Thursday, October 22, 2009


Here is what I've accomplished this week: I've listened to the entire KISS discography. In chronological order. Well, almost all of it--the 18 group albums and the four solo albums. I didn't include the four live albums or the seven million best-of compilations.

This actually started two weeks ago, when Patrick asked me to accompany him to Walmart. Normally I wouldn't do this, as the closest Walmart is about 45 minutes away and I can stand being in the car for only about five minutes before I start whining. But it just so happens that KISS released their most recent album, Sonic Boom, only through Walmart. So I said okay.

Why KISS? Blame it on childhood nostalgia. KISS is the first band I really got into. I bought the albums. I dressed up as Peter Criss for Halloween. I stayed up to watch KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park in 1978. And I liked it.

Truth be told, I haven't bought a KISS album since Dynasty in 1979, but I never stopped liking them. And I still have my KISS Army membership card and wear my Hotter Than Hell album art T-shirt on occasion. (Just last week I was wearing it when someone stopped me on the street and said, "Cool shirt, man.") So when I found out they had a new album out, I decided to see what it sounded like.

Unfortunately, this triggered my OCD. I've been pretty good about not giving in to it. The infamous Vintage Russian Christmas Ornament Fiasco of 2007-2008 is the last time it hit me hard. So maybe it was time for another episode.

Anyway, I decided that I absolutely had to have every KISS album in my iTunes library. I won't go into the sordid details about how I acquired them, except to say that it involved a shady Eastern European download site with bargain basement prices. My apologies to Gene, Paul, and the boys, but in my defense I've purchased multiple copies of your albums over the years and paid you $50 a year for an admittedly useless KISS Army membership, so let's call it even, okay?

Once I had the albums I spent a glorious day organizing them chronologically within iTunes, which let me tell you is no easy feat. The diabolical iTunes software makes no sense--none at all--and insists on being contrary at every opportunity. It took me several hours of Googling to figure out how to trick it.

And then of course I had to reorganize all of my other music so that each artist's albums appeared chronologically. Which then required that I search out missing album covers and add them. Oh, and then I had to decide which of each artist's albums I wanted to represent them in the iTunes library. Should I use the first album cover? The prettiest? And did I have to be consistent?

You can see the problem. Or maybe you can't. I understand that OCD behavior is often baffling to outsiders. But I'm sure some of you will understand. These were all Very Important Questions.

After two days I was able to actually start listening to the albums. As I said, I'm very familiar with everything up through Dynasty, so there were no surprises there, just a lot of reliving of fond memories and snickering over the lyrics. ("I thought about the back door"? Really, Gene?) Good times, people. Good times.

Things got interesting when I got into the albums from the 80's and 90's, none of which I'd ever listened to beyond the singles from them. Honestly, I didn't expect to enjoy them. By that point the original band had broken up and a lot of the fun was gone for everyone. But I was surprised to find some good stuff in those albums: "Talk To Me" from Unmasked, "Keep Me Comin'" from Creatures of the Night, and particularly "Lonely Is the Hunter" from Animalize.

The biggest shock was the 1997 album Carnival of Souls. Recorded in 1995 during the reign of grunge rock, this was the band's attempt to compete with groups like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But the album was shelved in place of a reunion tour. Only when bootlegs began to circulate amongst fans did it see the light of day. And I'm glad it did. It's a great record, particularly Gene's "In My Head" and "I Walk Alone," the only song on a KISS album to be sung by (now former) guitarist Bruce Kulick.

Going through any artist's complete body of work is an interesting experience. I did something similar a few years ago when I decided to read the complete works of some great American authors, also in chronological order. I went through everything by Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Capote, Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eudora Welty, and James Baldwin. It took me two years. I won't say it was always enjoyable (I just don't get the fuss over Welty, and Faulkner's early novels are dreary), but like with my KISS experience there were definitely some delightful surprises (Capote's short stories, Steinbeck's The Moon is Down). You get to see (or hear) the artist develop. In the case of KISS, it's interesting to see how their sound has changed with the times while still remaining unmistakably KISS. I swear, if they don't get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, there will a lot of pissed off fans in kabuki makeup and dragon boots.

Where was this going? Oh, right. My wasted week. Well, it wasn't wasted to me, but for those who don't understand the beauty of a complete and perfectly-organized collection, be it of music or books or Pez dispensers, it probably seems like a lot of silliness at the expense of productivity. To those folks I can only say: I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day.

No comments: