When I was 16 years old, I skipped school to sleep in front of Buzzard’s Nest Records on Dublin-Granville Road. The closer you were to the door, the better your seats for whatever concert it was that you intended to attend. I showed up very early the night before, and was never more than three people from the door when it opened. Because I worked a lot of hours washing dishes, I was able to buy a lot of tickets and sell them to my friends.
On two separate occasions, I slept on the ground to buy tickets to Kiss. The first time, I bought a large part of the 4th row. The second time, I ended up in the 7th row, not quite as good, but still great seats.
The first time I saw the band, I cut school to try to meet them. I went to the venue and tried to hustle my way back stage. The roadies would hear nothing of it, but I persisted. Eventually one of them took the pre-stamped absence excuse I acquired from a friend in the attendance office to the band to have it signed for me. When Gene Simmons opened the door to hand it back to the roadie, he said, “I know what this is,” and he smiled, having been a former school teacher before joining the band.
Last night, I took my 21-year-old son to see Kiss. He loves rock-n-roll, including the classic rock stuff, a love I attribute to an X-Box game called Guitar Hero. The tickets were row K, and what amounted to 11th row seats cost more than I paid for two rows worth of tickets from Buzzard’s Nest.
Here are a few observations worth noting.
Showmanship: When Kiss started, bands played music, a lot of the time with their backs to the audience, and lacked showmanship. They decided to push back against the norm, donning the makeup and moving around the stage, some movement being synchronized. They descended to the stage on what were small UFOs with video screens on the bottom. There were pyrotechnics, a lot of fire, and a lot of explosions. Paul Stanley is 67 and Gene Simmons is now 70 years old, and they still put on a better show than acts half their age.
Lesson: There are times when you might need to up your showmanship, moving your energy up a few levels. And not just during a presentation. How about your first meeting?
Essence: Kiss is a party band. Rock-n-Roll is a party. Or at least it was. I’ve always been troubled by the number of lead singers from the Grunge era who have committed suicide (Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon, Scott Weiland, and Andrew Wood). Are they the best songwriters? Not even close. Are they the best musicians? Nope. Did they write rock-n-roll anthems that endure after more than decades?
Lesson: Be what you are. You are going to evolve over time, but stay true to the essence of what is good and right and true. You might think about this as your “why,” even though I prefer your “who.”
Business Acumen: My son asked me why Kiss would have a painter as their opening act. I told him that they are too cheap to pay an opening act. While other bands of their era were known for their use of drugs, Stanley and Simmons fired their band mates for partying. I met plenty of people like this when I played music. They loved the rock-n-roll lifestyle more than they loved the music. For $50,000 Gene Simmons will come to your house and speak to you and 25 friends for two hours while he delivers you a vault of old Kiss recordings and memorabilia.
Lesson: The business comes first. There has never been any doubt that Kiss was and is a commercial enterprise.
We left after God of Thunder, and I handed our good tickets to a 12-year old boy and his father who were sitting way in the back so they could move forward to take our seats. I was not there to rock-n-roll all night or to party every day.
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