The Denial of Peter (Criss): My KISS Betrayal
With the album Destroyer still fresh in the racks, I fell big for KISS in 1976 at the age of 12. I certainly wasn’t alone among my friends, although my immediate head-long dive into the deep end of KISS worship did make me the most adamant fan in my peer group. KISS became my obsession. I enthusiastically bought a pair of homemade Paul Stanley platform boots from a buddy for five bucks, became a dues-paying member of the KISS Army, and covered nearly every bit of open wall space in my room with KISS posters and magazine cutouts. (The few spots not hosting KISS were dedicated to Farah’s famous red swimming suit and some other Charlie’s Angels-related “artwork.”)
More importantly, I sought out the music and played it incessantly. Besides Destroyer, I quickly owned ALIVE! and the first three studio LPs, KISS, Hotter than Hell, and Dressed to Kill. When Rock and Roll Over came out in November ’76, I successfully convinced my parents to drive me to the record store on the day of release to buy it, heroically withstanding pressure from an older record store clerk who tried to convince me to purchase instead the also-just-released Leftoverture by Kansas. Rock and Roll Over instantly became my favorite KISS album due to what seemed to me to be its evolution to an even-harder rock sound than its predecessors, not to mention the cool cover that could be traced onto blank paper and colored over and over again.
By the time KISS were to release their next album roughly eight months later, I wasn’t just fan, I was a fanatic. Rock and roll adolescents are fickle however and, after solely a year and a half of being “cutting edge” in my KISS fandom, I found myself no longer at the forefront of cool. Now teens (13!), the kids my age weren’t into that cartoony KISS crap anymore; real rockers were into the more “adult” and complex music of bands like Queen, Rush, and the aforementioned Kansas. (No, punk didn’t make much of an impact in Ogden, Utah in 1977.) I nonetheless steadfastly stayed on the KISS train, albeit in secret. I basically went into the closet, a closet the doors of which were plastered with KISS posters.
Having to hide my KISS addiction did not mean I wasn’t going to continue actively getting my fixes though. I sat my 13-year-old arse on the city bus and headed downtown to the record store to get the Love Gun album within days of its summer ’77 release. All was well as I laid down my money and walked out of the store with my new treasure in an LP-sized paper bag folded and stapled shut with the receipt inside (likely to keep me from slyly slipping an additional album into my bag on the way out the door – when did we stop trusting the youth?). I hopped back on the bus and began counting the minutes until I could get back home and lower the needle on my spinning prize.
Summer meant no school, and no school meant lots of kids out and about, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when, just a few blocks into my return, three sprogs from my grade got on the bus. We were all pals and so they happily came right over and sat with me. Recognizing the potential stinking poo I was carrying (from a cool-conserving perspective), I tried to quickly slip the bag under the seat, but it was not to be. They saw and were straightaway interested in the package, much to my chagrin.
It was, of course, the coolest of the three boys who first asked what album I had bought. I knew I couldn’t answer honestly and maintain any junior high school respectability so I blurted out an unrehearsed lie. I told the threesome that I had handed over my cash for the album Hair of the Dog by Nazareth. For an off-the-cuff spew, it was actually a pretty impressive choice on my part. At the time, Nazareth was a band that many 13 year olds in Utah had vaguely heard of, but which was still unfamiliar enough that my owning one of their albums made clear I wasn’t just some lame follower of the pack. It suggested I was a true hard rock connoisseur.
My pride in my cleverness was short-lived however as one of the kids remembered that Hair of the Dog was the album with the “super awesome drawing of an evil dog or something” and demanded that I pull the LP out of the bag for all to admire. Flummoxed, I started to mumble about how I’d have to walk eight blocks to my house after exiting the bus and an open bag could prove unwieldy to carry. Even I didn’t believe that one however, so I added a ludicrous story about being afraid to lose the receipt stapled inside the bag; “Um, you see, my mom lent me the money to buy the LP and she is gonna demand evidence of its price.”
I sensed my pals could detect that something was starting to smell. It was also clear that my well of convincing lies was running dry. So, with barely a thought, I launched myself toward the door of the bus and announced “this is my stop” even though in reality my stop was still 4-5 blocks away. To my relief, the three amigos good-naturedly bid me farewell, while staying on the bus themselves. I’d eventually have to deal with the last-second request by the coolest kid as I stepped off the bus that I let him borrow the Nazareth album sometime, but I had the remaining weeks of summer to figure that one out. For now, I had survived the trial with my dignity intact and at the cost of only a few extra blocks on foot.
Much like Peter in the New Testament, I did feel shame at having disowned KISS even before the Ogden City bus had crowed three times. I asked the band’s forgiveness via shelling out additional hard-earned coin for a KISS transistor radio, iron-on KISS Army patch, and the Alive II double album before the year was out. As time went on, I managed to gain more confidence in my continuing KISS veneration and even had the courage to play the song “Shock Me” from the Love Gun album to anyone who would listen in an effort to preach Ace Frehley’s guitar genius to the unenlightened masses.
As can be seen in the below picture of the very desk at which I crafted this masterpiece, I no longer hide my passion for KISS. (Thanks again for holding on to those posters, Mom!) I like what I like, cool be damned.
And there’s the lesson for the kiddies: Stand up for your favorites no matter how uncool they may be in the moment. Rest assured that 40 years from now, nostalgia will make those old picks “retro cool” — ok, maybe not as cool as KISS, but still cool nonetheless …