& THE HALL OF FAME: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
March 02, 2014
As I sit and write this, I am listening to KISS’ “Double Platinum” album. It’s a compilation record, released in 1978, that features some of the best tracks from KISS’ first six studio albums. It’s one of the best hard-rock records of the ‘70s, and really, one of the best hard-rock records of all-time. And its songs, more than anything, are why KISS will be taking its rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month.

KISS, whose members were schooled on The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, have written great songs. They have groove. They have energy. They have swagger. And quite a few of them, such as the ferocious “Deuce” and the grand “Shout It Out Loud,” kick some major ass.

Looking for something a little more sentimental? KISS also gave you “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman.” Though they were hard-rock pioneers that came along only a few short years after Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, KISS has always had a fine sense of melody.

Those songs captured a generation, and when you combined it with the band’s explosive, innovative stage shows and larger-than-life image, it made KISS the most popular band in the world and clearly, as the years passed, one of the most influential. They were Alice Cooper on steroids. They were capable musicians, good songwriters and grand showmen, and again, they had the tunes. I remember watching an interview with Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue many years ago and he was asked about KISS’ influence of Motley’s stageshows, and while he certainly acknowledged that, he made it clear that it was the band’s music he loved the most.

“KISS,” he said, “have great songs.”

The fact that KISS has been eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 15 years and are just getting in now is absurd. And if you’re wondering why it took so long, it’s no great mystery. Some of the people that have a lot of the influence on the voting have not wanted them there. Dave Marsh, a respected music journalist who is believed to have a heavy hand in the voting process, once said that "KISS is not a great band, KISS was never a great band, KISS never will be a great band, and I have done my share to keep them off the ballot."

There are things about Dave Marsh that I greatly admire, particularly his appreciation for ‘70s era Elvis Presley. He has written about it in his books and has even written the liner notes for some of the better compilations of Presley’s ‘70s material, and when it comes to studying The King, he is dead on. And he certainly knows his Springsteen. But when it comes to studying KISS, he is absolutely dead wrong.

KISS is a great band. KISS was always a great band. And KISS will always be a great band.

My opinion – and yours - is just as good as Marsh’s, who by the way, has trashed quite a few other noteworthy artists over the years. And that’s why the very idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is somewhat asinine. If I recall, Ray Davies of The Kinks pretty much said the same thing many years ago, though not because of the politics of the voting, but rather the sheer stuffiness of it all. Initially, I agreed. I wasn’t so hot on the concept, and over the years, as they put in some artists that I never cared for, I took it less and less seriously, though I can also admit that when I did see a wonderful group being nicely recognized, I was happy for them. It was an odd combination of apathy and interest.

In 2007, on a trip to Cleveland, I decided to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. At that point, KISS had been eligible for about eight years, and though that bothered me, it wasn’t enough to keep me from going in and checking out The Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers” outfits. I figured KISS would get in soon enough, and I while there, I was able to see the hypocrisy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as I noticed they were selling some KISS items in the gift shop. It appeared KISS was good enough for them to make a few bucks off of, but not good enough for enshrinement. I rolled my eyes, looked at a few of Elvis’s jumpsuits, and left.

I returned to Cleveland two years ago. At that point, KISS had been eligible for the Hall of Fame for more than 12 years and it was really starting to bug me. And that time, even though I walked right by place, I did not go in. In fact, I snapped the photo you see with this column and texted it to a few of my fellow KISS-loving friends. And when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame allowed fans to vote for possible inductees last year and included KISS on the ballot – probably due to all of the public backlash from the band not being in – I refused to vote, as I felt it would be pandering to someone like Marsh, or Kurt Loder, who I also always got a sense from his MTV days was no KISS fan.

Again, to me, nobody's opinion about music is any better than mine, nor yours, and I imagine people like Marsh and Loder might even find it confusing that someone like me – who has seen KISS more than 30 times - also loves Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and has seen the critics’ darlings such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who and U2 in concert many times and loves them all. I’ve also seen Springsteen 10 times, and I’ve written about music, professionally, for 22 years. And I can certainly tell you that KISS is - if it really matters to you – very worthy of the being in anyone's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Though the original members of KISS were gracious when they first learned that they finally were elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame late last year and that they will be officially enshrined next month, I was glad to see that they’re also not pandering to the institution. Paul Stanley, a gifted frontman, vocalist and songwriter, intially said he was glad the band was going in on its own terms, that it was an honor to be in the same company of some of his own musical heroes, and that he is happy for the fans, because he knows it’s important to them. In a recent interview, however, with the U.K.’s “Classic Rock” magazine, he was much more curt. Asked if he finally felt honored, he said:

"No. It was done begrudgingly and because it had become absolutely ludicrous that they were choosing to ignore us. At the end of the day, most people don't realize that the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame was a privately created establishment and that it has a self-appointed board. It's a perfect case of perception becoming reality. People heard 'Rock And Roll Hall of Fame' and gave it credibility. Was it an honor to be nominated? No.”

Stanley - whose band has more gold records than any American rock group in history - wasn’t finished.

“It means a lot to the fans and I understand it because it's validation for them,” he said. “So for that reason I accept graciously and accept on their behalf. My feelings and my ambivalence about the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame hasn't changed any. Their attitude is elitist and it doesn't reflect the public. It reflects a small group who dictate who meets the criteria that they set up as 'rock and roll.' I scratch my head a little and I also take issue with a certain arrogance within that group ... Nonetheless, I look at some of the inductees and any club that has Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and The Who, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones is company I don't mind being in, and my feelings have nothing to do with any of them. It purely has to do with a system which I think is tainted, corrupted and distorted."

Good for him.

Remember, some of the higher-ups at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are also heavily involved with Rolling Stone magazine – the same magazine that, in 1991, failed to even mention the passing of KISS drummer Eric Carr, who had capably held the drum stool in the band for more than a decade and played on several gold and platinum albums. This led to a sharp letter-to-the-editor, signed by Stanley, Gene Simmons and guitarist Bruce Kulick. Clearly, there is a history with KISS and some of those writers and editors, and it’s not a good one.

So why, with so much brooding hostility, has KISS finally been elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Who knows? Respected music critic Chuck Klosterman has been a big supporter of the band and may have had some influence. Spin magazine has been good to them. Somehow, between all of the backlash, and perhaps with some new voices getting some votes, and with KISS winning that fan poll that I refused to vote in, KISS got in. And let’s face it, most of the bands and artists that the Rolling Stone-type writers love have made it clear that they have a great love for KISS, including the late Kurt Cobain, who ironically will be inducted in the same class. Members of hard-rock bands such as Motley Crue, Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses all love KISS. Grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden love KISS. A KISS tribute album featured everyone from Stevie Wonder to Garth Brooks and Lenny Kravitz.

Who the hell needs Dave Marsh?

Ironically, I admit, I am happy that KISS is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If I didn’t really care that KISS wasn’t in, I probably would have went back inside the last time I was in Cleveland, rather than flipping the place the bird. And it appears lots of KISS fans feel the same. And that’s why so many of them were so upset earlier this week when it was announced that while the original members of KISS plan to appear at the induction ceremonies, they will not perform together. Look, I’ve written more than 40 newspaper articles about KISS, some of which have run in newspapers across the country, so people have been asking me about this all week. And after thinking about it for a few days, my opinion is that I really don’t care. Maybe, I admit, it’s because I’ve always been a Paul and Gene guy. They are the glue. They are the ones that have held the band together for 40 years. And yet they are the ones being criticized for, supposedly, not agreeing to perform with original members Frehley and Criss.

I have no idea what the discussions were like between Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t know for sure what the Hall of Fame wanted, or what Gene and Paul wanted. It does appear, by their recent statements, that Ace and Peter were willing to play with Gene and Paul, but there is speculation that Gene and Paul wanted to honor the whole history of the band, including Frehley, Criss, Kulick and the late Carr, and perform with current members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, who have each now been with the group for more than a decade. (Singer was also a member from 1992-1995.) Supposedly, the Hall of Fame wanted just the original four members, who are the ones being inducted, to perform. And supposedly, Gene and Paul nixed that.

Confused? Don't be. It's not worth it.

Would it have been cool to see the original four play together one last time? Certainly. I’d have made the trip to Brooklyn to see that. Would it have been odd and just plain wrong to have the current KISS perform in makeup and costume, and have Frehley and Criss relegated to the role of sidemen during the performance? Certainly. Would it have been cool to see Simmons, Stanley, Frehley, Criss, Thayer, Singer and Kulick all perform together without makeup and costume and just kick some ass ? Certainly. But none of it is happening, and the more I think about it, the more I’m OK with it.

(Two other KISS members, Vinne Vincent and the late Mark St. John, though both talented, had very short stints in the band and are generally not included in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame discussions.)

The original KISS was wonderful. It was magic. But by 1977, only three years after the band’s first album was released, things were beginning to crumble. There was already a lot of tension, and just a few years later, Peter and Ace were gone. But for a whole generation of fans, the ‘80s was still a golden era. I bought 1984’s “Animalize” the day it came out. I remember seeing 1987’s “Reason To Live” being the #1 video on MTV. “Forever,” from 1989, was a Top-10 hit. “Hide Your Heart” is one of the best songs KISS ever recorded. From 1983-1995 - the non-makeup years - I saw KISS perform many times in packed arenas. Every CD went either gold or platinim. And, if you want to take a look at KISS’ recent history, you’ll also find some great stuff. Two tracks in particular from “Monster,” the band’s latest CD - “Freak” and “Last Chance” - are worthy additions to the KISS catalog. They are tremendous. Apparently, Stanley and Simmons feel that these things should be a part of all of this. Apparently, the Hall of Fame does not. Criss and Frehley? They probably feel it’s all certainly worth a mention, but no more. It’s created a problem, and Stanley and Simmons, who have worked hard to rebrand the band with its new members over the past 10 years, may simply not want to go backwards, even if it’s just for 10 minutes and a couple of songs.

Again, we really don't know what went down. But what we do know is that KISS is not the first band to not do summersaults and backflips for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock stars, generally speaking, don’t genuflect for anyone. When Van Halen was enshrined, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and David Lee Roth didn’t even bother to show up. When Guns’ N’ Roses was enshrined, Axl Rose as a no-show. He had no interest in performing with his former bandmates. Paul McCartney was also a no-show for The Beatles induction, due to some business disagreements within The Beatles camp. John Fogerty totally blew off the other members of Creedence Clearwater Revival when the band was enshrined and actually performed without them, even though they were there. (That band made KISS look like a happy family.) Roger Waters would not appear with Pink Floyd. Lots of bad blood there. And Jerry Garcia was a no-show when The Grateful Dead was inducted. He supposedly thought the whole Hall of Fame thing was dumb.

Hell, even David Crosby, who has been enshrined twice, once as a member of The Byrds and once as a member of Crosby, Stills & Nash, once trashed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to me in an interview. He said that when CSN was inducted, he was very offended that their longtime band would not be permitted to join them at their table and would be charged $1,500 each to attend. Other guests, he said, including Neil Young – who coincidently was being inducted at the same time with Buffalo Springfield, were equally miffed. Young was told that if he wanted to bring his kids to the ceremony, he would be charged $1,500 per person. To top it all off, Crosby said that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sold the rights to broadcast the ceremony to VH1, but offered no compensation to the enshrined performers who were providing the entertainment.

“Neil told them to take their award and stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine,” said Crosby. “Joni Mitchell didn’t come for the same reason. She was grossly offended. The first time I went, I felt I was being honored. The second time, I felt I was being taken advantage of.”

I share these stories because it seems as though lots of KISS fans are about to jump off the cliff over all of this. Please, settle down. We don’t know what really went down behind the scenes. But we do know what we've always known.

We know that Nikki Sixx was right. KISS has great songs.

And we know that Dave Marsh was wrong. KISS is a great band. KISS was always a great band. KISS will always be a great band.

That's all that really matters to me.

And when the original four put their differences aside next month and will hopefully at least stand side-by-side to accept this honor, remember they’re already doing more than some other bands have done in that situation, and that they’re doing it mostly for you. And remember, you don’t need to anyone else to tell you how great you think their songs are.

Just pop in “Double Platinum.”