By Susan Montag
When I was growing up, my dad owned a junkyard. He would buy junked out cars, and then sell parts to guys who showed up at the junkyard looking for something they needed. These guys would not always have the cash to pay my dad. Fortunately for them, my father was a magnanimous man, and he would trade for whatever they had on hand right at that moment. That’s how I ended up with an eight-track tape of Kiss’s Destroyer album when I was in fifth grade.
We all gathered around the tape when my dad brought it home—my parents, my younger siblings and I—and we regarded it suspiciously. The illustrated album cover shows the members of Kiss stomping on a ruined city. They look like apocalyptic sex monsters, which is what I’m sure they were going for. My parents decided quickly that this tape was a bad thing, and not something our family might enjoy. However, they didn’t throw it away. Maybe they thought they would give it to someone—or perhaps trade it for something better—and it ended up alongside the Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins eight-tracks next to our stereo.
I was only ten at the time, and I was still fiercely aligned with my parents. If they liked something, it was good. If they didn’t it must be bad, so I tried also to disapprove of the Kiss tape. Whenever I had the chance, though, I secretly studied the drawing on the front. It made me feel something, a kind of excitement that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And then, one day, when no one was home but me—I played the tape. The first notes of “Detroit Rock City” slammed into my soul. By the end of that song, the innocence of my childhood had ended, and my adolescence had begun. I loved something that my parents disliked. I loved Kiss.
By the time I was in seventh grade, I owned every Kiss album that existed.
I am a very, very loyal person, so I refused to buy—or really even listen to—any other music. It was all Kiss, all the time. Deeply scornful of all other genres, I often wore a T-shirt that stated: “Disco Sucks.” When I wore this T-shirt, random people would give me thumbs up or say, “Hell, yeah!” which totally reinforced my musical xenophobia.
In addition to being loyal, I also tend to be compulsive, and I decided that all four walls in my bedroom should be covered with Kiss stuff. I don’t mean that I had a lot of posters up. I mean that every square inch, floor to ceiling, was covered by a Kiss related clipping. My room became a visually stunning Kiss grotto. Upon seeing it for the first time, people would gasp, either with pleasure or shock, depending on their sensibilities.
I was about twelve or thirteen years old by this time, and my younger brother Paul was eight, which is the worst sort of age split between an older sister and a younger brother. I found him to be profoundly revolting in every way possible, and he found it hilarious to do anything that pissed me off. He often followed me around a public place, pointing and shouting, “That’s my sister!” while walking in a spastic way. I didn’t think I could hate him more deeply, but then he did the unthinkable. He came into my room and removed a small piece of my Kiss grotto and he flushed it down the toilet.
Honestly, I didn’t even notice right after it happened. The piece in question was about an inch square, and considering the massiveness of the collection, I might have gone months before I spotted that tiny bit of bare wall showing through. My not noticing, however, spoiled the fun for my brother, and he pointed out the bare spot and told me what he had done. I immediately told my mom. I thought he should have been locked in a small cage in the basement with no food for a couple weeks, but he got away with just a mild scolding. So I seethed, and I plotted my revenge.
To carry out my plan, I needed to be home alone for an extended period of time, so I waited for just that moment a few days later. My brother did not have a massive grotto of any particular theme in his bedroom, but he did have treasured items, along with a whole lot of junk. His room was a minefield of broken toys, army men, random Legos, ruined socks, marbles, baseball cards, rocks, and candy wrappers. My plan was to spare nothing. I went into the room with several huge garbage bags and I began to fill them. I took it all—down to the sheets on the bed. I even took the light bulb. And I hid it all in the shed behind the house. There was nothing left in his room to indicate his existence. Nothing. I had wiped him off the face of the earth.
I lounged nonchalantly as my family came home, and I waited. Then it came—the piercing wail of rage that can come only from the lungs of an eight-year-old boy who has discovered that everything he loves is gone. Ha! Ha ha ha! I thought.
I briefly held out when my mother demanded to know where the stuff was, but I could tell that she was seriously, seriously pissed, and that I better not mess with her. I brought the bags in. To my chagrin, after he removed the things he wanted to keep, the rest of it ended up out on the curb with the trash. My mom marveled that the room looked really nice now, without all the junk. So I had inadvertently cleaned by brother’s room. Unfortunately, he did not fail to see the humor in this.
A few months later, I turned on the radio and I heard Tom Petty singing “Don’t Do Me Like That.” There was a quirkiness to his voice that intrigued me. I felt a momentary pang of guilt for liking the song, but it didn’t last long. Shortly thereafter, I began to dismantle the grotto and to buy other music—Tom Petty, Phil Collins, Supertramp, Manford Man’s Earth Band. The Kiss spell was broken. It was time for me to move on.
Today my musical tastes trend more toward Bluegrass than heavy metal, but I have to admit, the first few notes of “Detroit Rock City” still get to me a little, every time.
Susan Montag teaches writing at Alexandria Technical & Community College, and is the author of Finding the Way: A Tao for Down-to-Earth People. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and is the parent of two almost-grown-up children, whom she currently lives with, along with her husband and her seven cats.