09/16/2016

BUT I DIGRESS: Flaming youth – after 40 years of fandom, I finally met KISS

by John 'Fud' Zavacki / nepascene.com

In 1978, my mom took me to a now defunct local department store (Sugarman’s Eynon Drug for the locals – I miss the fuck outta that joint!) where, for the very first time, I purchased an album for myself! That album was KISS’ “Alive II.”

It changed everything! Up until this point, I was satisfied listening to what my parents played at home. Granted, that was CSNY, The Beatles, Dylan, Jethro Tull, Ian & Sylvia, Steeleye Span – amazing stuff – but it wasn’t mine.

KISS… they were mine! They were circus freaks, they were larger than life (and had a song to prove it), and they irritated my otherwise über laidback and accepting parents (only a little, but you take what you can get, yo).

My friends and peers were equally enamored with KISS, and we would discuss them at great length. How we had heard that Gene Simmons had a cow’s tongue grafted onto his own, how KISS stood for “Knights in Satan’s Service” – all manner of KISS-generated urban legend.

I could draw their portraits from memory! When they would do a “reveal” shoot in a magazine, covering one half of their face, then the other for the photos, we’d trace them, one side at a time onto Shrinky Dinks, then bake them and marvel at our first glimpse of KISS, unmasked!

“Alive II” was the catalyst for my career as a musician. They set the precedent of what was cool in my impressionable mind. And Ace Frehley would be the inspiration for the guitar tone I have searched for since then, and which still eludes me.

KISS was the very first concert I ever attended, and I’ve seen them more than anyone but Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Accept (Accept opened for every metal band from 1980 to 1990, so I’ve seen them more than any other band because of that, which is a good thing!).

Discovering KISS was the very first epically transformative life event I experienced, and I have loved them ever since. From the second I heard Eddie Balandas inform me that I wanted the best and I got the best, I vowed that someday, somehow, I would meet them!

In 1984, I was informed that the new kid (who looked like he might be from the islands) was in the music room of my high school (known affectionately to us as “The Student Smoking Lounge”) giving my girlfriend a back rub. His name was Mark Sutorka, and he had transferred in from the next town over, whom we regularly battled en masse at local church picnics. The fact that he came from behind enemy lines and was fondling my girlfriend meant that action simply had to be taken!

And so I set out to murder him.

However, when I got there, not only was he not giving her a back rub (to his credit, he picked up on her rotten-to-the-coreness… took me a lot longer), but he was playing guitar and singing, something I also did.

So instead of a dopey high school windmill/haymaker slap fight, we started talking.

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