KISS Live in Japan 1977

You wanted the best, you got the best!  It’s KISS!  At the height of their powers in 1977!  With all four original members! Performing live in Japan!  .. (exclamation points officially ending here) … This was recorded for HBO and I remember seeing this very concert during the summer of 1979 when me and my brother went to visit my Dad in Northern Virginia.   Two of my Dad’s female neighbors in their early 20s invited us all over to watch the concert on their TV since they had HBO.   I can’t imagine my Dad’s neighbors were particularly interested in KISS … or my brother and me, for that matter … but I’m not going to complain that they used my interest in KISS to get to know my Dad better.  It was doubly cool because I was now able to see my favorite band at the time life, I also got to check out this thing called HBO that I had seen advertised on TV, but wouldn’t be available in my neighborhood for two more years.  As always, Paul Stanley doesn’t disappoint with his stage raps here.

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When Terry Met Gene … Terry Gross interviews Gene Simmons on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” February 4, 2002

Here it is folks … the infamous interview Terry Gross did with KISS’s Gene Simmons for her NPR talk show “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” in 2002.  The interview has been split into 3 parts for your edification.  I can’t tell if Terry had any idea of what Gene was like prior to this interview … but Gene is playing himself to the hilt.   It’s hard to tell who wins this battle of the bands, but I think Terry and Gene put up a good fight.   I can’t tell if Gene is acting more like Ted Nugent or Andy Kaufman here.  I think he’s way smarter than Nugent and there’s elements of this that seem tongue-in-cheek, but I also don’t think his performance in the interview is a complete put-on.   Regardless, it’s one jaw-droppingly entertaining (almost) 30 minutes.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

“Tales from the Trial” – Jello Biafra

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From Jello Biafra’s 1989 spoken word album “High Priest of Harmful Matter” comes this monologue about the “Frankenchrist” trial from 1987. “Frankenchrist” was a 1985 album released by the legendary punk rock group The Dead Kennedys (Biafra’s band at the time) and the album infamously included a poster that featured the H.R. Giger painting “Penis Landscape.”

Never mind that a sticker on the album cover contained a warning label about the poster, Biafra (and others) were brought up on criminal charges for “distributing harmful matter to minors.” What the prosecution hoped to do was for Biafra (an artist on an independent record label) to plead guilty so a legal precedent would be set.  The prosecution actually admitted that going after Biafra was a “cost-effective” way to send a message.   Had that precedent been set, then prosecutors could have gone after bigger game, such as Prince or Madonna. But Biafra … seeing the big picture and the REAL reason he was targeted … chose to fight the charges instead. Sadly, his fight was without the help of any major record label (who seriously should have seen the bigger picture as well and helped Biafra … but did not). Fighting the charges was expensive and nearly bankrupted Biafra and his record label, but he won … sort of. The trial resulted in a hung jury and the judge chose to dismiss the case after the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous decision.

The entire arrest and subsequent trial are brilliantly (and very entertainingly) explained in this 43-minute monologue. Some bad language here and there, but to quote the label on the “Frankenchrist” album, “life can sometimes be that way.”

Some bizarre footnotes of this trial:

1) Gene Simmons of KISS wanted to the buy Biafra’s life rights to make a dramatic film about the trial with Billy Crystal playing Biafra (?!?)

2) The prosecutor, Michael Guarino, later admitted it was a mistake to have gone after Biafra and later came together with him on Ira Glass’s “This American Life” to discuss the trial and for Guarino to apologize.  Guarino also admitted that his son became a huge Dead Kennedys fan in later years and would blast their music to the annoyance of everyone on their street.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/285/transcript

“The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years” (1988) dir. Penelope Spheeris

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“The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years” is Penelope Spheeris’s follow-up to her groundbreaking documentary on hardcore punk from 1980 (“The Decline of Western Civilization”). “Decline II” chronicles heavy metal, circa 1988 in Los Angeles, predominately glam metal, which was the rage at the time.

“Decline II” is often cited for being extremely funny because many of the participants seem absolutely delusional about their prospects at future success in music … and in life. There are interviews with stars (Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Tyler, Joe Perry, Poison, Dave Mustaine, Lemmy, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Chris Holmes) and interviews with up and comers, most of which you’ve never seen nor heard from since this film came out.

However, the most compelling part of the film is arguably the interview with Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. Lying in a pool chair, literally pouring vodka down his throat, explaining he’s a piece of s–t, while is mother is sitting next to him, trying to put on a good face, but looking like she wants to cry. One of the saddest and most disturbing scenes from a documentary ever.

Despite this, the humor outweighs the pathos.  One of the best scenes in the film comes near the end where legendary club owner Bill Gazzarri hosts his annual “Miss Gazzarri Dancer” contest and Gazzarri tries to get everyone excited about a band called Odin, which he claims are going to be the next big thing.  Needless to say, they fell far short of this goal.  I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the public was ignorant in their mass rejection of Odin through this clip:

Spheeris later hit the box-office jackpot as the director of “Wayne’s World” in 1992, a job she got in no small part due to her success with “Decline II.”

“Frankenchrist” (1985) – Dead Kennedys

“Frankenchrist” was the Dead Kennedy’s 1985 long-awaited follow-up to their 1982 album “Plastic Surgery Disasters.”  Nearly 30 years later, I can’t say it’s a better album, but it’s a lot better than I remember it.  Of course, much of this reassessment has to do with all of the trouble that “Frankenchrist” whipped up back in the day.

A big part of the problem was the inclusion of a poster, a reproduction of Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger’s “Penis Landscape,” that was included with the album.  If you want to see this painting, you can type in “H.R. Giger” and “Penis Landscape” into a Google image search and see what all the fuss was about.   Please note that the artwork is not safe for work or little ones.  Anyway, it caused the DK’s lead singer Jello Biafra to be arrested, along with other folks, and charged with “distributing harmful matter to minors” because the warning label on the album allegedly wasn’t big enough … or something like that.  The reason why they were targeted (as opposed to a more high profile artist like Prince) was because the DKs were a smaller band on an independent label.  As such, they were more financially vulnerable, more likely to plead guilty, which would then set a legal precedent so then, prosecutors could go after bigger artists.  To Biafra’s enormous credit and foresight, he saw the big picture, decided to fight the suit and much to his financial detriment (and his band’s ultimate demise), wound up getting the case dismissed after a long and costly trial.

Biafra’s tale is most brilliantly told in his “High Priest of Harmful Matter” spoken word album, the track labelled “Tales from the Trial” that really needs to be heard by any person who appreciates free speech.  Biafra’s speech on this album briefly inspired me to want to become a First Amendment lawyer back in college, a notion that was eventually disabused by my lack of public speaking skills.  However, I do cherish the memory of dropping this career plan on my ultra-conservative attorney uncle back in the day and seeing him first turn white … then red … in fear and anger.  His reaction was so extreme that even my conservative Dad chuckled and gave me a thumbs up for getting under my uncle’s skin so effectively.   I gotta hand it to my Dad … he always went for the cheap (and funny) joke over principles.  To paraphrase Ray Bolger in “The Wizard of Oz,” “If I’d only had a pair …”

The most bizarre footnote of this case was that Gene Simmons of KISS wanted to buy Biafra’s life rights to this story so he could produce a movie about the trial with Billy Crystal playing Biafra.  As Ace Ventura would say, “Alllllrighty then!”