If ever there was a place to glimpse the American male ego in all its apparent contradictions—its bluster, its fragility, its aggression, its desperate need for acceptance—that place is the Guitar Center in Commack, New York.
Not that I’ve ever been to the retailer’s premier Long Island location. But I’ve shopped at enough Guitar Centers, and visited Long Island enough times, to know that a special alchemy and symbiosis must exist between the two locales. Guitar Center attracts small and furious men, who, despite all the indignity life has shown them, truly believe they will someday be rock stars; Long Island, as lovely as it is—and it is truly lovely—will never shake the Flatiron-sized chip it carries on its shoulder about living in the hazy corona of its shimmering neighbor to the west.
Now that the scene has been set, enter our principal player: Steve Coronel, a little-known guitarist and songwriter. According to a Wikipedia page I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t written in part by Coronel himself, he has been a personal friend of one Mr. Gene Simmons since 1963.
Unprompted, a Gawker reader named Brian Verderosa sent word this week of a memorable encounter with Coronel at the Commack Guitar Center an unspecified number of years ago.
I was working at a Guitar Center on Long Island and was ringing a customer out, but was having a hard time hearing her over this blaring amplifier 20 feet away. I excuse myself so I can walk over to him and ask him to turn it down.
This is how it happened.
Me: “Excuse me, sir, but could you turn that amplifier down for me? I’m having difficulty hearing my customers.”
Him: “Do you know who I am?”
Him: “Do you know the band Kiss?”
Him: “Do you know Steve Coronel, who co-wrote the song ‘She’ with Gene Simmons?”
Him: “Well, you just met him.”
Me: “Well, I do know two things. One, that Mike McCready stole the ‘Alive’ solo from ‘She,’ and two, that I need you to turn down.”
He had a chuckle at that, and turned the amp down. But was still a super dick the whole time.
Brian handled him with all the grace and tact that have come to be expected from a Guitar Center salesperson. If anything, he was too nice to our friend Steve—Brian, if he was being a super dick, you really didn’t have to toss him that bone about Mike McCready.
But the drama wasn’t over yet. Before we enter the second act, let’s enjoy a brief intermission: “She” and “Goin’ Blind,” the two Kiss classics that Steve Coronel co-wrote with Gene Simmons. (The latter of which, despite the unassailable greatness of the Melvins cover version it inspired, can be a discomfiting listen, as it’s sung from the point of view of a 93-year-old man who’s in love with a 16-year-old girl. More on that later.)
The next time Brian encountered Steve, it was over the telephone, two years later and 150 miles away—while working at another Guitar Center, this one in Manchester, Connecticut. Their fated second meeting carried a remembrance of things past:
I’m running a contest there, and all the contest phone calls come to me. So I hear “Brian, Line 2” and pick it up. This is how it happened.
Me: “Thanks for holding, this is Brian.”
Him: “Hi, this is Steve Coronel, who co-wrote the song ‘She’ with Gene Simmons…”
Me: “Yeah, I know. I told you to turn an amp down in Commack two years ago.”
Imagine Steve Coronel, traveling from Guitar Center to Guitar Center with nothing but better-than-average finger dexterity and a co-writing credit on a 40-year-old rock song. Imagine the pride that swelled within him just as he pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth to introduce Gene, his old friend Gene, oh yeah Gene and me go back, way back to 1963, friends in school, perhaps you’ve read my Wikipedia page; imagine the shame that bled out when he realized that Brian had heard the whole grandiose routine before. Poor Steve Coronel. Poor, poor Steve Coronel.
And yet perhaps he is not so deserving of our sympathy. As Brian notes in his email, there’s a twisted epilogue to this tragicomedy:
I used to think that was the best postscript I could ask for to the story. Turns out I was wrong. In September he was busted on child pornography charges is South Carolina. I knew that guy was a dick.
Specifically, Steve Coronel was arrested last fall on five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor—after federal officials determined that child porn had been uploaded to the internet from his home computer.
Not so easy to listen to “Goin’ Blind” without a grimace anymore.