Thursday, 1 August 2013

KISS meets Cousin Carl

KISS came to Lethbridge on July 10. Whenever I think of KISS I cannot help but think of my cousin Carl Schurman.

…Cousin Carl
KISS meets…
Now Carl was the cousin on my mom’s side who I really followed around like a puppy dog. He was four years and one day older than me. Our mothers are sisters and we used to celebrate our birthdays together. What made him so cool though was that he was – and still is actually – a musician. He was in a cool band and did cool things.

And he loved KISS.

Super fan, amazing artist 
Anytime we were in Lethbridge and dropped by for a visit, he was playing a KISS album: “Destroyer”, “Hotter Than Hell”, “Love Gun”, you name it, he had the vinyl. But as I was saying he also did cool things. Carl was generally an amazing artist. He drew pictures of Peter Criss, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Ace Frehley. He took a handicrafts class in school and had to make an apple-head doll. If you’re not familiar with this medium it’s simple. You peel an apple, carve a face in it, and let it dry. It shrivels into a gnarled-up face. Mostly it looks like a witch or troll. Carl saw Gene Simmons, so he painted the shrivelled up face like the demon’s, with a white base and freaky eyes. Then he carved a guitar out of wood, made some boots and the other parts of a standard Gene Simmons costume. It was absolutely amazing.

When KISS’ record company issued “solo” albums by each of the four members, Carl scooped them up. Trading cards came out, and he got them all too.

Eventually, KISS came to Lethbridge and Carl was there when the semis rolled in – and there were a lot of them.

We used to go trick or treating in Lethbridge. My grandparents and Carl’s parents both lived on the north side, so we would start at Carl’s and work our way to our grandparents. One Halloween, when Carl was no longer coming with us, we returned to his place to check out our loot and he was watching a very special movie.

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
It was a KISS movie. I had read about it, and was disappointed I was going to miss it. All I missed was about the first 10 minutes, or so.

The story centres on an amusement park where people begin disappearing. KISS is framed in the process, by the Phantom of the Park who is diabolically using these people as living mannequins in his amusement park displays. He manufactures a "fake" Gene Simmons, then a fake band, who are eventually confronted and defeated by the real KISS. Incidentally, all the band members have super powers.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
I developed my own like for KISS, especially Peter Criss. Beyond my love of my cousin, I liked drumming and drummers and still do. So I too bought the Peter Criss solo album, and all the trading cards. I even made my own set of drums, using a series of empty ice cream buckets. I sketched the drawing of Peter Criss' face from the album cover onto a brown grocery bag, cut it out, and pasted it on the lid of the bucket. I also cut the bottom out of a can of Pringles potato chips and nailed that to a green stick from another game for a cymbal. Carl and his family came for a visit and he made some alterations to the "drum kit". He even suggested I add different levels of sand to the various buckets to change the sound. He also rigged the can lid to dangle, making it more like an actual cymbal. All of this was motivated by accompanying Carl and some of the guys from his first band on their first trip to buy an actual drum set.

The re-birth of KISS
By the end of elementary school, I completely lost interest in music, until Grade 9. By then, KISS had become one of many heavy metal bands. They had been unmasked, and were no longer wearing make-up. They put a bunch of albums in that period: "Lick it Up", "Animalize", and "Asylum" with the single "Tears Are Falling".

I started hanging out with Chris Vining, and by the time we got to university where we roomed together in first year, he hung an "Animalize" bandana on his bulletin board in our room.

Can't mention KISS without mentioning "Beth"
The best memory I have involves their most enduring song: "Beth".

It was the only song of note sung by drummer Peter Criss, and has stood the test of time. It was part of the 1976 "Destroyer" album, and is the band's biggest chart success, peaking at number seven on Billboard's Hot 100.

In Grade 11, so the spring of 1986, Vining and I were working at a greenhouse. One day I walk in and he says, "You'll never guess what was number one on the top seven at seven?" That was a call-in show on 1090-CHEC out of Lethbridge, where the songs that got the most requests made up the top seven.

"What?" I asked.

"'Beth' by KISS."

We were both astonished. The song was 10 years old, but it was getting a lot of airplay.

Then, 35 years later, there was "Beth" again, this time appearing on "Glee".

It truly is a song of all ages for all ages.

Parting thought
Initially, Carl was a drummer and gravitated to KISS drummer Peter Criss, then later front man Gene Simmons. My cousin would move on to bigger and better things, writing and playing his own music, playing all over the world, and leave KISS in the rear view mirror.

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