It’s All Connected: Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park (1978)

After really hating Gordon Hessler’s Cry Of The Banshee, I was worried that the other two movies of his I planned on watching would fall flat. Luckily, I’ve had a much better It’s All Connected experience with his 1978 TV movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park. Less of a horror movie and more of a live action Scooby-Doo episode with a costume-loving rock band filling in for the kids and a talking dog, this is still a super enjoyable movie…if you don’t mind the title characters being VERY bad actors.

Enter, if you dare…

Music Musings: How I Got Into Music

Recently, my love of music has been rekindled. I’ve always had an affinity for the medium and have never really left it behind, but for the last year or so, I’ve been decidedly less focused on listening to music in favor of watching movies while I work or listening to podcasts. With my recent work changes, I’ve also changed how I work, which now involves playing the old iPod instead of zoning out with a movie I don’t really care about. I’m still gonna watch some TV and movies during the day, but I’m also going to utilize my time to catch up on the tons of CDs I picked up this summer at flea markets and also revisit some old faves. I’ve also been playing my guitar and bass a lot more often which has been a great stress reliever and a lot of fun. With that in mind, I figured it might be interesting to talk about how I got into listening to music.

I don’t remember much about music before around the 6th grade. I know my mom tended towards the classic, oldies radio stations when we’d drive around and my dad was more into classic rock, so I had a pretty broad base growing up, but it took me a while to go after music on my own aside from asking for MC Hammer tapes for my birthday. I don’t remember exactly when I got my first CD-playing boombox, but I think it was around 1992 because the first three CDs I got to go along with it were Kriss Kross’ Totally Krossed Out, the Aladdin soundtrack and a Disney disc called For Our Children with covers of children’s songs by artists like Little Richard, Bob Dylan and a slew of others. Pretty eclectic. Oddly enough, I don’t have any of those three discs in my collection anymore, having sold Kriss Kross in a garage sale and passed the two Disney discs along to my folks, though I might have to get them back for my kid to listen to. I would have been 9 around that time.

My second discman, Christmas 1998. Age 15, be nice.

My¬† musical evolution has a few distinct memories from those early days, but mostly a lot of fog. I’ve mentioned going to see KISS with my dad in 1997 and I have very distinct memories of sitting in the back of Mrs. White’s classroom in 7th grade during free time with my friend Jimmy listening to CDs on our Discmen and doodling. I did a lot of doodling back in the day and had great fun coming up with various lists of my favorite bands. During the last few summers of my grade school years, I remember watching MTV even though I wasn’t supposed to and probably did so when I was alone after school as well. I remember having a hard time mapping out the history of rock and roll in my brain because there was just so much going on (and I knew almost nothing about punk or funk, so it would only get bigger and more unwieldy as I got older). Wait, so the Beatles broke up BEFORE John Lennon was killed? How is it possible that Eric Clapton was in SO MANY bands?! Getting a subscription to Guitar World in high school really helped. That mag was like a history book for rock and roll.

The extent of my punk rock knowledge in 1999. So weird...

Jimmy was a pretty big influence on my listening habits. I got into bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice In Chains thanks to him. We also both dug 70s music because both our dads were into that kinda stuff. I would raid my dad’s CD collection and listen to Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and the like. At some point I also got my own turntable and borrowed a bunch of my dad’s vinyl which had a lot of 50s/60s pop records and introduced me one of my favorite bands of all time: The Ventures. Eventually, I’d start hitting up the used CD stores like CD Warehouse to add to my collection. For Christmas one year, my parents bought me a CD player that could hold 51 CDs, like a juke box. You would slide the CD booklets into a book so you’d know which ones were where and could even hit the random button and just let them run wild. Eventually, the CD selector arm stopped working and iPods came into play, but that stereo served me well all the way through college.

First with the help of the boom box and later the stereo, I also started listening to some Toledo and Detroit rock stations. I was pretty anti-rap, pop and country at that point for whatever reason (close mindedness, lack of experience, whatever you want to call it), so it was mostly 104.7 which was classic rock, 106.5 Buzz FM (alternative and classic) and Detroit’s 89X which introduced me to a lot of 90s bands and also played more than just the regular singles. I discovered this in the last few years after giving the missus’ Our Lady Peace records a listen and realizing I knew more songs than I should have.

By the time I got to high school I had seen KISS and Aerosmith with my dad, I’d soon win tickets to see Black Sabbath from one of the aforementioned radio stations and would add a bunch of music enthusiasts to my group of friends who would bolster my fandom and exploration even further. Going to concerts was a fairly regular occurrence with us (I miss those days a lot) and we had a ton of fun. We’d also talk about music more than was probably healthy, but what else are you supposed to talk about at an all guy Catholic high school?My freshman year (1998 or so) a group of us attended our school’s Battle of the Bands and were so inspired that we decided to form a band. Since one friend had a guitar and one a drum set, it came down to me to learn bass. So I did. I rented a black Fender Squier and an amp for a little while, took lessons from a guy named Ed who thought my dad’s first name was mine and eventually bought my own bass at a store’s semi-annual going out of business sale. Eventually, I’d switch teachers and get a really good one named Jason who I would go to for the rest of my high school career. It took awhile and a lot of effort, but we finally put a band together Sophomore that had the friend who was going to play guitar on drums, a different singer, a new friend on guitar and the one who was going to play drums too busy to participate because he was doing musicals. We practiced a lot, went through two lead singers (the musical dude eventually became the singer) and played a few parties, but nothing too fancy. It was a ton of fun. Senior year, we got our shit together, played Battle of the Bands and won. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to convert the VHS tape into YouTube clips to really embarrass everyone.

Bennet band practice.

Between playing music and learning more about it, I had a great time in high school as far as music was concerned. My buddy Chad, who would become the guitar player in the band (it was called The Pen Is Mightier, first, then Bennet after the singer change in case you were wondering) helped me get even further into classic rock, by really introducing me to Pink Floyd and some other bands. The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I started working at Barry’s Bagel Place and would continue to on and off until I moved out to New York to work at Wizard. That was a whole other world of music to get exposed to thanks to all kinds of new people of all different ages with different tastes. That’s where I discovered the Buzzcocks! The bakers got to choose the music played in the back and they had a big effect on what I was listening to as did this dude Matt who I worked up front with. He was a big fan of classic rock. But, the biggest influence on my at that time was working down the strip mall from my beloved Boogie Records, an independent record store that sold new and used CDs, records, DVDs, patches, the whole shebang. I can’t tell you how many laps I did around those racks before the place closed down when I was in college, but I wound up buying all kinds of CDs from them. It wasn’t until well after Kurt Cobain died that I really got into Nirvana. I had picked Nevermind a while before, but at some point I got really into them and went back and bought all their CDs at Boogie and even got a rad interview disc called The Bark Not The Bite that I should give another listen to. My tastes tended towards rock, classic and alternative including the growing pop punk of the day, but not much into metal or the nu-metal that was popping up all around me. While some of my friends got into Korn, I never could. I guess I wasn’t angry enough. Plus. those dudes always seemed like posers to me anyway.

Not my actual hair style in college, the ladies had fun with me then I played pourly, but looked cool.

In college, I had much less money to spend on music, but I did expand my horizons, slowly getting into blues, hip hop, country and jazz thanks to a class I took my senior year. I started with old school hip hop, outlaw country and general blues but I was liking it all. I also dropped my outstanding dislike of pop music, deciding it’s more fun to have fun with crappy pop music than it is to outright hate everything. Sure, there’s bad–really bad–pop music out there, but what’s the point of letting it upset you? Shitty music has always been around, it takes effort to work past that to get to the good stuff. While in college, the whole digital thing started happening, but I was mostly oblivious to it, preferring my CDs and, yes, my mini disc player. It wasn’t until right before I moved to NY and got my Mac that I discovered the joys of ripping all your music to a computer and a year or say later when the glorious iPod entered my life (it’s almost full now, which is kind of sad). Sometime around the end of high school, I decided I wanted a guitar and got a Squier Telecaster start-up pack, which I took with me, along with a bass, to college. I only ever played two gigs/shows/recitals in college but I liked having my gear around to play with. Still do.

Now I find myself with more CDs than I care to count, a small collection of records and an iPod nearly full of music with more to put on. I don’t really spend a lot of money on new music, but usually try new things out that I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. I’m generally cheap, so the idea of being able to get a disc for a few bucks is very appealing and allows me to try a lot of new things (for what it’s worth, I’m against pirating music). I’ve found a TON of 90s hip hop CDs at garage sales. The thing that still blows me away about music is how broad of a topic it can be. I used to think I knew a lot about a lot, but that was mostly all popular music. I know dudes who can talk for hours about bands I’ve never heard of.

So, what’s the point of this post aside from rambling scattershot about my history with music? Well, first off, it’s a way of me telling you that I’m going to be writing more about music on the blog. Music Mondays will now be Music Musings because I’m not sure if posts will always go up on Mondays. I’m also planning on actually doing record reviews on a more regular basis and documenting my exploration of new-to-me music genres like 80s music (to a 90s alternakid, the 80s were one big joke, but there’s obviously a lot of good stuff in there). For a brief period of time I got paid to do this kind of stuff, which was a life long dream. I’m hoping that my newfound enthusiasm for music will combine with this crazy blogging addiction I seem to have and make for some interesting posts. If not, well, I’ll probably just quit doing them and post more music videos or something.

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.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: MEGO KISS

Woops, this got posted for a little while on Monday thanks to me not being able to read a calendar very well.

Like I said in last week’s Tuesday Toy Commercial, I wasn’t a MEGO fan as a kid because they weren’t still coming out, but there are still some pretty cool MEGO toys out there, like this set of 12.5-inch tall KISS figures. I actually have two of these guys from a big box of comics and miscellany that the in-laws picked up for me at an auction, but considering they’re kind of dirty, I haven’t really looked at them much.

Even with all the nonsense surrounding Nick Simmons clearly plagiarizing manga and his dad turning out to be an even bigger d-bag than I ever imagined, KISS still holds a special place in my heart because their reunion tour was my very first concert. My dad and I went and my mind was sincerely blown. There was so much fire and blood and flying I don’t see how anyone could not like a KISS show. We went again a few years later and it was still awesome, but nothing tops that first time. I ended up getting the first two waves of McFarlane KISS figures after this (the ones with action features for some reason and the Psycho Circus ones). Anyway, gotta love seeing the boys and girls gathered around a table playing with potentially satanic toys and the background song “KISS, that’s the name/KISS, they may look insane/KISS, if rock’s your game/It’s KISS!” “And you can put them in any crazy position you want!”