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Mayor welcomes drug-free rockers


"Are we ready for the greatest band of all time?"

It sounded like a typical rock 'n' roll introduction. But the man making that announcement, ushering the members of Kiss onto a podium outside the Television Hill offices of 98 Rock yesterday, wasn't an MC, a DJ or even a VJ.

No, it was mayor Kurt L. Schmoke who did the honors.

Yesterday, in case you weren't aware of it, was "Kiss Day" in Baltimore, and both the mayor and the band were there to make it official. Thus, as a small but fervent crowd cheered madly, the mayor awarded each musician an honorary citizenship -- "What all that means is that we love you; you don't have to pay taxes," joked Schmoke -- and awarded the group with a genuine City of Baltimore proclamation.

"We don't know what to say," confessed an obviously flattered Paul Stanley. "The last time anybody gave us the key to a city, they went and changed the locks."

What brought Kiss to town was a show last night at Hammerjacks, part of a 10-city tour that had the band playing its first club shows in almost two decades. What brought the fans out was an announcement on 98 Rock one hour before the event that drew some 75 fans, ranging from long-haired, leather-jacketed headbangers to a couple of clean-cut, suit-and-tie types.

As for what drew His Honor the Mayor, it was the band's message and "anti-drug lifestyle." For Schmoke, the fact that Kiss could maintain its reputation as one of hard rock's most party-hearty bands while totally disapproving of drugs and drink more than merited a proclamation.

And the music? "I've listened . . ." he said afterward. "I'm not a fan, but I have listened."

Schmoke may not be especially at home with Kiss' music, but he had no trouble mingling with the crowd. Indeed, the first thing he did upon arrival yesterday was shake hands, chatting with fans and showing no signs of dismay at sights such as the Kiss fan whose cap bore an unprintable four-letter motto (the same word, by the way, Kiss' Gene Simmons is said to have originally suggested for the band's name).

Granted, some of that "mayoral shmoozing" (as 98 Rock's Russ Mottla described it) may have been motivated by a letter Schmoke received from the local head of the Kiss fan club. "He said there were more of them than there are registered voters in Baltimore," reported Schmoke, to applause and laughter.

Whatever his motives, though, it was clear that the band appreciated the gesture. "We've never gotten the key to a city before," said Stanley. "We've only been told what cities won't let us in."

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