For a time at my former online home, I devoted the last day of the work week to “Flashback Friday” posts. Going year by year, the idea was that I’d find cause to write about cultural ephemera that might be otherwise outside of my proverbial wheelhouse. It fulfilled that goal in fits and starts, largely because I kept gravitating back to the same old beloved stuff. Sometimes, though, I ventured. I can’t imagine writing about Kiss without the feature, but there it was. With the announcement of the band’s (latest) farewell tour, it seems a fitting time to transfer that piece over.
1976: Destroyer by Kiss is released
Destroyer was the first rock album that I ever owned. I had some driftwood that had washed into my room from my stepfather’s oversized record collection, but the Kiss album was one that I wanted, that I asked for, that I pestered some adult until they secured it for me. Up until that point, all the albums I wanted involved singing Muppets, Disney stories, and collections of novelty songs expertly curated by the fine people at K-Tel. I don’t know how much I really responded to the music itself. I certainly couldn’t have identified it as a glam rock/proto-metal hybrid, and many of the racy lyrics were well beyond my youthful understanding. I had some instinctual understanding that this was supposed to be played much louder than, say, Larry Verne’s “Please Mr. Custer” (a Billboard number one hit!), but its rebellious appeal was outside of my range.
Instead, I’m pretty sure I responded to the theatricality of the band: the make-up and the outrageous costumes, the stage pyrotechnics and the snarling personae. They were cartoons come to life and equipped with guitars. And they were canny, relentless self-promoters, seemingly all over the television, even though (or maybe because) their options were limited by the number of broadcast outlets, feeble compared to the bursting cornucopia that’s a remote click away now. They showed up to chit chat on square daytime talk shows and waded into the flamboyance of network specials. They’d go anyplace where they might be able to get people talking, because people talking led to records being sold which led to mansions in Beverly Hills and freezers stocked with enough frozen breakfasts to feed a king. Dignity was just another chip to throw into the pot with the assurance that it would be raked back to their corner of the table with a mammoth stack of winnings in due time.
It’s arguably a mark of their appeal to me that Kiss wasn’t a gateway into other rock music or heavy metal power jams, and I remained far more likely to be interested in albums targeted at the junior set. It would be many years after I considered enlisting in the Kiss Army that the rock fan gene truly kicked in, and it was easy to dismiss Destroyer and everything else associated with the band as kids’ stuff. Still, I know this record is there in my past, and sometimes when I turn up Hüsker Dü or the White Stripes or Sonic Youth as loud as it will go, there’s a faint echo of “Shout It Out Loud” sounding deep in my cerebral cortex.