photo & text by nacrowe
so when i think of extroverted ROCK AND ROLL showmen, the first two names i think of are DAVID LEE ROTH and the STARCHILD himself, PAUL STANLEY of KISS. if you have never heard his legendary epic "rock talk" rants in-between songs compiled in the very unofficial compilation PEOPLE, LET ME GET THIS OFF MY CHEST (linked below), do yourself a favor check that out. OH. MY. GOD. that and watching NORM MACDONALD clips on youtube are the only things guaranteed to bring me out of a bad mood.
STANLEY is pure kinetic energy and the ultimate frontman, as he seemingly has no bounds to his enthusiasm in the high church of ROCK AND ROLL. admittedly i am closet KISS fan, as anyone that knows me will attest. where others see a bunch of talentless charlatans, i see true believers in the redeeming power of music... plus they blow shit up. there is nothing deeper to explore in their music. LOVE GUN is what it sounds like, a song about his dick. and why not?
so when i went about reading his memoir FACE THE MUSIC: A LIFE EXPOSED (HARPER COLLINS, 2014) i was at first taken aback but then quickly understood that as a child STANLEY was a nice little JEWISH boy from QUEENS that was painfully introverted. this was due to his being born with a congenital defect called MICROTIA that left him without a right ear, essentially giving him no peripheral hearing or ability to triangulate distance. the idea that through sheer will he became an influential musician just speaks to his drive. and for me that is the secret of KISS and their merchandising empire. along with GENE SIMMONS who likewise grew up in QUEENS an immigrant ISREALI who was made fun of for his accent during his childhood, you really get the sense that music and shameless self-promotion was their meal ticket out of NYC and unto bigger stages. were their songs good? meh. one thing i appreciate about this memoir is when STANLEY openly admits when their songs were shit, specifically whole swathes of the 1980s. i dont think i have ever read another musician be that dismissive of his own work in a memoir before. even SIMMONS stands by MUSIC FROM "THE ELDER" and other schlock they crapped out during those stale years.
i appreciate that honesty.
are there problems with this memoir? of course. MISOGYNY and NARCISSISM are pretty rampant and unchecked throughout this book. i don't know if he truly understands how full of himself he comes off at times. and his talk of sexual conquests is just as boring and disgusting as in SIMMONS memoir, but i guess that was the time and place. i wasn't there thankfully so i don't know.
an aspect i really enjoyed was all the mudslinging at on-again/off-again original members PETER CRISS and ACE FREHLEY. he goes to great lengths to dismiss the basic "dog tricks" CRISS performs as drumming during their reunion gigs, not to speak of his inability to stand up for himself and hid behind his rotating array of wives. FREHLEY, much as in SIMMONS' book, comes off as a lazy drunk that had talent but wasted it. i sense some admiration of sorts deep down there but ultimately a resigned frustration at someone that did not share his drive or need to push his gift to his limits. SIMMONS gets pegged as a self-promoting charlatan who takes credit for the work of others, namely the business prowess of STANLEY and their manager. STANLEY views himself as someone that found happiness and joy in his second marriage and the redemptive power of children. ultimately he hopes for the same for SIMMONS.
this book was probably 100 pages too long and it drags in places, but i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading FREHLEY's book where i hear he rebuts STANLEY and SIMMONS about their claims of his supposed laziness and ANTI-SEMITISM. can't wait.
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.