Our complete Kiss Kruise coverage is here.
One young Kiss Army member put it best when he said, "All other
music fans are measured against Kiss fans." With about 2,000 diehards aboard the Carnival Destiny -- many of whom never considered taking a cruise previously -- a weekend voyage dubbed the Kiss Kruise proved to be the ultimate test of this fan base's dedication.
It was surprising that pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman was nowhere
to be found on the very first Kiss Kruise. Few people -- save official biographers Ken Sharp and David Leaf, and prolific author/bassist Gene Simmons -- have published such passionately written accounts of the band over the years.
Klosterman devotes much of a chapter of his 2005 book Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story
to a road trip through Montana in which he excitedly listened to all four
"unloved" 1978 Kiss solo records -- each titled after an individual member of the band -- back-to-back. He writes: "I love Kiss because the world makes sense when I
think about them." And a large percentage of Kiss Kruisers feel exactly the same way.
When every person filling their plates in a buffet line, each vacationer dipping their
toes in the cerulean waters surrounding Half Moon Cay, and, most of all, an entire fist-pumping crowd
attending a trio of intimate Kiss shows is a member of the Kiss Army, it can be
intimidating -- at first.
The hope is the Kiss Army is not be as hostile to "outsiders" as the face-painted fans of Insane Clown Posse, known as Juggalos. As a reference: at the 2010 Gathering of the Juggalos in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, social media starlet Tila Tequila's face was bloodied, and Wu-Tang Clan rapper Method Man got a flying bottle to the forehead. Not that the Kiss Army was expected to be a violent bunch, but would a reporter and photographer who love the undeniably sappy Kiss song featured in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey be a welcome addition?
After taking a wrong turn on the way to our cabin, we end up at the door of Long Island's Jamie Ross, who shares a balcony suite with female companion Jackie Ram, and it's immediately impressive. The Kiss Kruise urged attendees to decorate their cabin entrances, and many created custom banners with full-costume photos, the Kiss Navy logo, or a "Gone Drinking" poster. Ross is affixing a collection of vintage magazine clippings featuring members of Kiss to his door, and he calls it a recreation of his childhood bedroom.
Because of his long, fluffed out blond mane, he resembles former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach. Skid Row is also playing on the cruise, and a young man who doesn't realize that, one, Johnny Solinger is now the group's singer, and two, Ross is not Bach, approaches excitedly. When Ross lifts his head, the kid scurries away.
"You guys aren't wearing anything with Kiss on it," Ross notes after looking us up and down. It's the first afternoon of the cruise, the boat is barely out of the Port of Miami, and we're already busted. He walks into his room and grabs a pack of Kiss dog tags for each of us. "Put these on." And that Spaceman Tommy Thayer tag stayed around my neck for the rest of the week.
As the Kiss Kruise continued, it was impossible not to run into Ross and Ram, and the pair welcomed a wealth of their fellow passengers into their room -- which was stocked with vinyl and a Kiss throw, and had an iPod blasting deep cuts from the band's catalog -- to hang out.
"Kiss woke me up," Ross says, while he and Ram apply makeup to go along with their military-inspired "Secret Police for Paul Stanley" outfits before Kiss' Saturday performance at the ship's Palladium Lounge. "It's like the story in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Even if you might not wind up being a member of Kiss, you're now into the next area of life where you've accepted the idea of life that nothing's acceptable. That was the jump in my life. Even if I was broke, with one pair of shoes, sleeping in the park..."
"At least he loved Kiss," Ram interjects.
"Believe in yourself that you don't have to be in the union and got to a factory job -- whether it's the Beatles or Kiss, someone's going to turn you on to that idea," he continues, before adding with a laugh: "Doesn't mean that you're a good singer and you're going to be on Broadway, though."
Through Ross, we meet Massachusetts residents Andy and Deb Moyen, who are staying a few doors down the hall. Though he's a bit modest in conversation, Moyen could be the world's preeminent Kiss merch collector. His home is stocked with Kiss merch -- photos from his packed lair are posted at EverythingKiss.com -- and even sits on a toilet seat featuring the iconic logo. For this reason, he doesn't want his address getting out.
One of his latest grabs is the very first Kiss burial casket, and he has the letter from the Michigan company, Eternal Image, to prove it. Moyen made a point of getting the coffin's certificate of authenticity signed by the band, which he notes is the first time he's been present while all four signatures were put on the paper -- receiving it back from the band's manager Doc McGhee brought him to tears.
"It's a different thing, because now you have costumes and people want
to take a couple of hours to get ready," Moyen says. "It's different, you
know. People on this cruise know more about Kiss than Kiss does."
With surgeonlike precision, Steve Mitchell helps Moyen with his face paint for "ghetto Ace Frehley" inside Ross and Ram's suite. After applying a towel filled with baby powder to his face, and letting out a resounding cough as a white cloud forms around him, Moyen remarks, "I really feel like Ace now."
On the final day of the cruise, Mitchell is already in his outfit for the day, and the Phoenix personal trainer's tanned pecs burst out of the front of his Paul Stanley getup. In January, he started Psyko Circus, a Kiss tribute band, and
raised $3,500 to finance his family's trip by spending seven weekends
posing for pictures in Las Vegas in his outfit.
"Right there on the strip, this guy just pulls down his pants and just
stands there butt naked and wanted a picture," he recalled. "I said, 'I
do have to draw the line somewhere.' " He's seeking an endorsement from
the band so his band can use trademarked items in its performance. And
being on this cruise has brought him one step closer: "We were standing
right by the elevator, and Gene walked by and goes, 'That's the tallest
Paul Stanley I've ever seen.' "
Next to his comparitively diminutive wife Sharyn, Mitchell looks even more like a gargantuan creature. "Women mob him," she says. "He's signing boobs and stuff. I'm like 'You realize that's not the real Paul Stanley, right?' They had to drag a girl offstage last time they played."
The Mitchells are on this cruise with their children, and the conversation soons shifts to how welcoming the scene has been for the fans of every generation. "During the Sailaway show, we stood behind a kid who was eight or nine years old, and he was singing along with every word," says Steve.
This was not a cheap vacation, and the Mitchells are already thinking about how to finance another Kiss Kruise with more visits to Vegas. "As soon as we leave," Sharyn says. "He'll be saying 'now let's start talking about next year.'"
As stated by Paul Stanley during the Saturday evening Palladium performance, there will be another edition of this rock 'n' roll fantasy camp on a boat. "The guys had a lot of fun," Kiss web and branding master Keith Leroux confirms. "And we're definitely going to do another one."
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And if there's ever been a time for the expression "we're going to need a bigger boat," this would be it. The Kiss Army fan club, which will celebrate its 36th anniversary on November 21, counts Condeleeza Rice among its members, and thousands more.
Every person we spoke to on the inaugural Kiss Kruise echoed the same thing -- from the rowdy batch of young partiers from Finland's Kiss Army to the Sixthman staffers handling behind-the-scenes programming and grabbing a few moments at the craps table -- they all want to come back, and they have more Kiss Navy recruits who will join them.
Check out all of our Kiss Kruise coverage here.