Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Knights In Santa's Service?

Alright. This is too weird.

Visit the mall of your choice around the holiday season and you will probably find a quartet of men and women walking around singing, dressed in what is supposed to be Victorian finery (since Christmas didn't exist until Dickens told us about it, apparently). You know. Classing up the joint.

Their outfits will approximate a Currier & Ives painting that you've seen on a placemat or a coaster in somebody's living room at some party years before, and one of the singers will always have a glaring anachronism in plain sight (usually off-period glasses or triple pierced ears), but it won't depreciate their spirit. And when you tire of hearing 'We Three Kings' for the 5th time, you can always go to another part of the mall or find a bar somewhere, or both. In fact, if they really get on your nerves, you could offer them a few drinks, and see what they sing after they've gotten all liquored up.

I'm as much of a sentimentalist as the next man (and far be it from me to mock another man's wassail bait), but these December-loosed troubadours have never done much for me. I just watch them and hope they have day jobs. I don't know if these people are hired (is there a strolling Victorian carolling agency anywhere in town?), or if there's a cabal of Victoriana freaks that can be accessed through the right people at the right time to materialize in costume and (to be fair) usually good voices and belt out 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' along other out of copyright Christmas favourites.

In their defense, these anachronisms are at least seasonally appropriate. If they started showing up in August at volleyball games in Kew Park, I'd be both worried for their sanity and impressed at their dedication. But for the most part, they come out of mothballs in yule time and are gone by Boxing Day. They're a bit twee for my taste, but at least they melt in to the surroundings.

So. All that said, it is with great humility and wonder that I pose this question to my albeit severely limited readership; who thought bringing KISS to the Eaton Centre on a Tuesday before Christmas was a good idea?

A few details; my wife, son and I went down to the Eaton Centre on Tuesday, Dec 18th to check out the Bay shop windows (yes, it's a different building than the Eaton Centre proper, so sue me) and to do some last minute shopping. The young Matthew was long past his naptime but was sedate and quite happy to watch the sparkly things, and when Abby went into a shop I I walked with him around the mall for a few minutes.

Outside of International Clothiers, I saw a crowd. It's the kind of place to sell off shirts for a twoonie when the spirit moves them, so this size of crowd didn't surprise me. The fact that I saw black and white painted faces over the heads of the crowd was a bit surprising. And yeah - it was KISS. Gene, Ace, Paul and Peter. Big platform shoes that looked like demons, skulls, stylized cats or sinister looking guitars. Shoulder pads off of a 1972 album cover. And really...what better way to celebrate the season of peace and all those tidings of comfort and joy than with...well...KISS?

The layers of weirdness around this peel back onion-style from a core of very genuine surrealism. Were these costumed and made-up dudes:

a) The real band KISS, who just happened to be doing some kind of local media gig and decided to wander?
This isn't as unlikely as it sounds. The Hard Rock Cafe is across the road, CTV has a studio in the next building and there's a nice big hotel in the courtyard. And these fine fellows were stocky, older guys in make up ('cept for Gene, who looked wiry and, well, like Gene Simmons) with what sounded like New Jersey accents. If they were the KISS experience or some such, they were all as old as the actual band is these days. Which brings us to the next weirdness option ...

b)This was a KISS tribute band.
Part of me really wants to believe this. It's far more logical than the real band being there, radio and TV and hotel options notwithstanding. It's expensive, but not really difficult to either make up a few KISS costumes or to find some people to provide you with the just-as-good-as-KISS event of a lifetime.

But who thinks this is a good idea at Christmas? Especially at the notoriously micro-managed Eaton Centre? I'm trying to imagine the chat which took place in the event coordinator's office:

"Do we have the carollers?"

"Only 3 contingents of them. The rest were booked at Yorkdale."

"Damn. Any Disney characters available?"

"All swooped up by Sick Kids hospital."

"Complain, complain, complain. How many Santas do we have?"

"As many as the union permits."

"Any chance of some reindeer?"

"Remember what happened last year? The mess? The lawsuits?

"Fine. How about that Burger King guy? We could call him Good Burger King Wenseslas."

"The press would be awful."

"Fine. Well, how about a barber shop quartet or two?"

"The experience dignifies nobody."

"Well, you've got me there. How about some faux celebrities? Wrestlers? Action stars? Any tribute bands available?"

"All booked for corporate events, except for the Alice Cooper clone, and that guy who does Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and 4 dudes who say that they're more KISS than KISS."

"KISS? The guys with the wacky makeup? With alleged ties to Satan? That dude with the 2ft tongue? Now that says Christmas to me. The urban Christmas. And I want them here yesterday. Got it?"
And voila. This can't possibly be more unlikely than the actual band biding some time between sound bytes.

Thing is...I can't find any mention of KISS showing up for anything in Toronto (although Simmons himself was promoting an energy drink somewhere in town on the 14th). Maybe there is just an older, pudgier, well-costumed tribute band who makes the rounds at dense public gatherings. I can't say I prefer it to the marching Victoriana types, but I can say it did provide the element of surprise.

As I was watching the faux Gene Simmons (or the real Gene Simmons) getting his picture taken with camera phones, he noticed young Matthew in his stroller. He leaned over (and it was quite a lean, those skull-faced platform boots put an extra couple of feet on him) and said "Who's this little guy?"

So...what does one say in such a situation? I've never faced either a genuine or faux 70's quasi-glam rock icon before, and was devoid of any insight.

Matthew didn't look scared, but he looked somewhat confused and decidedly not smiling. Lacking anything pithy on short notice, I just said "This is Matthew. He's a very serious young man." And he was.

Gene/Fake Gene cocked his head and said "Well, I know what would make Matthew smile..." and tickled him under the chin. Matthew bent his head forward and giggled accordingly, Simmons made another weird face, laughed, and went back to the equally confused looking cute 17yr old shoppers with camera phones.

So...what do I tell my son in future years? If this was the actual band, I can honestly say that when I was his age, I never had my chin tickled by a rock star. Or by an older, obviously devoted but somewhat over enthusiastic KISS fanatic posing as a rock star. Or I can say that Gene Simmons, until now rather low in my estimation, was nice enough to make my son laugh. Or some tribute band member from Jersey obviously liked kids and had a sense of humour.

Either way...none of this really says Christmas now, does it?

Meh. Who cares? It is where you find it. Surreal is better than boring. So best of the season to all.

1 comments:

STAG said...

That'll be a family story for decades! I imagine you will be in a wheelchair in the Manor, and telling the other residents "I remember back in aught seven when little mattie met Gene Simmons". And Little Mattie, (in his fortys at this point) will smile a sick little smile and decide to sign that "do not resusitate" order after all.

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