Jon Wurster on why he hates Kiss’ “Room Service”
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In The A.V. Club’s newest feature, HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Jon Wurster made his name as one of indie rock’s premier drummers (Superchunk, Mountain Goats, the band behind the currently touring Bob Mould), but his appearances on The Best Show On WFMU with Tom Scharpling have enabled fans to really get to know his sense of humor. As characters like The Gorch, Philly Boy Roy, and even Kiss’ Gene Simmons, Wurster brings additional levity to an already hilarious show. Plus, as the creator and sole judge behind WordHate, a list of abhorrent terms he’s been compiling since his teens, Wurster seemed the ideal person to kick off HateSong.
The hated: Kiss’ “Room Service” (1975)
Jon Wurster: It was down between this song and I think a song that’s after it on the same album, Dressed To Kill. It’s two songs after it, “Ladies In Waiting,” which I was going to pick first because it sounds like it was written on the way to the studio, or they’re actually writing it while they’re recording it. It just shows so little effort. But “Room Service”—the lyrics put it over the top for me. [Laughs.] It hits marks of being both incredibly offensive lyrically, and also incredibly ham-fisted musically. There’s this chuggy sort of old-time rock ’n’ roll riff and rhythm to it that never really gets off the ground. Lyrically, it’s just insane. It’s a young guy writing a fantasy of what road life is in terms of sexual conquests. And this was their third album, so they had actually experienced this.
The A.V. Club: Kiss wasn’t that popular in 1975, though, so there’s some question as to whether they had actually experienced “Room Service.”
JW: Paul Stanley wrote this, so there’s probably some truth to it in some regard, but it’s so fantastical that it’s mind-blowing to me. I printed the lyrics out. First verse: “I’m feeling low, no place to go, and I’m thinking that I’m gonna scream.” He refers to himself as a rock ’n’ roll star in this, and I think at this point, they might have still been just opening for people. Maybe not. I love just the grammatical element of this. “Just when I’m about to shut the light and go to bed.” Not shut the light off. “A lady calls and asks if I’m too tired or if I’m just too dead for room service.” Room service being, of course, the sexual act of his choice, I assume. I think what I hate most about the song, or what rankles me most, is that the first line of the chorus contains perhaps my least favorite word of all time.
AVC: What is that?
AVC: Why is that your least favorite word of all time?
JW: I have a whole list of words that I hate, and I think most of them go back to church, when I was a kid. You’d go to church, and then there’d be some sort of lunch afterward. Luncheon: That’s a terrible word. So “meal,” “luncheon,” all those words are sort of church-encrusted, entangled for me.
Musically also, the chorus—say what you will about the verses. That kind of chuggy thing. Rock ’n’ roll-y—but then it sounds like it’s going to take off at the end of the verse. “Oh they’re going to go to a cool, higher place on the chorus. It’s going to land on a cool chord that takes it up higher.” And it does the exact opposite, somehow. It lands on such a weird chord that it deflates it in some way. And also, the combination of their voices, Gene [Simmons] and Paul’s voices on the “room service” line, it’s really physically displeasing to my ear. It really causes a physical anti-reaction. Which is kind of cool, I guess, that somebody could do something and it could have that negative reaction on somebody. [Laughs.]
Second verse: “My plane’s delayed and I’m afraid they’re gonna keep me waiting here ’til 9. Then a stewardess in a tight blue dress says, ‘I got the time.’” So he’s just standing there, and his body language says he’s annoyed because his flight’s delayed. And this woman who works for the airline takes note of this and just comes up to him: “But just as I’m about to take my coat and get my flight, she says, ‘Oh please.’” I guess in front of everybody in the terminal, “she’s now on her knees, and one more time before I leave, I get some room service.”
AVC: The whole song, the narrator seems to just be thinking, “Well, I guess, if that’s what you want to do.”
JW: Exactly. “It’s no skin off my back if you want to blow me in front of everybody. So have at it.”
The final verse is the greatest because it’s positively criminal, I think. “In my hometown, I’m hanging ’round with all the ladies treating me real good. A sweet 16” —Paul was 23 when he wrote this—“A sweet 16 looking hot and mean says, ‘I wish you would.’ But just as I’m about to tell her, ‘Yes, I think I can,’”—I don’t even know what that is about—“I see her dad. He’s getting mad. All the time he knows that I’m in need of room service.” I think that’s just brilliant. It’s so perverted and wrong that I don’t even know what to say about it.
AVC: Do you think they meant everything in the song?
JW: Yes. I will read to you from KISS: Behind The Mask, where Paul talks about the song, and I’ll try to do it in his voice. [Adopts Paul's voice.] “I love ‘Room Service.’ There’s a good riff in it. ‘Room Service’ was about touring. I lived on the road at that point. I was more in my element being in my hotel than being in my apartment, and I was more in my element getting room service in any way, shape, or form it came.” So that’s “Room Service.”
AVC: They don’t seem to play it very often live.
JW: No. But what’s funny is, when they got back together in ’96, they didn’t have any new product to put out, so I guess they went into their archives and they put out this record. It was called You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best. It was a compilation of stuff. But the first song on it is a live version of “Room Service.” So the first song of their big comeback was what might be their worst song ever, and it didn’t matter. It was still massive.
AVC: Are you normally a Kiss fan?
JW: It’s funny. I was when I was a kid. They were my favorite band, probably like most kids of my age, but then I totally lost interest. I got into punk and new wave. Then kind of got re-intrigued by them in the mid-’90s, right before they got back together again, for this reason: Tom Scharpling and I would talk for hours about this song, how ridiculous it is, and this is actually kind of one of the founding cornerstones of our comedy, talking about just this sort of thing. I love it on that level. I will buy any book or documentary on Kiss. I have very minimal interest in the music, but I love to know everything about the inner workings. How do they think? Why would they think up a song like “Room Service” and not only record it, but have it be the lead-off track to their album? [Laughs.]
AVC: If you met Paul Stanley, would you ask him?
JW: I think those guys have their thing so down pat at this point that you would get a sound bite, a pre-prepared thing, like that thing about [Adopts Paul’s voice.] “I love that song. I think it’s got a good riff.” And he’s written some great songs, but that’s not one of them. [Laughs.] Or is it?
AVC: Maybe it’s the best representation of life on the road at the time, and we don’t even know.
JW: It might be. Life in 1975. A 23-year-old getting scared away by a 16-year-old’s father.
AVC: That poor stewardess.
JW: Well, she was weak to his charms.