July 19, 2013
Photos by John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

By: Randy Turner

CLICK HERE to view the Winnipeg Free Press' KISS Army Slideshow.

THE KISS Army is mobilizing and Ricky Zimmermann is ready to march into the trenches. Again.

He's left behind $120,000 worth of KISS memorabilia in his Winnipeg home, decked out in a Gene Simmons wig and high-heeled boots in homage to the band's frontman. The makeup is spot-on and ornate scales rise from his boots to his thighs.

"I've told my family that when I die, before I get cremated you have to put me in my costume and burn me like this," Zimmermann said, standing in the lobby of the MTS Centre before the iconic American rock band hit the stage Thursday night.


"Dead serious," Zimmermann replied.

Hotter than hell, indeed.

But then the KISS Army has been recruiting soldiers since 1974, when the band's first album debuted. All these years later, the troops remain fervently loyal.

So Zimmermann wasn't alone. Darren Lehman was in line with his wife, Emanuela, and three children: Dayton, 12, Tessa, 9, and Sienna, 7. All had their faces made up in classic KISS designs, emulating original band members Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.

It was the first time young Tessa and Sienna were to see KISS live, but let's just say they've heard the lyrics of Detroit Rock City and Love Gun for, well, forever.

"When they were in the wombs they were listening to it," said Lehman. "We had the music on, we had the headsets on. By the time he (Dayton) was three, he knew all the words to Rock and Roll All Night."

Added Emanuela: "It's in their blood now."

For the record, the Lehmans don't just get out the KISS makeup for concerts. "When we do this, it's not just for Halloween, but when we're bored in the house," said the machine adjuster.

In fact, the Lehmans' bathroom is pimped out in honour of the band. The overhead light is the shape of a KISS logo. When you flush the toilet, a KISS song plays.

They call their washroom "the hottest can in the land."

Darren and Emanuela were high school sweethearts from their days at Maples Collegiate. When they were married 11 years ago, Darren and the wedding party arrived at the social in KISS face makeup.

Zimmermann can relate. Just last year, he and wife Krista renewed their wedding vows in Las Vegas at the KISS Monster Mini Golf Course, which is adjacent to the Hotter Than Hell Wedding Chapel.

The ceremony was performed by a KISS impersonator. They have pictures and everything.

"It was awesome," Krista said. "It was a lot of fun."

Zimmermann installs flooring and has been working so hard lately Krista didn't have the heart to get him to put on her makeup for last night's gig. It's usually a family thing, including their three children.

But then the KISS Army has long been populated by generational regiments. Patti Kafka, a 50-something mother, was in attendance with 22-year-old son Brendan. "I've been listening to them since my 20s," Patti said. "Finally, I have enough money to go to a concert. I didn't then."

Asked if the band had become too old for rock, Kafka replied, "No, because that means I'm too old. And I'm not. If they can still keep us happy, so what?"

Indeed, there was no shortage of fans at the MTS Centre who were born around the time KISS hits became classic rock. They don't care.

"I like old school music," said Keara Chisholm, 16. "It's wicked."

"It's the vibe," added Emma Marsden, 14. "It gets you pumped. Rebellious and all that."

Craig Henckel would agree. Dressed in his Simmons outfit (the tongue is real), he stands 6-11. His day job is painting trailers. At a gathering of KISS fanatics, he's a star. People stop to take his picture. One fan wants him to autograph his shirt.

"If I walk down the street, I'm a nobody," Henckel said. "But if I put on 25 pounds of leather, makeup and wear high heels, women throw themselves at me. I'm not kidding. It's a blast."