photo & text by nacrowe
to say KISS is controversial is putting it mildly. virtually all my friends HATE this band and everything they stand for: crass commercialism, misogyny, dubious musical ability and heavy reliance on gimmicks. these points are all well taken, but my response has long been that unlike most bands, KISS are unapologetic about who they are, including all those aforementioned attributes. they aren't even concerned with mercurial things like authenticity or artistic credibility, they just want your money and to out-perform and entertain every band on any bill ever. ironically, you could even say they have a very working-class mentality despite their reputation. dare i say DIY PUNK ROCK ethic?
in fact, in his memoir KISS AND MAKE-UP (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001), GENE SIMMONS basically recounts his upbringing, career choices and life philosophy and sees about reminding other rock bands that everyone is in the KISS business. and for me that is the main takeaway of this book. all bands have an image that they are selling and every time they sell related merchandise (apparel, posters, etc.), they are inherently in the branding business. maybe KISS takes it to another level selling everything from condoms to caskets, but essentially its the same concept.
a lot of this concern with money and capitalism can no doubt be traced to SIMMONS tight-knit upbringing by his single mother of HUNGARIAN JEWISH descent who was the survivor of her family from a concentration camp during the HOLOCAUST. they had little money and few prospects in ISRAEL, where SIMMONS was born and he oddly enough grew up isolated and obsessed with TV and especially AMERICAN culture. at 8 he immigrated to NYC and settled with his mother in QUEENS where he stumbled initially being fluent in the AMERICAN dialect, despite being fluent in 4 other languages. the torment of those years of being called slow and stupid by other kids for his speaking skills certainly contributed to his combative psyche and he makes no bones about the fact to him, money is purely a conduit to power and influence.
an interesting thing about SIMMONS throughout the book is his disregard for the wider ROCK AND ROLL community. in his mind he was and always will be an outsider. he went to shows not to bask in the glory of the songs ore the communal atmosphere of the audience, but rather to take notes on set design, lights and stagecraft. there was no big message they were attempting to convey or specific consciousness they wished to express, which is incredibly interesting given the revolutionary ethos of the counter culture that has come to define rock music from ELVIS to NIRVANA. there is always a push and pull with culture that pushes the limits of what is acceptable in polite society. KISS in this respect is as shallowly corporate as PEPSI or DISNEY. they are completely populist in that they serve the audience they seek, which is the widest possible.
i just find it interesting, and not in a pejorative way, that someone could be so completely fixated on extracting financial benefits rather than thinking of other intangibles as legacy or cultural influence. it is fascinating to me because ROCK AND ROLL is the bastion of social misfits and experimenters and SIMMONS isolated upbringing should have promoted such. instead he made artistic choices based on popularity, such as his work with people like CHER, MICHAEL BOLTON, DESMOND CHILDS, etc.
fascinating book in that regard. the lecherous sex stuff as well as the infighting between band members bored me to no end. this book would not pass muster in the #METOO era since women are just used and discarded like tissue paper throughout his story. there seemed to be some cognitive dissonance between this behavior and his adoration and hopes for the future with the birth of his daughter. that was confusing.
again, interesting read and recommended for anyone looking for a completely unique look at music not as a vehicle for expression, but financial gain. good luck.