Traffic Lights | John Ginsburg
The Timing Chain | Angela Hamilton
Stupid | Michael McCarthy
The Dullest Star | Sheri McCord
My Love Letter to KISS | Jim Ousley
COVER PRINTED BY
ART DIRECTION BY
Michael R. Allen, Andrea Avery, Aaron Belz, Jack Biggs, Andrea Day, Piedmont Chris Johnson, Chris King, Jim Klenn, Nina Lägel*, K. Curtis Lyle, Sarah Raischel, April Seager, Mike Steinberg, Kerry Zimmerman
My Love Letter to KISS | by Jim Ousley
If there has been one constant in my life so far, it would have to come down to being asked the same question, time and time again. "Why in the hell are you so into KISS?" friends would invariably ask. The emphasis of course is on the 'why,' usually emphasized to enhance the complete and utter incredulity of what they must assume is some sort of mental condition on my part. I have to admit that, even though the reasons for my fanship seem completely obvious to me, my answers do very little to quell the confusion of those who ask. Full disclosure: I wasn't always an obsessed fan of the hottest band in the land. In fact KISS, particularly the blood-spitting Gene Simmons, used to give me horrible nightmares as a little boy. I remember a pretty blonde cousin of mine who asked me to go into her room and fetch a hairbrush for her. Upon turning the light on, I saw four black and white glossy 8X10 photos of Simmons, Paul Stanley, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley staring down at me from her wall. As embarrassing as this is to say now, they scared the living daylights out of me, enough to make me run out of the room and, much to my cousin's chagrin, forget her hair brush in the process. Seizing the opportunity to sufficiently torture me some more, she proceeded to play KISS Alive at such an ear-splitting volume that my bad dreams were now guaranteed to contain a soundtrack to accompany the kabuki-faced visuals.
It wasn't until I picked up a copy of Howard the Duck Number 12 featuring the first ever appearance of KISS in a comic book that I started to really understand what all the fuss was about. Soon after that Howard the Duck stint, the Mighty Marvel Bullpen gave KISS their very own comic which, as a special bonus, contained some of their real blood in the ink. Finally, the band seemed more in line with what my eight year old mind could reasonably process. Once my eyes were opened and my mind was polluted, KISS suddenly seemed like they were everywhere. Their name was emblazoned across denim jackets, on belt buckles, lunchboxes, Halloween masks, and pretty much anything their logo would fit on. It took me awhile, but I was finally on-board with the rest of the world when it came to this unlikely cultural zeitgeist. I even sat in front of the television set in my "Superfriends" pajamas, filled with anticipation and Sugar Pops, ready to watch the 1978 Hanna-Barbara movie "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park". Sure, it was confusing and weird, and I had absolutely no idea why an allegedly brilliant scientist like Abner Devereaux would think he could rule the world with a bunch of amusement park robots. However, I think it was Charlie Sheen or maybe even Paul Stanley himself who said, “why look for meaning where this is none?” Plus, why busy yourself looking for a plot when you can just sit back and watch KISS fight hairy wolf-apes and their own evil robot clones? Pass the KISS Colorforms kit and clown-white makeup, because it was a KISS world, and I was just living in it!
At this point in my journey to becoming a card-carrying member of the KISS Army, my hero worship was grounded squarely in the band’s cartoon image and had nothing to do with their music. In fact, it was not the promise of another new album that excited me as a kid. What excited me was the time we took our Mego KISS action figures in the backyard, took a penny, and decided to scrub off their face paint to see what these guys "looked like without their makeup". Much to our disappointment, they looked just like Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, albeit with longer hair. Eventually of course, the inevitable happened – KISS were temporarily replaced in my little heart by other pop-culture urges competing for my attention and the money I made from mowing lawns and shoveling driveways. Something had to change and KISS, always one step ahead of me, had something up their codpieces that no one expected.
In 1983, KISS decided to do what many considered to be the unthinkable – they would unmask on a new music video channel called MTV to promote their new album "Lick It Up". Our family didn’t have cable T.V., so I ran to the house of a neighborhood friend who did possess the magic video portal and, while I missed the unmasking interview, I got there just in time for the “Lick It Up” world premier video! The song started to throb through the small tinny speakers and the camera slowly panned up the band member’s legs. Finally I was going to see my heroes without makeup on! These weren’t action figures either, these were the real guys showing their true faces to the world! Alas, the cable went out just as the reveal was about to happen and my heart sank. Naturally, my friend thought this was gut-splittingly hilarious, as he had already witnessed the pre-video interview and his curiosity was satiated. Nevertheless, I later hiked it to Streetside Records to pick up the album and as the needle hit the wax, I fell in love all over again.
Every relationship has a turning point, a time when it must be consummated to keep it from dying like the proverbial rock ‘n roll grape on the vine. For KISS and I, our time had truly come and it was now or never. Camping out over night at Kiel Auditorium, my pals and I purchased tickets to see KISS on their Animalize tour. KISS were on the way up again, having scored a big hit with "Heaven’s On Fire" and as the concert date approached, I found myself giddy with the same anticipation that possessed me watching their classic made-for-TV movie so many years before. The date was December 4th, 1984, and St. Louis was hit with a fairly nasty snowstorm. Despite the storm, and the impending SAT tests I would have to endure the next day at school, we moved ahead with our plan like the devoted rock soldiers we were. Navigating Highway 70 in a beat-up orange Pinto, we passed cars that had slid off the highway and what should been a 20-minute trip downtown took nearly an hour. We made it just in time to catch the last few songs by opening act Queensryche but when we turned around to look at the auditorium, we saw that lot of people hadn’t made it to the show. The snowstorm and rather hazardous driving conditions obviously ensnared many a rocker on the way to the venue, and the auditorium was only half-full. Being the smart-assed teenagers that we were, we nervously joked that the band would come out and not give a shit because of the small attendance. As the lights went down though, I was happily surprised to see Gene, Paul, and new members Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick, whipping the crowd into a seismic tidal wave of pure rock energy that I had never experienced in my young life. They played like their life depended on it, like it was their first show at Madison Square Garden, and they put every ounce of sweat they had into it. The concert had such an impact on me that I eventually learned how to annoy my parents and neighbors by playing guitar, writing songs, and forming my own noisy bands.
Years passed. I got married, bought a house, had children, and life went on its merry way, changing me along with it. One constant that remained though was my love of KISS and, just like my life, there were plenty of good times and bad. I thrilled at KISS walking out of a giant Sphinx onstage on the "Hot in the Shade" tour, and my heart broke when Eric Carr, my favorite KISS drummer, succumbed to cancer in 1990. I was excited as everyone else when the original members of KISS reunited in 1996 in full makeup and regalia to tour the world, and I was saddened by the loss of guitarist Mark St.John in April of 2007. Just as the world changes around them though, KISS just keeps going, not even letting a Farewell Tour get in their way of bringing the rock. I eventually had a chance to meet my favorite KISS member, Paul Stanley, at a gallery showing of his paintings. I told him the story of the snowstorm, a half empty Kiel Auditorium, and the fact that my teenaged self was so impressed that they came onstage and gave everything they had. He responded "Well, why should we punish those that made it because of the people that didn’t make it? That’s not our style. No matter how many people are there, we give our fans the best show possible." Clearly, the relationship between KISS and their fans is a two-way love affair.
Ultimately then, when someone throws the same familiar question my way, my answer is always the same. The timeless songs, the KISS pinball machine, the makeup, the bombs, the blood, the fire, the trading cards – there is not one facet of the this band that does not completely and without-abandon flat out rock. I predict that someday in the future, brilliant scientists like Abner Devereaux will take the KISS blood DNA from those comic books, and create brand new versions of KISS to help future generations learn how fun it is to rock and roll all night – and party every day.
A St. Louis native, Jim Ousley began as a musician and songwriter, and has released several albums and appeared on several compilations with his band, My 2 Planets. Besides opening for such artists as The Go-Gos, Chuck Berry, and Rick Springfield, Jim's music has been used on MTV's "Road Rules", "Real World" and many independent film projects. Primarily an actor, Jim is a long-time member of Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, and has performed with St. Louis Shakespeare, Non Prophet Theatre Company and many others. He also co-produced, co-starred, co-wrote, and composed the original score for the award-winning independent comedy "Hooch & Daddy-O". He is also a frequent contributor to PlaybackSTL magazine, reviewing recordings, live music, and interviewing world-renowned musicians. Jim has a wife and two children.