In my case Sunday, when Paul Stanley called my phone — that’s the Paul Stanley from Kiss, a little rock ‘n’ roll band you might have heard of — what I said was: “Oh hi, Paul. Thanks for calling.”
Why did he call me? More on that later.
I’ve never been the type of person to scream and jump up and down at seeing a famous person. I’ve been in some situations before – Ethan Hawke right behind me at a rental car line in Vancouver, Martin Sheen right behind me at an airport security line, Dave Thomas from SCTV right ahead of me at a security line in, I think, Toronto, once.
Hawke was in one of my favorite movies ever “Reality Bites”, Sheen was in another of mine — “Wall Street” — and Thomas kept me howling as a teenager watching SCTV late on Friday nights, especially when he did Bob and Doug McKenzie skits. (“Goood-loook-gooo-gooo-gooo-goo-goo-goooo, gooood-look-goooo-gooo-goo-goo-goo-gooooooo.”) All three times, I never once made any eye contact, never tried to strike up a “hey, big fan, really loved you in…” No, I never wanted to be THAT guy.
But there have been times when I’ve met some real boyhood heroes, or talked to them over the phone. Those were the times I got pretty damn scared. The first time was around 1997 or, when Larry Bird came to Denver as coach of the Pacers, and I got assigned to cover that night’s game for The Post, filling in for Mike Monroe, I believe.A couple years ago, I remember reading something in a Bill Simmons ESPN column that really stuck with me, about the best way to handle yourself in a chance encounter with a big celebrity. Don’t try for the complete game shutout, Simmons warned. Be happy with the five-inning decision instead. Get in, get out. Don’t get fancy or start some long-winded story about “Hey, when I was in 5th grade, and I saw you on a box top for the first time, I went to my mom and said, ‘mom, this is the box top I want’ and to this day I still have that box top and, hey, would you like to see them, it won’t take long, I promise and…”
Simmons’ warning was well at the front of my cerebellum when my cell rang today at 3:30 p.m. — the exact time Paul Stanley’s book publicist said he would call me.
Wait, what? Paul Stanley will CALL ME? Like, it’s in his day-timer right now: “Sunday, May 4, 2:30 (Pacific time, where Paul lives), call Adrian Dater, 303-xxx-xxxx.” All night Saturday, I kept just shaking my head at that.
Because, let me tell you, Paul Stanley and Kiss were EVERYTHING to me for a good, solid four years of my adolescence. I’m the kind of person who, when he gets interested in something, I go in for the deep dive. It wasn’t enough for me to just be a Kiss fan, starting in 1981 when, at my folks’ remote summer cabin in New Hampshire, I bought Paul Stanley’s solo album.
I didn’t just buy other Kiss albums and listen. I found underground bootleg cassette tapes on the black market and bought many of them. I had Kiss penpals around the country (remember kids, no Internet or texting or smart phones in 1981) to whom I’d write long, long letters to about the latest rumors/goings-on with Kiss. I called my local radio station day and night requesting Kiss songs and getting super adolescent-y pissed off when they didn’t always play them. For every new Kiss album starting when I was a real fan, which began with “Music From The Elder“, I would feel it was my duty to buy the a) album b) cassette tape c) the 8-track tape. As Chuck Klosterman wrote in a brilliant recent piece for Grantland on his own experiences as a Kiss fan, we Kiss fans “gladly” gave our money to this band, even when many of us had very little to give.By buying all three versions of the product, I felt better about myself. I actually, no joke, felt good that “maybe this money I’m giving them will help those guys, because maybe they really need it.” They were all millionaires several times over, even then no doubt! But that’s just how us Kiss fans felt.
But back to the call. As I said, Paul Stanley was one of my three real boyhood heroes and Larry Bird was another. The third? Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bird was a hero just because he was the greatest basketball player I ever saw, and I loved hoops in the 70s and 80s, passionately. Stanley because he was the star of my favorite rock band, the one that many by the early ‘80s were making fun of and anyone who followed them. It was all Van Halen and REO Speedwagon and Journey and Loverboy to anyone at my school in 1981-83. Kiss was a dinosaur has-been to them, a mockery.
All three of these guys were heroes to me, essentially, because I identified with their underdog upbringings. Bird came from poverty from French Lick, Ind., to become a Hall of Famer. Schwarzenegger spoke no English in coming to the U.S from Austria, but worked himself in a champion bodybuilding and, later, governor of Ka-Lee-Forn-ya. Paul Stanley came from a working-class home, with no right ear thanks to a condition called Microtia, and worked himself to being lead singer in one of the most popular bands of all time.
Me? I was 16 years old when I bought my first Kiss album. I was about 6-foot-5, 135 pounds. No lie at all. Skinny. Picked on a lot because of it. I was built like an exclamation point. No girlfriends. Horrendously self-conscious. If I went out in public at all, which wasn’t often, I would try to pad my clothing to look bigger.