John 'Fud' Zavacki

BUT I DIGRESS: Flaming youth – after 40 years of fandom, I finally met KISS

BUT I DIGRESS: Flaming youth – after 40 years of fandom, I finally met KISS
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In 1978, my mom took me to a now defunct local department store (Sugarman’s Eynon Drug for the locals – I miss the fuck outta that joint!) where, for the very first time, I purchased an album for myself! That album was KISS’ “Alive II.”

It changed everything! Up until this point, I was satisfied listening to what my parents played at home. Granted, that was CSNY, The Beatles, Dylan, Jethro Tull, Ian & Sylvia, Steeleye Span – amazing stuff – but it wasn’t mine.

KISS… they were mine! They were circus freaks, they were larger than life (and had a song to prove it), and they irritated my otherwise über laidback and accepting parents (only a little, but you take what you can get, yo).

My friends and peers were equally enamored with KISS, and we would discuss them at great length. How we had heard that Gene Simmons had a cow’s tongue grafted onto his own, how KISS stood for “Knights in Satan’s Service” – all manner of KISS-generated urban legend.

I could draw their portraits from memory! When they would do a “reveal” shoot in a magazine, covering one half of their face, then the other for the photos, we’d trace them, one side at a time onto Shrinky Dinks, then bake them and marvel at our first glimpse of KISS, unmasked!

“Alive II” was the catalyst for my career as a musician. They set the precedent of what was cool in my impressionable mind. And Ace Frehley would be the inspiration for the guitar tone I have searched for since then, and which still eludes me.

KISS was the very first concert I ever attended, and I’ve seen them more than anyone but Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Accept (Accept opened for every metal band from 1980 to 1990, so I’ve seen them more than any other band because of that, which is a good thing!).

Discovering KISS was the very first epically transformative life event I experienced, and I have loved them ever since. From the second I heard Eddie Balandas inform me that I wanted the best and I got the best, I vowed that someday, somehow, I would meet them!

In 1984, I was informed that the new kid (who looked like he might be from the islands) was in the music room of my high school (known affectionately to us as “The Student Smoking Lounge”) giving my girlfriend a back rub. His name was Mark Sutorka, and he had transferred in from the next town over, whom we regularly battled en masse at local church picnics. The fact that he came from behind enemy lines and was fondling my girlfriend meant that action simply had to be taken!

And so I set out to murder him.

However, when I got there, not only was he not giving her a back rub (to his credit, he picked up on her rotten-to-the-coreness… took me a lot longer), but he was playing guitar and singing, something I also did.

So instead of a dopey high school windmill/haymaker slap fight, we started talking.

Turned out, he was in a working band and had been for a couple years, something I’d been dying to do. And they just fired their lead singer, to boot! Howsabout that shit!

Within the space of three minutes, the conversation went from “Ima fuckin’ KILL you!” to “Hey, wanna join my band?”

And, from that point on, me and the new kid from the islands (who’s really a Slav) have been inseparable. We’ve been in a dozen iterations of various bands together as recently as last month. That’s three decades of kickass comradery.

Most significantly, as we got to know each other better, it was revealed that he, like myself, was a massive KISS fan. In point of fact, he was a total freak for them and even had a cardboard sign that read “KISS kicks ass!” that Gene Simmons had actually balanced on his nose at a live KISS show! That was major cred, yo!

We even dressed as KISS for some sorta dress down/up day in high school.

We vowed together that, someday, we would meet these giants of rock ‘n’ roll!

Since then, we’ve adventured to such an extent and in such a manner that to regale you with the details would not only take weeks to convey, but the statute of limitations on some of the antics haven’t run out. Suffice to say that we have lived a dozen lives at once compared to some of you mere mortals.

We now refer to one another as “Stymie.” There is an explanation, but it is so convoluted and “inside,” nobody’ll get it, so I’m leaving it there. We are the only humans not confused by this.

In an odd twist of fate, Stymie eventually wound up working for the KISS organization, which afforded him some privileges that, as kids, he could only have dreamt of. But more about that later.

On April 2, 2010, I met the single most awesome person I would ever be lucky enough to know. That was the day my son, Gideon, graced this world with his mighty presence.

The instant I held him in my arms, I was a changed man. Gone were the smokes, the booze, the various and sundry pills and powders. The feeling of just being with this little dude far surpassed any high they could ever promise to deliver. Besides, they made the likelihood of a long, fruitful life with my boy much less probable. In a competition between anything and an extra minute on the planet with my boy, my boy wins. Always.

As he has grown, he and I have explored music together. He is a huge fan of Fun Lovin’ Criminals and spits Huey Morgan’s rhymes with extreme accuracy and all the nuances of his flawless flow.

He digs Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name” and “Sleep Now in the Fire” being his favorite tracks. Not just for the obvious glee of hearing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” when you’re 6, but because he finds their ethos to be noble and, after seeing the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire,” his only statement was, “They’re really brave.” And he’s correct.

He asked me why they were saying what they were saying when he heard it and I explained it to him. I don’t coddle my son or talk down to him. He’s as cognizant and aware as I am and 10 times more analytical and empathic. He asks, I tell him. I have no intention of raising another oblivious worker bee for the Man to exploit until he’s used up, then tossed onto the fire of social security, too old to be useful to the machine until he burns to ash a year after he’s forced to retire. But I digress.

All of his other musical loves aside, his first and greatest fascination with a band was when I showed him a video of Gene Simmons’ blood spitting, high-flying, eerily lit, creepily noisy bass solo from a 1975 concert when he was about 2 years old.

He was enthralled! The grandeur, the otherworldliness, the majesty and scale, the makeup, the blood, the strobe lights!

Ever since then, he’s been hooked on KISS and Gene Simmons in particular. About a year ago, while having one of our “dance parties” (which have evolved into “listening parties” at his behest, because he now enjoys sitting still with headphones on and listening very intently), he said to me, very matter of factly, “When I meet Gene Simmons, I’m going to ask him to be in the band.”

That was it. It wasn’t just a dream anymore – this needed to happen. (Although, since then, Gid has decided he doesn’t want to be in KISS anymore, so he started his own band called “Bloody Shield” that consists of Gid, myself, and anyone else he feels like adding to the roster on any given day. It’s fuckin’ so awesome.)

Fast forward to two weeks ago, Sept. 1, 2016 – the single greatest day of my life (after the aforementioned events, those of 4/2/2010).

A few months earlier, Stymie had informed me that there would be an opportunity to see KISS in September and asked if I would I be interested in a meet and greet.

See, Stymie had saved the KISS organization about 10 grand while subcontracting for them and was not only able to score such choice stuff as tickets and meet and greet opportunities (he’s met and conversed with them several times), he was also personally presented with a Gene Simmons Axe guitar (six string), one of only two ever awarded, gratis! I can’t stress enough how epic that is for dudes of a certain generation!

I was baffled that he felt the need to ask, but the ‘80s weren’t kind to us, what with all the free beer and loose women, so I let it slide and informed him that I, of course, would love to. But, more importantly, would Gideon be able to come?

“Of course!” was the reply, and so it was just a waiting game now, chomping at the bit as time ticked by at a geological pace.

Excruciating! I’ve waited 40 years to meet these guys (the lack of Peter and Ace notwithstanding, as Eric and Tommy are awesome in their own right and I have full intention of meeting them eventually). Now I was going to meet them with my two best friends!

Finally, the day came!

Gid had been to Peach Fest a few times, so I knew he was up for a concert, but he’d been younger and when he was ready to go, he was ready to go. So, in case that was the case this time, we rented a car, Gid and I met up with the rest of our crew, and he and I followed them on the trek to the Allentown Fairgrounds (a classic venue, so if you haven’t been, please do yourself the favor).

The trip was uneventful (except seeing a dude in a station wagon with a real live parrot on his shoulder at a stop light), and we listened to the free satellite radio that came with the rental and talked about everything, as we always do. Both of us were secretly all aflutter with anticipation and excitement for the events to come!

We found parking, easy peezy, and we all walked the two blocks to the fairgrounds. Stymie had to buy a ticket to the fair to go in and get our passes, so he came back with them and in we went to meet our destiny!

We got our wristbands and hit the restrooms (it was a long drive, yo), grabbed a funnel cake and a couple of sodas, and hung out, waiting for the word to queue up for the meet and greet.

While we waited, The Dead Daisies took the stage and ripped it up. With Marco Mendoza on bass (whom I had seen play with Thin Lizzy several years ago – he kicked ass) and one of the greatest voices in hard rock today, John Corabi, they sounded fantastic.

After their set, we were still milling about, waiting to get backstage, when The Dead Daisies just happened to be wandering through the crowd. We had to tell Marco and John how goddamn awesome they were, and they were extremely gracious and happy that we appreciated their work. Corabi even tugged my beard and professed his envy (he’d recently trimmed his own).

Then it came! We were hustled backstage where… we waited more!

But, as we waited, the anticipation was building, the epicness of what was about to happen getting heavier and more overwhelming as the seconds ticked past! As the line slowly moved forward, they came into view!

Massive! Immortal! KISS!!!

DOOD! I couldn’t believe it!

When it was our turn, I approached my first idols, who I’d been wishing to meet for 40 years, and I was meeting them with my two best friends, my kickass son, Gideon, and my hetero life-mate, Stymie.

As Gene put out his fist to Gid, he said, “How ya doin’, little man?” Gid beamed. See, he has loooong hair and gets mistaken for a girl by less enlightened folks who think boys should have crew cuts (he says he won’t cut it because “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”… we won at parenting) and it bums him out, so this was crazy epic because Gene knew he was a boy! He proceeded to fist bump Gene and the rest of the band with a cool, calm manner that his daddy simply did not possess.

The second my fist made contact with Gene’s, I became that 9-year-old fanboy geek. Grinning like a mental patient and getting so confused that I almost didn’t fist bump Paul Stanley, he laughingly had to remind me to! The whole band was so cool and accommodating and they actually seemed to really enjoy how ridiculously stoked I was.

In my nervous excitement, I managed to steer Gid and myself nearly out of frame for the photo op, and Paul wasn’t quite sure how to stand, since we were supposed to be in front of him! But, despite all of my goofy stupidness, it had happened! I had met KISS, and I had done so with the only two people on Earth that I would ever want to meet KISS with.


Of course, the show itself was beyond awesome. If you haven’t ever been to a KISS show, I recommend you do so while you still can. Even if you’re not a fan now, you will be after you see them live.

Every rock show in the past 40 years has its basis in the precedent set by KISS – pyrotechnics, hydraulic risers, flying bass-playing demons, and a confetti storm that was in evidence six blocks away. (Gid kept grabbing every piece he could find and jamming ‘em into his pocket. We have a ton of KISS confetti!)

(Yes, he’s making fun of me in this photo.)

And as if all of this wasn’t enough, as if this evening of lifelong dreams fulfilled wasn’t replete in its grandeur, something unheard of happened.

Gideon’s all-time, beats ‘em all, favorite KISS song is “Flaming Youth,” a song that they have very rarely included in live performances since its release on “Destroyer,” two days after my eighth birthday on March 15,1976.

But this day, Thursday, September 1, 2016, they did. Gideon was on my shoulders (as he was for all but a few minutes of the show, when he wanted a burger and after his foot fell asleep) and, suddenly, he went wild! Bopping and headbanging and pumping his fists in the air with Gene’s patented “I love you” hand gesture (the Maloik, known as simply “metal” or “devil horns” was Dio’s thing. Ozzy, contrary to popular opinion, always threw out peace signs).

He was singing and smacking me in my giant bald dome in such a manner as to say, “Holy shit, dad! They’re playing my song!”

My life always has and always will be the true definition of epic. Jim Morrison’s life “movie” is a drag compared to mine.

But, in this brief instant in a lifetime filled with grand moments, more dreams came true than I knew I had dreamed.

There’s no limit to what can happen if you dream hard enough.

Don’t ever stop dreaming.

But I Digress features musical ramblings, rumblings, rants, ruminations, and reviews from your friendly neighborhood blowhard. Look for it on Wednesdays on NEPA Scene.