The Rock Band KISS and the Death Instinct

by Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

 I was never interested in being a rock star. I always wanted to be Boris Karloff. Gene Simons

(February 23, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) The hard rock band Kiss was famous for their thought provoking music and extraordinary flamboyant stage outfits with face paint. The group had a dramatic affect on young people and KISS fans started to grow in tens of thousands since 1973. They have sold over 40 million records and became one of the popular rock bands in North America. Despite the group’s popularity, many religious and civil groups criticized the band for using satanic lyrics and glorification of death and violence.

Some critics view KISS is an acronym for the Kinder SS or “Knights In Satan’s Service. Their music and lyrics are predominantly based on death, violence and sexual promiscuity. Some of their songs express a deep alienation, a sense of being at war with the world.

The group members identify themselves as Daemon, Starchild , Spaceman and Catman. On the stage, they often do wired actions such as fire breathing, blood spitting and pyrotechnics. Their stage actions and performances are highly unorthodox and obviously attracted to teens all over the world. Their social impact is colossal. One time the KISS was identified as an anti religious, anti liberal group. The founder member of the band KISS Gene Simmons once publicly declared himself as “evil incarnate,”

The psychology of KISS music is much more complex than the superficial rhythm. KISS music and stage performances are attracted to many people. Even though they look scary on the stage and their voices are overriding, their fans adore them. What is the secret behind this fatal attraction? Do they touch some innate parts of the human psyche?

Probably the KISS touches the death drive of their fans. Through their music KISS, address the death drive or the Thanatos, which is a drive towards death, self-destruction and the return to the inorganic. In Greek mythology, Thanatos is the daemon personification of death. On the stage, Gene Simmons often imitates as demon or the Thanatos. The song Unholy that was released in 1992 (The Album Revenge) gives positive clues of death and destruction preached by the group.

I was there through the ages
Chained slaves to their cages
I have seen you eat your own
I’m the cycle of pain
Of a thousand year old reign
I’m suicide and salvation
The omen to nations
That you worship on all fours
I’m the infection and famine
That’s knocking at your door
That’s why you’re feeling so Unholy

The death drive defined by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan does not describe literal death, but death within the symbolic order. Lacan sees death as the only potential for the subject who cannot ever experience a ‘life’ or only a version of striving towards ‘life’ through language and the symbolic order. The song Unholy recounts the death within the symbolic order. The second phase of the song evolves in to drastic symbols of death.

I was created by man, you know I’m Unholy
I am the incubus
Ilay the egg in you
The worm that burrows
Through your brain
But you are the beast
That calls me by my name

You send your children to war
To serve bastards and whores
So now you know
You created me
On the day that you were born Unholy

I was created by man, yeah I’m the Lord of the flies, you know I’m
From the left hand of power comes the father of lies – Unholy!
I lay you down to sleep
Your soul to keep
Better cross your heart before you die
And now you know
Know that you are mine

The Psychoanalyst Patricia MacCormack is on the view that death is all about desire for abundance contrasting an absence of being, both of which are explicitly unattainable and henceforth unimaginable. It is a theoretical death within a defined linear zone, a death in theory.

The connection between hate, violence, and death seems obvious. Hate is a deep enduring, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards a person, group, or object. Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness. Freud’s 1915 work Instincts and their Vicissitudes broadly analyzed the psychic energy involved in hate.

Following is the song Hate sung by KISS

Hate is what I am
Cuz underneath this heart
There beats the heart of man
You’ll wear your crown
When you’re lyin’ 6 feet underground
Don’tcha think it’s odd
Man was created in the image of God
All you martyrs and saviors
Go through the same door
Listen all you butchers, saints and sinners
We’ve all been here before
Lead a lamb to slaughter
All you ever did was follow orders
All you martyrs and saviors
Go through the same door
Listen all you butchers, saints and sinners
We’ve all been here before

In this song, KISS talk about man’s negative emotions and his primal desire to be with the father figure (God?). As Lacan stated only father is a dead father. According to Lacan father is mealy a signifier or a symbol not a living being. It is a fantasy, which is germinated in the psyche.

The songs of KISS divulge darker instincts of death and aggression, but their songs are attracted to millions of people. The Kiss would be one of the most enduring groups in all of rock ‘n roll history. From 1976-1979 Kiss was voted “Most Popular Group in the World”, over the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. As Bennington Banner from Rock Music magazine stated ”with its members bizarre, Kabuki-like makeup, studded black leather costumes and arsenal of on-stage firepower — both musical and literal — Kiss represents the most extreme form of hard rock.

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