There are music fans, and then there are Kiss and Rush fans.
The '70s-baked arena-rock bands are both coming to the Minnesota State Fair this year, and they'll bring with them some of the most diehard, dedicated and downright nutty fan bases in all of rock.
Movies have been made about these two groups' avid and cultish audiences. Paul Rudd made light of Rush geekery in last year's hit "bromance" comedy, "I Love You, Man," plus it's spotlighted in the well-reviewed new documentary "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage." Kiss' avid "army" of followers was the subject of the 1999 cult comedy "Detroit Rock City" and another Rudd movie, "Role Models." Both bands' fans have been spoofed on "South Park" and countless other TV shows.
This rabid fandom is serious business, though. With tickets to each concert at the all-time fair-topping price of $40-$70, both Kiss and Rush are in line to become the biggest money-making shows ever to hit the fair's grandstand.
What's money, though, but a "mighty vice" that "pulls a million strings" -- lyrics that Rush fans might quote to you while they're spending a small fortune to see multiple stops on the Canadian trio's 2010 tour.
"I've worked a lot of overtime and saved hard for two years waiting for this tour," said Petie Lee Guerrero, 42, who will be front and center at Friday's State Fair concert -- as well as at 13 other dates on Rush's current itinerary.
Rush fan No. 1: Petie Guerrero
Guerrero's penchant for being down front at Rush shows is even less impressive/shocking than what she sports on her back: dueling tattoos of the band's Frodo-like frontman, Geddy Lee, alongside the "Starman" from the band's "2112" album artwork.
To hear her explain them, the tats were a no-brainer.
"The band has been the soundtrack to my life," she said. "What else would I get a tattoo of?"
Guerrero, an employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Minneapolis, credited her older sister for turning her away from "cheesy AM-radio pop" and onto Rush in the late '70s. However, just a few hours before showtime on the band's "Moving Pictures" tour in 1981, the sister kicked Petie to the curb and instead took a guy to the show. Guerrero thinks it's symbolic, then, that Rush is playing the "Moving Pictures" album in its entirety at all the 2010 dates.
"I'm calling this my revenge tour," she said. "I think I can finally forgive my sister after this."
Kiss fan No. 1: Brian Meyer
Owatonna forklift operator Brian Meyer, 39, said he moved out of his parents' house years ago with the goal of having a place to himself to display his museum-like array of Kiss memorabilia -- an objective he only half-compromised when he got married.
"My wife gets the whole upstairs of the house to decorate how she wants it, and I get the downstairs," Meyer said.
He wasn't kidding. (In fact, you'd be surprised how the staunchest Kiss fans often fail to find any humor in the band.) The entire basement has been made up as a shrine to the makeup-wearing rockers. Poster-lined walls surround display cases full of Kiss dolls, masks, magazine covers, you name it. He even has his own Kiss bathroom, decked out with a Kiss shower curtain and Kiss towels.
Too bad the world's most mass-merchandised band hasn't marketed an official Kiss toilet. Not yet, anyway.
"I've been collecting Kiss stuff since I got the Gene Simmons solo album for Christmas in 1978, and it's just something from my childhood that never really grew old to me," Meyer explained.
"I've spent a lot of time collecting all this stuff. I'd probably have a lot more -- there's a lot on eBay -- but, you know, I have bills to pay and house payments to make."
These sorts of displays of affection for a band -- tattoos and basement remodeling -- might not seem quite so out of the ordinary were they for more mass-appeal rock acts such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.
Rush and Kiss, however, have never been as widely accepted as those bands. They had radio hits, sure ("Beth" and "Rock and Roll All Nite" for Kiss; "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight" for Rush, among others). They have both sold several freighters' worth of albums (about 80 million worldwide for Kiss, 40 million for Rush).
However, Rush and especially Kiss have generally been derided by music critics. Neither has won a Grammy Award. And each has been continually denied entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after many years of eligibility.
"Rush fans are sort of united behind the idea that the band has always been underappreciated, and it never really got its due," said Jason Flynn, 39, an avid fan from St. Paul.
Flynn, too, plans to hit multiple Rush tour stops this year, but his biggest investment is the $3,000 or so worth of drum equipment he modeled after Rush drummer/god Neil Peart's kit. ("Not just the best drummer in rock, but maybe in the world.") A computer programmer with Unisys and husband to a Rush-tolerant wife, Flynn said he and other Rush fans "are usually pretty normal, smart, middle-of-the-road people.
"I lead a normal life for the two or three years when Rush doesn't tour," he said, "and then I go a little crazy again whenever they go back out."
Even members of the Twin Cities-based Rush tribute band Exit Stage Right are regular-Joe guys. Asked if their rehearsals are anything like the bong-accompanied, love-in-style jam sessions portrayed on screen in "I Love You, Man," drummer Peter Gaard said, "Actually, we're usually pretty focused and serious. Rush's music is incredibly hard to learn."
Despite the Teflon drawing power of the real Rush, Gaard said Exit Stage Right has had a hard time convincing bar owners to book them for a gig. "They think it's just going to be a bunch of geeky guys in their 40s who show up," he said.
"They're right, though, that it's not 'Pour Some Sugar on Me.' Rush is not a party band, a band that girls dance to."
'That kind of show'
Kiss is definitely more of a party band. There were a few dozen women and even one physically challenged guy with a walker excitedly dancing last weekend at the G.B. Leighton Pickle Park bar in Fridley, where the touring tribute band Kiss Army exhaustively revived the '70s-era Kiss canon decked out in makeup and full spandex regalia.
Wearing her own Kiss-friendly attire -- leather boots and a studded belt -- Elizabeth Hackett said Kiss' 1983 "Creatures of the Night" date at the Met Center in Bloomington was the first concert she saw as a teenager.
"And I still haven't seen anyone better than them," she said. "All the tricks like the costumes and makeup, Gene's fire-breathing and blood-spitting. Nobody puts on that kind of show."
Reminded that the imitators at the Fridley bar also offered all that gimmickry, Hackett added, "Well, nobody besides tribute bands."
Adam Nash, 34, wore his T-shirt from Kiss' 1996 reunion tour to the tribute show and plans to wear it again to the State Fair concert next weekend.
"It's nice to be around other fans and see there are others like us -- that we're not freaks," he said, adding with a laugh. "Or at least we're not all freaks."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658