For those of you planning on attending the upcoming Kiss concert at the Mechanics Bank Arena on Monday, be on the lookout for a very distinctive vehicle.
Because if this recent Kiss tour actually lives up to its name of “End of the Road,” Marc DeLeon’s Kiss van will take it from here.
Around a decade ago, DeLeon, the 50-year-old owner of Mad Dog Tattoo and Inkmaster Screen Printing, began the labor of love transforming his 1977 Dodge Tradesman B-100 into a copy of a remote-control Kiss Dodge van he got for Christmas in 1977.
Airbrushed by local painter Jay Werner of Jay Werner Designs, the van features the cover art from Kiss’s 1977 album “Love Gun” on the driver's side and the album art of 1976's “Destroyer" on the passenger's side.
Inside, it has red shag carpeting with Kiss seats and 1970s-style wood paneling. The van itself is a virtual time capsule with every part of it era-specific — save the new raised white-letter tires — which DeLeon plans to update soon with a disco ball and lights. The license plate reads KISSVAN.
The van — originally owned by Carl Boeman of Boeman Electronics — has attracted attention from all over the world and has even been made into an internet meme, where a photo of the van is captioned with “Adulthood: It doesn’t mean growing up — it means doing all the awesome (expletive) you said you would when you were a kid.”
The meme’s creator, who DeLeon doesn’t know, might not even know just how right they got it.
“I always said I’m going to make one,” DeLeon recalled. "I had to buy a house to make sure the van would fit in the garage.”
It’s even gotten attention from the band itself, being used for photo-ops at events such as the Kiss Mini-Golf Anniversary party in March of 2013.
“I met them many times before having the van,” DeLeon said. “After having it, it got to where they knew I was ‘the guy from Bakersfield named Marc DeLeon who has the Kiss van who ran for mayor (DeLeon unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Bakersfield in 2006 and 2016).’ Gene Simmons and Eric Singer call me ‘the Mayor of Bakersfield.’”
“When I went on the Kiss Kruise (in 2017), they said ‘Hey, let’s make some room here for the Mayor of Bakersfield.’”
Even if someone else were to create a Kiss van of their own, it wouldn't be coming from the same clarity of vision or the same emotional component as DeLeon’s. “And,” DeLeon points out, “they wouldn’t have done it first.”
Does he ever see himself selling it?
“Maybe to Gene Simmons," DeLeon admitted. "I’ll sell it to Kiss but I won’t sell it to anybody else.”
Also, in a nice symmetry to the van's origins, what started on Christmas morning in 1977 kept on going. Between 2012 and 2017, DeLeon conducted a “Phantom Santa” program (its name a nod to the goofy 1978 made-for-television movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park”) where he filled the Kiss van with toys and delivered them to, by his estimation, more than 500 kids while dressed up as Santa Claus on Christmas morning.
“It would be me and a crew of a bunch of people,” DeLeon said. “We would go to low-income apartment complexes — big ones — and everybody would just run and knock on all the doors at 7 o’clock in the morning. I would be busy doing it probably from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. to get rid of every toy. I would have a shop full of toys and refill it throughout the day.”
Even Kiss themselves got into the spirit, providing gifts to DeLeon to give out, including CDs and Kiss toys and officially making him one of the the band’s “van-bassadors.”
The sight of the imposing DeLeon dressed as Santa is as entertaining as it is memorable, especially to one particular person who spotted a plaque of a 2016 Bakersfield Life article about Phantom Santa on the wall of Mad Dog Tattoo. Just as DeLeon has recreated a specific memory from his childhood that resonates with others’ own nostalgia for the band, he's responsible for creating memories and nostalgia of his own — in true Kiss van-bassador fashion.
“He was about 19 and enrolled in the military,” DeLeon said. “He said, ‘I remember that Kiss van bringing me toys on Christmas when I was younger. It got me to listen to the band.’”
Mystic Red, 9 p.m. Saturday, Bellvedere Cocktail Lounge, 3090 Brundage Lane. Free.
There’s something inherently rewarding — especially at my age — in seeing veteran musicians upping their game and embracing technology in subtle but highly effective ways.
The recent return of Mystic Red from its dormancy by its singer Sherri Warfield-Wilson is a nice surprise. Even more, is in seeing the band intermingling its standard eclectic set list of standards like “Tush” by ZZ Top or “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, deeper cuts like “Low” by Cracker and dance stuff (bring a disco ball) with newer, fresher material and — importantly — the instrumentation and attitude to do it justice.
When bassist Jean Erassarret switches to keyboard to play the 808 kick and synth bass to “Good as Hell” by Lizzo, the band lights up with inspiration and an honest-to-goodness joy in how good it sounds.
Mystic Red is playing this Saturday at the Bellvedere, so stop by and catch the band's fun level-up. The best part is that the joy — with stunner drummer Bruce Jones holding a pocket as deep as a valley — is contagious.