White Lung's Mish Way explains The Kiss Army.
This is the thing: I have never been a “Kiss fan.”
Do you know what I mean when I say “Kiss fan?” A true Kiss fan is someone who knows all the words, who has been painting their face “The Starchild” like Paul Stanley since they were in the fourth grade and begged their parents for Dressed To Kill. A Kiss fan is fanatic and has been since day one. Kiss fans aren’t just from the '70s. Kiss fans are born in the 2000s.
My best friend (and drummer in our band, White Lung) Anne-Marie has tried to get me to change my mind on Kiss many times. When I would tell her I wasn’t into Kiss or whatever, she would reply that I was a fool and go on about how they put on the best show you have ever seen. “When I saw them last time some 50-year-old woman spread her legs for Paul Stanley and she had no underwear on,” she said.
Lately, there’s been a lot more “hard rock” in my life. I think it has something to do with my boyfriend. He’s that kind of head. I’m not complaining. I’ve always been a sucker for guitar, but more of the Wipers rather than Lynard Skynard.
Whether you think Kiss are clowns or gods, the bottom line is you have to respect the cult they have manifested: The Kiss Army. The band started in 1973 and still, in 2014, at The Forum there were kids as young as 6-years-old faces painted and so excited to see the show. Kids and stoned people kind of like the same things: a lot of pyrotechnics, flashing lights and crazy costumes. Who doesn’t like that stuff?
In VH1’s "Kiss: Behind The Make-Up," Paul Stanley said, “We were very hard working and very dedicated in trying to make it. We wanted to look like the band we never saw, sound like the band we never heard, we wanted to be the ultimate combination of all the things we loved.”
There’s no apathy with Kiss, only this drive and dedication that I feel doesn’t exist in today’s bands. Maybe because bands don’t “make it” the same way they did half a century ago? Maybe because the internet has changed everything? Either way, with Kiss there is this whole “giving you your money’s worth” attitude. On stage, I often think about this: am I giving people their money’s worth? It’s not something that I am consciously thinking about as I sing, but when I get out there, I perform. I do my job. Not only is it fun for me, but it’s satisfying for the people who came to watch. That’s what performance is. Why have so many people forgotten about this vital exchange?
So, Def Leppard finishes playing. I’m deep into a giant plastic cup of Evan Williams and coke. The Forum is crawling with Kiss army people. So many women gleaming with their fake California tans and Kiss mini dresses. I love their fake blonde hair. One woman in the bathroom with extensions like magical pony straw really impresses me. Her boobs could save the drowning.
The thing about a big rock concert is that it should be a big rock concert. I have spent my life going to shows, but going to a concert is a whole different thing. When you have money, you can do crazy shit and you should do crazy shit. Kiss have always been big on the theatrics: Simmon’s tongue alone is a show in itself. Flames blasting out of their guitars, lights, lifts, I mean, this is what you want to see. Plus, when you are playing to giant arenas you have to make your moves big like musical theatre so the poor people in the back rows (me) still get what’s going on.
Kiss starts and the crowd goes insane. How must it feel to play like this every night for almost half a century? I can’t even imagine it. It’s unfathomable. The other genius thing about Kiss? The make-up: they can look the exact same as they did when they were in their 20’s with some face paint. They never get old and tired. So smart. I wonder if they were thinking ahead? In the 80’s when they got all soft glam fem and lost the make-up things weren’t as great, right? They need that make-up.
Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (the only two founding members who have made it all these years) are total, true freaks. Stanley’s voice is high and queer. He talks to the crowd like a true showman. He brags that they are in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, makes a joke about Rage Against The Machine and then, flies across the crowd to a landing point in the middle of the arena. Kiss is 100% showboating. It’s perfect. Simmons gets up on a giant, electronic spider and blood pours out of his mouth for about 10 minutes as he hits random bass notes and waves his signature tongue around. “There are no rules,” Gene Simmons said in 2001. “Damn straight we sell out. We sell out every night we play.”
My boyfriend whips out a joint and we get stoned. He offers it to all our friends, then I pass it to the couple next to me who are in their 50’s. The woman, who has Farrah Fawcett hair, red high-waisted jeans and a halter top, shakes her head “no” at first then shrugs and takes the joint.
“You know what?” she yells in my ear. “I saw Kiss here at The Forum when I was in the third grade. I got a contact high from all the pot, so I thought what the hell.” She sucks back on the weed and sings along to every word. I’m stoned, so I can’t really do anything but smile.
“These jeans are 30 years old!” She reveals to me. “30 years old!”
She looks good. She looks like 1976. She’s having fun like it’s 1976.
Because this is the thing: a rock show is supposed to make you excited. It’s supposed to leave you feeling totally fulfilled, entertained and blown away. Sometimes I think about the eras of rock and how the popular drugs in that time affected the way the music sounded: the 70’s is all tripped out, theatrical and goofy in the best way possible. Over the top riffs and outlandish clothing. The 80’s was good coke, teased up and fucked up and showing off the most skin while pushing the gender boundaries. The 90’s? Doped out. Apathetic.
At the end of the show Stanley announced that instead of walking off and having the crowd scream and holler for an encore, they were just going to give us three more songs, because he knew we would want it anyways. He was right. When you have stuck it out for as long as Kiss has (and successfully, with minor bumps), you can say this and get nothing but applause.
I rode home stoned and happy. Kiss put me through a total 180. I was converted.
Don't expect to see Mish Way in a Kiss mini dress anytime soon, though. She's on Twitter - @myszkaway.