Song Of The Day 8/8/2016: KISS – “I Was Made for Lovin' You”
Part 1 / Part 2
The men from ABBA toyed with me for 90 minutes. The one in the pale yellow leisure suit said nothing but kept bringing in random Swedish food items (cruelly, no meatballs) and taking others away. Beige leisure suit divided his monologues between making unspecific threats and extolling the virtues of the Swedish social infrastructure. Finally, after force-feeding me fermented cod, Beige sounded like he was ready to discuss real business.
“It’s funny, isn’t it Captain Coldgin, that the most garish rock and roll unit in the world would need their own army, do you think? What persuasion can they not make themselves that they need you to act as their enforcers?”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “Who told you Swedish food was an effective method of torture? Up until the fermented fish I wasn’t sure if you were trying to kill me, screw me or pickle me.”
“That is just courtesy. We know the Geneva Convention as well as you do, Captain. But now, I believe I should explain our position.”
Beige went to the wall on the far side of the room and pushed on it with his palm. That segment of the wall rotated and showed a TV monitor embedded inside. Beige took a remote control out of his pocket and placed it on a nearby end table. He walked back.
“Rivalries are nothing new, Captain Coldgin. They are amusing escapades for your newspapers and your Tiger Beat magazines to chat about. We have no interest in maintaining a rivalry, Captain. We mean to defeat. ‘Rivalry’ does not sufficiently explain our intentions. Your KISS band is our only obstruction to extending our domination across de Atlantic Ocean. And since there appears to be no way to defeat dem on de ground, you understand… we must resort to more insidious tactics. Nevertheless, Captain, you still have an opportunity for a somewhat pleasant experience. How would you like to help KISS achieve relevance — personally?”
At that point Pale Yellow stood up and positioned himself near the TV monitor. Beige pulled out a manila envelope.
“You will take our chartered plane to New York City. Forgive us but we must put you in the cargo hold. You will be taken to a recording studio where de KISS gentlemen are recording deir upcoming album. You are to give dis envelope to de producer and explain dat it is for deir drummer, Mr. Peter Criss. You are not to say it’s from ABBA. You are simply to give de envelope over, maybe steal some ball-point pens for de road, and leave. Understood?”
“That’s insane!” I responded. “You’re expecting me to just waltz into a recording studio and be able to get unfettered access to KISS? That’s not possible!”
“We have taken care of that. We have an operative on standby. In fact — hee hee — I think you have already met him.” Beige pulled out a Polaroid picture and showed it to me.
The granola cashier from Tower Sunset. A double-agent. I should have known. Nobody who wears John Lennon glasses and isn't John Lennon is trying to con someone.
“Our affiliate will arrange it so you can go right into de studio. He is very good. And quite organized. He just redid our books! We had so much left over in petty cash that we went to your Disney World in Orlando!”
“This still doesn’t make sense. What’s to keep me from just jumping the plane and leaving?”
“Yes, what indeed? Dat’s why we have arranged for additional incentive.” He nodded at Pale Yellow, who picked up the remote from the end table and turned on the TV. A black-and-white scene came on. It was a closed-circuit camera.
I saw two men tied to chairs, blindfolded, wearing officer hats. Pale Yellow pulled out a walkie-talkie device from inside his jacket and turned it on. He spoke for the first time, but it was all in Swedish. As soon as he stopped talking, a sound came from the television set. A scratchy recording. But I knew it from hearing it in a Denny’s in Pittsburgh once — Thelma Houston’s disco recording “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” The tied-up men were squirming, obviously screaming through their gags.
Sergeant Ezrin and General Bogart.
“You bastards!! Who the hell do you think you are?? Bogart needs insulin every six hours!”
Beige turned to me with a forbidding, but not entirely evil, smile. “We are ABBA, Captain Coldgin. The third-biggest selling music corporation in de world. Denying us our sovereignty and dominion over others is not just foolish — statistically, it is impossible.”
“For you must know, Captain Coldgin… long after your dimming star has extinguished its light… long after your KISS band has removed dere funny little clown makeup… we will continue…”
“We will be regular Super Troupers. Da world will follow our Europop light out of decades of cascading darkness…”
“…we will get divorced but continue to handle our business affairs like da professionals we are…”
“…dey will make a movie honoring our music with your Oscar nominated actress Meryl Streep…”
“…den we will have our own museum in Stockholm…”
“…and after we die we will show up as holograms at your Coachella festival…”
But they were right. They had the numbers. I had “dignity” and “loyalty,” whatever the hell that meant. Next thing I knew I was in a cargo hold en route to New York, a manila envelope taped to my chest. And not for the usual reasons.
I shared my ride in the cargo hold with a crate of oranges and a Siamese cat in a cage. When the plane landed two hooded figures came in, tied a blindfold around my head and led me out the bay. They hustled me into some kind of vehicle — an SUV I thought — and drove around for about 45 or 50 minutes. They screeched to a halt, led me outside the cab, led me for about 15 minutes, then stopped and removed my blindfold. I was at a back entrance in an alley. One of the hoods took out a micro-cassette recorder, pushed play and walked away with the other guy.
Beige’s voice came out of the tiny speaker. “Hello, Captain Coldgin. I would just like to remind you to take da envelope off your chest. Be careful! Now den, our operative should be coming through de door… right… about….”
The entrance opened. It was granola guy. Same glasses, same blank expression, same fine conditioned hair.
Beige resumed on the tape, “Okay, here we are! Dis nice guy will take you to your studio. Remember to behave professionally! When you are done, our operative will send us a telegram and your friends will be set free. If something goes wrong, he will not do so and your friends will be disposed of. I bet it will be violent! All right! Have a nice day, Captain Coldgin!”
I went under my shirt and took off the sealed manila envelope. I went to the entry. Granola cashier held the door open for me. He said nothing. Once inside he closed the door and started off down the hall. I followed. After a couple of right turns he stopped and opened the heavy door leading to the control room of one of the studios in the building. He gestured me inside. Two men in floral print shirts were sitting behind a recording console in front of a window by the recording studio.
There was KISS. All four of them in street clothes — and full makeup. Why would they bother to put on makeup for a recording session? Over-protective of their identities, I guess. Or they just wanted to look pretty. Feeling out motives seemed pointless anyway. I stood for about a minute and listened to the band's conversation coming in over the speakers.
“I’m not feeling it,” said Paul. “I am definitely not feeling it.”
“You couldn’t feel anything if you stuck your hand in the path of a circular saw,” said Gene.
“Shut up, Gene.”
“Eat a bowl of fuck, Paul.”
“Both of you,” mumbled Ace, “cut the shit.”
“Fuck you, Ace.”
“Oh, yeah. Real nice. Real nice, Gene.”
“Well, what’s your solution then, spoonhead?”
“How the hell do I know? Change something if it’s not working!”
“How about you shoot up with something different? Tried bleach yet, drugstore cowboy?”
Ace threw his axe on the ground. “I'm not a cowboy! I’m a Space Man! Isn’t it obvious by now? I’m a Space Man!”
“Space Men have helmets!” Gene roared back. “You don’t have a helmet!”
“Ziggy Stardust didn’t have a helmet either!”
“He was an alien! He didn’t need a helmet! You’re a Space Man! If you were an alien you would have called yourself ‘Space Alien!’ All you’ve got is those stupid silver potato pancakes painted on your eyes!”
“They’re space eyes! They’re eyes that have naturally adjusted to the necessity of traveling through space!”
“What the fuck do they have to adjust themselves to see in space? 'Oh, look, there's another pinpoint-shaped light about a million light-years away, better change my setting to bifocals.'”
“How do I know? It’s space! I haven’t been to space! But if you’re gonna go traveling in space you can’t just do it with all your given body parts!”
“What, you gotta go to a spare body parts warehouse or something? We're trying to stay out of Jersey as much as possible, Ace.”
“Shut up Gene! I mean you can't go without having your parts modified in some way!”
“Aliens can. Just call yourself an alien, boom, problem solved. Your eyes stay the same size, you don't have to sandpaper your pecker and nobody goes to Jersey.”
“But I’m not an alien! I’m a mythological compound of man and space object! I worked hard on this persona, Gene! I bought the paint! I mixed up the foundation and the glitter! I drafted my profile up on graph paper! This is who I am! I’m a Space Guy!”
“You’re space junk. You’re a busted fuselage. You’re an aimless mass of floating space debris. God knows you’ve been playing like it lately.”
“Shut up, Gene!”
“What do you want?”
It took me a second to realize that last question was for me, from one of the engineers behind the console.
“Oh… uh…” I present the envelope. “This is for Peter Criss.”
“This is for Peter?” he said, taking the package.
“…Yeah, the… the drummer.”
I looked through the window. There he was, behind the drum set. He didn’t have anything to say to the other three. He looked curiously detached from the whole situation. He might as well have been reading a paperback. If a cat read paperbacks.
The engineer took the contents out of the envelope and gave them a look. He stared at them for a few seconds, his expression curious and not a little doubtful. Then he picked up a phone. “Chad. Come here.” He hung the receiver back up. Fifteen seconds later a 20-year-old kid with a fairly distant look in his eye showed up and walked to the engineer.
“Chad. Take this over to the drummer. They appear to be a drum chart for the song we’re supposed to be recording next.” The mute intern took the sheets and headed out of the control room. He reappeared in the window a few seconds later and gave the charts to the drummer. I watched to make sure they got in his hand.
The engineer was speaking to me.
“Uh… uh, yeah, that’s all.”
“All right. Off you go. Thank you.”
I backed out of the control room. It couldn’t be that easy. Could it? From the corner of my eye I could see the granola cashier in the break room, watching me distantly, but surely. Before I got out of earshot I heard the engineer speak:
“Okay, you three dolts in front, go take a break and get away from each other. Me and the drummer are going to lay down some sample tracks for something else. This is ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You,’ drum track, take one…”
I got out of the studio as fast as I could. All I knew about the exit game was that the hooded figures were going to meet me 5 blocks west. I got out of the service entrance, and lingered to catch my breath. It was almost all over. I must have stood there for five minutes, compiling the sum of my treason. I had to get back to some central point just to move again.
Finally, after a while, I gave a look in both directions, and headed down the alley on foot.
About twenty feet from the main street I thought I heard someone say “Hey!” I assumed it was for someone else.
When I reached the street they called out again. I turned back and saw someone running towards me in faded jeans, a worn-out T-shirt and tennis shoes.
And cat make-up.
I started jogging down the avenue. But he started running.
“Hey, you! Stop! Do you know what this is??”
No, I don’t know, and I don’t wanna know. I kept running as fast as possible, which wasn’t much considering the amount of chemicals I’d consumed over the course of a lifetime. I crossed the first block. He was gaining on me but still about a full city block behind me.
I shouted back. “I’m just a messenger!!”
Crossed the street. “Wait! Wait! I just recorded this! I just wanted to —“
I heard a horrifying screen, a blaring car horn, a sickening thud and a crash. I stopped in my tracks. Behind me a scene of chaos with a city bus and a taxi involved. My instincts told me to run away — but my brain told me that would have been even more suspicious looking. So I headed back in the other direction. To the scene of the crime.
I stopped on the opposite block across the street. Everything I needed to know was in front of me: a mangled taxi, a city bus mashed into a streetlight, a screaming Chinese woman, and a body sprawled in the middle of the street, its legs twisted into 90 degree angles at the knee. Backwards.
His cat makeup entirely intact, with a small rivulet of blood coming out of the top.
“I Was Made for Lovin’ You” was recorded with the drum parts I provided. A disco rhythm. Devised by some Swedish pop bully with a fractured conscience and a full cupboard. It got to #11 on the U.S. charts — but most of its customers were ABBA fans. The rock fans the KISS Army represented were thunderous in their disapproval. They’d sold themselves out for a quick trend.
Ezrin and Bogart were released, as promised. They were indebted to me. But there wasn’t much they could do at my court-martial. I aided the enemy. And although I acted to save the life of two high-ranking KISS Army officers, I was sworn to uphold the larger ideal, the state of KISS-ness. Instead I delivered the drum charts that spelled the end of their validity, for then. Not to mention the drum charts that had killed Peter Criss. The war was lost. I was released with no real status, honorable or dishonorable. Just cut loose with a pittance for a pension.
For decades I wandered. I’d tell you where but I never bothered to notice much what towns I went to. A dishwashing job here, a construction job there, a bunch of unsavory things in between just to score enough cash for a Happy Meal and a floor mat to rest on. I grew too old at last and just went back to Fort Hamilton, the only home I’d ever known. I’m a school custodian now. I only work at night. When I’m done, if it’s early enough, I go to the Black Diamond.
Most nights Criss’ contorted body is all I can see enough to talk about, but nobody wants to hear about it.
ABBA went ahead and opened that museum like they said they would. I saw a newspaper clipping about it. All of them smiling. Putting aside their differences to reflect the adorations of their audience. The biggest pop group in the world. Nobody had any idea how their empire was partially built on the twisted, broken remains of a man who wore cat makeup professionally.
I wanted no part of the world if that were the case.
Wickes looks dumbstruck. Yeah, buddy. This is who you’ve been sidling up next to at the bar all these years. A hero and a traitor. A lifesaver and a killer. What do you want, a medal?
“Jesus, Coldgin,” he finally says. “Sweet Jesus.”
“Jesus has nothing to do with it, Les. Not a damn thing.”
“Couldn’t you have thought of something? You were in Special Goddamn Ops, Rudy! They don’t put people in there that can’t improvise their way out of a situation! Why couldn’t you think of something??”
“Dammit Les, don’t you think I tried? I tried! The KISS Army was all I ever had! All I ever depended on!”
“You made KISS into a disco group!”
“I did what I had to do to save lives, Les! Isn’t that more important than disco?”
“Maybe to YOU, Rudy! What about US?”
“STOP!” Rocky breaks in. “Both of you! Knock it off!”
“Forget it, Rocky!” I say. “I’ll not go where I’m not wanted!”
“You’re wanted here, Rudy! We know who you were! We’re okay! Les, you're just about done here.”
“Speak for yourself, barkeep!” yells Wickes.
But I don’t want to go back home yet. Not to my tiny, unfurnished one-bedroom apartment atop the Shakey’s Pizza. Not to the free cell I’ll be spending the rest of my days in.
I circle around the back of the Black Diamond to their rear entrance and light a cigarette. I’ll just stand here and gestate until I’m cool enough to hoof it home.
The barback is outside emptying some garbage into the dumpster. I sit on my hams on the other side of the Black Diamond’s back door, looking down at the ground, watching the smoke curl around my head.
“You’re Rudy Coldgin, aren’t you?” the barback says, out of nowhere.
I grunt. “I guess I have to be. Yeah.”
“I heard about you.”
“I’m not surprised.”
I expect him to start launching into me as well, but he doesn’t. He says just about the last thing I expect him to say.
“You know… you can’t go back and change the past, Rudy. You can only redact stuff. But you can’t change it. You need to start forgiving yourself. Nobody needs to know how bad it's been.”
What does this twerp think he has to tell me about living my life?
“Sometimes… sometimes, Rudy, we don’t make our own choices. But we shape our own history. We can either steep in regret for the rest of our lives, or reform our our narrative. But living in the past — that’s not a real option. I know it. And you know it too.”
“Oh, really? How do you know all this? Who are the hell are you anyway?”
“Me?” He chuckled. Then extended his hand. “The name’s Peter.”
I looked up at him. Wait... isn't that...
It’s him. The makeup’s gone, of course. But it’s him.
“Peter Criss?? No! It can’t be! I watched you die! I saw you get hit by that car and die!!”
“Huh? Oh! That wasn’t me. That was just some studio guy. He was covering for me while I did charity work for single grandmothers. And he didn’t die either. He just played on Music From The Elder which, let’s face it, is the same as dying to some people. But in reality he’s perfectly well. Sells vinyl siding in Scottsdale now. He’s an okay guy. We’re hooked up on Facebook.”
Peter is down at my level now, sitting on the pavement with his back against the wall.
“Look, Rudy,” Peter says. “I know what it’s like to be thrown out to the curb by a towering vampire, a lost-looking star child, and whatever the hell they finally decided Ace was. Was that a spaceman? Jesus, I could never figure that out. Anyways… look, I was there, I lived through the whole thing. I know what the KISS Army meant to a lot of people. I know loyalty’s important. But without lives to live, there’s no point in us being loyal. Maybe they won’t forgive you… but for what it’s worth, which might not be that much… well, I forgive you man. Mano a mano.”
“You… you really forgive me?”
“Hell, why not? They still haven’t forgiven me for ‘Beth.’”
Has my life changed? No, not entirely. Have I forgiven myself? Well, more than I did before, that’s for sure. I got a roof over my head, I got the Black Diamond, and I got Peter. Is it all I ever wanted? No. But it’s enough. Just enough to get by.
I see ‘em on the TV sometimes. Gene on Howard Stern. Paul on the Home Shopping Network. Ace on America’s Most Wanted. So nobody really changed all that much.
And sometimes, I laugh. Because I know that I’m gonna die. And if we make it to heaven -- well, it's probably gonna look a lot like Sweden. But maybe that means Thor will be up there. He was always my favorite God Of Thunder.