"Kiss In Australia" - The 1980 Movie That Never Was
I’ve always been a huge Kiss fan. From the moment that I first heard Destroyer in 1977 through to when Ace left, I was always a fan, and I remained a big booster of the band throughout the 1980s. I still consider their second three studio albums – Destroyer, Rock ‘N Roll Over and Love Gun - to be masterpieces and I adore Dynasty and Unmasked. Hell, how can one not adore Unmasked, containing, as it does, some of Ace Frehley’s best tunes, in the form of Torpedo Girl, Two Sides Of The Coin and the brilliant Talk To Me. Ace never got better really. I couldn’t care when I discovered, later in life, that the audience noise on Alive and Alive II was overdubbed, or that Peter didn’t play drums on the latter two albums, or that Gene rarely played bass. Hell, only Paul played on Shandi, but it didn't matter. It just proved to me that the heart of the band was always Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley. Once they split that really was it, as the band lost their original spark and became yet another Bon Jovi clone light-metal band. Sad really. And trust me, the four guys running around in drag these days aren't Kiss. Ace is the Spaceman, Peter is the Catman and that's the end of the debate.
When the 1980 Kiss Australian tour was announced I stated my intentions on going. However as I was twelve at the time I didn’t fancy my chances and it got worse when my older brother went out to buy tickets but came back empty handed claiming the show had sold out. Bastards! Come my 13th birthday and what did I find in my birthday card? A Kiss ticket! Yes! Life was complete. My oldest brother took me to see it and we had a blast. I’ve always said that it’s the fondest memory that I have of my oldest brother as he was on his best behaviour all night and had me on his shoulders so I could see over the crowd. I suspect that he was kind of happy, in his own way, at my own excitement. The day was a dreary, cold, windy and wet one, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I recall my brother talking to a guy in the line who had three thongs, one on each foot and another in his hand. When asked what the third thong was for the answer was simple, “Darryl Cotton's head mate.” At the time we believed that Cotton, formerly of Zoot, was the support act, a horrid thought indeed. Imagine out surprise when the support band came out and we discovered it was none other than…The Eyes, a band you’ve never heard of before and never heard of since. Four songs in it happened. POW! Right on the forehead, a thong went bouncing. “Fuck yas all ya pack of cunts!” came the cry from the stage and off went The Eyes. Brilliant! I remember seeing dozens of programmes on the floor, all being trampled after being discarded. I should have gathered them up, considering what they sell for today. Kiss in 1980, at Adelaide Oval, remains my first ever concert. I could have done worse. A-Ha popped by a few years later.
Kiss nearly toured here in 1989, but, depending on who you speak to, the concerts were either poorly planned or Kiss themselves bailed out leaving the promoters broke. Either way when this show was announced a promoter began to explore the possibility of the band doing a full scale tour but couldn’t get the venues booked. Kiss kept the deposit and the World Rock ’89 concert, headlined by Kiss and Joe Cocker, never went ahead. They did return in 1995 and did a full tour and also a convention. I attended the latter, but not the former, mainly because, as far as I was concerned, Ace made Kiss, no disrespect to Bruce Kulick, who I met in 1995 and who was a damned good guy, but some things can never be replaced. In 1997 they returned, this time the original foursome, in make-up. Naturally I went and also made the trip to catch their last show in Melbourne. It was on that trip that I finally met Bruce Springsteen, of all people. For an icon he was very humble and a bloody decent indeed. Good memories indeed.
By 1980 nothing had been learnt. The Kiss company was still haemorrhaging money at a rapid rate of knots, so in order to rectify this an Australian tour was planned and executed. Along with the tour plans were made for a movie to be shot. The movie was fully realised and ready to be shot, local camera crews were hired and the production was set. The band duly arrived in the country to tour and film but the movie never went ahead. If you want to know then just read the synopsis – it’s crap. Plus the movie called for the band and production company to split the net profits 50/50. Net profits have a name in Hollywood – ‘Monkey Points’. If you get offered net profits then you might as well just walk away. There’s people who invested in movies like Star Wars and Titanic, were promised net profits and have yet to see a cent. With net profits the movie is always in the red, no matter how many times you audit it. Being offered net points is an insult, kind of like being offered an Associate Producer credit.
Apathy and dwindling finances also took their toll. By the time the band reached Australia their career was all but over in the USA and other parts of the world. Such were the levels of apathy that Gene Simmons was filmed drinking coffee, sans make-up, and the footage broadcast all over the country on various news networks. By that stage nobody really cared what they looked like, either with or without make-up. I remember seeing a magazine from the USA with a headline about a year later, “Kiss: Unmasked – Who Cares?” Also the band weren’t about to invest anything into this project, they just didn’t have the money on hand.
What did come out of the Australian tour of 1980 were two artefacts. The first was the television special Kiss: The Inner Sanctum. This brilliant and long deleted (although it can be easily found on bootleg) television special was a Godsend for Kiss fans. The special followed the band around Australia, offered live footage and behind the scenes material and, in the best move ever, had Norman Gunston doing comedy pieces that included his efforts to convince Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s then manager, to adopt his idea of merchandising, a squashed Chiko Roll that he named ‘Genes Tounge’. If you get a chance to see it then do so. The other film from the tour was the almost complete Sydney show, which finally saw the light of day, officially, on the second volume of the Kissology DVD series. Get it, it’s worth seeing if only to see the band playing better than they had in ages, mainly due to the presence of a non-stoned drummer.
When Kiss toured in 1995 and did the convention circuit I made it a point of asking Gene during the Q&A session in Adelaide about the movie. He denied all knowledge of it and asked to see the document that you can now see on this page. I handed it to him, he read it, chuckled handed it to Paul Stanley who then handed it to Bruce Kulick and then drummer Eric Singer, both of whom began to roar with laughter. Gene didn’t look overly happy and insisted that he knew nothing of the proposed movie and that a lot of such things had been floating around the band at the time. I tend to think he fibbed just a little bit, but then I’d not want to be associated with that lump of crap either.
Ahhhh, Kiss In Australia. What might have been, and thankfully, wasn’t.
One theory that dogged the band at the time was the involvement and harassment of the FBI. However if you ever get the chance to examine the FBI files on Kiss you’ll soon discover a fairly boring read. Most of the material revolves around reports of anti-police riots at previous Kiss concerts, all of which is soon debunked as scurrilous rumour. One selection of the FBI files that really interested me was a report stating that a religious group had protested the band for playing on a Sunday and had begun the rumour that the word KISS stood for Knights In Search of Satan, a rumour that soon spread all over the world, although nobody ever knew who actually started it.
Thanks to the FBI we now know where that rumour started. These are the reasons why I love history and popular culture. And thanks to my alter ego for this post.