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Gene Simmons Tag

Quality documentary about what could be considered the musical flashpoint to hip-hop's rhythmic beginnings.  Narrated by Gene Simmons, Sample This is the story of how Michael Viner, a music industry insider in the late '60's/early '70's, gathered studio musicians for a soundtrack project ("The Incredible

With so many different tools for music discovery at our fingertips these days (particularly the many internet options that change continually as technology progresses) it’s easy to take for granted that things weren’t always that way. The emergence of MTV (which at the time stood for “music television,” remember that?) was a serious game changing development for music fans. For many years, it was the DJ on the radio and the knowledgeable clerk behind the counter at the record store who were the prime dealers of the latest musical drugs we so desperately craved as young and developing music aficionados.

MTV changed all of that and not only put a face on the DJs (to be referred to from this point forward as “VJs,” meaning “video jockey”), it additionally took music from being an often faceless experience to being completely in your face, 24 hours a day. With the release of MTV Ruled The World: The Early Days of Music Video, author Greg Prato has written a amazingly comprehensive oral history featuring over 70 interviews with both the talent from that era of MTV and a plethora of the A-list artists featured on the channel during the time period.  Police drummer Stewart Copeland, Ann Wilson of Heart, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Jerry Casale of Devo are just a few of the many artists that spoke with Prato for the book.

And that’s just one of the two books that Greg Prato published at the end of last year.  The Eric Carr Story finally delivers the first extensive career summary and analysis of KISS drummer Eric Carr to be published in print (and additionally, it includes one of the final interviews with legendary KISS manager Bill Aucoin).  The book functions not only as an in-depth exploration of his life and musical artistry, but also as a fascinating view of the oft-condemned ’80s period of KISS music and what it was like to be a KISS fan during the era. Greg and I conversed recently about both books and you can now read the results of that conversation here, so let’s dig in.

For those who are unfamiliar, what’s your background as a writer and what are you up to when you’re not writing books?

I’ve been a writer since 1997. I’ve written for All-Music Guide, RollingStone.com, Classic Rock Magazine – primarily those three. About three years ago, I started writing books. The first one was A Devil On One Shoulder, An Angel On The Other, which was a book about Shannon Hoon and also Blind Melon. And I’ve done a few books since then – in 2009 I did Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, for which I interviewed members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice of Chains – all of those bands. And my latest two books are The Eric Carr Story, which is about KISS’s former drummer and also MTV Ruled The World, which is about the early years of MTV from about 1981 through 1986.

You’ve now done a total of five books with Lulu.com – how hard was it for you to make that initial leap from being a journalist to the idea of doing a full blown book and how did you arrive at the decision to self-publish.

Well, I look at self-publishing as kind of the DIY stuff that was going on in the ’80s with all of the record labels like SST and those types of labels. It’s gotten to the point now that the only way you could even get in contact with a main publisher is if you have an agent – they won’t even return your phone calls if you don’t have an agent. And even someone like me, not to toot my horn, but I’ve written for RollingStone.com, All-Music Guide, so my name is somewhat out there. And even I couldn’t get major publishers to get back to me because I just didn’t have agent. I’m sure there are good agents out there, but the few agents that I’ve dealt with have been schlubs. [laughs]

So, like I was saying, I think self-publishing is really a great opportunity – it’s really giving the power back to the author, not just some publisher who’s just going to put in a minimal [effort], I mean not that all publishers are like this, but it also reminds me too a few years ago what it was like with the record companies. It was just a bunch of record companies that are getting big and fat on money and then suddenly the whole entire industry got turned upside down and now it’s totally changed. And I think the same is [true] with publishing, I think that self-publishing is a really great thing. As well as files, people are able to read stuff on Kindle and lots of those types of things. So I think that the book publishing industry may be in for some rough times, just like the record companies were. Because it seems like that they’re kind of a little bit too old school and going by old rules and you constantly have to I think keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. And from what I’ve seen, most publishers are just sticking to old rules, which I think is going to come back to bite them in the ass.

Does it surprise you how much publishers and record companies just aren’t getting it? Meanwhile, folks like yourself and also today’s bands are figuring out that they don’t need the support of the big company and that there is a different way.

That’s really the beauty of the net. It’s really given the power back to bands, just to put music up on sites. And also for publishers, for instance, the book that I did about Shannon Hoon, I actually reached out to several places and they all said “no, it’s not a big enough market and it’s not going to sell that way.” Meanwhile, it’s sold very, very well, like I’ve been getting feedback still to this day about how people really enjoy that book, so it really just comes down to if it’s something that you really believe in and that you really want to see succeed, you can always find a way to make it thrive and also be successful. It’s just hard work and putting your mind to it. If I always listened to people saying “well, this book wouldn’t sell,” then I probably never would have been a writer. Sometimes you just have to listen to your heart and go with your gut feeling.

You conducted a huge amount of interviews for both books, but for the MTV book especially. Start to finish, how long were you working on the MTV book?

Well, the MTV book and also the Eric Carr book, I started both of these in January 2010 and I had them both finished and ready to be sold, the 1st of December 2010. You know what it was, I kind of figured that both books ran somewhat similar timelines. Like I know Eric Carr was a member of KISS from 1980 to 1991 and the MTV book ran from 1981 to about 1986. So there’s a few instances where I was able to get interviews for both books, like for instance, I interviewed Bruce Kulick, who was the guitarist for KISS during that time and I also asked him some questions about the channel and also filming certain KISS videos. So I was able to do that type of thing. I guess was in an ’80s frame of mind too, so I guess that kind of also helped both of those books, so that’s basically what happened with them.

BoomAny good label manager would tell you: don’t name your album something a reviewer could turn into a catchy, snarky counterpoint. But as we know far too well, most of the labels are hanging by a thread, the management inside reduced to bean counters versus quality controllers and, heck, if Hollywood keeps naming their movies in blindly self-insulting ways, why can’t the record industry follow suit?

Besides, we’re talking about Kiss here, who have built an iron-clad and insular fanbase that views such flaunting of common sense as an act of rebellion. Who cares if the new album Sonic Boom, the first since 1998’s Psycho Circus, opens itself up to opening paragraphs such as this, begging the question, “Boom or Bust?” What really matters is if the band has spent the decade-long downtime productively or not, and luckily for you, the Popdose staff has gone through the work of sussing it out so you don’t have to. Strap on your steel dragon-face boots, smear on your kabuki greasepaint and shake off your love gun. It’s time to rock and roll.

Rob Smith: I mentioned in my Overnight America Popdose segment a couple weeks ago that I cannot name a single Kiss studio album that’s great from start to finish (I hate “Beth,” so suck it all you Destroyer fans). After listening to Sonic Boom, I can still say I cannot name a single Kiss studio album that’s great from start to finish.

That said, I like “Never Enough” a lot, though the verses remind me of Poison’s “Nothin’ But a Good Time” a little TOO much.  Wasn’t Paul Stanley supposed to produce that album, too?

KISS Poster

Most people born before 1990 have some familiarity with the rock band KISS. Fans my age (44) remember the glory years in the mid- to late ‘70s, while younger fans remember the reunion tours of the mid-’90s, or bass player Gene Simmons’s A&E reality show, Family Jewels. Hand in hand with familiarity come opinions regarding the efficacy of the group: Were they just a glam band with a great marketing plan? Is their music any good? Or as my friend Debbie said, “They’re okay, but they’re no Scorpions!”

I’d like to help the non-KISS fan here to:

  • recognize the musical appeal of the group;
  • know which albums to embrace and avoid;
  • gain a greater appreciation for what KISS did for live rock ‘n’ roll performance.

By the same token, KISS did (and continues to do) ridiculously stupid things, and pointing out some of those foibles makes for good sport. So let’s begin at the beginning with the first three albums, released in 1974 and ’75.

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I’ve long had a man-crush on soft spot in my heart for Paul Stanley, Kiss’ lead vocalist and most musical member.  He’s the best singer in the band, a commanding stage presence, and his songs are the best things on every one of the dozens of albums the band has shat out since their 1974 debut (sure, Gene Simmons might claim to have written 300 unreleased songs, but they all doubtless suck, just like most of the ones that got released).  And at age 57, he can still bring it live, whether in seven-inch leather heels with Kiss, or in more modest foot apparel in his solo shows.  Check out his DVD One Live Kiss for a primer on playing great rock and roll well past what most people consider an acceptable sell-by date.  Seriously, he’s only six years younger than my father, and Dad had to give up playing to sold-out stadium audiences in his early 40s.  It’s exhausting.

Stanley’s put out two solo records in his career—1978’s Paul Stanley (part of Kiss’ stunt of releasing four solo records simultaneously) and 2006’s Live to Win.  Each has plenty to recommend it, if you’re into the kind of melodic rock on which he’s built his career.

“Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)” was the sole single released from the 1978 album (peaking at Number 46), and it features many of the instrumental hallmarks of the day, mainly the shimmering acoustic guitars, dead-sounding drums, anonymous background vocals, and faux strings (courtesy of something called an “Omni string ensemble,” an analog synthesizer that, coincidentally, was also responsible for powering Mork’s journey from Ork to Earth that same year).

Stanley is in his most sensitive pillow-talk voice, doubtless laying on his back in a state of repose, fingers gently playing with his own chest hair, sensitively addressing the chick he’d just met backstage six hours before:

Though I know that you are sleepin’
Girl, there’s somethin’ I must say
Though the road may wind
My love will find the way

That’s a really nice sentiment, Paul.  Certainly, this divine maiden would be charmed as all hell by your wooin’ and philosophizin’ about winding roads and such.  But she’s asleep. You acknowledge this in the first line.  She’s probably even snoring a little.  This fazes you not a bit, though, cuz you go on: