Music Mondays: KISS

Before 7th grade I wasn’t much of a KISS fan. Sure, I liked “Rock and Roll All Night” and “Detroit Rock City” as much as the next kid who was learning about rock and roll for the first time, but aside from that they weren’t really on my radar. Then they reunited with all four original members (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehly and Peter Criss) in 1997 and kicked off a tour. My dad–a huge rock fan in his own right who helped introduce me to all kinds of classic rock from the 60s and 70s–brought the idea up to me: “Do you want to see KISS?” I thought about it for about two seconds, said yes and then we started trying to get tickets through the Ticketmaster at Kroger (I don’t believe Ticketmaster was online at that time and if they were, waiting for dial-up to load on our Compaq would have taken longer than the several dozen phone calls I made trying to get through to Ticketmaster). Unfortunately, we didn’t get through and figured we’d have to wait until the next time they came to town.

Later that week, on the way home from dinner or church, we pulled into another grocery store with a Ticketmaster (Food Town, I believe) and my dad ran in. Turns out they had released another group of tickets that were really great seats (up in the stands to the right if you were onstage, but right by the railing). He snatched two up and we were set to go to my very first rock concert. And holy shit, was it amazing. There are plenty of better bands out there in the world than KISS, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a band that puts on a better stage show. They started playing and it was awesome, then, out of nowhere, a whole wall of speakers raised up behind them, but that was just the beginning. There was fire and flying and blood and the members of the bend coming out on these extending platforms and playing above the crowd (right near us in fact) and it was just awesome, like going to the circus, really. I also think that was the show where the guy next to my dad asked if “your friend” (meaning me) wanted a hit from the dude’s joint. He told the guy that I was his son and the guy was like “Oh, okay, do you want a hit?” My dad declined, but it’s still a funny story. After that, I was hooked. Not so much on the music, but the whole idea of KISS. In fact, I own more toys based on the band than actual KISS CDs (the only ones I own are the greatest hits Double Platinum and their post-reunion original Psycho Circus. Hell I even had a KISS tie (the third from the left in the picture above). See, I went to an all guy Catholic high school where we had to wear a shirt and tie every day, but they didn’t care what ties. I distinctly remember sitting in class one time and this dude leans over and says “Hey, KISS sucks,” like it was going to destroy my world. I looked at him and said “No shit, but they put on an awesome show.” He then said they weren’t as good as Jimi Hendrix which made me want to dope slap him and say “No shit,” but I didn’t. Sure, I’d rather see Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd live in concert because they are and were amazing musicians and bands, but that’s not happening so I’ll take what I can get. Like I said, the action figures from Todd McFarlane came out at just the right time because I was not only a huge comic and toy geek, but also getting into KISS. There’s not much of a leap from liking superheroes to liking KISS what with their masks, crazy costumes and that fact that toys were being made of them and of course every geek worth his salt knows that Simmons borrowed elements of Blackbolt’s costume for his stage look. I got all of the above figures and still have them in a box in our storage unit along with a few others. I think my dad may have gotten them for me for Christmas or my birthday or something. It was cool because he was never into toys or comics, but this was an easy bridge for us to meet on. Soon enough their highly anticipated (eh maybe just somewhat anticipated) new record Psycho Circus came out and the band went on another tour that my dad and I got tickets for, but this time we took my dad’s brother and his son who’s about three years younger than me with us. Ted Nugent opened for them which was awesome and then KISS came out and did their thing. I think my dad and I were into it way more than my cousin and uncle, but what are you gonna do? I don’t remember that show as vividly, but I know I had a good time and anticipated all the gags I remembered from the first time around and wasn’t disappointed. There’s something about sitting in your seat and feeling the heat from the pyrotechnics that just screams ROCK to me. I even like the record, especially the song “We Are One.”Such a fan was I that I even picked up a bootleg copy of the TV movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park which is awesomely bad and ridiculous. I wish I had my copy here in New York because I really want to watch it for my upcoming daily horror movie double feature throughout October. The only scene I really remember is one where the band (or maybe just Gene) are sitting on director’s chairs outside and some guy runs up to them. Man, it’s bad, but perfectly so.

Anyway, my love affair with KISS would not last forever. Eventually Gene and Paul became too much to work with and Peter and Ace bounced (or were bounced? I don’t recall) from the band and I didn’t really care about seeing them live anymore (what’s the point of seeing impostors once you’ve seen the real thing?). Plus, I went to realize what an asshole Gene Simmons is. I always knew he was a world class hustler getting the KISS name on everything from coffins to condoms, but I’d learn from various sources that he’s also an asshole. The last nail in the coffin for my fandom was seeing his “reality show” Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels which stated off as what seemed like a look at a fairly down to earth family who just happen to be famous and wealthy and turned into one of the worst, stagey reality shows I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of them). Oh and then his son plagiarized a bunch of manga for his comics or whatever. Blech.

So, while I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard KISS fan anymore, I still have a lot of fond memories from the band thanks to their tours and every now and then I’ll smile when one of their songs comes up on my iPod’s shuffle mix, but I don’t think I’d call myself a fan anymore. They served their purpose and really built a concert bond between my dad and I that I hope we can continue at some point (the last show we went to together was The Who’s tour right after bass player John Entwistle died back in 2002), so for that I’ll always be thankful.

Robo Rampage: Runaway (1984) & Surrogates (2009)

If you’re like me, then you’re a big fan of NBC’s Community (on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.). As a big movie and TV fan I’ve come to love Abed and his string of pop culture references, most of which I’m proud to say I bet. In last week’s episode called “Romantic Expressionism” Abed and some of the gang got together to watch a crazy sci-fi action movie called Kick Puncher. Up next on their list was going to be Runaway, which I looked up immediately and realized I already had in my instant queue. So, of course, I bumped it up to the top and gave it a watch. The surprising thing is that it’s actually pretty good. Michael Crichton wrote and directed the movie starring Tom Selleck as a cop whose beat involves putting down/turning off rogue robots dubbed runaways and Gene Simmons who plays the villain. Kirstie Alley’s also in it, but doesn’t have a huge part (man, she used to be hot, even in that up tight bitchy sort of way).

The story takes place in the future and instead of having robots shaped like people, they’re boxier and just do regular household and other other duties to make life easier for humans. Until they go crazy. Sometimes its Westworld-style and sometimes it’s just a tractor-bot running its own course. Soon, a number of bots who shouldn’t be running away becme runaways and all signs point back to Simmons who is amazing at playing a villains (just think of that stare and give him a gun that can shoot around corners).

I don’t want to get too much into the details of the ending, but I liked it a lot because, not only does the hero face some potential physical scarring in the facial region (stars usually like to stay pretty), but the villain’s plan has a huge loophole that I picked up on right when I heard it and then turned out to be right. They also do a great job of making what could have been some silly robots look pretty creepy. I’m mainly thinking of those spider-looking ones and even the ones that can move as fast as cars and keep up with them. Overall, I’d give this one the thumbs up and recommend it to anyone. There’s enough to laugh at if that’s what you’re going for, but if not, it’s a pretty solid film all around. That Crichton guy sure knew how to tell a story.

First off, I have to say that I have not read the comics this movie is based on, so my opinion of it will be solely based on the film itself and not it compared to the source material. It is kind of cool to be in this position as I’ve either read most of the comics the comic-based movies I’ve seen are based on or I haven’t (like V For Vendetta which I recently got from Swap but haven’t started reading yet).

Anyway, I liked Surrogates. It had a somewhat similar to that of Gamer which I watched recently and loved in which real people were being controlled by other people for selfish purposes. Instead of real people though, Surrogates has people piloting life-like robots that they control from the safety of their own homes. Not everyone has one, of course, and some people are diametrically opposed to them. Bruce Willis plays a cop (hey, there’s another similarity between this one and Runaway) who’s using his surrogate to figure out who killed the son of the guy who created the surrogates in the first place. As you might expect the plot gets more complicated from there (though never too terribly hard to understand), with Willis abandoning his surrogate and getting out in to the real world on his own, which he hasn’t done in years.

Since this is a newer movie that I did like and do recommend, I don’t want to get too far into the details, but there are a few elements that I really liked and wanted to mention. The movie got me thinking a lot about the practicality of how this kind of society would work. It would be interesting because, at first, as people started using surrogate, the pilots would drive their surrogates in the same way they themselves would navigate their normal day. But, if you’re just using robots, wouldn’t you be able to start making smaller rooms for them to do their operations in? Also, wouldn’t it be possible to make some worker bots that would just follow commands to do shitty jobs? Or go to war (they show real people piloting G.I. Robots, these ones don’t have life-like faces because, what’s the point?). I’m not sure which aspects came from the comic or the film’s writers/director, but really liked how the surrogates moved. There’s a human/surrogate footchase which looks really cool because the human looks very normal and lifelike and Willis looks more stiff, but also way more powerful. There’s even a scene where actual Willis is walking down the street and all the surrogates are bumping into him or just barely missing him. At first they just seemed like jerks, but I realized it’s because they probably have some kind of sensors that keep them from hitting each other. It’s the little details like that that make this more than just your run of the mill, cop trying to figure out something bigger story.

Anyone read the comic and watch the movie? How did it stack up?