Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reflections On...(Music From) The Elder

This recollection is more of a reflection on my journey to owning (Music From) The Elder and less about the actual album itself. And although it’s been ridiculed and despised by some, (Music From) The Elder is not a horrible record. And it certainly isn’t a dud. It was just extremely different from anything else the band ever attempted. Unmasked is a dud. Possibly the worst KISS album ever recorded. (Music From) The Elder is not a bad record. It’s just not what KISS fans expected from a KISS record. Thus, it did not sell well and became one of the hardest KISS albums to find for a long period of time. KISS practically disavowed knowledge of the album’s existence until the mid-90s when they revived “A World Without Heroes” for their Unplugged performance. That only helped to make this one of the hardest KISS albums to own.

Allow me to put you in the proper state of mind. I was a freshman in high school from autumn of 1987 to spring of 1988. This was long before the Internet was a thing. Computers were something old people used at work, maybe, and IPods, cell phones, and all the conveniences of modern technology had yet to become mainstream, or in some cases, to even be invented. So, when you wanted an album, or a song, a child of the 80s would have to either buy the album at a record store, or wait to hear it on the radio. There was no instant gratification, no you tube video to play, and stealing music was called shoplifting. You went to prison for that.

As a high school freshman, I was really getting into KISS. I was learning their catalog, spending my allowance on a lot of the early albums, and borrowing records and cassettes from my friends to fill the remaining holes in my collection. KISS was probably the first band that I set the goal of owning every album ever released in my personal collection. When one is young with limited income, one has to find innovative ways to achieve a goal like this. Yard sales and the “used” section of several local record shops were my favorite places to visit. I would spend hours scouring for the missing albums from my collection. And Wikipedia wasn’t available to confirm the albums the band had released, so I had to rely on friend’s knowledge and information found in LP sleeves and at record stores.

Thus, when rumors of the hardest to obtain KISS album arose, I was all ears. Friends had spoken of this Holy Grail called The Elder. We didn’t even know the full title was (Music From) The Elder. Stories about the record circulated amongst my inner circle and we talked to other die hard KISS fans, but no one had heard this album in its entirety. Almost no one had even heard a song from it. All that was known about this rarity was that the album completely flopped. Some fans would even whisper that it was the reason Ace left the band. My long term goal was to obtain a copy of the entire album. Endless searching through record stores had yielded no results. No store carried this record, despite having almost the entire KISS back catalog. It was as if this album was never actually recorded. There were times when I doubted the authenticity of this record. Was there really an album called The Elder? How come I had never seen it anywhere? This had to be a myth!

I remember a friend of a friend had a copy of one song from the album. The song was “The Odyssey” and the word in the hallways proclaimed that it was unlike any KISS song ever recorded. It was such a vast departure from the hard rock sound the band was known for, that a fan wouldn’t even recognize it as a KISS song. This, of course, perked my interest and I had to hear this song. After learning the one lone song was actually obtainable within my circle, I set out to work on getting a copy. I begged my friend to put the song on a blank cassette for me. I pleaded that it be dubbed for me so that I could hear this elusive, mind altering, KISS song. I had to know what it sounded like. In short, I desperately needed to hear this so called “Odyssey” just to know it was real. And while certain parts of my memory from 1988 are fuzzy, I believe that it cost me 2 blanks (plus the one that the song was recorded on) to actually obtain the record. Blank tapes were like gold to music loving kids back then, and the going price for almost any album was either a blank, or to dub a copy of a different album for that person. Since this was a rare gem of a song, and I had no rare KISS to offer in return, the price was higher than average. I happily paid the penance. I did not care. No price was too high. I was finally going to own a song from the rarest of all KISS albums.

It took about a week, but one morning in school, my friend passed me back “the tape.” I put it in my pocket and could not wait to get home to listen to it. I was yearning to know what this song sounded like. I practically skipped home from school that afternoon, giddy with jubilant excitement. I was going to hear a song from The Elder. As soon as I got through my front door, I flung my books down, pulled out the cassette tape, and ran into my room. I closed the door, popped open the cassette drawer on my boom box, and slipped in the tape. Mere moments later, the opening notes of “The Odyssey” filled my room.

At first I thought I was had. Someone was pulling my leg. This really wasn’t a KISS song and some idiot was having a good long chuckle at the expense of one Ryo Vie. I was actually angry that I had been ripped off. But I listened to the entire track anyway. When it was finished, I was still filled with doubt. But I remembered all of the legends that I had heard; how the songs from The Elder would sound like no KISS album ever. I then reasoned that if they could record a song like “She’s So European,” then Kiss could put this out too. I rewound the tape and listened to it a second time. Then a third. By that time, I was pretty sure it was Paul Stanley’s voice I was hearing, but still wouldn’t bet money on it. How could this actually be a KISS song? It was no longer a wonder why fans couldn’t find this record.

Even after my uncertainty surrounding “The Odyssey,” I still wanted to own the entire record. I had to have it for the completist in me. A few months went by and during regular visits to record stores I would always search in vain. Then, in the spring of my freshman year, I met John. He was a friend’s boyfriend (my best friend’s, ex-girlfriend’s, new boyfriend if you really want to be drama specific) and when I first met him, I wasn’t overly thrilled. He was quiet, shy, and he was dating my best friend’s ex. How much could I like the guy?

Then I heard that he was a KISS fan and a huge one at that. Immediately I steered the conversation to The Elder that long lost rare gem that only the best of the best could own. “I have a copy of that,” he said. My entire world stopped spinning. Had I just heard that correctly? Was there really a person standing in front of me that had a copy of The Elder? Was it truly possible? Did this kid really have the world’s most coveted KISS album?

I slowly composed myself, thinking of what to say next. I didn’t want to seem overly needy or anxious, but there was no way this guy was leaving my line of vision until he had agreed to make a copy for me. I carefully plotted my next question, wondering how to precisely craft my next few sentences. “What do you mean you have a copy of that?” I asked. “Like, the actual record?”

John nodded. “Yes, I have a copy. Not the original, but I have a copy of it in my collection.”

I paused. My heart pounded so hard in my chest he must have heard it. And I honestly didn’t care if he did. This kid had The Elder. “So…how would I be able to get a copy?” I asked.

John, sensing a fellow Kiss fan, and wanting to fit in with new friends, volunteered his time. “Come on over one day and bring a blank. I can make you a copy.”

Had that just happened? He offered to make me a copy and the only cost was to spend a couple hours at his house. That was definitely a price I could handle. I nodded in return. “Let’s set it up.” I was in all my glory. I was actually going to own a copy of The Elder. The music gods were rewarding my patience and diligence. Praise be to rock and roll!

We did set it up and less than a week later I was at John’s house after school. He really was a big KISS fan. His room was filled with posters of the band and right above his bed, mounted to the wall, was a cassette rack filled with every KISS album ever recorded in order of release date. I thought that was pretty awesome and made a mental note to do the same thing in my room.

As we made a copy of the album, we talked KISS and we talked The Elder. Even John didn’t know the full title of the album was (Music From) The Elder. He wasn’t even sure about the title of all the songs. He confirmed that all of the songs were on the cassette, but he didn’t know each title, as the copy given to him did not contain the song names. He took his best guess on each song, thus “Just A Boy” was titled “I’m No Hero,” and “The Oath” became “Power And Glory.” We just didn’t know any better.

John was very knowledgeable about the band, their history, and their music. He was a huge fan, much like me, and we spent the next couple of hours sharing our love for the band. He showed me his KISS magazine collection as well as the other KISS memorabilia he owned. He also shared his goal of owning every KISS album on vinyl and cassette, a lofty goal that I admired. By the time our afternoon was finished, I had a deeper appreciation for John and a copy of The Elder in my hands. Life could not get much better than that.

Needless to say, I played that cassette tape a lot over the next few months. Just knowing that I could was a treat. And while it never became my favorite KISS album, it grew on me over time. I did come to enjoy most of the songs and some of them even became favorites of mine, especially “I,” which I’ve always felt that KISS needs to bring out in concert.

A few years later, CDs became all the rage and bands started to re-release their entire catalogs in this new, portable, high quality format. KISS was one of the bands to do this, and as part of the re-release, (Music From) The Elder became available wherever records and tapes were sold. I purchased my own copy, but it wasn’t as magical as getting a copy from a fellow fan my freshman year of high school. I still play the album every once in a while, and I still think there are a lot of good songs on there that KISS should revisit. I was extremely excited when they performed “A World Without Heroes” as part of the unplugged set, but still hold out hope to hear other songs from that album in concert. It may never happen, but when it comes to KISS, I am a patient man, and perhaps the rock gods will reward my patience once again.

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