Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cock Rockin' With Lick it Up



Ask me who my favorite band in the world was up through senior year in high school and I would've had "Kiss" emitted from my tongue before your query was punctuated.

Of course, that was before many things, first and foremost before Gene Simmons kicked away a bedsheet of the group (both the makeup and non-makeup lineups) I'd spent days freehanding with magic marker. I wish I still had the damned thing because I did a hell of a job if I say so myself. I'd thrown the sheet up to the stage after dangling it from the front row of the long-demised Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, circa 1987. I wanted Kiss to have it as a tribute, naturally. Yeah, okay, like Gene and Kiss don't have an entire warehouse of fan-made memorabilia, including boxes of bedsheets with their likenesses on them. I was 17 and thrilled to be seeing my favorite band front row. It was the closest I was going to get to any of them--before I became a music journalist, anyway. It was the nonchalant, disinterested way Gene punted my sheet to a nearby security guard that pissed me off.

No worries, though, because Bruce Kulick (Kiss' most profilic guitarist ever, no disrespect intended, Ace) saw everything and he strutted over to our side on stage right in mid-song, then he pointed straight at me and whirled me a guitar pick. Hell yeah, man! It was my honor to thank Bruce directly for that gesture when we interviewed a couple years ago. Kiss may not be my favorite musicians any longer (the Ramones and Prince have stolen that distinction), but Bruce and Ace were kickass interviews and nice dudes, on top of it. Now where'd I put that guitar pick, anyhow?

Say what you will about Kiss, either favorably or in condemnation. They're used to either case and they've historically gotten off on it all. Chances are you've passed through life to this point and bought something connected to the Kiss legacy and that's the kind of sugar papa likes, as you can hear The Demon wax lasciviously on the Gene Simmons solo record from 1978. We won't expand on that thought any further. Ace...Ace...Ace...Ace...

The thing about Kiss is they're master entertainers, they're master riff lords, they're master marketers and, if you're familiar with their vast catalog of cock rock, they're masturbators. Lyrically, anyway. If you've read Gene's autobiography, his muff conquering life before Shannon Tweed leaves no room for self-gratification.

I like to joke how Kiss should've been locked up somewhere in the course of their history for selling audile pornography to minors. Very young minors in the seventies who sang along unwittingly to "Ladies Room," "Love Gun," "Makin' Love," "Take Me" and a slew of sex-driven ditties throughout Kiss' kabuki-clad heyday. They knew damned well they were selling a cartoon product that kids ate up along with the Superfriends, Scooby Doo, Star Wars and Land of the Lost. Shame, shame, but these days, the early catalog of Kiss is heralded as hard rock eminence. Through Dynasty and Unmasked much of it is deserved.

As Kiss grew older, they certainly didn't grow up. 1983's Lick it Up introduced the planet to a paint-stripped Kiss, which eased the burden of shock as they slid in newcomers Eric Carr (who at least had a makeup alter ego and playing credits on Creatures of the Night prior to) and Vinnie Vincent to their dumbstruck fans. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley's true faces remained enigmas through the late eighties while Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons showed off their true colors. Read into that as you will.

Accordingly, Lick it Up became famous and infamous as one of the heaviest albums in their career...and also one of their filthiest.

It's only right now, Paul pants on the title track, and he doesn't want to wait until you know him better. He wants to feel good about the time together with you, so go on and be good to yourself...and Kiss, all in succession. Lick it up, baby, just lick it up.

Back in the day, I devoured this album as I did Creatures of the Night, then considering both a logical rebirth of Kiss, followed by the subsequent Animalize album. Vinnie Vincent was out by the time Kiss torched Heaven on Animalize. Mark St. John was in...for a moment in time, anyway. Bruce Kulick stepped in for the ailing St. John and acted as a silent conscience in Kiss by the time they released the more tempered Asylum in 1985. Still, at the core of the costume-stripped version of Kiss was two horny devils who made a sport in out-grossing their tuneful but skanky struts of the past.

On Lick it Up you have lust-filled odes such as "Exciter," "Gimme More," "Lick it Up" and the blatantly sinful "Fits Like a Glove." Gene blares testimony how going through tight snatch is like "a hot knife through butter" on the latter song, while Paul knows danged well what you want and what you need on "Exciter." If you're not thinking about subjugation through oral copulation on "Lick it Up," then ignorance is bliss.

Even when Kiss tries to play the romantic sap trump card on "A Million to One," you know Paul is suggestively hinting at a reacharound while lyrically declaring himself a martyr of love. Gene ends up playing the uber-masculine avenging archangel on the deplorably misogynistic "Dance All Over Your Face." Cheating women bring Gene "disgrace," (per the song) while he (prior to Shannon Tweed) should be free to let his nefarious tongue seek heat wherever it may flicker. Of course, Kiss had bellyached about two-timers long before Lick it Up ever saw the light of day. They were just more seasoned at the craft in '83.

To me, the funniest (though heaviest) song on Lick it Up is "Not For the Innocent." Song-wise, the cut is a beast and one of my favorite on the album, even if "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" is the signature stamper. "Not For the Innocent," however, is a too-late confessional by Kiss to their grown-up flaming youth and those who innocuously came to the band to rock out. They never were for the innocent. Kiss portrayed themselves as cold gin guzzling hellraisers (Gene has always claimed to be clean of substances, however) always looking for specialized room service on the road. Along the way, they seduced the collective juvenile ears of the world as they did the thousands of women who parted chasms for them.

To defend Lick it Up in these jaded times, Kiss vocally were probably at their deadliest on here. The harmonizing between Paul and the band is par excellance, while his high altos and occasional falsettos are superb. Even Gene keeps his growls tempered by some nifty cadence. If all overt horndogs sounded this air-tight, they'd get laid every single time, guaranteed.

Herein, though, lies the inevitable disclaimer: Lick it Up is, musically, still a nut-busting, brain bashing heap of fun. However, it now sounds brain dead almost three decades later. Gene and Paul obviously have grounded relationships and stabilized family roles. Anytime they sing about sex, however, it sounds unbelievably immature and more irresponsible than writing lyrics ringing to the tune of "put your hand in my pocket, grab onto my rocket, feels so good to see you again...I wanna know, do you wanna blow... etcetera etcetera" from "Take Me" off of 1976's Rock 'n Roll Over.

In 1983, Kiss was even more bold on "Gimme More" by demanding favors from their unseen sexual playthings, while they at least took the time to coax their conquests with artificial charm in the makeup years. 1983's Kiss had them snarling, "got a thirst for playin' rough, I can't get my fill...never keepin' score, c'mon baby, let me in, gonna break your will..." Never mind Paul had already ordered his girl toy to lick his candy cane in the same song. They blamed Vinnie Vincent for scorching his solos and playing too fast them. When half of your catalog (and Lick it Up in particular) is about flying jizz, what else could they have expected from Vinnie?

It's something of an anamoly that Lick it Up rocks as hard as it does, because it's one mean bastard with little social conscience outside of date rape and knuckling down against anyone with hair still above the ears. Paul's intro rap on "All Hell's Breakin' Loose" is laughable stuff to hear today, but you kinda bought into it back then. He was speaking for all of us and those who were condemened by the moral majority for our long hair and our unbendable propensity to rock and fuck. As I said, Kiss were masters and at least back then, we were willing disciples...

2 comments:

  1. I'll aways love Kiss no matter how many times they screw up. I was a fan in 1976 and still remain one today. I just saw Ace in Atlantic City, NJ back in October. It was a great show!

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  2. Yeah, that's the year I came to them as a kid too. There's a certain aura, magic and nostalgia I feel about the old Kiss that cannot be taken from me regardless of how they've changed my overall opinion from the late nineties on. "Revenge" to me, was the last great Kiss moment. I had the opportunity to interview Ace, Bruce and the late Bill Aucoin, so there's a genuine feeling of gratification I have. Wish I'd been able to interview Eric Carr since I worshipped him and Dave Lombardo while I was trying to play drums.

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