More than a fascinating piece of Smithsology, the '80s radio takeover is a story of redemption

Categories: Music History

The tide obviously changed dramatically for Kiss after he handed himself over to the authorities. Although he ended up spending three days in detention and was potentially facing charges of attempted first-degree kidnapping and extortion, the Jefferson County district attorney at the time, Miles Madorin, determined after reviewing the case that it was not prosecutable, noting that Kiss hadn't actually committed a crime, and what's more, he renounced as much beforehand -- and so with that in mind, Madorin declined to pursue the matter any further.

These days, particularly with the frequency of armed standoffs and the increasing prevalence of mass unprovoked shootings -- some of the most high-profile of which have taken place on Colorado soil, one just five miles to the south of this particular incident -- it's hard to imagine that such a situation in this era would have a similar outcome, on either end. It's as unlikely that a would-be assailant would have a change of heart after months of planning as it is that a prosecutor would decline to prosecute the case. Times were different back then, though, obviously. While folks at the station were admittedly shaken up by the episode, after a few days, everything sort of went back to normal, according to Fadick.

"You know, really, there wasn't a huge change," he says, after a slight moment of reflection. "Of course, our general manager was one of the greatest men I ever knew, Joe Parish. Joe made sure we all had a good lesson in safety. Pay attention. If you see any strange people in the parking lot, don't go out or go straight back in the station. And it was not just some corporate thing to do. Joe actually really cared a lot about everybody that worked there.

"That was one of the greatest places," adds Fadick, who's still in radio today. "I've been to a lot of great places in my career -- and still am in a great place -- but that was one of the most unique places I'd ever been in, and I'd have to say the best place I've ever been. There was a chemistry among that staff that -- you know, we were all a little freaked out about it for a day or so, but as far as lasting effects, I would say no, not really. There was more of an attitude there of we'll take care of each other. We get through anything and life goes on."

Life does go on. And for Kiss, the ordeal itself and the events that followed, particularly the fact that no one was harmed and, more important, that the DA declined to prosecute, proved to be quite pivotal for this barely eighteen-year-old kid from the suburbs of Denver. "It forced me to look for help," he says.

"Let's back up a bit," he continues. "I was told by a doctor I was no longer going to be able to do my job because of a physical disability. And that's what got me really depressed. It was like, 'Okay, now I can't even do my job, so what's the point?' After the arrest, I went to try to apply for unemployment until I could get a new job. They said, 'You can't apply for unemployment if you can't do your job because of a physical condition. You have to go through Colorado Vocational Rehab.'"

And so that's what he did, and getting in contact with officials there altered his course, and ultimately led him to college. "Back then -- I don't know how it works nowadays -- but back then you'd go in for two or three days of testing to see what your aptitudes are," he remembers. "And then they pay for the training for the job you have aptitude for. Apparently I scored highest in the IQ part of the testing, or whatever you want to call it, the academic part."

By January 1989, Kiss was enrolled and taking classes at Metro State. "Within a period of three months, it was completely turned around," he recalls. "I had a future. I mean, I had a plan. It gave me goals to look forward to again." It also changed his social dynamic, he says, "once I got into Metro and found a whole bunch of other people like me -- um, not a whole bunch, but enough."

With a fresh start and a promising future, Kiss overcame the previous bout of depression that led to the incident at the radio station, and when he did, he hardly recognized the person he was before. Besides music, he had previously sought solace in putting his thoughts on paper.

Eventually, however, the poems he wrote, and frequently referred to in the letters to his parents included in the original Lakewood police file, ear marking them as essential reading for articulating his situation, were no longer seen as a comforting means of expression, but rather a chagrin-worthy part of his past.

"I was so embarrassed of those poems, even afterwards," he confesses. "Just about a year afterward, I read those poems, and it was like, 'What the hell was I thinking?' Because I was out of that depression.

"It definitely clouded my thinking," he admits now. "I didn't have the problem-solving skills that I needed. It was foreign for me to look at that stuff, but it was probably about a good year or two years before I did go to bed without reliving that whole thing in my mind -- how close I came to throwing it all away.

"I was thinking about how I had let myself get down so low," he continues. "This was my concern, and that I never allow myself to get that low again. It was a definite watershed moment in my life, because I realized something very important about myself, and that is it's not easy for me to hurt people. It kind of set my motto, or the rule that I try to live by now, and that's to help as many people as possible and to hurt as few as possible."

These days, Kiss works with young people, some of whom are probably lost a lot like he was back then. With a unique perspective gleaned from his own experiences, he's able to share some of what he's learned to help others. "I can see it when kids start to paint themselves into corners, and I try to get them to work their way out of that."

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Outstanding work, Dave! Two points stand out: one, as we are about to go into sequester hell, it's important to note the role social services played in this story, turning a potential tragedy into a positive development with a ripple effect, since Kiss now helps others; and two, his story illustrates the reality of depression, which is often mocked as a passing phase-- "Get over it, man!"-- but is, in fact, a type of illness that can be dealt with, if not exacly cured.

Less importantly, writing as a fan of the group in question: it will perhaps be inferred by some readers that The Smiths caused or exacerbated his depression, pushing him to the brink of a desperate act, but instead I would say that The Smiths brought him squarely into a confrontation with his illness in a way that "healthy-minded" music like Bobby McFerrin's, or today's equivalent, never, ever can. Critics of The Smiths have always been far too dismissive of the "depressing" element in the records, as if it was all just a shallow teenage affectation, but this story shows there's a lot to be said for art that gives us a more accurate picture of ourselves. I don't think you can say The Smiths led him to the radio station parking lot that day, since the reasons behind such events are always complex, but I'm pretty sure The Smiths were a strong factor in leading him into everything that followed. You can't undergo a change of consciousness like the one Kiss described unless someone has already helped you discover the words for it. From "Meat Is Murder" to "Still Ill", Morrissey has done that in a way few other pop stars have.

dave.herrera moderator editor


Thanks for the feedback. I totally agree with all of your points, and especially with social services offering a positive alternative.

Depression, as you pointed out, is a very real thing, and it often gets either belittled, underplayed or overlooked entirely, and it's not something that you can just "get over."

As far as the music being responsible for what happened, totally agree: It's more of a reflection than a catalyst. Didn't mean to paint with too broad of a brush. My apologies that wasn't clearer.

Anyhow, very astute observations all the way around. Thanks for taking the time to read the piece, and even more for weighing in. 


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