (Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon – Backbeat Books, Oct. 2015) was that speaking to Bob Ezrin and a lot of people that worked on Destroyer, and reading your memoir, you’re used to coming in, hearing the track, playing your solo, and bingo! In fact, you used to say you used to figure out solos, get to the studio, and everyone would be saying, “Nah, it’s not really…” and then you’d wing it and that take would be better. It would seem that nothing has changed over all these years.

 

It’s been a long time since I sat down prior to doing a solo and tried to figure it out before I hit the record button. I just empty out my head. It’s a lot easier to do four or five passes and then pick the best parts. Like I said, with digital editing you can pick the front of one pass, the middle of another, and the tail end of a third and piece them together seamlessly, so you really can’t hear the edit.

 

But you have to learn that to play it live.

 

Well, I memorize all my solos once I play live, because a lot of them are pieced together. (laughs) For instance, I’ll tell you what happened with the solo in “Fire and Water.” I did about fifteen passes after I got the lead vocal from Paul. He did a tremendous vocal. I thought it was amazing, one of his best vocal performances, and I wanted to do a really outstanding solo. So I did about fifteen passes of solos and I started trying to piece them together and it just didn’t sound right. So I took a break. I went downstairs and had a snack, went back up in the studio, and I just did one last take from beginning to end and that’s the solo! And that’s a long solo.

Also, the stuff that me and John 5 did at the end of “Spanish Castle Magic” is pretty amazing. John did an amazing solo in the second half of “Parasite.” I doubled the length of the solo. I played the original solo like it is on the first record and John came up with a great solo for the second half.

 

Why did you choose “Parasite” and “Cold Gin?”AceFrehley

 

The record company thought I should do a couple of KISS songs and I figure, “Why not redo the songs that I’ve written but didn’t sing?”

 

Ahhh. That’s what I thought.

 

Gene sang on those. At the time, I didn’t consider myself a lead singer and was really insecure about my lead vocals. I said, “Gene you got to sing this.” And of course Peter sang a couple songs I had written over the years and in the beginning. But once “Shock Me” happened it was like the cat was out of the bag. I’ve been singing them in concert for years. I figure it’s about time I get them on the record.

 

Could you possibly pick a favorite song that you’ve written over the years? One you love to play live?

 

I don’t know. My favorite KISS song is definitely “Deuce.” It was the first KISS song I ever heard. It was before KISS was even KISS. When I went in to audition for the band they played “Deuce” for me and then I ended up playing a solo to it off the top of my head. Pretty much, I think those guys after that one song thought I was the guy. At least that’s what I’ve read in retrospect.

 

What about something you’ve written?

 

Something that I’ve written? I don’t know. So many songs to choose from. One of my favorite solos is the one in “Strange Ways.” I normally do my solos in the control room with the amp in another room, but “Strange Ways” was one of the few solos I stood in front of the stack. I stood in front of the Marshall stack with a tight set of headphones and that’s how I got that natural feedback. There is an intensity on that. The stack was on ten! (laughs) I almost couldn’t hear the track with headphones on, but it’s a pretty radical solo.

 

I have to say, now that I’m sitting across from you, the “100,000 Years” solo is one of the most melodic that you’ve written and you always seem to nail that, every time, even in the reunion tours. Have you played it since KISS? I love it. It’s so beautifully melodic.

 

Thank you so much. I forget about that song. I haven’t played that song in a long time. Maybe we should try doing that live. Maybe my drummer, Scoty should sing it. He sings “Love Gun” and “Detroit Rock City”.

 

Who’s in your touring band?

 

Scot Coogan on the drums. He plays on nine tracks on this record and the other three tracks are played by Matt Starr, who did the drumming on Space Invader. Chris Wyse on bass. I’m playing bass on about four tracks. Richie Scarlet is on rhythm guitar for the tour.

 

The obvious question is will there going be a Volume II?

 

Yeah, it was actually my idea to call it Volume I. (laughs) I just thought it was a great marketing ploy and everyone’s going, “Is there going to be a Volume II? I go, “Maybe.” I have a feeling this is going to be a very successful record, because I think it has mass appeal. You don’t have to be an Ace Frehley fan to get off on some of the songs on this record. If the record does as well as I think it will, I definitely think there is going to be a Volume II, but not before I do another studio record.

 

Originals?

 

All originals, yeah, and then maybe after that, maybe Volume II. That would make sense.

 

I recently read that you would consider playing with KISS again.

 

I’ve always said that. I’ve always said, “Never say never. Leave the door open.” It’s really their call. I think it could be great. It would be a nice way for KISS to go out with a bang. You know, right now it’s really only half of KISS.

 

Right.

 

And everybody knows it. But like I said, the ball is in Paul and Gene’s court, but I would be open to the idea if it was presented to me in the right way. Sure.

 

I’ve been promoting my book now since October, and I’ve done a ton of podcasts and interviews and radio, and you’ve been the one member of the band that everybody gravitates to, perhaps because of your rebellious nature and the fact that you didn’t always buy into some of the more materialist KISS stuff; that you’ve been your own man. Do you realize how much people really love you?Ace_James_1-250

 

I don’t. The other thing that people always say to me, “Do you realize the impact you’ve had on so many guitar players? The influence you’ve had?” It’s just not something I think about. I’m really flattered when people say that to me. But, yeah, I’m kind of like the cool guy. (laughs) Let’s be honest. That’s what everybody said.

But it was never about the money for me either. I always wanted to be respected by my peers and I didn’t want to give up my integrity as a musician in lieu of a show or merchandise or anything. To me it was always the music first, the show second. Invariably with KISS, a lot of times the reviews would talk more about the show than the music. It was frustrating at times, but I think at this juncture I’m respected by my peers. I don’t know if Paul and Gene really are all the time.

 

What are your feelings about two other guys wearing the makeup? I know they can legally do it, but to fans know that’s not Ace Frehley out there.

 

Prior to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction a lot of people thought it was me, believe it or not! (laughs)

 

No shit. I don’t believe that.

 

People that aren’t hardcore fans and people that don’t really pay attention to the inner workings of KISS, a lot of them weren’t even aware of it. They’ve always downplayed Tommy (Thayer). But I think with all the controversy that surrounded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that they decided not to play with me and Peter, a lot of people got hip to the fact that, “Hey that’s not Ace in the makeup!” I’m telling you, a lot of people didn’t know. I used to get phone calls when KISS played in certain areas and somebody would say, “Hey can you get me tickets? I want to go see you play.” I go, “That’s not me. What are you talking about?” I’m telling you. (laughs) The people that weren’t hardcore fans, casual fans, some of them didn’t know. They thought it might be Ace.

 

Well, does it bug you?

 

I still get checks. (laughs) Unlike Peter, I still do get checks.

 

Well, that’s good.

 

They pay me for the use of the makeup and I get checks for merchandise, but it bothers me. You know what bothers me more; the fact that the fans are upset about it. It’s gotten really silly over the last year or so when Paul or Gene make these ridiculous statements like, “Well, you know, once we can’t perform any more, even we’re going to be replaced.” They’re trying to legitimatize the fact that there are two fake guys in the band by making a statement like that. But let’s face it, those guys making that statement is like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards saying, “Yeah, once we’re gone The Stones are gonna continue with two guys that look like us.” Give me a break. They will try anything to pull the wool over some people’s eyes.

 

But like you said, the true fans know.

 

There is only one real Space Ace.

 

That’s right!

 

Whataya gonna do?

 

Whataya gonna do?” That’s classic Bronx.

 

Go feegya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN

Buzz
Aquarian Weekly
3/16/16

THAT METAL SHOW ON THE RUN
Eddie Trunk on The Fate & Fortune of His Beloved Cable Show

There is little debate among fans of That Metal Show. It is great. It is fun. It is geeky and loose and relatable and the hosts, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine are like buddies hanging at the bar arguing about the best thrash metal band or what guitar solo is the better or what live version of a song outdoes the studio version; important, life-affirming stuff. The interviews with the rock stars are intimate and disarming and have the air of same; hanging out talking hard rock and metal with the passion it deserves.three

This is why when a few months back, June to be exact, it was silenced, there was a hue and cry across the land. Its channel, VH1 Classic, owned by MTV Networks, did not renew its option, due in part to upheaval in upper management and the usual boardroom financial quarrels. The ratings were good. In fact, it far exceeded anything the network aired. It’s frugal, low-tech production, the only original content produced by the network, never wavered.  Yet, after 14 seasons, That Metal Show is no more and fans want to know why and what’s next?

The show’s brainchild and founder, Eddie Trunk comes clean in this exclusive interview with the Aquarian, and since Eddie was kind enough to read, rave about, my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon and interview me for his Sirius XM coast-to-coast radio show this past October, I have drawn the assignment to get the scoop.

What happened? What’s happening?

Here are the highlights of our discussion on the matter and the latest from the That Metal Show front lines.

 

james campion: First off, how did this all go down?

 

Eddie Trunk: For fourteen seasons, every time we’d finish one the network has about ninety days to let us know if they plan to pick up the option to do another season. The ninety days lapsed in April and they said that there were some changes going on at the network, at many levels; executives that were big champions of the show and were responsible for getting them on the air were either dismissed or quit.

We were told that the show initially was going to be moved to another network with the same company. There were a lot of things we were originally told and then each time another phone call came it was basically, “We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to do that.” And then they basically just released us completely from our deals. It’s just restructuring. It’s nothing personal.

 

jc: Do you, Don, and Jim have your own production company? How did you work all that with VH1 Classic and how are you guys moving forward?

 

ET: VH1 produced and owns every episode of That Metal Show including the name.

 

However, what happened is our producer, Jeff Baumgardner, who produced every episode and worked for VH1, as part of his exit out of the network he was able to make a deal to get the name of the show. So he now actually controls the name of the show and it’s under his world now. So we have the ability, because Jeff is in our corner, very much wanting to continue to do the show, we have the ability to continue doing the show exactly how it was and use the name and all the same features. It’s just that when that’s done the network that decides to pick it up would have to make a deal with VH1 for it. But there is a deal in place, so it’s very easy to do. So we can continue the show. We can continue it under the name That Metal Show. It’s just some paper work that needs to be done for that to happen, but VH1 has given us their blessings to continue to look for a new home for the show and to allow it to still be called That Metal Show.

 

jc: So where are we now with all this?

 

ET: Well, my agent, Adam Leibner is representing me and also helping to place the show. He was a huge fan of the show for many years long before he represented me and he is in the process now of talking to various parties to see what the options are. And at this point we don’t know. It’s a very slow moving process and I understand that’s frustrating for the fans. Frustrating for us as well. I would love to bounce right back and be right back on, but it’s not that simple. And the TV landscape is extremely convoluted right now, because you have all the over the air networks but then you also have the emergence of Netflix and Amazon and all these streaming services, apps, and all these different things in the media world today. So every single avenue is being explored and weighed and discussed to see what’s out there and what makes the most sense.

 

jc: Is there something you would prefer that would allow you to do the things you didn’t have the budget to do or you would even attempt to do to expand the show, to have bands play or have more production value or whatever?

 

ET: Absolutely. How realistic it is, I don’t know, but I always have lofty goals and I always am looking to make everything I’m doing bigger and better and have more opportunities at every level no matter what I do. I would certainly love to record more episodes a year than we have. I’d love to include band performances. And I would certainly love to broaden it out. People may find this pretty hard to believe, but I never ever, ever, wanted the name “metal” in the name of the show. And that’s not because of the fact that, I mean, God my whole reputation is in that genre, so it’s nothing to do with that. It’s just that I wanted it to be a little broader based. I thought it would be important to lure in other sort of acts that might be alienated by that name and still keep it a rock show.getty

So we would like to take some chances and do some different things. We’d like to make it bigger and better. It’s just a question of finding a dance partner that’s up for that and wants to do it. And listen, the flipside of that could very well be where we have to go a little leaner and meaner.  We have to even strip some things away maybe depending on what the opportunity presented to us is. So, again, we are listening to everything and everybody and taking it all in. It’s being digested and I’ve got a guy that I trust to process all this and go through it and see what’s going to make the most sense. We just simply don’t know right now. Truly anything can happen. We just have to let the process play out.

 

jc: What’s your preference for how this plays out?

 

ET: My dream would be to be on HBO. The reason why I say that is because I would also love to be uncensored. I think that dealing with the people that we talk to, the stories and stuff that we could get that we wouldn’t have to censor would be incredible. Or obviously my dream would be to be on a network, but that’s a pretty lofty thing. But again I don’t rule out anything. Nobody does. It’s just a question of where is there traction? Where is there interest? It’s funny, James, because, and I get this from a fan’s standpoint because they’ve lived with this show for so long and they love it and it’s ingrained in them, and I greatly appreciate that; but the huge amount of fans that I hear from, they all say the same thing, “Well, just take it here.” “Just take it there.” “Just put it on there.” Like I can do that! (Laughs)

There’s going to be a very sizable audience that when we do announce a new home is going to immediately come there. And we hope that that’s a powerful enough thing to get some interest from a network, but I gotta be honest with you, man, I’ve always been a guy that I never get too high and I never get too low. So nothing would surprise me that could happen here. And, of course, I hope for all the best stuff, but I’m prepared for anything and I’m hoping it all works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else. I’ll do something new. I developed this. I’ll develop something new hopefully.

 

jc: So you guys are keeping all options open.

 

ET: Sure. There’s a ton of those networks that are merging. And somebody just told me the other day there’s a channel called Esquire, which I didn’t even know I had that’s on my cable system. And there’s a bunch of these channels that people honestly don’t even know about that are out there. And it’s kind of like, “Ok wow. That could actually work. That could be a fit. What’s involved in making that happen?” And again there’s so many of them. A lot of people have said, “Access TV!” Well, sure. That would be a logical place, but they have to want to do the show. And listen, doing That Metal Show is not cheap. It’s cheap by big network standards, but the way we were doing it, it’s an investment. They have to feel that it works for them. We’re going to explore everything. Also, the other thing I run into is people yell out networks that they get on their cable systems. For everybody that’s yelling at me, “Access TV!” there is just everybody else, the next person that says, “Well I don’t get that channel, so don’t go there.” (Laughs)

jc: So, what can fans do that read this? Also, I’m sure a lot of the guys, the acts and some of the rock stars you’ve gotten to know that have been on the show probably want to be in your corner and write emails and make phone calls and back you. What do fans do en masse to get That Metal Show back on the air?

 

ET: Well, there really isn’t one at the moment. There is a couple of fan ones that have been set up. I know, Tim Louie at the Aquarian had one going for a while. I don’t know how many signatures at last count, which is all wonderful and really very flattering and really very nice. And it is certainly, certainly appreciated, but I’d be lying, and I just don’t want to waste anybody’s time to tell them that there is something we can do like that now. There isn’t really anything like that to do just yet that is really going to mean something in the big picture here. There may very well come a time that we do need that and I’ll be the first to let everybody know when, where, and how to help. But as it stands right now we really are still just in this exploring phase and I’ve seen a lot people email networks and I know that Netflix in particularly, Access TV, because those are two that come up all the time, have been tagged on tweets and what have you. That’s all great! And it’s appreciated. I don’t know how much it means to the networks. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if it gets to anybody there. But it certainly can’t hurt, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.

 

jc: I’ve come to learn since my KISS book came out, that these bands have a strong cult following, as does your show.  Metal Heads do not fool around.

 

ET: Well, thanks, man. And you know we appreciate that and we’ve heard that from a lot of people, and again, I can’t stress enough; our one-hundred percent goal is to absolutely get it back on. And there is nobody anywhere that’s deviating right now from the plan of saying “Ok. What’s out there? How can we do this? What’s the best home? Where can we bring it?” It’s just going to take a little time. I know that everybody expected and wanted a quick answer and a quick bounce back, but we don’t have that just yet. It’s a process and it has all got to play out. And again I hope that it truly does. In the meantime, I would tell everybody that for fun, I mean, the show is still on VH1 Classic. They repeat episodes constantly throughout the week.

 

jc: You guys still do road shows and appearances, right?group

 

ET: Yeah. It’s very important for people to know what we do on the road is certainly not a taping of the TV show. But for years now we have been going out together, the three of us, and we go out to clubs and we tell stories, behind the scenes stories, and Don and Jim do standup, and I do some Q & A, and we do some live “Stump the Trunk.” And we just have fun with the audience in a bar setting. People come out, obviously they have some drinks, we give away prizes, and we have a good time. There are no cameras. Sometimes there are no guests. It’s just really us.

Another thing, people have said, “Hey just go do the show on the road.” That’s a little more involved then you would think. Again, it comes down to money. You’re talking crews and sets and hiring guests and musicians. That’s a big operation that again we don’t have that sort of funding available.

So we do kind of a lean and mean road show. We get out there, we have fun, we thank the people that have supported the show and it’s something that we’ll keep doing with or without the show on a new network. The three of us are all still great friends. We have a good time out there together. We’ll see where it goes. But I can’t stress enough my thanks to everybody for their support through this whole thing. And also, of course, that we hear ya’ and it isn’t as easy as saying, “Go here.”

 

jc: It’s an exciting time. Something will come of it. I just have a good feeling about it.

 

ET: You never know. And again; I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low. I just kind of let the process play out and nothing usually ever surprises me. So we’ll hope for the best and who knows, maybe somewhere in the not too distant future we’ll be doing an interview talking about a bigger, better new home.

 

 

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MUSIC FROM THE ELDER: Explaining the KISS Album Everyone Hates

ROCK Magazine
2/18/16
James Campion

MUSIC FROM THE ELDER: Explaining the KISS Album Everyone Hates

KISS hates it. The fans hate it. The band’s late manager and its label hated it. Everyone hates Music from The Elder.

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Time, almost 34 years now, has healed some of the wounds. You can find a loyal geeky contingent online and in the darker regions of KISS-dom that sing its praises. It even received nostalgic cheers from fans a decade after its release when the band would deign to play a song or two from it at KISS Conventions. There is even a British film-maker who is attempting to decipher its concept for a movie and an upcoming book from Tim McPhate and KISS historian non-parallel, Julian Gill called Odyssey, which will dissect every corner of it. But the general consensus is that KISS’s 1981 concept album was a monumental disaster and by far the band’s worst.

Guitarist and founder, Paul Stanley has called it “the biggest misstep of our careers” while his partner Gene Simmons described it as “pompous.” Former founding member, Ace Frehley, who thought it “offensive”, once threw a tape of it out of the window of his car while speeding down the Major Deegan Expressway. “It’s an abomination,” says its producer and mastermind, Bob Ezrin.

So why did KISS conceive, record, and release an album that was originally part of a trilogy, conjure a major theatrical tour, and consider an accompanying feature film for a project almost no one had much faith in and almost immediately disowned as if the entire episode was some kind of sophistic mirage?

Many a rock act has suffered the “whoops” moment, starting with a bevy of crappy Elvis movies to the mighty Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour television show fiasco to U2’s almost inconceivable Pop Mart Tour and, of course, Madonna’s Sex book, Garth Brooks becoming someone else, and a Bob Dylan Christmas album. But none could seriously compare with the story of Music from The Elder, which confuses the hell out of just about anyone coming in contact with it to this day.

This is an attempt – try and stick with me here – to explain it, not excuse or defend it, necessarily, just explain it. And for that we must go back to the final dark days of KISSmania, when the walls were closing in on our heroes…

THE END IS NIGH?KISS79b

It is March of 1981 and KISS is fading. Fast. The theatrical, image-driven, merchandising colossal band that once ruled the better part of the 1970s has endured faltering record sales, dwindling concert attendance, especially in the U.S., and depending on which party is consulted, the expulsion or defection of a founding member, drummer Peter Criss. The band’s original label, Casablanca Records, which had bet broadly and benefitted spectacularly on KISS’s success, came apart at the seams with the death of disco, a fad that it had wagered its considerable funds would last. It would be absorbed by Polygram Records, which boots its founder, Neil Bogart and negotiates a lavish contract with the band that it would hardly recoup in record sales. Aucoin Management, led by innovative marketing genius, Bill Aucoin, who guided KISS into the rock stratosphere, was also in dire straits. He had failed at every turn to duplicate his band’s once-in-a-lifetime meteoric rise with another act – he famously passed up one of the biggest bands on the planet, Van Halen for something called Piper in 1977.

Fading…

All around pop culture, signs of shifting fortunes are closing in. For perhaps the first time since the late 1960s’ hard rock is disappearing from the charts. The concussive rise of Punk, and its kinder and gentler cousin, New Wave in the late ‘70s has reset the agenda, torching the recent past. The latter is still going strong with hit albums by the Cars, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, the Pretenders, all competing mightily with the English New Romantic sound as it sweeps across America in the form of Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, and Spandau Ballet. With the advent of MTV the following summer these acts and many more will usher in a new age.

Fading…

KISS is becoming a dinosaur; the make-up, costumes, theatrics, and the relentless merchandising that had attracted fans of all ages, now mostly children, has rendered the band somewhat of a joke. It didn’t help matters when in May of 1980 KISS releases Unmasked with its comic book self-mockery of the more infantile side of the band’s image on its cover – there is actually a frame of a kid announcing “I still say they stink!” – to its unbelievably soft single, “Shandi” accompanied by a video of what looks like a middling imposter of the once mighty KISS vamping poorly through a foggy lens.

Fading…

KISS is lost. Its image has taken all the hits it could withstand. Its music was never particularly experimental or groundbreaking, but is now failing to at least be fun. And when a band makes no bones from its outset that its only aim is fame and riches and suddenly both are rapidly going down the tubes, then what?

KISS is unsure of what that answer could be, but the band, its management and its label know one thing; this has happened before. Sort of. And when it did, in that fateful spring of 1975 with the band at a creative, financial and career-defining crossroad, KISS turned to Robert Alan Ezrin to pull them from the abyss.

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Long before selling out stadiums, seducing millions of dollars from merchandising, earning several platinum albums, and even starring in a hit television show and a popular Marvel comic book, KISS was a struggling rock oddity looking for footing in a rock world that had mostly ignored it. Paul Stanley (Star Child), Gene Simmons (Demon), Ace Frehley (Spaceman) and Peter Criss (Cat Man) had recorded three less than stellar efforts (KISS, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed To Kill) with little to no recognition or sales. The label and management were at odds on royalty payments and touring costs, and beneath a torrent of lawsuits the desperate result was to record a live album to salvage what was left of the record contract and regroup.

That regrouping included the recruiting of Bob Ezrin, who was riding high as the 26 years-old wunderkind who “created” the Alice Cooper group’s signature cinematic sound; producing, co-writing and conceiving the themes for each outlandish Cooper show and managing to also top the charts slowly but surely with Love It To Death, Killer, School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies, the final one cresting at #1 in the U.S and U.K. Soon Alice would go solo and Ezrin would work his magic to unleash the innovative album, film, and tour, Welcome to My Nightmare.

Always one to grab onto talent with a definably odd charm, Ezrin was intrigued by KISS as early as 1974, something he shared with David McGee of Rolling Stone in 1976; “I could hear a rumble from the street, and I’ve always had a very good sense of that. I knew KISS was having a profound effect on people already and they weren’t even home yet. No airplay. No singles. No real big headlining tours.”

Ezrin met with the band in the spring of 1975 and broke down its issues; “I told them, ‘You’re super heroes of rock with a singular power and that’s it. There’s no depth to you!’ I just wanted there to be layers. I didn’t want to peel off the make-up and costume and find that there was nothing there.”

With the band yearning for direction and a legitimate producer, Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter willingly sublimated themselves to the will of Master Ezrin, who pushed them through a “boot camp” for weeks of music theory, song structure, signature composing, and relentless rehearsing. “We absolutely pulled out a blackboard and started introducing them to the very basics of music theory, just enough so we were speaking the same language,” recalls Ezrin.

Stanley concurs in his 2014 memoir, Face The Music, “For a bunch of guys who thought they were hot shit, it was initially jarring to go into a studio with somebody who treated us like children.”

Heading to New York City’s famed Record Plant, then the state of the art recording facility on the planet, the band spent a month cutting what would become its sonic manifesto, Destroyer, with its booming drum sounds, wall of guitars, backwards tracks, choirs, orchestra, calliope, and a one-minute and twenty-eight second radio-drama opening. It spawned one of the first ever power-ballads with the band’s biggest hit “Beth” and, with the ensuing unexpected popularity of Alive! that autumn, would catapult KISS into a world-wide phenomenon; crossing cultural and economic barriers rarely traversed by mere rock bands.

I spent hours speaking with the now legendary Bob Ezrin for my new book, Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and throughout our many discussions, we always returned to how much Bob had “altered” KISS’s “sound” with Destroyer. However, Bob would have none of it: “KISS have proven that there’s no such thing as a KISS sound. They’re an incredibly versatile group with a KISS attitude and a KISS style of lyric writing since the band is comprised of characters.

Ezrin never accepted KISS as being a two-dimensional act, appealing only to those “15 year-old pimply boys”, as he described them. With Destroyer, Ezrin added a pathos to the KISS ethos, and a third dimension of vulnerability, teen angst and critical character development that assisted in taking the band into new audience territories, expanding the act into something transcending rock into pop culture and transforming them into icons. This was the mission of KISS from the band’s origins, but it took a few months with Bob Ezrin to realize it five years earlier, and there appeared no better time than to hand themselves over to him once more.

Turns out when Ezrin is chosen to lead the new project, he has not seen anyone inside the KISS camp since the release of Destroyer, when Bill Aucoin, taking a lead from his panicked charges that the album was too much a departure and began hearing from the press and fans that the “experiment” had eradicated the band’s hard rock credibility, sent the young producer a letter officially stating that he had missed the mark in getting the elusive “KISS sound”. Ezrin was shocked, dismayed and pissed off, telling his protégé, Jack Douglas, whom the band had already contacted to perhaps remix Destroyer and quickly record a back-up without him, to tell everyone associated with KISS to “…go fuck themselves!”

KISS indeed would follow up Destroyer by going in the completely opposite direction and rode the crest of Destroyer’s massive success with Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, Alive II, Double Platinum, and Dynasty without him. And even though none of them hinted at the amazing aural imagery of Destroyer or the musical vastness provided by a classical trained and professionally astute artist like Bob Ezrin, there looked to be no end to this gravy train, until, of course, there was.

The way the KISS inner sanctum figure it now there are two ways the band could go at this crucial juncture; the same old route back to the cock rock, floor-on-the-floor assault of the early days, which is quite obviously out-of-touch with a ravaged rock landscape, or completely torch the thing and pass the smoldering ruins over to Ezrin for another “experiment” that could provide the band an end-around to all of its troubles.

Music from The Elder is the result.

Released in early November of 1981, the new KISS album was not only a complete departure from whatever the band had attempted before, including Destroyer, it appeared to many in the business, and more pressingly fans, despite the recognizable KISS logo, to not even be a KISS album. There were no photos of their famous painted faces on the cover, only a single hand reaching for an ancient knocker on a giant door. The gatefold image opened to a medieval setting of candles and a long wooden table. The music was also a curious mélange that separated the band from its glorious past; Paul Stanley singing falsetto, Gene Simmons crooning, an orchestra, wonderfully overwrought as a backdrop on Destroyer, now dominated the sound. Even the album’s title whispered bewilderment; if this is music from…, then what exactly is The Elder?

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Gene Simmons, a huge fan of comic books, horror films and sci-fi, had whipped off a short story/screenplay for a concept he developed around a single line scribbled in his notebook; “When the earth was young, they were already old.” It was to be a classic tale of good versus evil told over several worlds, not unlike the wildly popular Star Wars, which had just released a box office record-smashing sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. There is a council of elders called the Order of the Rose in search of a “chosen one”, ala Luke Skywalker and the Jedi Knights, trained by a mentor, Morpheus, ala Obi Wan Kenobi, to fight the evil villain, Mr. Blackwell ala Darth Vader, evoking a medieval to futuristic mash up of myth and mystery. It was anything but fleshed out, but evokes something in the cinematically motivated Ezrin, who puts the kibosh on a series of demos KISS had recently been working on to return the band to its harder edge.

In fact, earlier in the year the KISS newsletter had informed the disillusioned fan base that the band’s new material was “hard and heavy from start to finish” with “straight ahead rock and roll that will knock your socks off.” And so they were. Demos from the period with new drummer, Eric Carr, with his massive double-bass kit and tank-division style, had begun to breathe life back into the band. Although pictured on the cover of Unmasked, original drummer, Peter Criss had not played a single lick, as he had only played on one song, his own, “Dirty Livin’” on Dynasty. Session drummers filled in, as did players for Simmons on bass and Frehley on guitar for a few songs on Unmasked, which helps to explain the record’s poor attempt at flimsy pop and New Wave rip-offs. The new KISS demos sounded more like KISS, because members of the band were actually performing them.

But manager Bill Aucoin believed strongly that doing the same old thing was no tonic to the band’s decreasing popularity and had other ideas. He told KISS biographers, David Leaf and Ken Sharp in 1996, “I had a meeting with Bob (Ezrin) and said, ‘How about some sort of album that can tell a story?’ Bob’s very bright and we got into this mythological thing and it got way out of line.”

This one statement subtly encapsulates the aura surrounding KISS that Aucoin himself had built from day-one; against all odds and against all reason, this is the biggest band in the world and it will do whatever it wants without consequence. As much as Ezrin was a strong and lasting musical influence on KISS, Aucoin was its father figure. It was he who had developed a grab-bag glam rock outfit into a roaring image and stage machine. His word was sacrosanct in the KISS inner sanctum.

This singular notion of invincibility manifested in several ways, not the least of which was the notoriously wild spending on shows and costumes, and with greater fame and fortune it expanded to cars, houses, drugs, women, and the usual rock excesses; by 1980 they were all far from dealing in anything close to reality. “We were delusional,” Paul Stanley recalls. “We were at a point, individually and as a band when we were becoming complacent and very comfortable in our success. I think we got caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes.” Gene Simmons, a man armed with a monstrous ego even when he was a pauper, had gone completely Hollywood, dating Diana Ross (after a stint with Cher on his arm), and flirting with the movie business. “I blame me,” said Simmons in the same account. “I really believed in the vision. ‘Yeah, I am great!’ I take full responsibility for pushing it (The Elder). I wanted credibility, which is really stupid if you think about it. If you’ve got everything else, who cares?” Ace Frehely, a party animal from the day he joined the band in ’73, was now a full blown addict; coke, pills, and a spectacular run of uninterrupted alcohol abuse. His only ally in the band, Peter Criss, was gone, so he was outvoted routinely by Stanley and Simmons, and although he loved Eric Carr as a drummer, he knew he was merely nothing more than a hired musician and could offer no real fulcrum against the tide of the band he now decided was losing its edge.

Bob Ezrin, as is his wont, ignores the wining and over analysis and enthusiastically runs with the idea of a KISS concept album filled with fantasy. He is coming off the massive critical and commercial success of Pink Floyd’s conceptual opus, The Wall, in which he went deep into the terrifying psyche of its composer, Roger Waters; coming to grips with his past, his disassociation with stardom, and his constant battles within his band. Throughout the sessions that trudged on for months, Pink Floyd was splintering – original keyboardist Richard Wright was summarily sacked by Waters during its recording – and it is something of a miracle that such a seminal piece of rock art could emerge from this swirling turmoil. Ezrin takes charge of KISS in the same manner and forges ahead undaunted.

And so KISS, now summoned to Ezrin’s home country of Canada, abandons all of its earlier “returning to hard rock” ideas and in May of 1981 begin to embrace Simmons’s fantastical story of youth overcoming the evils of the universe one song at a time.

Well, at least half of KISS embraces it.

Ace Frehley is certain that this is not the band he signed up for and quickly rekindles his well-practiced “I’m out of here!” routine he had begun as early as 1976. As with the Destroyer sessions when he was replaced on several tunes by brilliant studio guitarist, Dick Wagner, Frehley rarely shows up. As Ezrin works out songs with Stanley in his home studio and fleshes out snippets of song ideas with Simmons, Frehley decides that he would hole up in his Connecticut home in his newly erected basement studio, Ace in the Hole, to work on his tracks separately.

For his part, Eric Carr is merely a bystander. Barely in the band a year, Carr started out powering the KISS sound back to its ‘70s rock roots, but with the fits and starts of trying to transition into the 1980s’ with struggles to keep up appearances as one of the top bands in the world, he is cast adrift in the “new concept project’ shuffle and is ordered to play in styles that he has hardly considered, much less conquered. Ezrin, who had driven former drummer, Peter Criss to near madness meticulously pushing him to play exact parts to click tracks during the making of Destroyer quickly tires of Carr’s inability to master the new material and eventually replaces him with studio drummer, Alan Schwartzberg.

Still Stanley, Simmons and Ezrin press on with vigor. It’s this triumvirate that poured their hearts and souls into Destroyer five years earlier when Frehley and Criss wilted under the pressure. Ezrin believes this was something of a cultural, almost familial connection he parlayed into this new challenge.

“You cannot diminish the kind of kindred sense of connection between Paul, Gene, had myself” Ezrin told me in 2013. “The three of us growing up in Jewish households with that same sort of Eastern European ethic of trying to push the kid to be great and putting an emphasis on education and the arts; having to take piano lessons, learn to dance, doing all this stuff we had to do as kids, we had kind of a common ground. So when we all got together we felt like long-lost cousins in a way.”

The “cousins” start the painstaking process of creating The Elder story by taking segments of songs already fleshed out, along with newly penned pieces, and attaching them to Simmons’s vague plotline. These include an old pre-KISS Gene Simmons tune from a 1970 demo tape called “Eskimo Sun”, reworked as “Only You”, a character back-story for the theme’s protagonist. A new Stanley/Ezrin composition, “Just A Boy” describes the young man’s reticence to take up the mantle of champion. Stanley’s “Every Little Bit of Your Heart” or in some bootleg circles titled “I Want You Only” slowly becomes, with embellishments from Simmons and Ezrin, the central ballad of the piece, “A World Without Heroes”, which provides the youthful hero to imagine an apathetic future with nothing to fight for and no one in which to fight.

Years later, Ezrin told reporter Chris Alexander; “At the time we were all looking for bigger and better things… we thought it would be the beginning of many projects to come out under the name Elder. Paul and Gene were very into it, and put everything in it. They both had to step out of their personas, and was really daring for them to do that. They were attracted to the classic rock, almost Beatle-esque style of the album – they were seduced by that.”

And as he did with Destroyer in January of 1976, Ezrin once again brings in outside material and writers. A key song to the plot ends up being a souring ballad called “Odyssey” written by a music-business veteran of nearly thirty years, Tony Powers. The New York based singer-songwriter-actor had pioneered the short-form video storyline later used by Michael Jackson to great effect during the height of music videos with a 1981 trilogy that included the song. It caught the eye and ear of Paul Stanley, who cornered Powers in an Upper West Side café in NYC and asked him if KISS could use it as a key theme for the piece. Another veteran of the New York music scene, Lou Reed, with whom Ezrin had worked in 1973, producing his dark concept album, Berlin, is brought in to add lyrical and theatrical flourishes (it is Reed who scribbles the title “World Without Heroes” on a pad in the studio, which prompts Simmons to move the song in that direction). These include the villain theme, “Mr. Blackwell” in which Reed wields his now famous use of tense-shifting/first-person to third-person storytelling to unveil a truly demonic presence.

However much fleshing-out the story of The Elder would thematically and musically take KISS outside its bubble, there is something strange happening that had not occurred since the Destroyer sessions of late 1975, early ’76; the members of KISS are indeed writing together. There would even be time for Eric Carr to contribute, as he did with a riff for the rocking “Under The Rose”, which introduces the listeners to the world of council and “Escape From The Island”, a thunderous instrumental conceived from a Carr/Frehley jam with Ezrin on bass, marking the first time since “Beth” that neither Stanley nor Simmons appear on a KISS track. And for the first time since Destroyer’s Stax-laden “Shout It Out Loud”, an attempt to recapture the verse-trading that worked to perfection on the band’s signature tune, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, Simmons and Stanley contributed the penultimate track of the album with “I”.

LET’S GET PRETENTIOUSelder-outtake

All of this “creative output” took an insane amount of time to get down; seven months all-told, of which most of it was to everyone’s memory spent jacking around and messing with sound effects and over-orchestrating in four different studios (Ace in The Whole, A & R, Record Plant, Ezrin Farm Studio & Sounds Interchange) in four cities and two countries, with a co-producer (Brian Christiansen) and seven documented engineers. Ezrin, the master of ceremonies, now comes clean about his serious drug problem throughout, which prevented him ceasing the over-indulgence, which pleased Simmons, since this was his story they were telling. He had designs on a feature film and a sequel to accompany the massively planned tour and all of it stemming from this simple tried-and-true idea of the power of good triumphing over evil; Biblical, Grecian, Shakespearean. But it is ultimately the power of these two men’s intimidating egos that looms large over the proceedings and lends another air of fantasy to what is being created; in their rather skewed estimation, a masterpiece.

“They wanted to make a record to combat the criticism of the last couple of records,” Ezrin recalled. “I had just done The Wall, so The Elder was a victim of The Wall and our mutual desire was to do something ‘different’.” The key ingredient to connecting the storytelling in The Wall and The Elder was a series of sessions adding extended narration to the music, furthering the album’s cinematic grandeur. “The idea of the narration was supposed to bridge some of the songs together, with some orchestral and choir underscoring,” recalled engineer Kevin Doyle to KISS FAQ’s Tim McPhate. “In keeping with the idea of The Elder as a goal of being a seamless concept idea, almost kind of like Dark Side of the Moon where side A is not really a bunch of songs, it’s one continuous play with no ending.” Canadian-based actors Robert Christie, Chris Makepeace and Antony Parr, (Makepeace and Parr having made it on the album as the final voices of the Council Elder and Morpheus) are brought in, as well as the services of the American Symphony Orchestra and the St. Roberts Choir. “It was antithetical to what KISS was about,” Ezrin continues. KISS was never pretentious or precious, and never took themselves seriously. They were always about fun, sex and power, and always were, in effect, horror cartoon characters, so to suddenly make a concept album, which had something of ‘consequence’, was an idea anti-KISS. It was a flawed concept from the beginning.”

“You should never go for respect,” Simmons told his biographers in retrospect. “On the day that critics and your mom like the same music that you do, it’s over.”

Although not a motivating factor at its origins, perhaps beyond the illusions of manager, Bill Aucoin, who is also battling his own mounting drug issues, building the mystique that Music From The Elder is a conceptual masterpiece seems to grow with the months sunken deep in the project. The band, specifically Simmons and Stanley, fueled by Ezrin’s Herculean creativity, believe that if they had lost credibility by selling out to merchandizing and appealing to children with the KISS Meets The Phantom TV movie produced by children’s cartoon mavens, Hanna-Barbara and being turned into superheroes by Marvel Comics, then it is time to seduce the critics, who had not only ignored KISS for most of its existence, but had been openly hostile.

Thus, the first ten minutes of the original track listing of Music from The Elder is filled with Broadway-style, sing-song tomfoolery and an opening instrumental, “Fanfare”, written and arranged by Ezrin and Stanley and played with medieval-period instruments, followed by the flowery falsetto of “Just a Boy” (originally adorned with Bach-style “Toccata & Fuge” organ), and the epic piano-drenched Powers’ ballad, “Odyssey”. This ethereal beginning gives way to Simmons’s psychedelic phrasing of “Only You”, the lyrical changes from the 1970 demo of “Eskimo Sun” hardly echoing hard rock or KISS, nor does “Under The Rose”, replete with Genesis-esque keyboards and a chorus of monk chants. Not until Frehley’s only full contribution at the end of side one, “Dark Light” does this represent anything close to a KISS album.

Upon hearing the mixes, which also take an extended time to complete, Polygram freaks; completely dismissing it as trippy claptrap and begins hacking up the track list with no attention paid to the oddly formed storyline, slapping “The Oath” the heaviest number by far, but the eighth in the plotline, at the beginning of the record, followed quizzically by “Fanfare”, clearly an overture, then “Just a Boy” with “Dark Light” shoved in to keep up hard-rock appearances.

None of this deters the KISS camp from bringing to Polygram the curious but intriguing gatefold cover designed by their trusty Art/Creative Director Dennis Woloch, who had put together every KISS album after and including the breakthrough, Alive!. “The whole visual concept came out of my head,” Woloch says today. “I didn’t even listen to the album to tell you the truth. I don’t know what they were singing about.”

Woloch commissions New York photographer, David Spindel to photograph a pre-teen boy reaching for the ancient knocker in the middle of a prop-door he builds, but the band rejects it. Strangely, they believe this is too eclectic and confusing. Paul Stanley volunteers his hand for a reshoot. “I hated the whole idea,” concludes Woloch. “Not a concept album, per se, this concept; it just seemed so cliché and over done; wizards and ‘seeking the truth’. But they’re still doin’ it; The Hobbit and Star Wars, all that stuff.”

To complete the transformation, all the members of KISS shear their hair and reveal new, streamlined consumes with 80s pastel colors, then appear on the ABC Saturday Night Live rip-off, Fridays to perform “World Without Heroes”, “The Oath” and “I”, but with the album getting lambasted by confused and outraged fans, summarily bag the entire thing and return to rock form the following year with Creatures of the Night. Just like that, the entire enterprise, months of work and planning, disappears without a trace. It is almost as if The Elder or for that matter, the Music from…never existed. No tour. No film. No sequel. Nothing.

A side note of some irony is that Rolling Stone magazine, which had mocked KISS for a decade, gives Music from The Elder a rousing review. Go figure.

IN RETROSPECT…download

It was the KISS album that should not have happened, well…

Looking back, Gene Simmons has said more than once that Music from The Elder is a good album, just not a good KISS album. And maybe he has a point there. Maybe after years of being KISS, the band needed to be something else – hell, the Beatles did it with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Perhaps KISS just needed to blow off steam and dive completely into the self-indulgent deep end and swim in the conceptual waters with Bob Ezrin in order to reach the other side with a renewed spirit.

“Without all the ups and downs and following trends and taking chances, KISS would not have as interesting a career,” Michigan DJ, Steve Ponchaud told me recently. “All their albums would sound the same like AC/DC.”

Perhaps it was simply hubris that created Music from The Elder, but that would be an unfair final analysis, for wasn’t it a sense of unremitting pride that lifted KISS from queer notoriety to one of the biggest bands in the world?

“Regardless of its lack of commercial success or the artistic validation they had sought, Music from The Elder remains a critical part in the band’s recorded output and should never be shunned,” says Julian Gil. “Its failure set the stage for wholesale change and reinvention that would drive the band for the rest of the decade; and only through that abject failure could the passion continue to be discovered.”

After all, KISS survived the album everyone hates to literally reinvent itself without the iconic make-up, ingratiating its image into the 1980s hair-band craze, then later in the ‘90s when reuniting the original members and breaking concert attendance records all over the world. This “return” to the tried-and-true rock roots that bore them may have finally been the correct business, if not artistic, move, but truth be told none of it would be this interesting again.

“Believe me, I understand when it’s your career on the line and you do something very brave and very different and put your nuts on the line you hope that the world accepts and appreciates what you do,” says Bob Ezrin today about his work with KISS on both Destroyer and Music From The Elder. “But then there’s always that little voice in the back of your head that says, (sings) ‘Do you love me?’”

In the end, the album everyone hates may indeed be the last KISS album of merit.

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Detroit Free Press Interview With James Campion – Transcript

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?KogGoOL-50

 

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.”small_shout

 

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.Stanley

 

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?NC_article_crop

 

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.destroyer_cover

 

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…

 

…family member…

 

…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.kiss1976

 

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.

 

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