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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Do You Do If Your Kid Doesn't Like Kiss?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Pucker up.
  • Pucker up.

Parents are continually influencing various aspects of their child's character development. You know, important things, like the growth of social competence and self-esteem, as well as how frequently a kid says "please" and "thank you," and doesn't hang up on telemarketers. Then there's the slightly less vital stuff they mold: favorite foods, mannerisms, the degree of intensity at which to loathe the New York Yankees.

However -- and much to a parent's chagrin -- the lion's share of a child's character-shaping was completed way back when sperm and egg first met and mingled. From English author Ian McEwan: "Cheerful or neurotic, kind or greedy, curious or dull, expansive or shy and anywhere in between; it can be quite an affront to parental self-regard, just how much of the work has already been done."

I'm not quite ready to chalk up my 12-year-old's perpetual disinterest to basic genetics, since doing so means hoisting the ole white flag, but I am beginning to fret, for despite rounds of intensive, grease-painted, flame-spewing persuasion, my son refuses to enlist in the Kiss Army.

I've tried everything. I introduced him to the vibrant romanticism and unfulfilled yearning inherent in much of Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons' oftentimes transcendent lyrics. (Behold: "Tomorrow and tonight, tomorrow and tonight / We can rock all day, we can roll all night / Tomorrow and tonight, tomorrow and tonight / Oh yeah! Uh-huh! Alright!") I acquainted him with the mellifluous world of Paulspeak. Raised in the digital age, I let him handle a Kiss relic from a time long past: My beaten-up vinyl copy of Crazy Nights. I cited writer Victoria Moran, who described in her book Younger by the Day the benefit of listening to your parents' music, how it can be a "flexibility exercise" allowing you to "gain a commonality with generations outside your own." (Quick aside: For Paul and Gene, "gaining a commonality with generations outside your own" is code for scoring with not-old-enough-to-vote groupies -- subject matter so elegantly explored in "Christine Sixteen." Of course, I didn't explain this to my son.)

When every maneuver failed, I was left to wonder if someone got to my 12-year-old first. Was his indifference the result of others telling him that worshipping Kiss means greatly compromising your principles? "Circus clown sell-outs!" was the epithet I imagined his contemporaries shouting in the schoolyard. So I decided to set the record straight: Loving Kiss isn't about surrendering one's self to consumer fatigue, I told him. And it isn't about buying into an album release strategy that's the equivalent of holding your nose and swallowing your own vomit. When Kiss re-issues an already re-issued greatest hits comp with an all new moniker, track listing, cover, and fold-out poster of a shirtless Paul, it's because the band believes that creating and maintaining strong relationships with fans is just as fulfilling as the creative process itself. Or something like that.


Anyway, I told my son that loving Kiss means tossing aside the silly, half-a-century-old notion that popular music is a thing to be aestheticized and deified. "Art should be the name of a guy and the rest of it should be up to the public," as Gene once so eloquently put it. Loving Kiss means embracing the idea that popular music is the primary means for peddling action figures and lunch boxes and cremation urns. It means permitting your wants to be fully transformed into needs, so when you cook a meal, you need that two-tier Kiss spice rack or when your heart gives out, you need that Kiss model pacemaker.

When my son remained apathetic, I speculated that he had discovered how being a Kiss fan is a fulltime, thankless gig. That the job involves serving as a perpetual bulwark against the disdain and disrespect of haters. That you may one day find yourself on a web site such as YouTube, posting comments under Kiss videos in which you staunchly defend the brand, gamely declaring "DONT LET THE SPIRIT OF ROCK DIE!!!" (always no apostrophe, three exclamation points), trotting out Arbitron-like demographic data ("95 percent of teens these days listen to the same formulaic, crappy pop"), and then threatening to punch Hannah Montana in the kisser while simultaneously blaming Justin Bieber for the video's high number of dislikes.

Or maybe my 12-year-old learned that oftentimes there are situations where the written word is not sufficient. That you may find yourself loitering outside an arena before a Kiss concert, speaking extemporaneously to a microphone-toting television reporter about the band's underappreciated genius, punctuating your carefully articulated analysis by throwing the horns and hollering "Woooooo!"

But then it suddenly occurred to me that the issue here wasn't a generational one, that this wasn't just another case of youth thumbing its nose at its progenitors. This was about me forever viewing a long-cherished artist through the unprejudiced eyes of adolescence. This was about recognizing that all the missteps and stumbles and simultaneously released solo albums and synthesizer-infused power ballads were tiny parts of one grand, compelling narrative. This was about loyalty -- an idiot's twisted version of loyalty, but loyalty nonetheless.

I will readily admit that a large portion of my allegiance to Kiss is rooted in the middle-age desire to seek out the relatively familiar, to submit to that same motivation that has me purchasing a new black sweater that looks very much like my old favorite, to yearn to be challenged, but not in a way that's terribly subversive. With Kiss, I always know what I'm getting: cartoonish lyrics, an aping of recent music trends, an attitude born from long existing outside critically sacrosanct rock, crappy plush and plastic merchandise, and lots and lots of chest hair.

My 12-year-old son doesn't know what he's missing.


Dad Rock is a column in which Ryan Foley attempts to look at pop music and pop culture from the precipice of middle age. If he ultimately leaps, it's because tiny hands ruined his Galaxie 500 vinyl. Accusations that he's raising five insufferable hipster children can be sent to

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Ryan Foley


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