July 23, 2003: My First KISS

On July 23, 2003 I met my favorite rock band, KISS, for the first time. As you can see from the smile on may face in the above photo, I was radiating excitement because I was so happy. Not only was this a free meet and greet with the “Hottest Band in the World,” my cousin, Chris, and I had the opportunity to purchase an autographed copy of the band’s new album, which had just come out, KISS Symphony: Alive IV.

The day I became a KISS fan was September 4,1996. I was watching the MTV Video Music Awards, and I saw these four guys on a stage underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, in absolute control of the sea of humanity in front of them. With a gigantic lit-up KISS sign behind them, these four leather-clad giants in crazy-looking faceprint started to play the rock and roll national anthem: “Rock And Roll All Nite.” Gene Simmons growled out the lyrics, Peter Criss pounded the drums while flipping his hair from side to side, Ace Frehley took center stage to play a blistering guitar solo on a gorgeous cherry sunburst Les Paul, and like a preacher at electric church, Paul Stanley stirred the crowd up into a frenzy and when they reached their peak, he smashed his guitar on the stage as the proverbial cherry on top of this spectacular rock-and-roll sundae. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Since I was only 11-years-old and not going to concerts yet, I did the next best thing. I went to a local CD store, The Wall, and I bought three KISS albums: MTV Unplugged, Double Platinum, and You Wanted The, Best You Got The Best!! I listened to all three CDs to quickly become acclimated with the musicianship, artistry, and ferocity of KISS.

My first concert was Rod Stewart. I went with my Dad and a friend. It was amazing! He had an amazing stage presence, played all of his big hits, and I left exhilarated by the power of live music. By the time I realized I had to see a KISS concert, the band had completed a Farewell Tour, so I thought I’d never get the chance to see my heroes do what they do best: put on the best live show known to man.

In 2001 KISS released a box set and Gene Simmons published his autobiography. While both of these items were great and I was happy to buy them, it felt as if KISS was saying goodbye to the fans and I was never going to see the band live. But then they announced a show in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO), where the band was going to work with the MSO on creating an amazing mix of orchestral music and rock and roll. It sounded pretty cool. And I was thrilled to hear that they were documenting the milestone event by recording and releasing it on CD and DVD.

One of the mysteries behind this project was – which members of KISS would be performing? Would Ace and Peter join Gene and Paul for this or not? Gene and Paul were able to bring Peter back into the fold, despite him being replaced by Eric Singer for the last leg of KISS’ Farewell Tour. However, they couldn’t coax Ace into joining them for this venture. He believed the Farewell Tour was just that, the band saying goodbye to the fans. He was probably better off not being part of this, as life on the road as a member of KISS brought out Ace’s demons: drugs and alcohol.

With Ace Frehley out of the picture, Gene and Paul asked Tommy Thayer, their behind-the-scenes jack-of-all-trades, to don the Spaceman outfit and makeup and fill Ace’s role as the band’s lead guitarist, at least for this project. I felt a little strange about this at first, but over the years Tommy has proven to be a phenomenal guitarist and done an excellent job as KISS’, now permanent, lead guitarist.

With the KISS Symphony concert behind them, the band eventually revealed when the album was going to see the light of day: July 2003. they also announced an in-store meet and greet with fans in New York City for July 23. I told my cousin about this immediately. I got him into KISS, and for both of us to have the chance to meet these guys was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We, along with my Uncle Al, went to New York City that day. We got there hours ahead of time, and it was pouring rain outside. We waiting in a long line out front of the store to meet KISS. While waiting, we overheard discussions between other fans. Many of them were from other countries. One guy, who was strumming a guitar, was so overcome with emotion that he started to cry and his girlfriend comforted him. He was excited that he was just a few hours away from meeting his heroes.If my memory serves me correctly, KISS arrived in large, black SUVS with heavily tinted windows. From the SUVS stepped giant platform boots, and they waved to the fans as they entered the store. For my photo with KISS, I decided to wear my Love Gun button-down shirt. As the line started to move forward, I got more and more excited. The was really happening! We got to the front and it was my turn to get my photo with KISS. I knew it was going to be very quick, so I simply said, “Hey guys!” and turned toward the camera for my photo. Gene popped the collar on my shirt, and Peter said, “Could you squat down a little? I can’t see.” I laughed, said “Sure,” and squatted. They took my photo and I was on my way. My cousin got his photo and we picked up our autographed CDs. We also got a photo with a couple models wearing KISS makeup and “I Love KISS’ t-shirts. By the time we left Best Buy, where the event was held, our heads were spinning and we were as giddy as could be. We just met KISS! And a little more than one month later, we’d get the chance to see them live for the first time.

Since 2003, I’ve seen KISS live many times. I’ve been on three KISS Kruises, met and/or interviewed all current and classic members of the band, taken part in podcasts dedicated to their music, and more. I even own one of Paul Stanley’s guitars, which I got him to autograph for me backstage during the band’s 40th Anniversary Tour. I consider myself to be very lucky and fortunate, and I’m grateful for all of the amazing KISS experiences I’ve had over the  past 15 years. While they’ve all been terrific, I’ll never forget my first KISS.

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