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Highway To Helloween


Every time Halloween comes around, I always remember the one that changed my life. But it also inspired my Pandora Story/Playlist: Classic Rock Halloween Party.


At age six, My best friend Dave and I discovered KISS – this was back in 1977, after I bought Love Gun on 8-track from Tower Records. On the way to the face-painting booth at the pumpkin patch, we would argue about who would get to be Gene Simmons. “Shut up! You can both be Gene Simmons,” his mom would lovingly yell at us between pulls from a Virginia Slim. But by 1978, I’d come to favor Ace Frehley. Sure, Gene sang “God of Thunder” and burped blood all over the microphone, but I always thought that Ace had the better solo album. He also played a Gibson Les Paul that smoked and threw sparks. And after watching the made-for-TV special Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, I learned that Frehley had the best sense of humor and a great raspy laugh, not too unlike that of Curly Howard from the Three Stooges. 


2nd Grade2nd Grade


We weren’t the only second graders who wanted to be KISS for Halloween, because a week before it was time to trick-or-treat, we rolled up on a wall of those little prepackaged costumes for kids at the local grocery store – and they had all four members of KISS! As I beelined for a box with an Ace Frehley costume, I saw Dave already pulling the rubber band from an unboxed Gene Simmons mask over the back of his head. It occurred to me that members of KISS would never wear a plastic mask and a plastic bib with their likeness silk-screened on the front. But I was still proud to represent Space Ace around various cul-de-sacs in our suburban California neighborhood.


Walking home on All Hallows Eve, our plastic pumpkins overflowing with copious amounts of candy, I suddenly heard the strained and cracking voice of a teenager yell, “Hey man! Check out these little KISS dudes!” I looked up to see a juvenile with Peter Criss greasepaint pointing at us. He was with three other teenagers, all smoking cigarettes and wearing bell-bottomed jeans, KISS baseball sleeve tee shirts, and painted faces. As they ran over to us, I could feel my heart beat faster and I suddenly wished our parents were nearby (parenting was very different back in the 1970s). The older kids surrounded us and squatted to check out these young new recruits for the KISS Army. A pretty girl with feathered hair and a Paul Stanley star painted over her eye pointed at me and yelled, “Hey man! Look at little Ace, man!” She exhaled smoke in my face and yelled, “KISS Army! Woooooo hooooooooo!” The group insisted we high-five them before scurrying off as Dave and I stood there frozen, not quite sure what had just happened.


I was equally frightened and fascinated with these denim-clad ne’er-do-wells, but I also knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That following Holiday season, I found a sunburst imitation Les Paul and Peavey practice amp under the Christmas tree. And now, four decades later, I’m still not as good a guitar player as anyone in KISS, but that’s never stopped me from having fun every time I plug into an amp and crank the volume.