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By Johnny Angel

KISS of Death
Has-beens reunite not for money but for ego strokes

The big sumer tour of 1996 is once again a reunion. Nope, not the Sex Pistols, kids, but KISS, the clown princes of '70s schlock rock, are back in our faces with their game faces on. Yippee! Selling out Madison Square Garden four nights in a row is no mean feat, nor is opening a tour at Detroit's Tiger Stadium in front of 37,000 fans.

I come not to begrudge this quartet their popularity, though. I merely want to deflate the printed rants and tirades of KISS' minister of propaganda, Gene "God of Thunder" Simmons. Big Gene, y'see, is still on his high horse, telling scribes, "Critics still hate us, even though we're doing record numbers." Guess again, Mr. Klein. Every review I've seen of the band and its spectacle has been as favorable as possible, given that KISS' music has never been the locus or the focus of its existence.

As a mind-blowing visceral show, KISS is nonpareil, especially in this era of shoe-gazing self-deprecation. But visceral is all it is. No modern band of men would ever dare the macho exaggeration of Ace, Paul, Pete and Gene. 'Tis only because they belong to the past are they allowed this luxury. If a new band came out today in this big-money fashion, they'd either be laughed off the planet or have to drape themselves in the ironic as pure camp.

Nope, the KISS reunion tour isn't entirely a financial gambit, as some critics have claimed (and Simmons has bristled at). It's really all about ego. Reduced to sponsoring coast-to-coast KISS conventions last year, with trib bands playing, it seemed that Simmons' jig was up, that no one was caring anymore. The original members in makeup ploy always has been this crew's ace-in-the-hole--in fact, it's the only thing compelling about them.

Like the Pistols front-man John Lydon/Rotten, Gene Simmons/Klein is a rich man, he don't need the lucre--filthy or spotless. But sans hook, the soapbox belongs to younger, newer Turks, therefore the only way to reclaim the limelight is to go back to an act that is frozen in memory. Why do you suppose both bands are refusing to play new compositions? Any intimation of the present busts the spell bigtime. The whole allure is atavism. Way to go, guys.

The precedent for the KISS thang, therefore, was the Eagles tour of 1994. For all of Simmons' blather about "our influence on music being much greater than some crit band like Television" or Don Henley's ire at New York critics debasing the Eagles by saying that the New York Dolls were more important ("Where are the Dolls now?" scoffed the coke-sniffing, pox-faced drummer).

Both the Eagles and KISS were the basest distillation of semi-popular styles run through a reactionary filter. The Eagles machoed up CSNY and the Byrds, KISS defanged the Dolls, Slade and Alice Cooper. Crass and crude, they sold many more discs than their influences, but name me a '90s rock band that sounds like either of these acts, and I'll give the free KISS Army T-shirt I just got. The rich and powerful, who fuckin' needs 'em, anyway?

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From the August 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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