brushes with greatness: chapter 1

Word today has it that KISS will once again grace us with its presence, July 25, at Scotiabank Place. And by KISS, we are talking 50 per cent of the real KISS. For while the rock show will as always be big, original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley have once again not been invited to rock and roll for even part of the night.

So, in honour of those exiled KISS alumni, I present the first installment in a series of true tales from the rock and roll world. First-hand encounters with some of the great musical figures of our time. Or, if not great, then at least pretty darn good.

Today’s true story transports us back to another century. The year was 1995. The Internet was new and mysterious — and capitalized. Hipsters avoided Hintonburg. Little Italy was home to Italian families. Barrymore’s Music Hall was a live music venue.

It was a very different Ottawa.

At the time, I lived on Booth Street and, when not on the balcony drinking margaritas or at a show drinking beer, I could usually be found at an office on Sparks Street. Seven days (and usually evenings) a  week.

It was early on a sleepy July morning, and I was on my way to work, making my way up Albert Street. Passing by a hotel, I uncharacteristically lifted my gaze from the sidewalk and was struck by the sight of two ragged-looking individuals loading gear into a van. I immediately recognized the rock and roll legends before me. It helped, of course, that I knew they had played Barrymore’s the night before. The Bad Boys of KISS, the billing had declared: Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. And here they were, in the flesh. Sans makeup. Sans rock-star trappings. And, seemingly, sans a sufficient number of roadies. Two musicians crowding into a van to motor to the next city and show, and try to make a buck.

It was, needless to add, a humbling experience. And I acted accordingly.

Making eye contact with the Ace, I offered a demonstrative thumbs up. (It was too early in the day, I reasoned, for a devil sign.) “Great show last night, man!” I exclaimed.

“Hey, thanks, man,”the bleary-eyed guitar hero meekly responded, flashing a smile that confirmed that even as a solo act, Frehley probably should have retained the makeup. In the midst of a Canadian tour of clubs a long way from his KISS heyday, Ace looked understandably tired but visibly relieved by the reassurance that he still had it. Yes, he appeared to be thinking as he briefly nodded his head, it had been a great show. It had.

True, I had not been at said show. Frankly, I’d had little interest in going, despite the near certainty of hearing both New York Groove and Beth. But I was not about to let that stop me from offering a bit of encouragement to a fallen idol so clearly in need of it.

That’s the kind of music fan I am. I might not actually go to your show, but I’m happy to tell you it was great.

True story.

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