In some strange way, like so much of my life, this whole thing can be traced back to KISS.
But before we examine face make-up and demon boots and their influence on books, let me offer a hearty thank you to the folks here at Powells.com for the guest-blogging spot this week. I've been blogging at Slushpile.net for five years, so one might think that I have a solid plan for the week. However, my first book is released tomorrow and I'll be in four different cities in the next five days. So who knows what adventures await?
But for today, let's look at how face make-up keeps factoring into my life:
As a young child, I became fascinated (possibly to an unhealthy degree) with the rock band KISS. Critics complained that the band was more spectacle than music, but that's exactly the thing that impressed me. The progressive musical stylings of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or the nuanced lyrical content of a Bob Dylan album were lost on little kids like me. Instead, I wanted explosions, guitars that shot lightning bolts, and bassists that blow fire.
Growing up in rural Kentucky, in the days before cable television, video games, and the Internet, the visual spectacle of KISS gave me something to do. I pored over pictures of the band in magazines. I knew every scale on Gene Simmons's dragon boots, I could sketch the chains on Paul Stanley's boots, and I used graph paper to plot the latest concert stage set. With each new record, the band changed their look and I rushed back to my examination and cataloging.
I was also intrigued by the make-up. The trademarked face paint of KISS started as a sort of lark when the band was performing to largely empty rooms in the New York City area. Over time, the rockers noticed that they behaved differently with their faces covered. The make-up reduced inhibitions and allowed the guys to develop their energetic and bombastic stage show. They developed characters based on that make-up and costuming, which propelled the band being one of the best in the world. Or, the "hottest" as it were.
Decades later, Larry Harmon told me a similar story of transformation by make-up. As a child in Cleveland, Ohio, Harmon sat in a movie theater, engrossed and fascinated as Al Jolson put on make-up in The Jazz Singer. "Suddenly, it was like I watching a different person," Harmon said.
Larry would spend lots of time in the make-up chair in his own life as Bozo the Clown. After obtaining the rights to the character, Larry Harmon spent the next fifty years spearheading the Bozo empire, taking the show to television markets all over the globe, and bringing joy to millions. He travelled the jungles of New Guinea in make-up, flew in a so-called "vomit comet" in make-up, and went deep-sea diving in make-up.
Larry Harmon and I spent quite a bit of time working on The Man behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals, and Other Stupendous Tales and I learned a great deal about the art of putting on stage make-up. Larry was impressed at how quickly I grasped the fine details of Bozo's world famous make-up.
And I owe it all to KISS.