The one thing that has always struck me as both unique and heartbreaking about the theatrical performance is its impermanence. Once it is done, it’s done and if you weren’t there, it isn’t even a vaporous speck in your consciousness. Of course occasionally, whether in rehearsal or secretively done during a performance, footage can be recorded for posterity.
Such is the case with Zombie Bathhouse: A Rock Musical. I wrote the book for this show that premiered during the Halloween season in Chicago last fall. Along with the ghastly limb chewing action and romance – (Yes, romance. This was a musical, after all.) – that occurred onstage; some ghostly presence got some recorded evidence of the show. Now we have a super cool music video of one of composer-lyricist Scott Free’s most aggressive numbers, Man Meat.
Nicely, this leaves an imprint for both the work of director Dan Foss and one of the show’s inspirations, Joey Kissling. Foss, who was suffering from kidney and heart disease, died nine days after the close of the show. His imaginativeness helped flesh out the show’s structure and his love for the cast allowed everyone to overcome the emotional hurdles involved with mounting a larger production with ease. Kissling, meanwhile, provided the spiritual outline for Michael, the show’s conflicted and defiant lead. Kissling succumbed to an aggressive form of cancer in the spring of 2016 and Michael was created in his honor. Now, thanks to the existence of this video, they both have a more permanent and much deserved legacy.
He was a fire breathing tattooed badass with a teddy bear core…and the only other horror lover who I knew that appreciated Lords of Salemas much as I did. He made me laugh. He could flare so quickly with anger at the smallest things – a confused ticket taker or a pokey clerk at a drugstore – that I would often find myself overcome with a case of the giggles. But his eyes would brim with honest tears at the smallest acts of kindness and his loyalty was as ingrained in his being as the artwork that decorated his body.
I, honestly, could never quite believe that he wanted to hang out with me. He wandered the city with a bathing suit wadded in his pocket and would sneak into 5 star hotels and use their pools. There were a couple of fine dining establishments that he would grace only to take a shit in their fancy bathrooms. His relationships were always colorful, often outrageous and occasionally bombastic. I, meanwhile, despite various indiscretions over the years, have always felt mildly subdued – a little like the boy next door that I used to be, the kid that small town moms always dreamed that their daughters would date. I was always psychically pinching myself, feeling like I had won the momentary cool kid prize, while in his presence. The geek befriended by the fashionable outlaw, a clichéd movie plot point if there ever was one.
But everything always felt pretty cinematic when I hung out with Joey Kissling. On spring nights we’d bike down amber flared streets, side by side, his tiny speakers blaring out a selection of obscure dance cuts, a perfect soundtrack, as we talked about film and music and life and…death. He told me, months before his cancer diagnosis, that he felt time was closing in on him. And when the official sentence was passed down, he met it like he met the rest of his life – in his own unique manner.
He took off for California and attended concerts and drag shows and made new friends. He smoked and drank coffee and proved, beyond a doubt, that there will never be another like him. There is a missing piece in the swirling cosmos of single minded awesomeness now. Yes, others can and will be able to extol the virtues of death metal while simultaneously appreciating the grand color schemes of White Christmas, but none will do it with his vibrant commitment and pure love.
So, rest in peace, you crazy lord of darkness. I, and so many others, will miss you forever!
…and until the next time (I see you)– SWEET love and pink GRUE, “your” Big Gay Horror Fan!