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3 1/2 Decades Of Appreciation

Posted on 08/16/2011
34 years ago today, two major events happened. The first, impacting the entire music world, was the death of Elvis Presley, the undisputed King Of Rock & Roll. The second, albeit less wide ranging in scope, forever changed the direction of my musical tastes and outlooks – and that was attending my first live KISS concert. I can never forget that August 16th 1977 night at the Cow Palace in San Francisco… The opening act was Cheap Trick (then a relatively unknown band that would shortly rocket to unparalleled heights with "Live At Budokan) and (I seem to recall) another fledgling group - The Babys (with a pre-solo/Bad English John Waite, and a pre-Journey/Bad English Jonathan Cain), although modern documentation doesn’t seem to support that. But those weren't the groups I was there for. I had been introduced to KISS “Alive!” In late 1975 by a friend of mine, and spent the next 2 years playing THAT album so much that the grooves (yes…vinyl!) had gone flat, and my parents were on the verge of insanity. Even though, along the way, I had picked up the first 3 albums, along with the new “Destroyer”, “Rock & Roll Over”, and “Love Gun” – “ALIVE!” still led my playlist Top 10 by a long shot. When I found out KISS was coming to San Francisco for a concert during their Love Gun Tour, several friends and I made it our "mission in life" to go. We planned out our trip (which included a viewing of the recently released "Star Wars" the morning of the concert date), got our tickets and waited for the big day. Flash forward to the big moment. We'd had our road trip, our movie, and the opening acts (which were very good, in spite of their "newness") had packed it in. We anxiously waited, and once "You wanted the best…" boomed out over the PA, the night became one frenzied rock & roll party. We stood and rocked out for an hour and a half or so as the band powered through I Stole Your Love, Take Me, Ladies Room, Firehouse, Love Gun, Hooligan (which rocked surprisingly well live), Christine Sixteen, Makin' Love, Shock Me (they just don't make solos like in the 70's anymore), I Want You, Calling Dr. Love, Shout It Out Loud, God Of Thunder (oh...those bass and drum solos!), and closing (as usual) with Rock and Roll All Night (which Paul Stanley lovingly dedicated to Elvis, the King). With the crowd still in the throes of the concert high and screaming for more, the band came back on stage to blast out their encores, a couple of the best versions of Detroit Rock City and Black Diamond that I'd ever heard! Seeing KISS live just proved that the album I had, although incredible, really couldn’t convey what a live KISS show was all about. That night was the perfect concert experience for me and my friends! And to top it off – I managed to snag and take home the broken stopbar tailpiece off of Paul's smashed guitar! (See the pic!) That special night, the music, the personas, the stage theatrics, and the sheer unbridled energy of a rock band that truly makes you feel good to be alive have stuck with me all these years. It inspired me to take up the guitar as my instrument of choice (including buying and then tragically losing a Paul Stanley Signature PS-10 Iceman along the way!), and made me feel much more comfortable with my singing voice, because KISS showed me it’s all about the FEELING. I still buy the music (anxiously awaiting the new album guys!), and go to see the band any opportunity I get – a dozen or so times in the last 34 years, including shows in SF, Memphis TN, Seattle and Everett WA, and several times in Yokohama and Tokyo (Budokan) Japan while stationed overseas during my 26 year career in the U.S. Navy, and EVERY time I see them, that same feeling of "Wow, it's so great to be alive and rockin'!" peaks for me. I've taken friends to their first KISS concerts, and watched them become fans as well. I've even managed to experience the grand dream of all fans – to meet KISS in person – first at a meet and greet in Seattle in 2009, where Paul graciously listened to my story and autographed my/his broken guitar piece 32 years after the fact (!), and again in Everett, WA, just this June, where the guys were as personable as could be (special thanks to Tommy and Eric for sharing a little extra conversation time) before taking the stage and rocking the house as exuberantly as ever! And more recently, KISS has impressed me with their caring attitude towards the armed forces (in these troubling times), the younger fans (Thanks Paul for informing us about protecting our precious hearing!), and numerous worthwhile causes (City Of Hope, SPCA, Wounded Warriors, numerous hospitals and schools, and on and on). Their support for community and country sets an example many could learn from, and that support makes one feel alive as well. I've never been rabidly fanatical about the band. KISS has never been the "do all, end all" for me, they're not the only band in the world, nor is theirs the only music (or type of music for that matter). But, to me, KISS has always been the biggest and best at what they do - "Rocking the roof off at concerts, and making you feel good to be alive". Thank you all (Paul, Gene, Tommy, Eric, Ace, Peter, Bruce, Eric & Mark (Bless you!), and Vinnie) for so many years of energizing music, kick-ass performances, and dedication to the cause of Rock & Roll! Keith Kaufman
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