News Segment


April 21, 2007

A former member of Kiss died this month, but chances are you’ve never heard of him. Mark St. John, whose tenure with the rock band lasted just eight months, was just another guitarist swept under the rug by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, co-founders of the band desperate to preserve some sort of image which has slowly withered to mean nothing.

Credited as playing on only one record, 1984’s “Animalize,” St. John’s contribution was actually both more and less than surface appearance. Less, because in reality, he only played on a handful of tracks; and more, because his blazing fretwork was in style at the time, and one of the few things that kept a fast sinking Kiss ship afloat.

Mere months after the album was released, St. John was diagnosed with a form of arthritis which caused his joints to swell up to nearly twice the normal size, making it difficult to play guitar.The “official” story says that it left him unable to continue in the band, and a replacement had to be brought in.The reality, according to interviews with St. John, was that Gene and Paul used the arthritis as a cover up, and that the real reasons were more personal.

“It was the worst time in my life,” he has been quoted as saying.

Though a talented guitarist who shredded like Eddie Van Halen, St. John never found commercial success after Kiss. But if there is one positive to be found in his passing, it’s that it exposes some chinks in the Kiss armor. Some people upon reading the obituary thought to themselves “I don’t remember that guy being in Kiss.”

St. John wasn’t the only hired gun brought on board to keep the Kiss farce going. For nearly 30 years, what fans thought they were getting was based on image and not truth. For example, when you say the name “Kiss” most people think of the make-up, Gene, Paul, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. The fact is, those four were only the face of the band if you will — the cover of the record, when a little digging behind the scenes reveals each record was really an organized piecemeal.

Studio musicians began to take over on the “Dynasty” record in 1979, when current CBS Orchestra member Anton Fig handled all but one track of drumming duties. Criss remained in character, even on the next album, “Unmasked,” when he didn’t play a note. He was fired soon afterwards, and as the more capable Eric Carr took over on stick detail. Now, it was time to work on the guitar.

At this point, in 1982, Gene and Paul were willing to do whatever it took to keep the brand “Kiss” alive. Bob Kulick played some lead guitar parts, as he had on a few of the past records. So did blues specialist Robben Ford. As did a handful of others, including Vincent Cusano, later to be renamed Vinnie Vincent and “official” member for one album.Same goes for Bruce Kulick, Bob’s brother, who appeared on the re-issue of the album jacket.

When the much hyped reunion in 1996 came about, talk of new music came to fruition with the commercial and critical flop “Psycho Circus.” It was no surprise that the original line-up only played together on one track, while the rest were various session guys like Tommy Thayer, former guitarist for a Kiss tribute band who now performs as Frehley for real.

Since the never-ending “Farewell Tour” was announced seven years ago, Kiss has replaced Frehley with Thayer and Criss with Eric Singer. Both wear their predecessor’s make up on-stage.Not only have Gene and Paul become more brazen with their deceit, as many fans still scream “Ace” and “Peter” to the scabs onstage, but it looks like they might go one step further.

Fans last year marched in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, demanding Kiss be recognized for its achievements.But who gets honored?

If Kiss fans are going to continue to compare the group to the likes of The Beatles and The Who, and call it “The Hottest Band in the World” without a touch of irony, it’s time for a dose of reality.

There is no and probably never was a tight musical cohesion in the original cast of Kiss. There is no band. A real band plays together, stays together, makes records together, and when things get bad, replace members outright, and doesn’t pull strings behind the scenes and make you see only what they want you to believe.

So rest in piece Mark St. John, may your time in Kiss not have been in vain.

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