ON this day, June 30, 40 years ago, I was approaching my sixth birthday.
Every day was fun, and sunny (okay, it never really was sunny in Northern Ireland, ever) and my surroundings were protected by parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. I was attending primary school, in love with my first teacher, and was on a path of discovery as I looked forward to my sixth summer on this planet.
On the same day, in a place very far from Belfast back then, four young New York shock rockers were unleashing their sixth studio album entitled LOVE GUN. According to a Gallop Poll conducted in 1977, KISS were the most popular rock act in the United States, ahead of The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, to name a few. They were at the top of their game after a stuttering start to their career.
It was pure coincidence that today of all days, the first KISS t-shirt I reached for in the drawer donned the classic artwork from the Love Gun album – and every time I see that shirt or listen to the LP, it reminds me of a occasion when I my unwitting aunt Mary would stand ground with me against the wishes of my late mother (my mother and I laughed about this years later).
Aged six, it would be another five years before I heard KISS for the first time – I was 11 years of age and it was 1982. That was an amazing summer made memorable by the fact that Northern Ireland had qualified for the World Cup in Spain – my first ‘tuned in’ World Cup following on from the vague memories of watching the 1978 final with my dad, somewhat baffled by his enthusiasm for it.
Aunt Mary was, and still is, a special kind of aunt. One of those ‘one in a million’ aunties who goes beyond their so-called status in the family circle. Bizarre story … she almost died aged nine months when she fell gravely ill with what was then described as ‘inward convulsions’.
Back in Belfast, 1949, the names of sick children were placed in the Belfast Telegraph, and the police would keep the family informed. The police did call to my grandmother’s door .. to tell her young Mary had died. They later discovered they had called to the wrong house.
Mary never had children of her own. If anyone deserved to have 1,000 of them, it was her – and she would have no doubt catered and cared for each and every one.
She was, to me, a hip aunt. She was ‘in tune’ with the kids. Youthful. Attractive. Always smiling. Always perfectly presented.
Most Fridays she would come to our busy home and tell my mother she would take a few of her children off her hands for the weekend. One Friday (it must have been around 1984) I asked my aunt Mary if I could bring a record to her house. We didn’t have a turntable at the time and I had acquired a new copy of Love Gun and had only heard it from the speakers of my next door neighbour’s (Kevin) stack hi-fi system.
“Mary,” my mum said with sincere concern and a sigh, “look what he has under his arm, look what he’s bringing to your house..”
Mary took a look at the Love Gun album. She would have been around 35 years of age then.
“What’s wrong with it Anne,” she asked.
“Mary, just look at it. It has women half-dressed and in leather and its very crude looking. He’s too young for that, he shouldn’t have that.”
“Ack, Anne, let him be. Sure it’s only music and art and sure he’s not daft. He’ll either grow up with it or outgrow it. Sure it’s no harm.”
Mum was usually a pushover – you just had to know how far you could push…
I went with Love Gun to aunt Mary’s plush bungalow and I listened, and listened again, to the album. It sounds simple, but it was one of the most magical Friday evenings of my youth.
I recently recalled this memory with my aunt Mary – and was pleased to learn she had remembered it too.
“Sure you turned out alright in the end – and you still love those head-cases…”
I never outgrew Love Gun, nor my love of KISS. I have, however, outgrown the awkward Christine Sixteen – a song that appears on the album – about an older man falling for a younger (much too young) school girl. I didn’t realise that back then. It’s a song I wish KISS would confine to a darkened corner – and I wish quick-buck-making record companies would cease using it on thrown-together compilations.
Christine Sixteen aside, Love Gun does show in great light the talent throughout the band, with guitar hero Ace Frehley’s booming Shock Me, Peter Criss’ jazzy Hooligan, Paul Stanley’s I Stole Your Love and Gene Simmons’ Plaster Caster, a song written about a groupie who made casts of famous musicians’ private parts, of course.
Love Gun is a certified Platinum sales album.
I still have my original copy, in addition to several remastered versions of it.
And 40 years on, it still ROCKS!