In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we revisit past CREEM pieces in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like our take on Lester Bangs’ 1972 review of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. Lap it up! And then subscribe to read everything we ever published in the CREEM archive.
I found myself in New York on a Monday night in October of ’74 after returning from one of those excessive and expensive junkets to London that rock writers used to avail themselves of. A photographer I knew had invited me to go out to dinner, but first we had to stop by a panel for NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) that he had to shoot. I said yes, not because I was enticed by the rather provocative title—“Superstar or Superstud and Homosexuality in Music: Is it a turn-on or a turn-off?”—although I probably should have been. No, I was more interested in the blinis and caviar at the Russian Tea Room, a hot spot at the time that Yoko Ono used to regularly frequent, always sitting at one of the front tables.
The panel was held at Columbia Records Studio B, where Dylan recorded New Morning and Simon and Garfunkel did Bridge Over Troubled Water. When I arrived there were only a handful of people sitting on folded chairs in a small room that couldn’t have held more than 30 people comfortably. But most of the psychic space was already taken up by four looming creatures in fetish wear, looking like warlords of the underworld.
Peter Criss wore a leather vest without anything under it and was shivering in the windowless studio. Singer Paul Stanley was stripped to the waist with a studded dog collar around his neck, his mossy chest hair curling menacingly. Seated next to him was bassist Gene Simmons in even more elaborate attire: a black leather jacket and pants with strategic holes cut out. Like Paul, he was baring his chest. Guitarist Ace Frehley was the only one fully covered up, in his atavistic space-suit top, his silvered hair ratted out to there. The four of them were caught up in some black-and-white private world, with the occasional unhinged, maniacal cackle bubbling up and surfacing like rude punctuation—something that would become Frehley’s trademark.
At the time, it was impossible to know who was who. They had all switched their nameplates except for Peter Criss, who didn’t have one at all—a metaphor that would play out over the course of his tenure in the band. But on that chilly October night, Paul Stanley was Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons was Paul Stanley, and Ace Frehley impersonated Simmons with aplomb, aided no doubt by the gin and tonic in a clear plastic cup before him, something Simmons, a lifetime teetotaler, would never touch.
When panel moderator DJ Alison Steel directed questions at the members of KISS, their only reply was “It’s only rock ’n’ roll but I like it,” no matter what the question. Every single time. The Rolling Stones song (which was a slur on music journalists) had just been released four months earlier, but I didn’t think KISS were making that statement. I think they just thought it was funny. And it was. Except the wags from NARAS didn’t seem to agree.
They never broke character once, no matter how awkward and non sequitur their canned answer was. These were monsters from the id who oozed out a collective nightmare, and they were hell-bent on staying that way for the entire duration of the hour-long panel. Somewhere around the 20-minute mark I knew I had to get them into the pages of CREEM. I thought they’d fit right into our rebellious, there-wasn’t-a-rulewe’d-obey, fuck-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke aesthetic.
But it wasn’t that easy. It turned out I was the only one who thought that way. “They’re New York Dolls clones,” features editor Ben Edmonds said dismissively. “Comic-book trash,” spat Lester Bangs. Edmonds threw down the gauntlet: “If you want those clowns in CREEM, you’re the one who’ll have to write it. And it better be fucking good.”
No matter the derision from my coworkers, I knew I was onto something. Recalling that old saw from Victor Hugo written 121 years before KISS had ever picked up their first tube of lipstick, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” I was sure that idea had arrived, and it was wearing black leather.
The following year, I slapped on my own horror-movie makeup, studded cuffs, black leotard, plastic-encased spider-belt buckle, and seven-inch stilettos and strapped on a red Fender to perform “Rock and Roll All Nite” with the band in front of 5,000 fans and the members of Rush. Never mind that my Fender wasn’t plugged in; I still got to feel what it was like to be a member of KISS—or, as I noted at the time, that I was one-fifth of a sadistic cheerleading squad (although Paul Stanley swore I looked like Minnie Mouse). I called the piece “I Dreamed I Was Onstage With KISS in My Maidenform Bra,” after a long-running print ad that depicted women in their underthings waking up in unusual places—but certainly none was more unusual than being on stage in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with Paul, Gene, Ace, and Peter.
The next morning, after the show, we all said our goodbyes and Simmons offhandedly said to me as I walked out, “Whenever you feel like putting on the makeup again, give us a call.”
I never did, and here we are, time has run out. Paul, Gene, Eric Singer, and Tommy Thayer are wiping off the last bits of makeup, putting away their fetish leather and behemoth footgear, and blowing showbiz kisses to the crowd at Madison Square Garden next week. Or at least Paul will. They’ll decamp, conceivably shedding a few big fat tears streaking their sweat-ruined makeup along the way. Or at least Gene will. “When I look out there I see people smiling, laughing, clapping, and also crying,” Simmons told me at one of the beginning shows of the End of the Road tour. Then, waiting a beat too long, he added: “I’ll cry.” This from the man the kids used to call Mr. Spock in the sixth grade.
I know I’ll shed a tear or two, for so many reasons having nothing to do with lost youth. I just didn’t see myself attending KISS’ retirement party and wondering whether I should get them a day-of-the-week clock. You see, CREEM and KISS grew up together; we both decided to write our names in all caps, then we both went on to upend preconceptions, about journalism and rock, sometimes at the same time. They won’t be rockin’ and rollin’ all nite and partying every day, because the party is over for them. As for us, we’ll still be here, waiting for the next idea whose time has come.