Consumed by a KISS
Glenn County sheriff’s deputy has an unusual passion
You won’t make it far into Mark Arnone’s house without noticing the peculiar décor. In fact, you won’t even get past the driveway.
For nearly half of his life, Arnone has pledged allegiance to KISS, the greasepaint-wearing rock band known for its bombastic stage shows and a merchandising empire that rivals most big-budget movies. The band’s images adorn his vehicle, his walls—even his skin.
KISS became a household name in the late 1970s for its tongue-wagging, fire-breathing stage antics and cartoon-like personas. At the height of their popularity, the faces of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss could be found on everything from pajamas to lunch boxes. There were even KISS trading cards. Today, the band earns about $2 million a year in merchandising alone.
Arnone discovered the band back in 1987, at the age of 14, after stumbling upon one of his brother’s old tapes. There was no case, and the label had been worn off, but it turned to be the band’s 1976 album Rock And Roll Over. Arnone didn’t even know what the musicians looked like, but he liked what he heard and immediately went out and bought a few of the group’s albums. But it was “Exposed,” a home video featuring vintage concert clips, where he saw the band’s outlandish stage act for the first time.
“That’s when I saw what they did in makeup,” Arnone said. “I thought they looked bitchin'.”
He soon found himself buying, selling and trading bootlegs of rare KISS shows from the 1970s. Two videos turned into 15, and before he knew it his collection had grown to the point where he was sending his lists as far away as Germany and Australia. Arnone now owns more than 400 bootleg video and audio cassettes.
A few things have changed since Arnone first began collecting nearly 15 years ago. Although he still works as a disc jockey at two local stations (something he’s done since he was a sophomore in high school), the KISS fanatic has recently made a more drastic career change—he’s now a man of the law. After working as a corrections officer at the Glenn County Jail for two years, he became a deputy sheriff.
“They know I’m into KISS, but they don’t know the extent of it,” he said of his law enforcement brethren.
And what started out as just a silly pastime has grown into a lucrative business that he says is worth in the neighborhood of $10,000. He even has his own Web site where he sells his wares.
An entire room of his small two-bedroom house has become a storehouse of memorabilia that spans the band’s entire 30-year career. Some of it is your standard rock-’n’-roll fare—old records, posters and tour books. However, most of the items in Arnone’s collection have far more interesting stories to tell.
The walls of Arnone’s home are plastered with autographed posters and photos, a few of which Arnone obtained himself when he met the band at a convention years ago. There’s even a check written by the late Eric Carr (Carr replaced original drummer Peter Criss in 1980) in the amount of $870.76. Two giant oak cabinets play fortress to dolls, Hot Wheels, comic books and a fire helmet that Paul Stanley wore onstage on the 1980 Unmasked Tour.
One of Arnone’s most prized possessions, and probably the one that cost him the least to obtain, is the KISS pinball machine. After receiving a tip from a friend, Arnone found out that the mint-condition game had been sitting in a storage unit for years. He bid $100 and ended up paying $150 for it. It’s now the centerpiece of the room and is worth about $3,000.
Like a kid who’s left his toys out, Arnone has let his KISS memorabilia trickle out of “the KISS room” down through the hallway and into the living room. This has created a subject of light-hearted dispute for him and his girlfriend Margarita, who has lived with him for two years now.
“It’s who he is,” she said. “I don’t like it, but it’s who he is.”
The item that usually comes into question is a set of batwings worn by Gene Simmons during the Destroyer tour in 1976. The black-nylon costume piece is encased in a 4-by-6-foot frame on the living room wall. It ominously towers over the television and a collection of small family photos with a tiny spotlight that makes the red felt behind the garish appendages seem to glow.
Sharing the same wall is the group’s first-ever promotional poster that was supposed to be included in its debut album. The horizontal and vertical creases form squares about the size of a record sleeve. It’s signed by all four original members. It’s one of Arnone’s favorite pieces. Margarita thinks it’s a bit much for living room motif.
“I think he goes overboard,” she says with a smile.
Arnone doesn’t hear her, as he’s engrossed in one of his KISS bootlegs being played larger than life on his big-screen. It’s a 1977 show in Houston—KISS is at its peak.
“Picture this, Gene Simmons is 27 and Paul Stanley is like 25 when they were doing this,” said Arnone, fascinated by their young stardom.
Margarita rolls her eyes.
“He feels he has to inform everybody about KISS.”
Obviously this isn’t the first time she’s heard it—probably not the last time, either.