Memoir Mondays: KISS it goodbye

(this is part of Memoir Mondays over at Two Writing Teachers)

I grew up on KISS.
Not just the ones from Mom and Dad but the over-the-top rock and roll band, KISS.
For a long stretch of my adolescent childhood, my entire neighborhood was enamored with this glam band as it hit the world stage with their dramatics (fire-breathing bass players, unnaturally-extended tongues, animal-inspired painted faces, the whole shebang). I even collected KISS comic books. Remember them? Rock and rollers transformed as superheroes.
At our bus stop before school in the mornings, we all used to take on characters of the band, and pretend that a fallen tree stump was the stage. We’d use the light from the rising sun on our hiking boots to create over-sized shadow images on the pavement as a way to replicate the patented KISS boots (a sort of stiletto heel, but huge, almost like teeth coming out of the foot). We’d listen to the songs on the albums (oh god) for hours at a time, singing out loud to the chorus: I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every DAY!!! (emphasis on Day, since we were kids and nighttime partying was a great unknown …. for now)
We followed the drama of KISS as the band considered removing their make-up and what it might mean to the band. We also were curious what they really looked like underneath the layers of disguise. (It later turned out they looked pretty ugly and should have kept the paint on)

So, imagine the looks I got one day when I went and traded my sacred KISS Alive II double vinyl album for an older Earth, Wind and Fire disc. I still don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I was having KISS fatigue. Perhaps, as a saxophone player, I was searching for something with horns. Maybe I needed some groove. I could have been muscled into it by my older brother’s friend (I was very susceptible to peer pressure by the older kids in the neighborhood), but I don’t think so.

Earth, Wind and Fire were not unknown to me. My dad has a pretty eclectic taste and I heard all sorts of music as I was growing up, including Maurice White and company. I thought it was lame, until I started to actually listen.
The first time I put that Earth, Wind and Fire album on, though, my needle exploded with the sound of “Shining Star” and I was never quite the same. With the chorus of “Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be,” I was hooked. “September” still has me dancing, even though the sound is, well, so 70′s.
Oh, sure, I had still had my Foghat albums. And Led Zep still has a certain place in my heart. Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and others never left my collection until I grew up and weeded out the vinyl memories of my youth (I still have a Zep CD, though).
But with that Earth, Wind and Fire album, I realized that there was a whole other world of music out there to explore and I couldn’t spend all of my time listening to KISS. Plus, the ballad “Beth” was getting sappy to my ears.
Earth, Wind and Fire kick-started my heart and I never turned back.

What music informed your childhood?

Peace (in notes between the ages),
Kevin

11 Comments
  1. I love the description of you and your friends rocking out at the bus stop, using the light of the rising sun to create shadows of big boots. Awesome.
    As for my own childhood, I’m the kid of hippies pretty much so I grew up with lots of folk music–James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, all musicians I still listen to today. The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkle were also prominent in my house. My dad is a bit of a rocker so there was also The Boss, Cream, Steely Dan… Later, after she came out, there was my mom’s “lesbian” music, so I also grew up with Melissa Etheridge, Janis Ian, Indigo Girls. Of course, I’m also a kid of the 80′s and 90′s, so rap and hip-hop figure prominently in iTunes collection.

  2. Later on, I came to love the folks on your list, too.
    I am a musical hobo, I guess — moving from style to style. That helped me as a songwriter, too.
    Kevin

  3. Kevin, in a family of 9 I was informed by so much music… Beatles, Stones, Julie Andrews, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, CCR, and the list goes on. I tapped into Bowie, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground and the like. I still collect Bowie vinyl… it has been a long time since I bought ‘David Live’ in 1974.
    Cheers, John.

  4. At our bus stop before school in the mornings, we all used to take on characters of the band, and pretend that a fallen tree stump was the stage. We’d use the light from the rising sun on our hiking boots to create over-sized shadow images on the pavement as a way to replicate the patented KISS boots (a sort of stiletto heel, but huge, almost like teeth coming out of the foot). We’d listen to the songs on the albums (oh god) for hours at a time, singing out loud to the chorus: I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every DAY!!! (emphasis on Day, since we were kids and nighttime partying was a great unknown …. for now)

    Loved this whole section. Probably what Nancy pointed to. I just wanted to share it all back to you. Imagine I’m reading it on a podcast. (I should do that). Loved the specific details of it.

    And then as you moved to EW and F I am just with you and probably for the same reasons, the search for the sax!

    I also never thought as a kid I’d move beyond the songs played on the radio on WABC, but I can’t wait to listen to New Music Mondays on WFUV and start downloading new tunes for my Ipod.

    Love music, too bad I can’t create my own…

    See what you have inspired???

    Music, what would we do without it? What will it sound like in the digital future???

    Bonnie

  5. Believe it or not, a lot of Simon and Garfunkel, Barry Manilow and Neil Sadaka. I resisted it for years, but by the time I hit 15, I grew to love it. Scary to admit this, but the first rock concert I ever attended was Manilow in 1993 w/my parents at Radio City Music Hall. Ack!

  6. I loved this story!!!

    I grew up on the “boyband” and “popstar” time— my friends and I listened to Backstreet Boys, NSync, Britany Spears, and our all time favorites The Spice Girls. We were the spice girls and we talked like them and called each other by our spice name. I grew up at a time in popular music that was not long lasting–I wish there would have been more KISS bands in my time.

  7. Hi Ashley
    I’m not sure we need more KISS bands (he says, laughing).
    I guess we all have some music that connects us to our childhood.
    I wonder what it will be for my kids?
    Kevin

  8. Stacey — no need to be shy about it.
    You can just shout it out that You Love Barry.
    :)

    I bet it was still an exciting time — the first concert.
    Kevin

  9. But why not KISS and EWP? I love them both. I was a huge Earth, Wind and Fire fan (“Fantasy” remains one of my all-time favorite songs).

    I grew up on my parents’ music — Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dakota Staton … — and then moved on to my own loves. The Jackson 5, the Temptations, the Dixie Cups, Etta James, Mel Torme (a crossover from my parents’ collection to mine). Like Stacey, I have some musical skeletons in my closet: John Denver, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, the Carpenters … and then I discovered the album rock stations all the ‘cool’ kids listened too and added bands like Yes, Kansas, ELP, and Pink Floyd to my must-have album lists. Throw in the Beatles, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, David Bowie, a whole lot of New Wave, the Police, Peter Gabriel, U2, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Van Morrison and Tom Waits and you’ll get me through my 20s. Now there’s a whole lot of Spanish-language music in my iPod and on my stereo: Lila Downs, Susana Baca, Conjunto Cespedes, Sintesis … As well as Sam Cooke, Santana, Rage Against the Machine … a long way from what I listened to as a kid!

  10. I grew up in the 80′s but the Beatles were the first band that I really got into. Madonna is the one of the only 80′s singers who really reminds of that era when I hear her. Paul Simon’s Graceland album was also very iconic in that era.

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