Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The drama with KISS and what we can learn from it.

I originally had no plan to comment on it.  Then I tweeted about it.  Now, it's a blog post.  And it seems to center mainly on one inductee of this year: KISS.  To summarize, KISS wanted every member, past and present, included in the group's induction; the Hall said only the original (classic) four; Paul and Gene have thrown Twitter tantrums (twantrums? tweetrums?) about it and said there'd be no KISS performance whatsoever in that case; and the Hall is now limiting all inductees to four minute-per-person speeches.  There's other pieces of it, including bits from Ace and the Carr family, but that's the A-story to this drama.

I originally didn't want to comment on it because I thought I already had: thrice even.  I first commented on missing members, then the glorious but still incomplete look at Front Man Fever, then at the similar hissyfit that Axl Rose threw two years ago, when he was unable to get current members of Guns N' Roses included with the induction.  But the story got so big that it can't be ignored, much as I kind of want to.  What makes this time different?  Primarily, the social media war.  Doing absolutely nothing to refute the naysayers that KISS is more brand than band, Paul and Gene have been using social media, primarily Twitter, to make their voices heard, and dammit, we were going to listen whether we wanted to or not.  Whereas Axl stayed home on the night of his induction, the inducted KISS members will be there (as far as we know), and presumably Paul and Gene are going to speak their minds.

What makes this different as well is how the people at the Hall are handling it, namely poorly.  The limiting of time an inductee may speak?  What is up with that?  There may be an innocuous explanation or three: keep it from getting boring, make editing much easier for those who've got to work on making the televised broadcast version of the ceremonies, and hey, maybe the good folks at Barclay's run a much tighter ship than the dog and pony show over at the Waldorf-Astoria.  All of that put together adds up to a resounding "lulzwut?" from the rest of the world.  For starters, we're looking at up to a third of the inductees not being there.  Cat Stevens has said he may not opt to tackle the bureaucratic hedge maze of getting him allowed to enter the U.S. and attend his own induction.  Linda Ronstadt's health seems day-to-day, making her a giant question mark, and Brian Epstein's kinda busy being dead right now.  Oh, each party may have someone there to say a few words on their behalf, but it's almost always much more truncated and terser than what we would get if the actual inductee were present collecting the kudos.  With all that, why not give the present members of inductees a little more time to talk to compensate?  It's pretty obvious that KISS has made it clear that when they come to town, hell's coming with them, and the Hall is trying to set the terms for this high noon showdown.  Because if there's one thing we can count on, it's that the members of KISS will act like gentlemen on stage and accede to others' wishes.

Speaking of bad behavior, the Hall also isn't exactly done firing shots either.  As fellow monitor Tom Lane posted on his blog, NomCom member Dave Marsh is still throwing punches.  Awhile back on his Facebook page, Marsh asked people to name five bands better than KISS that they'd like to see get in.  I actually managed to weigh in on the discussion before the Internet troll division of the KISS army joined the conversation and made "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" look cerebral by comparison.  Still, one can't feel too bad for Marsh.  Besides still being in his position of power on the NomCom, he did pretty much invoke the wrath that came at him.  And he's still at it.  I mean I could do the same thing about Cat Stevens, as I felt he was the least deserving and the least listenable of the nominees this ballot, but at this point, I've shrugged it off and said, "Eh, can't always get what you want."  The column (or piece thereof?) of Marsh's that Tom Lane posted does give some valuable perspective to the anti-KISS argument.  If it's about popularity, then why we're they clobbered at their own game by the likes of enduring names such as the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac?  How are they any more influential in causing young boys to pick up a guitar than the base teenage desire to impress chicks?  For what it's worth, Marsh's arguments have holes as well: if misogyny is a disqualifying offense, than why are Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin in the Hall?  And do you really want to argue that Poison, widely considered one of the least talented of the hair metal acts, was better than KISS; or that Joan Jett And The Blackhearts' catalog of primarily cover songs added more to the rock and roll landscape than KISS's?  I wouldn't even try.  And for me personally, a lot of the arguments for and against KISS are the same ones I heard and made about Madonna in 2007 for the Class Of 2008.  So if I have to live with a Hall Of Fame that has Madonna in it, then you can tolerate a Hall that has KISS in it.

I should at this point remind everyone of where I stand/stood on this: after Nirvana, I felt KISS was the most deserving candidate for induction on this ballot, and from a personal taste standpoint, they were in the Top 5 among the nominees as well.  I did not predict them to make it this time because 1) I thought they would split the ballot with Deep Purple and thus fall short, and 2) I thought Marsh and like-minded voters would have enough sway to keep them out.  Just wanted to clear that up.

So with all that sorted out, what does this mini-soap opera have to teach us?  I don't know about you, but this is what I've gleaned from this episode:

1. It's an honor to be inducted, so stop saying it isn't.  Seriously, guys.  Black Sabbath asked to stop being nominated because they were pissed about missing out, but when they finally got inducted, they gladly accepted their awards.  Even fellow inductee Daryl Hall, who spouted off at the Hall in the past said, "Well, now we ARE a part of their agenda."  Translation: "Huh, go fig.  Cool."  But really, it's powerful people inside your own industry bestowing an honor on you.   Even shorter than that: it’s an award, an honor being bestowed upon you.  It matters.

2. Sorry fans, it’s not about you.  There were a lot of fans who were hoping that no matter what the Hall decided, Paul, Gene, Ace, and Peter would join together on stage and give the fans the show they wanted.  Or at the very least, there’d be some performance from KISS in some form.  Now there won’t be that, not even a tribute performance.  Because it’s all about the fans.  I’m not calling complete BS.  Metallica put aside any old hostilities for a few hours and dared to give a performance with TWO bassists.  And it was awesome.  Jason and Rob sharing a mic and playing opposite each other instead of fighting was the best possible outcome.  Granted, all those members were inducted members.  Would it have been different had Rob been neglected because he was too recent?  We’ll never know.  We can only go from performances from the likes of the Stooges and Patti Smith, and just say, “Maybe?”  Either way, in the instance of KISS, it’s ultimately the fans who lose, the fans that KISS claimed were the whole reason they would even accept induction in the first place.  Which brings us to…

3. The Hall’s gonna do what the Hall’s gonna do.  The Sex Pistols refused to show up.  Axl Rose asked not to be inducted.  Frankie Valli tried to get Joe Long inducted with the Four Seasons; Smokey Robinson tried to get the Miracles included in his 1987 induction.  The Hall powers-that-be for the most part just didn’t listen (yeah the Miracles were inducted in 2012, but they didn’t listen to Smokey for 25 years).  What makes KISS think they’re any different?  Because they’ve got the KISS army behind them?   The Hall all but takes pride in the fact that they don’t listen to what John Q. Public has to say, even if they’re John Q. KISS.  The show will go on no matter what Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley dictate.  If the Hall wants to induct KISS, they’ll induct KISS in the manner they wish to do it.

4. Social media makes everything worse.  Without Twitter or Facebook, how much publicity would either KISS or the Hall get out of this?  But while the axiom is “There’s no such thing as bad publicity, all this going on has actually made me look forward to the upcoming ceremonies less.  I’ll be more enthusiastic at seeing Peter Gabriel onstage than KISS. 

5. It’s only going to get worse.  Because the Hall limits how many acts they induct each year, the backlog of snubbed artists will grow in perpetuity.  Even the list of “50 Acts Better Than KISS” that capped the Dave Marsh column included names that Marsh said, “Not all will get into the Hall, nor should they.”  But the fact that there’s a list that handy and easy to make up shows that there are plenty more acts waiting to get in.  And time will not make them less bitter about being passed over.  If Chicago or Chubby Checker ever get inducted, you can bet there’ll be some harsh words said about “Finally” and “Screw ‘Rolling Stone’” or words along those lines.  As time goes on and more artists join the list of notable snubs than join the Hall, this will keep going on and on. 
 
That’s just what I’ve learned from all this.  Any other lessons?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.

6 comments:

  1. Fully agree on #4. KISS was the first band I got into as a kid and opened the doors for my lifelong interest in rock and roll. Paul & Gene's behavior during the last couple of months has soured me on caring about their induction speeches. I will be very happy for Ace & Peter and hope both attend but I'm much more excited to see Hall & Oates and Peter Gabriel. Great analysis and I enjoyed reading it!

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  2. Great job, even if I don't agree with everything said. There is something to be said for someone who makes their points intelligently and without emotion (unlike what Marsh has done). I am a KISS fan for 30+ years, but I respect people who are not fans. I understand what could turn someone off to the band. That is what makes the world go around. There is no right or wrong answer to being a fan, only an opinion.

    However, it is clear that KISS had an influence on music and in the media on a worldwide scale for decades, for better or for worse (to me better, but maybe to others worse). To deny the impact they have had would (IMO) seem ignorant. Just ask the many musicians who cite them as an influence. Some in the Hall themselves already (including Nirvana).

    The only problem I have had with all of this is the impression that it seems like the Hall plays favorites. Why does the Chilli Peppers have multiple guitar players in the hall, with some of them in the band less than 2 years? Why does Metallica have their current bass player in the Hall, when he is not part of the "classic" lineup, and he has done nothing to further the band? Yet, KISS wanted members who played in the band for 10+ years, in some cases on platinum records, yet they are denied? It is grossly inconsistent.

    When I see the Hall take those actions, and I read comments like Marsh's, and I watch the Hall bypass KISS for 15 years, it starts to seems personal. That is just my opinion. I have to guess that is why Paul and Gene have acted the way they have. It does seem personal, IMO. Do I wish the original band was performing that night? Of course, who doesn’t? But I understand why Paul and Gene wouldn’t want to, under the circumstances.

    Anyway, I did enjoy the article and reading your points of view. Thanks for posting.

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  3. My problem with this whole issue is how the Hall has chosen to include KISS as second class Hall Of Fame citizens. Other bands have been allowed to include members far more marginal to their histories than Eric Carr, Bruce Kulick, or Eric Singer have been for KISS. Robert Trujillo, anyone? Multiple Chili Peppers guitar players, maybe? The Hall has chosen to play hardball with KISS because they don't like KISS. Period.

    Dave Marsh's absurd comments downplaying the band represent the kind of thinking that shows a bias against KISS that is just mean spirited and irrational. Marsh's claims that KISS hasn't written any great guitar riffs - absurd. As a guitar player myself I can honestly and accurately state that NO ONE has written bigger, meatier, beefier, catchier guitar riffs than KISS has. Maybe equal to KISS' riffs, but not bigger or meatier or catchier. KISS is among the elite when it comes to great guitar riffs. And as rudimentary as Ace Frehley's solos were, they were also among the most memorable and hummable of any Rock era. His solos were amazingly tasteful and tasty. And never mind the fact that their chorus hooks were often as catchy as the best chorus hooks in Rock history. KISS dared to market themselves in a way that no one had since The Beatles, and The Beatles were exempt from criticism because, well, they were THE BEATLES. But enough of the Dave Marsh nonsense...

    Paul and Gene want the people who contribute to the band FOR OVER A DECADE EACH to be included. Eric Carr was in the band for 11 years, Bruce Kulick 11 years, Eric Singer has spent a total of 16 years in the band over three different tenures (including a tenure at the end of the non-makeup era when the band was at their all time best when it came to musical performances. Even Tommy Thayer has a huge history with the band, first co-writing songs with them in 1989, working as the band's road manager and video producer, ghost guitar player on Psycho Circus, and then as lead guitar player for the last 11 years. Those guys have significant histories in the band, and Paul & Gene want to recognize them for their contributions. Without them KISS could not have continued (much to the chagrin of the Dave Marsh types). The Hall chose to snub them, even though they've allowed members of far lesser significance from other bands to be inducted with those bands in the past. And the Hall's insistence that KISS would HAVE to play IN make-up, and ONLY with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss really set Paul & Gene off.

    When has the Hall EVER given a band a dress code of what they'd have to wear for their performance? Ummmm... Never. They've made a special example of KISS because most of the people running this show believe KISS to be unworthy. Never mind the tens of millions of album sales, the tens of thousands of musicians who picked up instruments for the first time because they were inspired by KISS (including people like Garth Brooks, Lenny Kravitz, Kurt Cobain, and many others). KISS is unworthy and should accept second class treatment and get to the back of the Hall Of Fame bus where they belong. Right? That's essentially what those in charge have said.

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    1. I don't play guitar, so I'm asking you as a guitar player: looking at the adjectives you use to describe their riffs, is it also fair to include "easier" among them? I ask because Marsh's main critique in his original review of them way back when is that, other than the make-up, they seemed to be at a good starting point, but never evolved much after that. Their music never grew or evolved, and they have never been a technically proficient band.. again, I wouldn't know myself. I've just heard the saying that "KISS is what you play when you want to play guitar; (some jazz guitarist's name here) is what you play when you want to play guitar well." As a guitarist, how accurate is that statement?

      And it's pretty clear the Hall has darlings and favorites. That was kind of hinted at in lesson #3.

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    2. Excellent questions about their riffs and musical complexity.

      Like many great bands, KISS does keep it simple (usually, there have been exceptions). Listen to Johnny Cash's early music - the music that made him famous and defined him as an artist - and you'll hear some of the simplest music ever written. KISS is like Yes by comparison. On the other hand, if you listen to Yes, KISS is Simple Simon stuff by that comparison. It's all relative - but the point is sometimes the greatest songs are the simplest. "Jumpin' Jack Flash," has one of the simplest, most basic riffs ever - but it's great.

      The one thing I've seen as a musician is that the more technically accomplished a musician is, the harder it is for them to write or even play simple music. They get bored with it. They lose the feeling for it. They try to add flair and flourish to it. Sometimes that works, often it doesn't.

      KISS' music is no simpler than most of what the Stones did, or much of what the Beatles wrote and recorded (when they were playing Rock songs), and yet KISS gets crucified for being musical Neanderthals, while the Beatles and Stones are revered. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying KISS is as good as either one of those bands (not at all), but what I'm saying is that criticizing KISS for having songs that are accessible and have simpler structures is completely missing the point. Great Rock and Roll IS simple.

      Rock and Roll is supposed to be about feeling more than technicality. It's supposed to be about attitude more than sophistication. There is absolutely room for bands that play songs with greater complexity and sophistication - hell, a need, really. Rock and Roll grew up. But there should always be room for bands that keep it simple - keep it grounded.

      There are two schools of Rock. One is cerebral, the other emotional. The cerebral school of Rock goes for the more sophisticated bands playing more challenging music and writing deeper, more meaningful lyrics. The other school of Rock goes for the gut feeling. It's primal, instinctive, and passionate. KISS is a band that, more often than not, adheres to the teachings of the latter.

      So is it accurate to say that KISS is the kind of music to play when you want to learn how to play guitar? Absolutely. Is it the kind of music that you want to play once you've become somewhat accomplished on the guitar? Only if you want to feel what you're playing more than thinking about it. Most accomplished musicians DO get bored playing KISS' music. Although, KISS has had a couple exceptional guitar players in the band, and Bruce Kulick came to appreciate the craftsmanship in KISS' classic music after he joined the band. He was never a fan, even though his brother was almost their original lead guitar player (and ghosted on some of their late 70's and early 80's recordings). But after joining, and really trying to get the feeling of what they did right, he found out that it wasn't quite as easy as it seemed. Getting the notes right was easy. Getting the feeling and vibe right was really hard. And beyond that, he found some interesting chord changes in some of their songs, and he also found that the classic riffs are a lot of fun to play (and entertaining as hell to listen to) if you just let go of the technical side of what you've learned and just play by feeling and instinct.

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    3. The fact that most critics ignore about KISS was that they were one of the first American band with British influences. KISS didn't sound like an American band, but they didn't quite sound British, either. It was kind of a mid Atlantic sound. They were influenced by The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin, Hendrix (an American, but came to fame in England with an English backing band), The Who, Black Sabbath, and some bands that most Americans hadn't heard of - The Move, Slade, etc. They combined that with a little Motown, a little American Pop Rock (like the Raspberries - a favorite of Paul Stanley), and some American bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Alice Cooper and came up with a sound that was unique to them. NO ONE sounded like KISS in 1974. No one. Lots of bands took bits of what they did and adapted them to their own styles, but in 1974 no one sounded quite like KISS.

      So much for them not being groundbreaking, musically.

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