KISS vs. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Or, Careful What You Wish For)

In the summer of 1997, I visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland while on a road trip with some very dear friends. Two things I remember vividly about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during my visit are the top floor rotunda and the gift shop.

The top floor rotunda has large columns of marble with autograph signatures of every Hall of Fame member etched into the marble. It’s a very cool and at times somber memorial when you see autographs of members (Lennon, Joplin and Hendrix for example) who were inducted posthumously. As I looked in the K section at the autographs for members of The Kinks and Gladys Knight I laughed and thought, “KISS doesn’t belong here, between these two [groups]!”

The gift shop boasted that it had every official release of every Hall of Fame artist that was available on compact disc. Looking thru the “K” section of the CDs I saw that they had every title that KISS had officially released on compact disc, even though they weren’t yet members of the Hall of Fame. Talking to the gift shop employee, we both agreed that KISS would “be in the Hall soon after they became eligible in 1999” (Twenty-five years from the year of their first album).

Well, 1999 came and went with no induction for KISS. Then I thought with their announced “Farewell Tour” (cough cough) in 2000, an invite from The Hall would come in 2001.

It didn’t.

After many years, it became a joke. Bands that began their careers long after KISS were getting inducted into the Hall of Fame while KISS (and more importantly, their fans) waited.

Eventually, the snub became a badge of honor. KISS was NEVER going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the band and the fans acted as if they didn’t care. “F*** YOU Hall of Fame!! We don’t need you!!”

Well, this past autumn, for the first time ever, the Hall of Fame allowed Fan Voting, where fans got to choose four artists from a list of ten bands. The Hall of Fame didn’t say that the winners would automatically be inducted, but KISS were included on the ballot of nominees, along with Nirvana, Deep Purple, Hall & Oates and Chic, among others. KISS and their “Army” of fans topped the voting, finishing ahead of all others. Since The Hall had opened the door to fans, and the KISS fans had spoken, there was really no way The Powers That Be could ignore the result.

So, in late December, the announcement was made. The announcement that legions of KISS fans truly believed they would never hear: On April 10, KISS were (finally!) going to be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

It should have been a joyous moment; a sweet justified victory lap for the band and their fans.

Instead, in the three months since the announcement, members of KISS, past and present, have seemingly been in the press every week, sniping and feuding with one another in a sad display of ego and pettiness.

Bear in mind, I’ve been a KISS fan for over 36 years, so I have lots of baggage and zero objectivity where this band are concerned. I won’t give a rehash of the daggers…I mean quotes flying through the press. If you want to read those, go check out the recent ROLLING STONE cover story. Instead, first here is a brief history (KISSTORY) lesson (Click on the pics to see entire image in a new webpage):

* In the 70s, the name/band KISS meant these four names: Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. As a young fan at that time, it was impossible to think anyone else would ever be in this band.

* Summer 1980, Criss is fired and replaced by Eric Carr, who takes on The Fox persona and is immediately accepted by fans.
Eric Carr
Eric Carr Pictures
* Autumn 1982, Frehley quits weeks before the band is scheduled to go on tour. He’s replaced by Vinnie Vincent, who, unbeknownst to fans played all the lead guitar parts on that year’s “Creatures of the Night” album, even though Ace’s likeness appeared on the album. Vincent is given The Ankh makeup design. The less said about this moment in KISSTORY, the better. (L to R: Eric, Paul, Vinnie and Gene)

* After a very tumultuous two-album tenure, Vincent is fired in 1984 and replaced by guitarist Mark St. John for the “Animalize” album. During the sessions for that record, St. John is diagnosed with a severe form of arthritis, Reiter’s Syndrome, which caused severe swelling of his hands and arms. In December of 1984, St. John is replaced on lead guitar by Bruce Kulick.

* After three new members in two years, this lineup of Simmons, Stanley, Carr and Kulick finally provided some stability. KISS had a very successful run of pop hits in the late-80’s, culminating in the 1990 single “Forever,” the band’s first US Top Ten Single since “Beth” in 1976. (That’s Bruce top right, and Eric in sunglasses in the pic)

* On November 24, 1991 Eric Carr died after battling cancer for a year. KISS soldiered on, enlisting Eric Singer to be their new drummer for 1992’s “Revenge” album. (Singer’s the blonde…and Bruce is wearing WAY too much lipstick!)

* The lineup of Simmons, Stanley, Kulick and Singer disbanded when Frehley and Criss joined their former bandmates for the mammoth 1996-97 Reunion Tour. Eventually the original lineup repeated their 70s history, becoming one of the biggest touring acts from 1996-2000, only to have Criss and Frehley be dismissed a second time (in 2001and 2003, respectively). Rather than ending KISS entirely, Gene and Paul brought back Singer and put him in the Catman Makeup, and hired Ace’s former guitar technician, Tommy Thayer, to fill Ace’s platforms (and wear his makeup).
KISS in 1996: Ace, Paul, Gene and Peter
KISS in 2014: Gene, formerly blonde Eric Singer, Paul and Tommy Thayer

Okay, If you’ve been paying attention, from 1974-2014, there have been ten official members of KISS. When the Hall of Fame announcement was made, fans and even some band members wondered, “Who would be inducted? Just the original four, all ten members, or some combination thereof?”. The Hall of Fame board informed Stanley and Simmons that the honor was only being extended to the original lineup.

As a fan, that didn’t surprise me, but it angered me. There’s no disputing the game-changing impact that Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter had on fans who later became musicians because of albums like “KISS ALIVE!” and “Rock And Roll Over” (the first KISS album I ever had, the one that shaped my life forever). But, every member of KISS (yes, even Tommy Thayer) has made a contribution to KISS, helping make KISS what it is. True, the sight of two “replacements” in the iconic makeup kinda waters down the brand, but ignoring Eric Carr or Bruce Kulick when deciding who from the band gets enshrined is not only shortsighted, it’s disrespectful.

I really wanted to see Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter share the stage one last time, play two or three songs, hug (even if it’s insincere) and then I would’ve been fine with the four of them going their separate ways again. Once Stanley learned that only the original four were being honored and The Hall of Fame didn’t want a performance from the 2014 lineup, Paul and Gene decided that n o version of KISS would perform at the ceremony. I agree with the decision and I think it’s the correct one. If The Originals aren’t gonna play, at least I won’t have to see the current lineup limp through an off-key rendition of “Rock And Roll All Nite.”

Does KISS deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Absolutely. If you dispute that, you haven’t been paying attention for the last 40 years. Without KISS, there would be no Motley Crüe, no Bon Jovi, heck, even country mega-star Garth Brooks was a card carrying member of the KISS Army in the 1970s! Even if you discounted everything that came after 1979, KISS would still warrant induction based on that five-year span from 1974-79 that saw KISS release fourteen (!) albums. 

I’m not kidding when I say I have a love/hate relationship with this band. Since there will be no performance by Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter,  I won’t be getting HBO for the sole reason of seeing the ceremony. As many missteps and screw-ups as this band has had, I can’t stay completely mad at them, because in 1996, KISS gave their fans The Reunion Tour of the original lineup, something I NEVER thought I would see. (Backstory: In July 1979, Matt Richards, a very cool teenage neighbor of mine invited me to see KISS on the DYNASTY tour at The Capital Centre. I was five years old. My mom said “No!” and then Peter left the band the next year, so I thought my chance to see The Originals was gone forever.)

This band gave that wish back to me, seventeen years later, when I truly could appreciate it. 

How many times in anyone’s life does that happen? How cool is that?

So, I can’t stay mad at them, even as they now have become a caricature. Anything worth merit after The Reunion is a bonus in my book, because The Reunion will never be topped. 

Congratulations to Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter, Eric Carr, Vinnie, Mark, Bruce, Eric Singer and Tommy. But, most of all, congrats to The KISS ARMY, because THE FANS are not only the reason KISS’ influence is so far-reaching, they are quite literally the reason KISS will be crashing the party on Thursday night. 

In closing, i will add that it’s a bit of a letdown to know, for  a band synonymous with fire and bombast, the only explosions we will see from KISS at the  Induction Ceremony will be their acceptance speeches!

I wonder if Gene will make Tommy videotape the evening’s proceedings, so Gene can include them on the next KISSOLOGY DVD set? 🙂

–Longarm, KISS ARMY member since 1977