50 Years Ago: Kiss’ Gene Simmons First Sets His Hair on Fire
Simmons estimated during an 1999 online chat that he'd already set his own hair aflame "probably six or seven times." The first time it happened was Dec. 31, 1973, when Simmons debuted his now-signature fireball-spewing trick during the night's performance of "Firehouse."
Simmons pulled off the stunt by spitting a mouthful of kerosene onto a torch during a show at the Academy of Music in New York City. Kiss was opening for, and ultimately upstaging, Blue Oyster Cult on a New Year's Eve bill that also included another act called Teenage Lust.
"We were there to open it; it was a big night," Teenage Lust founder Harold C. Black later recalled. "Didn’t expect anybody else to be on the bill, and then Kiss happened. A giant sign hanging from the ceiling, light bulbs, flash pots, flames, all the gadgets, gizmos and everything that had nothing to do with music. We had a small Teenage Lust light-up-with-Christmas-lights-kind of sign cut out of Styrofoam. They had the major, we’re talking Las Vegas-style light-bulb sign."
Watching Kiss go on with all that stagecraft at its disposal, Black said "it was like, if you pardon the expression, 'Oh, fuck.' Not exactly what you wanted to go on after. And then [Simmons’] hair went on fire and I’m like, 'Is that part of the act? How is it that they did that?'"
It definitely wasn't part of the act. As Blender later pointed out, it was only due to an alert roadie equipped with a wet towel that Simmons avoided being burned.
Still, the accident didn't stop Simmons from making the trick a permanent part of the Kiss live experience, for an obvious reason: While he might have lost a few locks of hair, the band gained the awestruck adulation of an audience that wasn't even there to see them in the first place.
Then, as it would be throughout their career, showmanship proved its own reward. "People in the front row said, 'What the hell is this?' They’d never seen anything like it before," Black remembered. "It was totally unique."
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff
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