Tim McPhate | KissFAQ
Former vice president of Glickman/Marks Management and author of “KISS And Sell” recalls the state of KISS in 1981 and the band’s ambitious bid to enter the pantheon of music’s elite
In conjunction with KissFAQ’s month-long NovElder retrospective, former vice president of Glickman/Marks Management Christopher K. Lendt recalled the state of the KISS union in 1981. Lendt also discussed how “The Elder” was an attempt to redefine the band’s career and shared details regarding the proposed “Elder” tour, among other topics.
The following are excerpts from Lendt’s interview with KissFAQ’s Tim McPhate:
The state of KISS in 1981:
KF: Getting to “Music From The Elder,” which is the topic we’re discussing today. Prior to them even starting recording, how would you describe the overall health of KISS in 1981?
CKL: Well, that was coming off of the Australia tour, which was December 1980. That was the most successful tour KISS had done at that time. They were treated like the second coming of the Beatles. And I recounted all of that in the book. It was quite an event. They were really puffed up, and I say that without any sarcasm. Their egos were really boosted by such a successful tour. Their popularity was waning in the U.S., which they were aware of, but a big tour like that, playing stadiums and creating “KISS mania,” is a real climate to bolster your spirits and put you back in a different mood.
KF: Certainly. What do you recall about their initial studio album plans?
CKL: When they approached a new album, they had made a number of efforts going into the studio in 1981, recording different tracks [at] different studios. I don’t know if there were other producers involved but I know that they tried a number of different types of records. The consensus that they got from the people in Australia at PolyGram at that time was that they should come back in ’81 and do another really hard rock album, because that was the essence of what KISS was and they felt that that was something that that would serve KISS well. You know, the last advice offered that you hear from people who are in a position to have their advice listened to is often the advice that you go with. So that was their inclination: to go back into the studio and record a typical hard rock, heavy metal KISS album, which I think they tried to do, but it never coalesced. And the thinking was that they didn’t want to come out with another ordinary KISS hard rock album. Maybe it would have been good and accepted by the fans, but they didn’t think it was really big enough. So having their egos boosted by the tremendous success of the Australia tour, and with the influence of Bill Aucoin, they decided to go off in a different direction. And eventually emerged the idea of a “concept” album.
KF: Right, which was a deliberate attempt to steer away from recording a typical KISS album
CKL: Yes, rather than just a recording of 10 or 12 tracks that were all distinct and separate from one another, they decided to do something on a more elevated level creatively. The concept idea became the operating idea.
“The Elder” tour stage design:
KF: Going back to the film aspect of the project, do you recall how far any discussions regarding an “Elder” film got off the ground?
CKL: I never heard anything about any movie.
I do remember sitting in Ken Anderson’s office once and looking at a stage set with the idea of presenting “The Elder” onstage. And I mentioned in the book that we had a meeting in our office with [Lou Falcigno], who is now deceased [but] at that time was a big entrepreneur [with] — it’s not pay-per-view, that’s the term today — when you would go to the theater and pay money to see a prize fight live on the theater screen. That was the pre-cursor to what’s called pay-per-view on your home TV today. And the idea was “The Elder” was going to be such a worldwide international success that everybody would want to see KISS live onstage in an “Elder” production and you would buy a ticket for it, closed-circuit TV. So you would go to a movie theater and buy a ticket and see “The Elder” live because it was being staged in some spectacular arena somewhere else. And this would be an opportunity for everybody to see it in their local theater, if not, in an arena, in a real live venue. There were some of these ideas that we pursued but it never got past that.
KF: What do you recall about “The Elder” tour stage design? Was it elaborate?
CKL: No, it was really sparse. It wasn’t like a real KISS show. Everything was black. It was kind of like a different group. It was mystical and much more along the lines of
one of these video games where you’re defending yourself against the forces of the universe and there are all of these ethereal concepts. In other words, I guess you can say it was ahead of its time, because there are many successful video games today that create that kind of world for their fans. But unfortunately, it had nothing to do with KISS. (laughs) If there’d have been some other group at that time, maybe Journey or somebody, I’m just throwing out names, maybe people would have accepted it more.
KF: So Ken Anderson oversaw the stage design?
CKL: He was the one who was on Bill Aucoin’s staff, the director of production. And he was in charge for organizing the production elements for KISS’ touring shows
KF: I’ve read it Mark Ravitz was the one who was contracted to do the stage design.
CKL: He could have been. It may have been his [stage design]. I just remember being in Ken’s office. I don’t know who actually should get the credit for that.
KF: A tour never came to fruition since the album performed poorly. In hindsight, is there anything they could have done to get something off the ground and promote the album on the road?
CKL: No. It would have been an unmitigated fiasco.
How “The Elder” affected KISS and their relationship with then-manager Bill Aucoin
KF: “The Elder” was a bomb in terms of commercial success. Was this album the final nail in the coffin between Bill Aucoin and KISS?
CKL: It certainly accelerated his decline. Any manager that is at the helm when the band records the worst-selling record in their history, their job is in jeopardy. And Bill Aucoin had been a champion of “The Elder” project. And he was very much associated with it in providing the moral support and the encouragement to go in that direction. Once it became a big flop, the band said, “Well, this guy’s our manager. He’s supposed to know better. He should have told us. He should have known better than to let us get carried away. He should have had better judgment.” Is that fair? Not necessarily. But artists have to look for someone to blame because they’re the ones that are going to end up suffering the worst [because] they don’t have any more fans. I mean, there’s got to be a fall guy.
Why the album would have caught on if it were recorded by another group:
KF: You hinted at this earlier, but in the book you specifically recollect that listening to Paul and Gene discuss “The Elder” was along the lines of listening to people who had just had “an epiphany.”
CKL: Well, they were really hyped up about it. I can only tell you what I witnessed in terms of their reaction from talking to them and being with them and speaking with them either on the phone or at meetings. That’s how they came across to me. I assume that this feeling was something that developed from working intensely on this project. And apparently Bob Ezrin, as the maestro, and Bill Aucoin were egging them on. And they had all convinced themselves that this was the idea of a lifetime. And this was a project that would redefine the entire career of KISS. I don’t say that in any disparaging way. If you’re an artist you have to believe in what you’re doing. And there’s no question that they were completely consumed by the project. They felt it was creatively ambitious and at that time they felt it was very fulfilling. Ezrin had a lot to do with the artistic aspects of what was going on in the studio. And I think Bill Aucoin was an equally willing partner. The problem, that everybody saw in retrospect, was that it probably would have been received differently by the public had it been produced by a different group.
CKL: In other words, it’s so much a departure from KISS. And it got some very good reviews in publications like “Rolling Stone,” which was not exactly a fan of KISS’ music over the years. But that’s the problem. They created something that had a lot merit to it — the whole idea was very clever and perhaps it was years ahead of its time. But that kind of production, that kind of creative work would never be accepted by a group like KISS in terms of how they had defined themselves to the public up to that point. It’s just like movie actors who are consistently playing action heroes, movie after movie, and they are very, very successful at playing action heroes and daredevils and rough and tough guys. And then all of the sudden, they start saying, “I can do light comedy. I can be taken seriously in a romantic movie about a moody, withdrawn person.” Well, it’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. Because the public has gotten accustomed to you playing certain types of roles, certain types of characters. All of a sudden, to do a 180-degree turn and give them something that they had never seen before, after seeing you year after year after year in a certain light, it’s very difficult to pull off.
So that’s why I say, if another group had done something like “The Elder,” it probably would have been more widely accepted. But the audience for “The Elder” was the fans of KISS. And the fans of KISS didn’t really see it like that. (laughs)
Full Christopher K. Lendt interview:
Through a series of brand-new KissFAQ interviews, original features and related special content, NovElder will shine a spotlight on “Music From The Elder” like never before throughout the month of November. More than 10 hours of interviews were conducted with various individuals who either worked on the project or have a connection of sorts, including professionals who have never told their “Elder story.” These interviews will provide interesting insights and unique perspectives regarding the album’s creative process and this fascinating period in KISStory, in addition to fun anecdotes and personal recollections. A series of topical features will shed more light on KISS’ activity in 1981 and early 1982 and dissect the album further with in-depth musical analysis, biographical information on the album’s participants, a revised KissFAQ Album Focus, and much more. NovElder will also take a look at the climate of the rock genre in 1981 and look at the bloodline of rock concept albums.
The odyssey continues this November at http://www.kissfaq.com/novelder/