Saturday, April 04, 2009

Black Diamond: My Adventures In KISS-Land

This week an unexpected book arrived in the mail, I say unexpected not because I didn't think I'd get a comp copy, but unexpected because I didn't think that it'd ever happen - the 10th anniversary edition of Dale Sherman's excellent Kiss biography, Black Diamond.

Dale had contacted me mid last year to tell me that the publisher of the original two books wanted to re-issue the first volume in an expanded and re-written format. That sounded like a damn good idea to me and I replied to Dale that it's an authors dream to revisit work after an extended period of time with the view of fixing any errors and bringing it all up to date. This week I put aside a few hours and sat down and read the book. It's a cracking read and I recommend it to anyone who has a passing interest in Kiss as it sits there on the shelf as a companion to David Leaf's overview and the view of Kiss by Gene Simmons. Black Diamond isn't always complimentary towards the band, but a good biography will always be balanced and fair and showcase the bad with the good, and that's exactly what Dale does.

Five stars easily. Go and buy one now.

So what's my involvement? Why was I sent a comp copy? It wasn't for review purposes that's for sure - I was sent a copy because I had a hand in this book way back when and, until my depression caught me late last year, I was involved with this current edition. Dale is a man with honour, so he makes sure that all contributors get their copies, signed by him. Other publishers and authors should take note of that. I know of a few books and magazines running about the place that have been published that have contributions from myself (both with and without my permission) and I've never seen a complimentary copy, nor will I. But that might be why I'm more than slightly anti-publisher at the moment.

My involvement with Dale Sherman and the books that would become Black Diamond began over a decade ago. I spent part of two years writing and researching my own Kiss book, this one focusing on the 1980 Australian tour, complete with discographies, photos, anecdotes, interviews and much more. I spoke to a lot of people but when I approached a few publishers...well the ones who did speak to me merely chuckled. The rest just didn't bother. In 1989-1990 you couldn't give a book on Kiss away. One publisher told me, out of kindness he said, that the only way such a book could sell is if a $50 note was inserted into each copy, along with an apology. In 1980 Kiss were the biggest news story to hit this nation, a mere 10 years down the track they weren't even important enough to be a joke. Somewhere I may have the text of that book, but as it was mainly written on a typewriter (pre-computer days) I fear that it's all been binned now and the research only exists in my memory.

One magazine that I used to read back then with an almost religious fervour was Goldmine Magazine. I loved music, hell, I still do, and as anyone who knows me well know, I love the stories behind the stories more than the finished product at times. As my daughter says, I know more useless trivia than anyone she's ever seen, heard or met. I'm kinda proud of that. I'd read the magazine back to front and it was via the letters page in an issue in the early 1990s that I saw a letter by Dale asking for information on Kiss and listing the countries he wanted to know about: Australia was one of those listed. I dashed off a letter to Dale (these were those glorious pre-email days when one sat down, wrote a letter and *gasp* actually mailed it at a post office! And yes, I had a record player and vinyl records and a cassette player in my car!!) introducing myself and thus began a healthy correspondence that went on for the next seven or so years.

To begin with Dale sent down a series of questions and information that he needed. He understood I'd been writing my own book and didn't expect to share much, but if he didn't then he was in for a surprise - I sent over everything I had. He'd uncovered a few urban myths which I either confirmed or denied, and I managed to help him fill in some gaps about the 1980 tour that he'd not previously known, or that members of the Kiss organisation had forgotten or just weren't privy to. Dale had footage from the Sydney press conference, but didn't know what had gone on both before and after. Eventually I located a video of almost every television appearance both in the media and on news services, which I had a friend convert to NTSC (yes - video tapes!!) and sent that as well. I expect that, even though the quality was poor, Dale must have thought he'd hit the jackpot. I sent over clippings, ads and, well, everything Dale wanted. In return he sent over sample chapters and I helped polish them by suggesting what could be changed for accuracies sake.

Years passed and then the first book appeared - I was over the moon! In the meantime I'd gotten divorced, had a breakdown, and had published some of my own research via It Magazine (while seeing at least two other Australian 'writers' lift my own work, complete with spelling errors - and you know who you are you talentless hacks - and use them in magazines published both here and overseas, but by this stage, I was used to it). Dale sent over a copy, signed and we again went back and forth, this time via email, about the band, the book and life itself and the strange turns we'd taken.

Around this time Dale announced that his publisher had split his original book and now wanted two volumes. The first would be a straight biography, the second a reference guide, of sorts, with all kinds of interesting facts. Such guides are now the norm, but then they weren't, so off to work we went. Originally Dale had a fair bit of time to finish the second volume, but when sales came in the publisher decided to strike while the iron was hot and the deadline was moved up. Dale turned to the people who could assist and assist we all did. I can remember writing sections that Dale would later edit and use, all with my permission. One part amused us. Dale had a bootleg section ready to go, but was light on information. I asked to see the chapter so he sent it down, I printed it out and began to laugh. I emailed Dale back and mentioned that I could help fill the gaps on almost all of the bootleg CDs that he had no information on because I'd either compiled them or my best friend did. Thus the information was very close at hand. Between me and my friend we inserted the required information, sent over scans and copies and suddenly a chapter that had titles was complete.

My proudest moment came with the section on important television appearances. I don't fault Dale for this as it appears to be an American thing - if it didn't happen in America then it's not important, television wise. Dale's original section didn't include two of the most important appearances in Australia - the 1980 Countdown show (where a clearly stoned Ace Frehley was encouraged to act out by none other than Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley - indeed the latter appeared to be under his own influence) and the television documentary The Inner Sanctum. Dale replied that he was really under the pump so I sat down and wrote those two sections in a night and sent them over. With some slight editing and clean-ups both summaries appeared in the book proper - I think I'm more happy about that than most other contributions to various projects that I've been involved with. I read the book again the other week, for old times sake, and I can still see my developing writing style in parts. Damn!

The book appeared, my two copies arrived (one for me, one for my bootleg pal) along with a host of signed photos and the Cheap Trick box set, Sex, America and Cheap Trick! A pleasant surprise, but as I was in the fits of depression at the time I wasn't fully able to appreciate it. The book was better than I expected, considering that was almost thrown together at the eleventh hour, and my greatest joy came when I'd visit stores and record fairs and see dog-eared copies under and behind tables being used as a reference point. No-one believed me though when I'd tell them about my involvement, so I'd point out my name in the credits - that'd generally shut their yaps.

Suddenly Dale contacted about the idea of an expanded volume. He had some ideas of what he wanted to include, and one I went after - an interview with Steve Gerber. Sadly Steve passed away before it could happen, but at times life does get in the way. Other ideas included picking the brains of a lot of people to discover what gems had been uncovered in the ten or more years it'd been since we'd originally visited this world. Memories, both good and bad, flooded back, but I sent over my thoughts as best I could - I now wish I'd done more, but...these things happen. Dale's book is better for his writing and his technique of sharing information so openly, and being so receptive of other people's efforts. It also clearly benefits from that old gem, hindsight. Dale took the opportunity of being able to revise his text and update it and in doing so has made the original Black Diamond redundant. To that end I have nothing but admiration for the man for being so brave as to virtually invalidate his earlier work.

All three books are worth tracking down. I understand the original two volumes are now long out of print, but you can buy the just released edition of Black Diamond, so hop to it. You won't regret it.

I've always felt bad about not thanking Dale enough, both for his generous nature and for his friendship. I can at least correct that here - thanks Dale, and his lovely wife Jill. You two are two of the best there is. Now I have to ask him about a few things that are in the new edition that weren't in the previous one, especially about the proposed make-up 'reunion tour' that was slated for the early 1990s...I'm sure we talked about that at the time, but...

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