Ace’s High

“I can’t even read notes. But I can teach someone how to make a guitar smoke.” Ace Frehley

After foolin’ around with guitar tablature trying to find something joyful to play…I went to my vinyl collection for guidence and here I stumbled upon two Kiss records from classic rock’s golden age, Alive and Alive II. Then I put on the first Alive record from 75′ and suddenly this quiet friday afternoon was interrupted by this roaring rockin’ sound from Ace Frehley’s barking Les Paul. I felt an burning sensation starting in my ears and spreading itself down to my legs. My right leg started to feel the beat making it move up an down while my head automatically repeated the same gesture. I was spellbound. and the song was Deuce. Ace Frehley was one of Kiss’s original members. He played on fourteen Kiss records including live albums, spaning his about ten year carrer in kiss before deciding to go solo, despite that Kiss applied his signature make-up on all of the  later replacement guitarist. What struck me about Ace was musically his naughty way of getting away with short, simple and neat guitar solos, like on their disco hit I was made for lovin’ you baby, he cuts it of after laying ten notes or so, it lasts like under ten seconds, and this is Ace probably going like “All Kiss songs are under four minutes so imagine the amount songs I have to memories during a two-three hour show, I might as well make the best out of it“. Lazy or not, I consider Ace a magician as much as an musician, hypnotising us by his trickery. Take the song Detroit Rock City, where he doesn’t really have a solo, only two guitars playing almost the same notes at the same time. But you’ll end up having the riff and chorus repeating in your head for the rest of the day…By using pyrotechnics  make-up and costumes with comic-book characteristics, this contributed to make the band mythical and lager-than-life in the sense of representation. Ace the human being was not the focus point, his character was. Ace’s character was called the spaceman, Bass player Gene Simmons was called the Demon, vocalist Paul Stanley was called Starchild and drummer Peter Criss was called Catman. This is displayed in on the pictures below.

I must admit I got goosebumps from the vintage sound of the vinyl’s themselves feels like their handmade, carved out of wood just like the feeling of playing a well made well carved el-guitar. Having went to a few concerts myself, especially in my high-school years I now suddenly got a memory flashing back to the time where Deuce was part of my homework after school, leading towards another creative period switching pencils with drumsticks.

I started playing drums at the behest from two-or-three of my friends after doing a phoney music video in a school project late autumn 2003. We “played” a coversong of a norwegian country song (D.D.E – E6) it sounded crappy but our chemistry was superb. Prior to this I hadn’t even touched a drumstick…but late at night during the shoot I got an epiphany, a prophecy that told me this could be you’re new hobby, cos’ my friends at the time were the first computer gaming generation. And they were addicted, I got addicted for a while as well but not obsessive as others were. I guess that growing up as a twin, I found a more spiritual connection and joy by being a part of a team, doing teamwork rather than being that of a competitive type where everyone and everything is a competition…and there are many people like that, you know…but be that as it may, becoming a band member seemed to fall in a natural place for me.

So, Just after Christmas 2004 the band was born. And my contribution to it’s baptism was me gettin’ my first real drum kit. Ordered from the internet, the boxes were so huge that my father had to pick them up from the postal office with a borrowed pick-up wagon saying while entering our driveway “Where are we going to have room for all this?” I replied “Room? I haven’t even got the cymbal-stands yet“. It was an American brand, a Pearl Forum drum kit with one snare, one bass drum and three toms in all wine red finish. I was so happy like as if I had bought a 1966 Ford Mustang. We placed the drums in the basement living room, which I used as my bedroom as well. It was not like assembling a model car or IKEA furniture, no glue, no spikes no hammers and most importantly no small parts that got away just as you opened the plastic bins they were in. So, Assembling the drums didn’t take long, but tuning did. At first I was trying to get my drumkit to sound like Kiss’s Peter Criss’s drumkit, spending hours rotating the tuning nub without no resemblance I gave up, discovering later that there where a lot of factors that made the snare sound like a snare.  Then it was time for a test-drive. At this moment before I was to kick and hit the shit out of the drum kit, upstairs my parents were resting dinner’ as we call it in Norway…relaxing, reading a magazine, drinking coffee or tea, and talking on the phone with either of my grandparents. As my mother describes “It was like an earthquake, picture frames, paintings and books were falling on the floor, I wanted litterally to hide in the bathtub like what youre supposed to do when an earthquake hits” I turned to my husband and asked him “What the did he buy?” while he replied “what, that?” trying to grasp what either my mother was saying in the living room or what my grandfather was saying on the phone.
So thereby laws, restrictions and regulations were laid down. I could only play the drums right after school and before my father came home from work, so therefore my school-homework had to be pushed back in line. To learn rythm wasn’t a walk in the park, its basically a result of different forced robotic-gestures you force upon your limbs in a pattern that makes it sound like music. It least it was for me cos’ I never went to a tutor, so I would say things aloud to my arm while struggling with the drums “stay there, come on, don’t stop…don’t die on me now!“. .

Writing about rock n’ roll It seems fitting that I write about my first real concert experience behind the drums whereas me and my band stole the center of attention for what was supposed to be a very serious happening. Prior to this event, my relationship to rock music was like one I had with a distant relatives, I knew the names, and faces but not what defined their inner beings. That was to change during this evening.

“Running, scrambling, flying. Rolling, turning, diving, going in again. Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die” Aces High by Iron Maiden.

It was march 2004, the 10th grade at the time was moving towards its closing destination. With all seats filled our classroom was like a huge 747 plane before take off, watching the instruction guide of what-to-do and what-not-to-do if a disaster was to occur. . . disaster as in failing and nobody wanted that to happen, everybody wanted to graduate. So to soften the journey, during weekend my band called Risky Business (which I think came from the notion of what we were feeling at the time, very contemporary indeed) was slowly synchronizing from being a four different organisms into one homogetic entity. Our band was a four piece band, with Willy on lead vocals and rythm guitar, Jacob on lead guitar, me on drums and Gonzalo on vocals and later bass guitar.
With march ending an opportunity rose to the occasion. The event was a 2nd world war tribute show honouring this war veteran Mr. Bjorklund who was the tenth grade’s guide during our trip visiting the concentration camps in Poland and Germany six months prior to this evening.

We were very fortunate to allways have had a rehearsal room while the band existed. At first we were placed under our lead guitarist Jakob’s parent’s house, which is this huge mansion near the sea, it was also used as small kindergarden during weekdays, but after his parent were getting headaches after dinner, instead of desert, we found ourselves limited to both sound level and time. Then Jacob’s mother came with a lucrative solution, while already having one floor in the mansion as space for the kindergarden, huge demands lead to an expansion of business, so to our great satisfaction (and Jacob’s parent’s) they built a new kindergarden floor on top of the garage which is placed ten meters from the main house. Here we were alowed to conquer the new building of the kindergarden during weekends just in the moment the kindergarden nanny left work, and my oh my if we weren’t there waving her goodbye each and every weekend during that time. Sometimes we even helped her to wrap it up, clapping our hands in a rude manner like she was our own kid placed in the kindergarden. I was a bit puzzeled by this at first but by asking Jacob about it, he simply replied “My mother owns this place, what are they gonna do?” Then I thought “Damn I got something to learn form this fella“.

As woodwork and bricks were laid as a foundation of our new found home, our band was also under construction. But we had a problem, we didn’t have a bass player, so we borrowed another local band’s bass player who was also a close friend at the time Chris. Chris have had success with his own band called Third Invention, who had won a local competition and was honored to play for a national young tallent exhibition in Trondheim just a month or two in the coming. Third Invention was then a three-piece metal band who’s sound and image was inspired by New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a musical style and movement from the late 70s ealry 80s (NWOBH) which speeded up classic rock the next level, with its distinguist operatic vocalisation and intricate guitarsolos. Our band on the other hand were far from that stage both musically and techincally, but we wanted to play and felt a certain urge to express ourself, and as Chris pointed out “But how and what?“.

We had about two weeks to prepare a segment, which ment two weekends of band practice. Having broken a couple of drumsticks over a few kiss songs recently, my initial idea was to go further beyond sound and into glitter. So, during the first session while scratching our heads, I uttered “How about dressing up as soliders marching in using pop-guns to salute our fallen heroes, and then we can play a chuck berry version of the national anthem…” The response was somewhat confused. so Jacob, being the lead guitarist laid it straight “Okey, the show as we probably know, will consist of something in relation to Norway’s participation in the second world war, yes? Like boring speeches qouting post-war authors, aloud homework readings where only those who got an A were allowed to speak, which is like all of the girls from our class…other musical numbers like a sad clarinete solo that will reflect the seriousness of the event, and evoke memories form the previous trip…how can we give them some totally different?“. Logically each of every one of us have had some time to think this over, so different ideas where brought to the table turning down mine, then it sparked. “We could play different modern rock songs with war-esque themes like life and death as our segment”. So as we laid the puzzle down none of my kiss songs made it. “How disappointed Ace Frehley would be” I thought. Knowing that the duration of the show was a full evening, we figured that at least four or five songs would make it …By choosing the songs we first looked at the lyrics, and the first up was Civil War by Guns N’ Roses.

“I don’t need your civil war. It feeds the rich while it buries the poor. Your power hungry sellin’ soldiers in a human grocery store ain’t that fresh!”

We said “yes both hip and serious, add to basket!“. The next song was Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan

“Mama put my guns in the ground. I can’t shoot them anymore. That cold black cloud is comin’ down. Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Again, we were like “yes, metaphorical and cleansing…add to basket“. Our third song was more of a pickle…Now we wanted to make the atmosphere more lighter, so since Willy was a huge CCR fan he therefore uttered “Green River!!!“. Then we put on the record and heard the catchy opening riff while vocalist John Fogerty sung

“Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeah. Let me remember things I love. Stoppin’ at the log where catfish bite, Walkin’ along the river road at night, Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight”.

We nodded to each other “Yes, its like he describes south Norway…add to basket“.

As the week went by closing in on the event, there was this collectively consensus that we were strongly in need of a final act. Being heavy intoxicated by Kiss, Ace Frehley came to my mind. On one night just before the event. Chris and the rest of our band were gathered in the new band room on top of the garage. It was raining hard, the rain seemed coming straight at you wich made you taste it when you were breathing. The afternoon was coloured in blue mist and as I skipped up the slippery steps towards the entrance, I could see the orange dimed lights glowing in the lower parts of the windows. As I entered I was greeted by a scent of glue or paint which I thought gave evidence the buildings current state, but actually kept on being there the rest of the years to come. The hallway, kitchen and living room was all in an open room with limited amount of furniture, or basically no furniture at all. The gang was gathered near one of the borrowed lamps mapping out the blueprint of our segment using the floor as tabel. “Lets be dramatic” One said, “Lets be eccentric” another one said, “No, lets be national romantic” I said. This got their attention  and as I tucked away my wet jacket I explained “Lets use something very Norwegian to salute a Norwegian hero…lets take something form our folklore and rock it up a notch or two“. Chris laughed but agreed upon the fact that something original would be more bold and fun than your average local hymn. Dring that afternoon with just an electric guitar we managed  to adapt (or destroy) a classic Norwegian lullaby called “Fola, fola, Blakken”  and make it into an epic tale based on the Mr. Bjorklund’s struggles. In the lullaby Blakken is an old horse, which is basically hungry and tired of a hard day’s work at the farm, then it finds comfort resting the rest of the evening, knowing that his owner and the owners son loves him.
Whereas in our version Blakken goes finally against his vicious owner who beats him on a daily basis, and flees the horrifying farm where he was once held prisoner. Musically, we made a slow ballad build up to a heavy metal release, using echo on the microphones and rapidly switching between clean and distorted guitar sounds…then without much time to rehearse, the night was suddenly there.

Knowing that this was an event of peace and reflection. I brought along a printed peace sign which I placed right above the center of the stage in the old gymnastics hall. The hall consisted of walls of old worn wood painted in lime green, and the stage was placed “in” the wall coloured blood red, as making it the center of attention. And the aroma of the hall made it clear that it had seen better days. The soundcheck went as clockwork and as the night came falling down, we felt a mix between nervous tension and childish joy while resting in the womens locker room, whereas the mens locker room was used as the main entrance.

As the placed got packed Mr. Bjorklund suddenly entered the room, nodding to his peers before him the place was mute silent on awe and respect. He had certainly made an impression with his notorious life story of love, hate, and betrayal. After being snitched upon by nazi-sympathisers while doing anti-nazi work in south Norway, Bjorklund was sent with a one-way-ticket to south Berlin. Mr. Bjorklund had experienced an in comprehensive amount of physical and physiological strain while being a captive in the nazi concentration camp Sachenhausen. In this concentration camp which is placed just south of Berlin, Mr. Bjorklund was walking day and night in circles on different groundwork testing the perseverance of both shoe soles and himself. Having his upper body resting on his long thin spine structure Mr. Bjorklund would bare the reminiscence of a scarecrow but a nice one, like a stiff version of the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. Not having his hair made out of heigh but of silver hair, Mr. Bjorklund face featured unresting lite blue eyes which made you upon first viewing see a mind both reflecting the stained memories of the past, and a warmth that embraced life as it unfolded in front of him. His eyes mirrored his wardrobe with both bleak and desaturated color palette, which were mostly out of beige and variations of grey, like as he was wanting not to draw attention to himself, rather being left abut his business despite the fact that he was the center of both the trip and this event.

As the event began the two hosts named Nina and Camilla spoke kind words regarding the evening and what we were to expect of it, and yes as Jacob predicted there would be reading, solos and quotations…and us. but not in that order, not at all… after a ten minute long home video of the trip with Titanic’s instrumental theme song as score, I found ourselves surprised that some people wept but most importantly we were next in line! Like a sports team, we gathered around each other making a pyramid with our hands “This is our first gig, lets go out and kick ass!” said Willy trying to ease the nerves, and then we went out up on stage one after another, while the audience of teachers, parents, and fellow classmates were cheering. My drumkit was in the right corner of the stage, and since the other guys needed some time to plugg in their guitars, I gazed out on the sea of about two hundred plus people while I was thinking to myself “From Grimstad, the hottest band in the world Risky Business” just the way Kiss used to start their show. As an introduction Jacob began playin’ Don’t Cry by Guns N’ Roses, Willy was the last one to enter stage and to everyones surprise brought along a long blond wig which quickly turned the atmosphere form being tragedy to comedy…then tuning the guitars to a more serious tone. Civil war was the first song, then the hosts tried to enter the stage, and we not having given a specific timeframe on our performance act, kept on rockin through Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and then Green River… I could see that they were frustrated  even with raised voices in tandem, they couldn’t get through our sound barrier…no, this was our moment! Having practised day and nights, on pillow and paper boxes, and now having the whole band standing infront of me I felt that I could put my mind at ease and relax, move my focus on something ells, like eavesdropping on the audience. The audience were placed along long tables facing towards each other, with the youngest people nearest the stage and the oldest in the back. By having this distance to Mr. Bjorklund it was hard seeing if he enjoyed it or not. He was like a grey meatball in a colourful stew. He wasn’t so visible but you could definitely smell him. As I reckoned he was certainly not standing up making rock-on signs with his fists. His frameless glasses made him look even more ghostly denying my eyes to greet his, it felt like I was looking at a spiritual presence of some sort.  Not knowing what to make up of this our final song was now around the corner…and you can our grand finale on the clip below, I haven’t taken the time to subtitle it, but I gather you can understand what’s going on. As mentioned Jacob is the lead guitarist, Gonzalo on lead vocals, Willy on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Chris on bass and both lead and background vocals. Enjoy!

As we went off stage, the show was quite over due…but we didn’t care cos’ at that moment we felt an immense feeling of happiness, true bliss at the achievement of playing, and entertaining the audience. As my pulse went down a notch or two I thought to myself “Thanks, Ace!”.

Salute, JohnH

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About JohnH

I'm a film editor, self-taught sketchartist, analogue photographer and drummer!
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