Song Of The Day 8/6/2016: KISS – “Rock and Roll All Nite”
But they didn’t show the whole story. They showed men and women, starch-collared and upright, bestowed with a simple pride in a job well-done. All their purposes met. And God knows, I was looking for that purpose. If only I’d known what would happen in the sickly weeds, if only I’d had the foresight. But I didn’t, they didn’t tell me, so I scrawled my choppy signature on that dotted line, said I was theirs, and they smiled back in a way I now comprehend was the winking glee of acquisition of another expendable human life. Handshake optional, cynicism standard-issue.
And at that point, I was no longer a private citizen. I was Private Rudolph Coldgin… of the 69th division of the KISS Army.
I’m having my usual right now at the Black Diamond. It’s where us grizzled veterans of the KISS Army gather to drink and forget. If only we could. The whiskey’s cheap. The beer is cold, that’s about the best you can say about it. I live with a constant tremor. Sometimes it’s in my brow, sometimes it’s in my hands. It’s hard to tell when it traverses from one extremity to the other. And the memory. The one I couldn’t shake if I routed the wiring in my head to a food processor…
White. Satin. Clean. Not a hint of antiseptic overkill. The voice. “You see, Captain Coldgin, da woorld, shee still revoolves, ya? How long might you dink it will take befoor shee sends you away? Can you see da sky, Captain Coldgin? Can you…”
It’s Lester Wickes. Got out before me. Honorable discharge. The difference between us. I jolt up screaming.
“What the hell, Rudy? Have another drink! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Yeah. I have a little expertise in the matter of ghosts.
I was whisked off to boot camp in Fort Hamliton. Me and a bobbing sea of stringy-haired recruits. The story of those ten weeks plays back in my head in the cackling, whip-cracking voice of the drill instructor — Sergeant Ezrin.
“Holy Deuce — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more worthless, toothless, brainless, feckless group of recruits since the goddamn British Invasion! What kind of milk drinkers are you lasses anyway?? Crap on a biscuit — what the hell are you?”
He was barking at Kenny Vandecamp, a terrified, gummy-voiced 18-year-old from the deep South. “Sir! I’m in the KISS Army, sir!”
“You?? That’s the best your gap-toothed family could give to the finest fighting forces in the major label industry??”
“Sir! Yes sir!”
“I bet you don’t even know what you’re doing here, do you, Shrimpy?”
“Sir! Enrolling in the KISS Army, sir!”
“I bet your girlfriend back home is giving her number out to postmen who’ve lost their sense of direction, isn’t she?”
“Sir! I don’t have a girlfriend back home, sir!”
“Oh, really? Well I don’t find that too hard to believe, after all. I bet you played tennis in high school, didn’t you?”
“Sir! No sir!”
“I bet you got an 8-by-10 glossy of Richard Carpenter hanging inside your boot locker, don’t you?”
“Sir! No sir!”
“I bet half of your closet at home is salmon-colored, isn’t it?”
“Sir! No sir!”
“I’m gonna put you through HELL, pocky!! I’m gonna stretch you to your limits!! I’m gonna turn your tendons into paper!! I’m gonna sear your moisturized flesh until it looks like ripped streamers at a boring accountant’s retirement party!! And what are you gonna say after I do, driftwood??”
“Sir! Thank you, sir!!”
“SIR! THANK YOU, SIR!!”
“You repulse me, horse blanket!! As you were, whatever in holy hell that was!”
Ezrin then caught me with his steel-hard blue eyes. “Well, well, well… Look at you. Where’s your taffeta skirt?? Normally I don’t see your type not wearing lacy camisoles and ripped fishnets. I’m surprised nobody here has tried to cup your supple buttocks yet!! What’s your name, Bam-Bam?”
“Sir! Private Coldgin, sir!”
“‘Coldgin’? What kind of name is that, you fleshy mound of spud-cake?”
“Sir! It’s Icelandic, I think, sir!”
“Iceland? Holy crap, what kind of place is that to be from? Do they have horses and buggies yet in Iceland, you pimply fart-knocker?”
“Sir! I don’t know, sir!”
“Why are you here, pus-budget?”
“Sir! To be in the KISS Army, sir!!”
“And WHY should I let you in the KISS Army, you daintily arranged side dish of herring snacks??”
“Sir! I’ll make you proud, sir!!”
“MY ASS! People like you only make me proud when you’ve counted out my change correctly at the Foster’s Freeze!! Otherwise you make me sick! Is that clear, Peppermint Patty?”
“Sir! Yes sir!”
Ezrin regarded the rest of the room. “All right, anchovies — I’m gonna say this once! Follow my lead, do as I say, don’t speak unless spoken to and work your little plush-toy tails off and I might be able to pull the miracle of all miracles and turn you into fighting men! Go off course for even just a little bit, and I’ll turn you loose without any protection in the middle of a NARM convention, where your defenseless asses will be ripped to bite-size chunks by Bo Donaldson — AND the Heywoods! AM I CLEAR, LADIES?”
“SIR! YES, SIR!”
“Welllllll” — he started chanting — “I don’t know but I hear tell!”
“I don’t know but I hear tell!”
“Casablanca’s hotter ’n’ hell!”
“Casablanca’s hotter ’n’ hell!”
By Week 10, I was no longer a man. I was a manimal. I was a destroyer. I forgave not even the slightest trespass. They put me in those obstacle courses and I ran through them with abject savagery, unchecked hostility. I survived the inhumanity of the Plaster Caster. I mastered the Love Gun range. I dressed to kill, and kill I did. As I charged a course with no sense of restraint or hygiene, my blistered pathway caught the falls and faints of the men behind me. Good men. But not good enough. Was it in this nascent phase, when my innocent self was gaping and fading away down the drainpipe, that I became so hard and removed from myself that I… made myself the criminal I was to become?
Ezrin never let up once. Every morning we awoke with the clang of a Zildjian gong at 5am. We were placed in the most heinous, unforgiving battle simulations. Record store backrooms. Folk music recitals. John Denver’s wedding reception. Downtown Hoboken. The pressure never let up, and unseen clawed hands were stripping away every last layer of my humanity. But the last trial made me, finally, into a fighting man.
“Well, goddamn it, I am shocked,” Ezrin bleated. “Here we are at your last, most grueling test and none of you who are left have quit, died, gone criminally insane or turned Episcopalian!! I am baffled, but I know some of you aren’t gonna make it out of this last round! You’re in for it!” He turned to the door. “Marsh! You’re up!”
Emerging from the other side of the door was a frowning, slightly paunchy man in an earth-toned shirt, corduroy pants and sensible loafers. He was intensely unthreatening. I had no idea what he was doing in the middle of this psycho circus. Me and the other recruits glanced at each other, searching our faces for some kind of answer. The man, Marsh, stood silently for a moment.
Ezrin continued. “Recruits. This is Marsh. Now — I’m not gonna tell you what this man’s gonna do. This is your final, most bracing test yet. And you get no instruction from me on how to handle it. You’re gonna have to use your wits, your inner strength and your resolve. I’m-a just gonna let him loose on you.”
Ezrin turned to Marsh. “They’re all yours, buddy.” He then turned and headed to the side of the room, where for the first time I noticed another, more decorated officer sitting in a folding chair, observing. Ezrin sat down next to him.
Marsh eyed all of us with a very vague, inexplicable sense of menace. He said nothing for a minute. He surveyed all of us very carefully. I got the feeling he was trying to determine which of us had the weakest will. He was not making the decision lightly.
His gaze finally settled on Vandecamp. With the black light behind his eyes finally turned on, he slowly and deliberately walked over to him, stopping with his eyes about nine inches from Vandecamp’s. Poor guy stood with his chin trembling, not knowing what was coming up.
Ten seconds later, Marsh suddenly pulled a spiral bound notebook from his inside pocket, along with a pen. He spoke to Vandecamp calmly, as if they were already in the middle of a conversation:
“So what’s your explanation for KISS mania?”
Vandecamp was stunned silent. His lower lip trembled. Marsh went on.
“I mean, let’s face it — their sound is leaden, their shock value is crass, their abilities are questionable at best. Isn’t their appeal simply arranged around a puerile program of aesthetic forfeiture for the sake of marketing strategy? They’re an exaggeration of kabuki theatre for a generation who were let down by the sociopolitical failure of the Space Age, and are looking for blown-up heroes that wield facile superpowers with as little intellect as they can employ. It’s that kind of empty mythology that, sadly, seems to suffice for artistic acclaim these days. At least in the ranks of the average rock consumer. How would you counter that?”
Vandecamp’s knees buckled. His eyes bulged. At first his throat was caught in a series of vowel-less clucks and gasps. Finally he let out a blood-curdling scream and collapsed onto the tile floor.
He was gone.
Private Ramirez, a smart-ass from the Bronx who’d made it this far on his agility and wits, suddenly crumpled in the face. I hadn’t seen him terrified even once in all ten weeks, but now he was.
“Ohhhh, no…. Oh, shit. I heard about guys like him, man. I didn’t think they were real. I didn’t think they existed! Oh, man! We are screwed!”
I implored Ramirez. “What?? What is he?? What kind of monster are we dealing with??”
Ramirez turned slowly to face me, then whispered… “He’s… he’s a rock journalist.”
“Crap!! He’s a rock journalist!! Look at his lanyard!! That’s an all-access pass to the Concert for Bangladesh! He ain’t fuckin’ around, man!!!”
And he didn’t. One by one Marsh picked off every man in my unit with ruthless precision. Questions. Follow-up questions. Requests for clarification of earlier remarks. Sociological perspective. References to beatniks. Quotes from an interview he did with Richie Havens at Woodstock.
Not a man in line was left standing by the time he got to me and started speaking. At first my ears burned. Then they just gave in.
“Hey, I’m doing a write-up for Rolling Stone on the death of pleasure, and I was wondering if I could get some insight from you. The rise of KISS seems emblematic of some sort of undiagnosable demise of the father figure, and the concurrent reincarnation of a sort of latent sexism that hibernated during the reawakening of the Rubber Soul generation and really came to bear in the ashes of Altamont. Wouldn’t you agree that the crude message being delivered by Gene Simmons’ extended tongue is nothing more than a strained case of tonsil envy, or do you think it’s just…”
I snapped. Just like the others snapped before me.
The difference was that when they snapped, they collapsed.
When I snapped, I attacked.
I made sure I left no remnants behind.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT YOU ELBOW PATCH WEARING SON OF A BITCH YOU FUCKING ALFALFA SPROUT DISGUISED AS A JEWELRY SALESMAN I BET YOU COULDN’T GET IT UP WITH A FUCKING TIRE IRON AND ROPES YOU OVER-EDUCATED COFFEE ROASTER WHY DON’T YOU FOLD INTO THE UGLY FUCKING POCKMARKS THAT ARE ALL OVER YOUR GODDAMN SPOOGE-BUCKET FACE YOU STUPID GODDAMN GLORIFIED CLASSIFIED AD WRITER WHO WET THE BED AT AGE SIXTEEN AND COULDN’T GET LAID IF YOU WERE A FUCKING BINGO CALLER IN A ROOM FULL OF WIDOWED WOMEN AND LONG ISLAND ICE TEA YOU DON’T KNOW A FUCKING THING ABOUT GENE SIMMONS YOU POUCHY EXCUSE FOR A THROW PILLOW YOU WORD MANGLING PIECE OF TREE BARK I HOPE YOUR DRY-CLEANING GETS PICKED UP BY SOMEBODY WITH MALICIOUS INTENT YOU STUPID GODDAMN SHITHEEL SON OF A”
It was the officer who’d been sitting next to Sergeant Ezrin. Officer No-Name.
I’d gone unconscious. But I will still standing. Spittle lining my lips, blood racing to my eyes.
Marsh lay on the floor in the fetal position. He was not responding.
The officer marched over to where I was still trying to restore myself to… whatever shade of normal I could get. His bark was less shrill than Ezrin’s, but still a bark.
“Goddamn it, officer! That is some DAMN FINE MILITARY BEHAVIOR you just showed me! I’ve never seen Marsh go down so quickly! You’re a freaking mad man, aren’t you??”
Still recuperating, I eked out — “Sir… yes… sir….”
“Oh, to hell with formalities, Coldgin! I’m General Bogart! I have been watching you these last few weeks! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone more ready to get into the trenches for real!! I don’t usually say this to officers of your rank, but when I saw you tear apart those promo copies of The Osmond Brothers Live in Terre Haute, that day I knew — I knew — I’ve got to have you. I’ve GOT to HAVE you!”
And that day, he had me. He had me.
“Jesus, you weepy little trench coat. So you were a star cadet! What was so terrible about that?”
Wickes is challenging me over his scotch and soda. I almost lose my temper, but I hold back. He doesn’t know, I keep reminding myself. He has no idea.
Keep it steady, Rudy. Steady as she goes.
He’s still prodding me though. “Man, I may not know what side to butter my crumpet, but it sure sounds to me like you had the world on a goddamn enchilada platter. What happened, man? Why are you here now, coughing up rabbit pellets in the goddamn Black Diamond?”
I look at Wickes’ face. I see his mouth moving. But I don’t hear his voice. Instead I drift back, and hear…
"…Wee haff a proposition dat I fink you well find very worthwhile, ja? Heer… sit up. Haff some more ärtsoppa — dere you go…now… in regaards to a certain… band in da funny little clown make-up…"
To be continued.