"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29
My early boyhood in Gravel Ridge was untainted and innocent. Most of my days were spent playing with the neighborhood gang, reading my Highlights magazine or the Family Bible Encyclopedia, and tromping through the woods behind my house. My family was big on camping and nature. Peaceful, happy times. No cares, no worries.
Then my friend Mark introduced me to KISS.
KISS was at first only a concept, a band he told me about that I couldn't fathom. They breathed fire? Nuh-uh. Spit blood, wore huge boots and dressed like demonic cats? What? Then he showed me the album cover for “KISS Alive II.” When he spun it on the turntable, the tale became all too real.
“KISS Alive II” fired my 9-year-old imagination like nothing before. As I inspected the gatefold cover of the double-live album, I left Gravel Ridge and became a resident of Detroit Rock City. I was in the crowd. I could feel the pyrotechnic heat. Christine Sixteen was by my side, whispering in my ear and calling me Dr. Love. Before the first side ended, I not only joined the KISS Army, I was the guy volunteering to storm the barricades (with my Love Gun), take that hill and win this war by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. Many, many hours were spent in my room Shouting It Out Loud (into my hairbrush).
Frankly, it was a love affair. I had a secret, one-sided love affair with four heavily made-up strangers. It was before I discovered girls. Like the other kids my age, I coveted the action figures and watched the incredible made-for-TV movie “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” I was smitten.
And then I betrayed them. For a girl.
I began dating a girl who was religious. Very religious. So religious, in fact, that she warned me that my album collection was equivalent to flirting with hell. This went on for hours. Days. Weeks. Exhibit A in my Road to Damnation was the KISS albums. After I heard this “you're going to hell” about 9,000 times, I cracked. I took my albums and destroyed them in a fit of religious fervor (fueled also by my desire to remain in girlfriend's warm, soft graces). I'm not proud of it, but I rejected KISS for kisses. The girlfriend didn't last, but my guilt did.
I've regretted the betrayal for 25 years. Like a sore tooth, it's been nagging at me. I need to properly atone for this sin. Frankly, I need a shot at redemption. This KISS concert is my chance to, in my own way, make things right. I foresee a night of ditching the hairbrush microphone and singing aloud, full-throated, to the Gods of Thunder from my youth. It's really the only way to balance out my KISS Karma.
I went AWOL from the KISS Army, for the love of a girl, and it's now time to turn myself in.
Editor's note: Check out the essay from our other winner, David Doty, on Rock Candy (arktimes.com/blogs/rockcandy).
Congratulations Tara, beautifully written!