Kiss Alive Forever: The Complete Touring History (10/2002)
"KISS Alive Forever", by Curt Gooch and Jeff Suhs, is probably the most anticipated KISS related book ever published. The subject matter of the book has long been known, but the book also throws plenty of surprises at fans. The project has been a long and arduous task for the authors and hopefully the readers will get to the end of the book, say "Wow, THAT took a lot of effort", and dig right back into the book from the beginning.
There's been a certain amount of hype for the book being the "Holy Grail" of KISS books. In the sense of what it is, a complete touring history of the band, it certainly lives up to that. The numerous vignettes from those both closely associated with the band and those on the periphery build up a picture of the band which transcends just the live performance history. While that subject is the core of the book, presented with great detail for the 1810 shows the authors have detailed, it is more a matter of the legends which have been confirmed or destroyed which make the book such an interesting tome. The numerous pictures, some never before seen, add a lot to the "story" of a band's whose visual appearance is so important.
So why is "KISS Alive Forever" so good? I think without a doubt that even the most hardcore KISS fan is going to discover something that they didn't know before. Did you know what was the original line-up of Rainbow, the band which became Wicked Lester? Did you know what the whole KISS Club Era looked like? Did you know who else appears on the Lyn Christopher album? The list of questions which the book answers is substantial, though not complete. It is important to remember that the book is not about the studio history of the band, or a general history. It is detailed and statistical, but presented in a manner which makes what could be turgid facts both readable and enjoyable. Right from the first section, on Rainbow/Wicked Lester, the authors score a knock-out punch which is only followed in the rest of the book. The key sections of the book are the early years of the band as they plowed down an uneven path on the road, but additionally the numerous setlists and attendance details only add to the picture of what we know as "the hottest band in the world".
Is this the best book on KISS ever published? NO. "Best" as a superlative does not justice to this work!
You should be able to find the book in your local bookstore, as distribution reaches them, ask for the book by title or even ISBN (0823083225). However, you can get the book direct from the authors at: KISS ALIVE FOREVER. Ordering direct offers several useful payment options, and heck, what's better than getting the book direct from the authors!
Quick Q&A With The Authors
I'd like to thank both Curt and Jeff for taking the time to answer a few quick questions about the KISS ALIVE FOREVER project to give some background for those who may not have followed the genesis of the book.
KissFAQ: A mammoth book like "KISS Alive Forever" is a massive undertaking, so you must be diehards! When and how did you first get 'into' KISS?
Jeff: I first got into KISS back in 1976 when someone brought Alive! into school and played a bit of it at the end of class one day. One look at the cover and I was hooked.
Curt: I accidentally ran across the Donruss cards one day in 1978 at a 7-11. To give you an idea of just how young I was, I remember looking through the cards and asking my mother "what's that?" Her reply was "that's a guitar."
KissFAQ: Since the book is titled "KISS Alive Forever," what was your first KISS concert and what was your overall recollection of the experience, especially if you'd seen other bands live prior?
Jeff: My first KISS concert was in February 1983 at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. My recollections are hazy at best. I was very sick with some respiratory virus and was so jacked up on cough medicine that I could barely stay conscious through the show. To this day, I remember almost nothing about that show, except for the tank firing off shots at the end of "Black Diamond."
Curt: I was a rather late bloomer. I didn't see KISS until the Asylum Tour because they skipped my market during both Lick It Up and Animalize. Though, if I had been just a year older I would've seen the Creatures tour. Jeff and I are definitely from the second generation of KISS fans from the late 1970s who were too young the first time around to really enjoy it.
KissFAQ: When did you decide to put the effort into writing a comprehensive touring history of the band?
Jeff: This book started off as two different projects, both of which were simple attempts to compile a list of all of KISS's concerts. Curt started working on his list in 1991, and I started on mine in 1995. In February 1996, I had been posting online trying to gather information from the many KISS fans who were beginning to hang out on the Internet when a friend of Curt's happened to mention to him that I was working on a list of KISS concerts. Curt contacted me via email and after a marathon phone call the following day, we decided to pool our resources and work on the project together.
KissFAQ: Describe some of the effort of research that went into the book?
Curt: We started with just gathering all of the stats on the shows: dates, cities, venues, etc. That took about four years to really do it right. Once we got to a point where we were pretty comfortable with our research, we started acquiring all of the audio/video materials together that we knew we were going to need to compile thorough set list information. KISS collectors like Mike Wren, Mark Cicchini and the guy from Heaven Tapes, Bill Kershaw, were very helpful in that respect. At the same time, we were researching the whereabouts of most of the 105 different people that were interviewed for the book. It took about another 15 months to execute all of this as well as transcribing of the 470+ hours of interviews we eventually collected. Also during this time, we started working on the photos which we didn't finish until June of this year.
While all of this was going on we had to listen to each recording from every show of every tour and negotiate our deal with Billboard which took a year to do, and that's not even taking into account the task of assembling all of this data into a book and writing it. Looking back it's a wonder we didn't go insane. The one thing that really kept us going was that we'd finally get to share all of this information and great stories with the KISS fans out there. I really hope it will raise the bar for official KISS products of this sort.
KissFAQ: What was the hardest part of bringing this publication to print?
Jeff: I think the most difficult part was trying to figure out how to present all of this information we'd unearthed in such a way that it could not only be used as a reference book, but could also be a compelling cover-to-cover read. We also wanted it to be something that a non-KISS fan could approach and digest without having an extensive understanding of the band. Fortunately, once we began to assemble the material, we realized that the story more or less told itself.
KissFAQ: You've made contact with an absolutely incredible number of people connected with the band's history. Who was the most difficult person to track down, and who's recollections shocked you the most?
Curt: I'd say that Ron Johnsen [producer for the Wicked Lester album] was the hardest person to find. We actually started with a woman that used to baby-sit his kids in the late '60s. She was able to put us in touch with Ron's ex-wife's address during the 1980s. From there we found a work number for her and left a message. Nothing ever came of it and then, one afternoon, several months later the phone rings and it's Ron Johnsen, we talked for about three hours. Up to that point, despite our best efforts, we couldn't get the Wicked Lester timeline to make any sense and we needed Ron to fill in the gaps. Without his interview we would've wound up cutting the chapter, which would've been pretty detrimental since it sets up the book so well. I think the Wicked Lester chapter will have a lot of surprises that most fans don't know about: including the fact that the true start of what would become KISS actually occurred at a concert by a cover band called Gas Food and Lodging in January 1970.
KissFAQ: Did you get to hear the Wicked Lester live recording and what are your impressions of it?
Jeff: No, unfortunately, we did not get to hear the Wicked Lester recording. The comments on it in KISS Alive Forever came from Brooke Ostrander.
Curt: A certain journalist friend of ours has heard the tape though, which is how we were able to verify that it actually existed. He has a book on KISS coming out some time next year.
KissFAQ: Paul has stated that he doesn't understand how the book can be called a "Holy Grail" of KISS' history since neither of you have been involved with the band throughout their entire history. Would you care to comment on that?
Jeff: I think Paul was correct when he observed that any definitive work on KISS should come from people who were with the band over the course of their 30 year career. Which is exactly why KISS Alive Forever is largely the story of the people who were there throughout those 30 years. The book's impact would be drastically diluted if it was nothing but dates and figures. But the 470+ hours' worth of interviews that we did are what make this book as dynamic and interesting as it is.
I also think that there is a certain objectivity that comes with the outsider's perspective. If someone was to work with Paul and Gene on a definitive KISS touring history, the natural tendency would be to believe everything Gene and Paul said, which is why the Farewell Tourbook's dates are often wrong or incomplete. Curt and I did not have the luxury of working with KISS and because of that we were forced to go far afield when trying to verify information. That forced us to be very demanding and diligent in getting the exact, confirmed story. The result, in my opinion, is a book that is a lot more interesting and a lot more accurate than an official book would be, because KISS Alive Forever tells the
story from so many different perspectives.
KissFAQ: How do you want "KISS Alive Forever" to be remembered?
Curt: As the best selling book in the history of Billboard. We took the opposite approach from what KISS does and hoped that it would payoff and so far it is. We wanted something that would appeal to everyone but with an emphasis on the die-hards. I feel the KISS of late tends to focus on the general public and completely ignore the die-hards. Why not cater to both?
KissFAQ: What was your favorite part (tour) to research in the book?
Jeff: For me, it was definitely the spring of 1974 because it was easily the most difficult era of the 1970s to research, even 1973 was comparatively easy. For most parts of the book, we were able to find itineraries pretty early on in the research process, probably back in 1997 or so. But finding an itinerary for March through June 1974 proved to be incredibly difficult. We had to do a lot of detective work and a lot of hypothesizing in order to create what we thought was an accurate timeline for that era. Then, literally two weeks before the book went to press, we discovered itineraries for that exact time period. To our surprise and relief, not only was our original timeline accurate, we were missing only one show.
Curt: My favorite two KISS tours are Unmasked and Asylum, but as far as research goes I'd say that 1973 and 1974 were easily the most challenging eras to research. So much of that history was lost. I still can't believe we were able to unearth as much information as we did.
KissFAQ: Any plans for an online corrections/clarifications page for the book?
Jeff: Are you implying that we need one?
Curt: We figured you'd probably beat us to it Julian.