by Tim Sullivan
This week, (August 13th to be exact) marks the 12th anniversary of the 1999 release of Detroit Rock City, the first major movie I produced, and the project that introduced me to its director Adam Rifkin. It was on this flick Rif and I first conceived Chillerama, which all these years later is finally seeing the light of day. Of all the projects I have worked on, none have been as magical as Detroit Rock City. It truly was a labor of love, and the culmination, at the time, of many elements in my life coming together, my undying love for the rock group KISS topping the list. The thread which KISS has woven through my life is undeniable. It ties me to so many aspects of my existence. Friendships. Creative collaborations. My career. . I don't think it will ever end. (Hell - just compare Phil Robert's artwork for Detroit Rock City to his artwork for Chillerama!
Recently, I went back to New Jersey to show my segment of Chillerama on a double bill with Detroit Rock City. These two films serve as fine bookends to my professional film career (at least till I make another film). While I was there, I had the extreme honor and pleasure of spending an afternoon with the Catman himself, Mr. Peter Criss.
I've always shared a bond with Peter a bit different then my relationship with the other guys in the band. Maybe it's the strong Catholic upbringing and faith that we share. Maybe it's the fact we both seem to have many lives and incarnations. Maybe it's that, even among the outsiders who have accepted us where the mainstream has not, we still stick out and refuse to march to no other drum beat then our own. One thing's for sure - we share a common love for horror, a connection whose depth I honestly did not realize.
That conversation is the subject of this week's SHOCK N ROLL TV at the end of this column, but beforehand, in honor of Detroit Rock City's 12th birthday, here is my personal tribute to the band which changed my life. For as my time with Peter Criss proved without a doubt, with or without make-up, decades later in an ever changing world., you must remember this...
A KISS IS STILL A KISS
In the archetypal zone between child and adult, many dreamers wish upon a star. I wished upon a KISS. Four of them. A Demon. A Star Child. A Space Ace. And a Cat Man. Endlessly damned by an absentee father and a one note society that I would never amount to anything due to my choices and preferences (monster mags over baseball cards, Rock 'n Roll over Bach, the guy next door over the girl...), I took solace in the hope that, although pimply and overweight, beneath that exterior and the assessment of others, a God of Thunder loomed growing within.
GENE SIMMONS INTERVIEWED FOR FANGORIA BY TIM SULLIVAN 1983: "Everybody at one point is a pudgy little kid. Nobody's interested in a sob story. The difference between dreamers and doers is in the doing. Either go out and do it, or don't."
I first saw KISS in '77. I befriended Gene in '83. Paul in '87. Ace and Peter In 1998, when I produced Detroit Rock City. The journey has been one of non stop rebellion. A rebellion against conformity and the mundane. I learned that attitude from my rock and roll saviors, a message shouted out quite loudly, though Gene will insist there never was one. I beg to disagree. As do others.
PAUL STANLEY INTERVIEWED FOR GO FIGURE! BY TIM SULLIVAN 1997: "The medium that I chose is music, but the message is one not bound by music. It's a call to everybody to break down the barriers, live up to their potential and not listen to the naysayers. The people who say that you "can't" are inevitably the ones who failed."
Empowering words from a purported Knight in Satan's Service, as those sad fringe who never "got it" (and still don't) would make anyone who'd listen believe. I thank fate, and my grease painted Four, that I always could see beyond the norm. Beyond the critical eye of those who judge limply from the audience, rather then dance wildly up on stage.
GENE SIMMONS INTERVIEWED FOR GO FIGURE! BY TIM SULLIVAN 1997: "Critical credibility? Never had it. Fashion? I could give a shit about fashion. I want passion. Passion is forever."
I could never grasp the thought process of those who "grew up" and "moved on" from their teenage empowerments. I'm not talking about outgrowing a fad or a phase. I'm talking about moving on from one's heroes. Abandoning one's God. KISS never abandoned their flock. When the masks fell away in the 80's, and the creatures of the night now walked in the day, all the more was the message pounded home to me that although my surface may have read "Clark Kent", in my heart beat "Superman".
GENE SIMMONS INTERVIEWED FOR FAMOUS MONSTERS BY TIM SULLIVAN 1999: "In creating KISS, everybody in the band went to their childhood impressions. I think we're all a result of our youth. That's clearly what I am."
When the impossible happened in '96, and the sacred originals united both in spirit and persona, it was the resurrection the loyal minions had been waiting for. The prodigal who had "matured" and "strayed" were also welcomed back. Today, 14 years later, the band still plays on, as it has for almost forty years. As it so obviously will forever.
PAUL STANLEY INTERVIEWED FOR SHOCK N ROLL BY TIM SULLIVAN 2005: "My persona as Starchild can live on timelessly, regardless of my age, because that persona is the physical embodiment of everything I stand for. And that is Freedom. Freedom, and the strength to be yourself at all costs."
I attend the ceremony now, the opposite of the portrait my detractors had painted. Far from amounting to a "corrupted nothing", I can say with grateful humility I am a "fulfilled something". My dreams have all come true. I wished on a KISS, and now I am one. We all are, those who hear the call to self adventure. Those who see beyond the critics and the buzz killers and the dream poisoners. Those enlightened dreamers, just like The Demon, Star Child, Space Ace and Cat Man themselves, who refuse to live in a world without heroes...
SHOCK N ROLL -
THIS WEEK ON SNR TV:
Writer/Director Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS/ CHILLERAMA) and former KISS member Peter Criss chat about their mutual love of the horror genre that inspired four guys from Brooklyn to put on greasepaint and change the face of rock and roll forever.... (Edited by Brandon Gramling)