My first hero was the rock band KISS.
It was the 1970s and KISS's searing pyrotechnics, squirting blood, and Gene Simmons' seven-inch tongue were all my seven-year-old brain needed to feel like I was finally part of something widely regarded as unflinchingly edgy and cool.
My friends and I drew KISS's runic SS thunderbolts onto our notebooks, traded KISS bubblegum cards, unpacked our school lunches from KISS lunchboxes, and reported the latest KISS rumors as fast as we could:
"I read KISS secretly stands for Kids In Satan's Service!"
"My brother says KISS beat up Shaun Cassidy after a concert!"
"I heard Gene Simmons had a cow tongue sewn onto his own—for real!"
You might think my naming an entire band as my first hero is cheating, but the truth is that I had trouble telling the band members apart. As far as I could tell, KISS was basically four of the same guy. I know! That wasn't cool! But it wasn't my fault—it was their makeup! All of that white foundation with stars, bat wings...who could keep it all straight? I had KISS face blindness! I bluffed my way through conversations with my friends as best I could until I invariably slipped up:
"Did you see when Ace Frehley smashed his guitar and—"
"DURRR! THAT WAS PAUL STANLEY, YOU BUTTLICK!"
The first KISS album I owned was Double Platinum on 8-track tape. Yes, I know—the LP would've been cooler—but my mom wasn't about to drop twelve bucks on that, even if it was a four-sided set in an embossed silver sleeve.
With vinyl out of the question, my only other listening option was the 8-track player in my mom's Chevy Impala. Desperate, one day at the supermarket I slipped a Double Platinum 8-track into our cart, hiding it under a bag of casserole noodles and a copy of Good Housekeeping. I'm pretty sure my mom spotted it, but she relented; the 8-track was mine! And so, for the next 3 years until our Impala died, KISS was our soundtrack everywhere we drove. I was cool! (And my mom was a saint).
I've been doing performance art at venues from L.A. to Scotland for 23 years. I've put razorblades in my underwear, snorted lines of shaved mouse fur, put on testicle puppet shows...you get the idea. And I used to think all of this started the day I wandered into a class taught by John White, a famous performance artist. I watched John do a few short performances and I was blown away. Ordinary objects were magically transformed: a smelly old shoe became John's mother...a mannequin arm went fishing in a toilet...a burrito became a messy paintbrush on a stark white wall.... It was as if John had unfurled his unconscious mind for us all to behold. I didn't always get the literal meaning of everything he did, but it made intuitive sense in a primal way—a shamanic way. Every new performance I witnessed was like seeing a brand new art form for the very first time. I've seen my share of theater, painting, sculpture, and dance; it's rare that any of these has me gasping, "What in the world am I looking at?" Performance art, by contrast, does that to me all the time.
But looking back now, I realize it was KISS that gave me my first taste of performance art's shamanic magic. To my kid brain, Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter had evolved beyond human. They were shapeshifters under the stage's searing spotlights and exploding sparks, fading in and out of each other—Everyman shadow-selves phasing through divine states of demon, star child, spaceman, cat.... Their Kabuki-esque faces hailed from an ancient tribe, but one that had been transported into the future, where priests held black mass in sweeping fetish leathers glittering with chrome. And then there was Simmons—the most powerful shaman of them all—who had reorganized his organs in order to spit sacramental blood, that we might be delivered from uncool, and in his coup de grâce, turned his tongue into a phallus, deflowering our imaginations with a member so powerful that it seemed to stand in for the other band members' members, which they wisely kept tucked away under codpieces.
KISS saved me from banality. Art, magic, mystery, and weirdness could be a way of life if I wanted it.
And I wanted it.
-Scotch Wichmann's comedy novel, Two Performance Artists Kidnap Their Boss And Do Things With Him, was published by Freakshow Books in April 2014. A first-round finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, Kill Radio called it "possibly the funniest caper ever written...what you'd get if Fear and Loathing, Office Space, and Jackass made a baby." A performance artist for 23 years, Scotch and his troupe were nominated for Best Comedy and Best Stunt at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. For more about his book, visit www.2p4m.com