The day I turned thirteen, I rebelled against my entire family, only they didn’t know it. My dad lived in another city and my mom slept through the whole thing. I remember my brother being gone but not the details of where he went. Despite the absence of my family noticing any revolution on my part, I knew I had taken a stand that began with dipping my toes into the Teenage Pool.
My thirteenth birthday fell on a Thursday. The day had just cooled off from the typical Texas summer heat when my two friends arrived for my sleepover party. After supervising a pizza delivery and serving pieces of homemade chocolate birthday cake, my mom retired to bed with a book.
This left Susan, Kim, and me alone in the den of my childhood ranch house. I couldn’t tell you what birthday gifts they gave me, but I vividly remember Susan opening her blue and green floral child’s suitcase and retrieving a plastic shopping bag. She held it in front of her as if about to perform a magic trick, but instead of pulling a rabbit from a hat, she fished out a record album.
Confidently titled Dynasty, KISS had released the album my friend possessed a couple of months prior to my birthday. Back then, in 1979, KISS had already put out several albums that received airplay on both rock and top 40 stations, some of which I had purchased with my allowance a couple of years earlier. I enjoyed the music, as jarring as much of it initially was to my adolescent mind, but my fascination with the band was rooted in their songs, showmanship, costumes, and makeup. I viewed them like four somewhat shocking men who were movie stars or comic book heroes. I had even lost some interest in them due to being ridiculed by so many in my age group who thought the band was a joke.
On that Thursday evening, the experience of listening to this album impacted me in a way different from the others. The four faces of the band members took up the entire front cover of the album, their black and white kabuki-style stage make-up showcasing each character they portrayed: the Star-Eyed Lover, the Cat, the Space Man, and the Demon. The photograph made them seem so authoritative and larger than life.
I ran to my bedroom and unplugged the cheap turntable I used to spin my Barry Manilow and K-Tel Hits of the 70s albums and set it up in the den. I pointed the speakers directly at the trio of us girls, huddled cross-legged on the floor, and taking turns holding the album. We examined the cover like locals in a cornfield trying to comprehend a crew of aliens disembarking from a spaceship.
The needle found its home in the vinyl grooves, and the strains of the hit single I Was Made For Lovin’ You wafted over the parquet flooring and straight into our eager young ears. It enchanted us.
As soon as the notes from the first song faded away, I jumped up and retrieved an item from the toy chest in my closet. With a great deal of embarrassment, I showed Susan and Kim a magazine I had bought at the grocery store about a year earlier and never shown to anyone. In a pique of pre-teen curiosity, I had quietly ponied up a handful of change to buy a rock music rag that featured a multitude of concert and offstage photos of KISS. Most shocking to my virgin eyes – and the reason the magazine had stayed hidden in my toy chest for so long – were some risqué photos of the band.
While tame by today’s standards, when many of the musically famous routinely perform in borderline pornographic videos and disrobe on social media, the pictures in my secret magazine shocked many at the time. The members of KISS posed with a number of groupie-type young ladies in what became known as the Orgy Pictures. The men and women spread out over the furniture and floor of a hotel room, paired off and beginning acts that earned the nickname for the photos. Susan, Kim, and I passed the magazine back and forth, amid gasps and giggles, and for the next couple of hours, we listened to Dynasty over and over.
My friends and I were spellbound by the charge of the electric guitar, the rhythmic beat of the drums, and the fact that every band member sang at least one song. The experience of listening to this album produced feelings for me far removed from those inspired by the innocent, breathy flirtations of Olivia Newton-John or the Cinderella dream of one day becoming a Dancing Queen that I normally held in high regard. To me, on the cusp of my teenage years, KISS now felt like a taste of raw sexuality. The combination of rock music and the magazine’s images showcasing adults in full regalia, celebrating the very lifeblood of raucous sexuality, threw open the doors to my imagination. This felt dangerous. It felt rebellious. I knew without a doubt that my parents would be appalled by any interest I developed in this new world.
With both feet, I jumped in.
We girls danced around to the songs in my wood-paneled den. We lost ourselves in breathless laughter and adolescent mirth as we displayed our best gyrations, which showcased a charming combination of both clueless and daring (for us) moves.
Until that night, my schoolgirl crushes on famous singers centered on Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett, and even then, I dared only imagine smooching, holding hands, and grandiose marriage proposals from them. That night, those two boys got put firmly on a shelf as I wondered what it might be like to venture past first base with someone from KISS; a query I voiced to the other girls that seemed enticing and downright dangerous to three young imaginations.
My friends and I focused on one band member in particular, and we debated in stage whispers our puberty-driven wonderments about how it might be to actually “do it” with Paul Stanley, the starry-eyed main singer and rhythm guitar player. Paul had long, flowing, curly dark hair, and lipstick redder than any my mother owned. His unabashed sexual energy made its way into my psyche on the day I became a teenager, going on to spark a thousand fantasies that helped me graduate from thoughts of holding hands with the boys in my middle school to the more lurid images that had begun knocking lightly on my imagination. Suddenly, the orgy pictures moved from merely being shocking to me imagining letting Paul drape across me on a satin-covered bed and press his hairy chest against my (non-hairy) one.
In addition to the hall pass to begin transitioning into a sexual being, that night began another, quite important rite of passage for me. When I first placed Dynasty on my turntable, I was the good girl in my family. I had to be, or so it had been ingrained in me.
My folks had separated years earlier but didn’t pull the trigger on an actual divorce. I had spent years shuttling between two households in two cities, often still forced to bathe in the acrimony and angry words they expressed in their phone calls and visits. My parents looked to me to be a bright spot to take focus from that. My older brother overshadowed much of my childhood with his mental issues and violent tantrums, leaving me to become the dependable child that caused no trouble.
Because of these familial factors, I wasted precious youthful energy trying to keep my head down, make good grades, and be reliable enough not to knock off the crown of The Golden Child with which my parents had saddled me.
I did not have the dialogue that an Oprah generation learned that would’ve allowed me to communicate clearly to my parents that I was drowning in the role of the good daughter. With this one album, this one evening, I inadvertently paroled myself from that prison.
That slumber party gave me a key that allowed me to begin to escape from my bondage and rebel. I started to paint a new picture of who I could be when I used my own voice. I began to truly separate from unfair childhood expectations fostered on me by well-meaning parents and to see myself as not only capable of rebelling but having earned the right to do so.
Anyone peeking in the sliding glass door watching me that night might just have seen a slightly chunky girl with long brown hair awkwardly dancing around a cheap stereo system with her friends. But I felt the storm brewing inside my head. The beginning of a metamorphosis as powerful as a first KISS.
Eve Allen is a writer living in Texas.