Monday, May 12, 2008

The Big Kiss-Off of 1979

Alert readers may recall that a few weeks ago I reprinted a review of the Sex Pistols album from back in my dim dark past at the old Stereo Review (now Sound & Vision). I did so a little nervously, if truth be told. When NYMary first gave the spare set of keys to the car here, I'd initially planned to rescue a lot of my old dead tree pieces, but as I mentioned with the reprint, on calm reflection I'd decided it would be a bad idea -- partly because it's a royal pain in the ass to transcribe the damn things, but mostly because after re-reading a decades worth of back issues I had come to the conclusion that too much of my old stuff was either dated, embarassingly wrongheaded or both, and that I really didn't learn how to write until the early 90s anyway.

That said, I chanced across the following Raymond Chandler pastiche recently -- a review of the simultaneously released solo albums by the four guys in Kiss, one of the great examples of 70s excess and nutso commercial miscalculation -- and I think it holds up; in fact, I think it's really quite funny and I'm rather proud of it. See what you think. [A brief note on the dramatis personae: Paulette Weiss was my editor at the mag at the time; (Noel) Coppage and (Joel) Vance were two of our other reviewers.]

And now, without further adieu, here it is as it appeared in SR in the Feburary 1979 issue.

It was about four o'clock when she walked into my office, dressed in a mourning suit that made her look like a road-show Ligeia.

"Are you Marlowe?" She wriggled slightly as she sat down, which either meant she liked me or she'd noticed that my furniture is upholstered in mohair.

I looked up. "That's me, like the sign says. Chris Marlowe, Aesthetic Investigator. What can I do for you, Miss -- ?" For some reason, she looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place her under the widow's weeds.

"The name's unimportant, but call me Ms."

"Frankly, I don't care if you want to be called late for dinner. You have a job you want done, spill it."

"Oh, a tough guy, huh?" She tossed four black record jackets onto my desk.

"The results of your Wasserman test?" I asked.

"No, shamus. Albums by Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and Paul Stanley, members of a rock band called Kiss. You'll notice they're all wearing disguises on the cover."

"Nowadays who doesn't?"

"Never mind. My employer wants you to find out why. What have these guys got to hide? You've got twenty-four hours to run down the answers."

"And if I don't?"

"Front-row seats for the Al Martino farewell tour. Get the picture?"

"I'm trembling in my Capezios."

"Don't crack wise with me, turkey. Remember, you've got twenty-four hours."

With that she was out the door. I reached for the bottle of Scotch in my desk. Mysterious liberated women, rock-and-roll...suddenly, I felt very tired.

I spent the evening listening to the four records and staring at the covers. After I polished off the Scotch I had most of the scam doped out; the rest I glommed after a few phone calls to some friends of mine in the low-life end of the music business. Rack jobbers. AM jocks. The scum of the underground. Nice people you know, Marlowe. What a world.

True to her word, she was back the next day at four.

"You look beat," she said cooly. "A rough night?"

"Rough enough," I said. "But I found out what you wanted to know. These Kiss guys have never appeared out of makeup. The records are their first solo efforts, and the idea is that they're supposed to give the poor slobs who buy this stuff a chance to find out what kind of music these guys might make if they weren't limited by the group concept. It's a symbolic dropping of the mask."

"That's pretty good, Marlowe."

"I'm not finished. The thing is, it doesn't add up; these records could be by anybody. Frehley does a bad punk imitation; Simmons has pop tendencies; Criss is a closet MOR wimp, and Stanley tries to be a guitar hero. In other words, it all still sounds like Kiss -- slick, dumb, and inconsequential."

"Good job, Marlowe," she said nervously. "Write it up and send it to this address; your check will be in the mail." She started to get up, but I beat her to the door.

"Not so fast, sister. Like I said, it doesn't add up. So I began to think. Who in her right mind would be so interested in all this that she'd hire a broken-down private dick to figure it out? And why the time limit?"

I ripped the veil and sunglasses off her face.

"I knew it. You're Paulette Weiss of STEREO REVIEW."

"I had to do it, Marlowe," she sobbed. "None of my regular reviewers would touch the stuff, and I had a deadline. It was the only way."

"You're good, sweetheart," I said, putting on my coat. "But not that good."

"You mean...?"

"That's right. I won't write the review for you. Understand?"

"But, Marlowe..."

"I won't do it, do you hear? Get Simels, or Vance, or Coppage; they'll write anything for free albums. But not me."

I started out the door. "Where are you going?" she asked in a voice as quiet as the grave.

"I don't know," I said. "Computer school, maybe. Anywhere I don't have to intellectualize over loud noises."

"You can't run out on me like this."

I shook my head. "You should have thought about it before you got into the editing racket. See you around, sister."

I walked slowly down the five flights of stairs to the street and thought about her. She wasn't the first good girl to miss a deadline, and she wouldn't be the last. Still, somehow I knew I'd never hear from her again. Like I said, what a world. -- Steve Simels





[h/t Ken Richardson]


Wendy said...

Perfectly done. I can practically smell the gardenia perfume she was wearing ...

Ali said...

It holds up, it's funny, and you should be proud of it!

I wonder how many dozen albums they sold. ;)

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Once upon a time FST sent me to the dictionary to look up Mukluks & the Isles of Langerhans. Forty years later Simels sends me to Google to learn about Capezios and Wasserman tests. What a delight. Great stuff like this will never get old Steve.

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought we'd miss the late 1970s?

The day Gene Simmons came out from behind his makeup, God threw up a little in His mouth.

TJWood said...

I remember this review very well, Steve. A classic for the Wasserman test line alone. The only one of the four I can say I ever heard in its entirety is the Ace Frehley one--"a bad punk imitation" is fair enough, the cover of "New York Groove" aside. But you are begging the question, Steve: what would be an example of your old Stereo Review writings that now strikes you as dated, embarrasingly wrongheaded, or both?

TMink said...

Lemons, meet sugar and water.


steve simels said...

TJWood said...
I Steve: what would be an example of your old Stereo Review writings that now strikes you as dated, embarrasingly wrongheaded, or both

Too numerous to mention, alas. And if you think I'm going to put up an example and really make a fool of myself, forget about it.

Anonymous said...

A classic!!!


Anonymous said...


I've been a fan of your writing since I was 13 and it was 1976. I remember this Kiss review well, and I dare say I'll remember anything else that you wrote between '76 and '81, if you choose to post it. I suggest that you do so as often as possible. The stuff really holds up, Steve--your "Never Mind the Bollocks" review was also a refreshing blast from the past. You, Bangs, Nick Bent and HST were incredibly inspirational to me back then, and I'm pleased as hell to have found you again on PowerPop, which is an excellent site. In fact, I ended up on PowerPop because I was searching for a review of a Springsteen show at the Bottom Line from maybe '76, which I swear you wrote in "SR." I might be wrong about that, but I'm glad I found ya!

steve simels said...

Springsteen show in 75, I think. I've actually been mulling posting it...

But in any case, thanks so much for the kind words -- they're deeply appreciated. Glad you're enjoying the site, too.

Okay, now I'm getting verklempt...

Unknown said...

I have two of the four albums, NBLP 7123 Paul Stanley (unopened), and NBLP 7121 Ace Frehley. I was wondering if anyone knew how I would be able to have them autographed my both of them??? These were the first rock-n-roll records our parents bought us and thought it would be nice to have them signed....Chris