An edited version the marvelous long read about Kiss in Rolling Stone magazine:
On one wall is a plaque commemorating 100 million Kiss albums sold worldwide. “This room,” says Gene Simmons, adding extra portentousness to his baritone, “didn’t happen by accident.” At the far end is a Kiss motorcycle, a brightly airbrushed Kiss Kasket (the late Dimebag Darrell, of Pantera, is buried in one), a Kiss pinball machine and a Kiss throne emblazoned with a cute Hello Kitty version of Simmons’ demon makeup – Kitty-Kiss hybrids are hot right now. Just outside the office, in a place of honor, is a Kiss video slot machine. “This box makes more money than most bands that tour,” Simmons says, stroking it with a huge hand.
Simmons likes to say, Kiss is a brand, not a band.”
Kiss is like a cockroach that will outlive you all,” he says. “It’s bigger, even, than the guys who were in the band.”
He means himself, too.
Simmons, meanwhile, says that Frehley and Criss “no longer deserve to wear the paint.” “The makeup is earned,” he adds. “Just being there at the beginning is not enough. You know, quite honestly, my hand to God? I would have preferred the same lineup all these years. But if I fuck up, I should be tossed out. And if you blow it for yourself, it’s your fault. You can’t blame your band members. ‘Oh, look what happened to me. Oh, poor me.’ Look at my little violin. I have no sympathy.”
Hanging out in his San Diego condo, Frehley says that the resistance to a reunion is all business: After all, the current lineup has a summer tour planned. “The reason they don’t want to perform with me and Peter,” he says, “is because the last time they did, they had to do a reunion tour. We play three songs, the fans go crazy. They don’t want to open up a can of worms.”
There is no Kiss memorabilia on display in Paul Stanley‘s house.
“I know what I’ve accomplished,” says Stanley, “so I don’t need to see it. My friends don’t need to see it. And it can also be misleading, because the impression it might give is that you’re responsible for more than you actually were.”
Stanley lives in Beverly Hills just five minutes from Simmons. He owns enough acres around the property that he’s considering starting a vineyard.
On the wall opposite him is a painting of a textured orb, which turns out to be his work. “I’ve done multiple-seven-figures in sales of art,” he says.
“Pauly’s the one you’ve got to watch for,” says Criss. “He’ll leave this building, and then you’ll go, ‘Holy fucking shit, he cut my throat.’ He really is the leader of Kiss. He’s the guy who pulls the strings – trust me.”
“We knew what we liked,” says Simmons. “The English version of American rock & roll. They were better-looking, they played better. It was far cooler than the San Francisco stuff, where the guys onstage looked worse than the people in the audience.”
The sound they were leaning toward was tight and hooky – the first demo version of “Strutter” is pure power pop, not that different from Big Star’s “In the Street.”
“We’ve always been about verses, choruses, bridges,” says Stanley. “It’s called a hook for a reason, because it grabs you. And that’s my mentality. Give me the Raspberries. Give me Small Faces. Give me Big Star.”
There were immediate signs of personality differences: Over a slice of pizza at their first meeting, Criss blurted out that he had a nine-inch penis, a piece of information that his colleagues didn’t know how to process. “He was a Sopranos guy, a Godfather guy,” says Simmons. “You know the Italian alphabet? Fuckin’ A, Fuckin’ B?”
A teenager named Jeffrey Hyman attended Kiss’ first gig, in Queens, and he’d later dub them “the loudest band I’d ever heard.” He was soon calling himself Joey Ramone.
They auditioned tons of lead guitarists, including a weird dude whose mom dropped him off at the band’s rehearsal space on East 23rd Street: He was wearing one red and one orange sneaker, and had to chug a beer to take the edge off before sitting in with the band. He proceeded to blaze through every lick he knew in the course of one song. His name was Paul Frehley, but they couldn’t have two Pauls in the band: He went with Ace, a nickname bestowed by friends impressed with his prowess with women.
The day before [the interview], an executive from Bain Capital stopped over. These visits are very rarely social. “Always business,” Simmons says. “I hardly have any friends. Friendship is overrated.”
[Visiting Billy Ray] Cyrus is talking about getting older, and mentions a former hard-partying lifestyle that put “heavy mileage” on him.
“But that was your choice,” Simmons says. “You chose to do that, yes?”
“Well,” Cyrus says, gearing up to unleash some tragic tales, “I had a rough time growing up.”
Simmons cuts him off. “So did I,” he says. “My mother was in a Nazi concentration camp. I came to America when I was eight years old, and I didn’t speak a word of English.”
Cyrus is momentarily struck dumb.
Simmons’ mother – who is perfectly lucid at age 87 – saw her mother and grandmother die at a concentration camp, where she was imprisoned from the age of 14. She immigrated to Israel from Hungary when she was 22, marrying a tall, handsome man named Feri Witz, and had Gene soon after.
He would use the license afforded him by his Kiss success to have what seems to have been compulsive sex with nearly 5,000 women (“not all of them had two legs”). But he had no serious relationship until 1978, when he started dating his first real girlfriend, who happened to be Cher, fresh from her marriage to Gregg Allman. (Simmons’ second girlfriend, immediately afterward, was Cher’s then-close friend Diana Ross.) In 1984, Simmons met a blond model named Shannon Tweed at the Playboy Mansion, and finally seemed to grasp the “love” concept other humans spoke of.
“Oh, my God,” he says, “look at this photo of Ace and Peter. Where was that?”
“The one satisfaction those two guys should get in life is knowing that every day, we talk about them,” says Stanley. “A day can’t go by that you don’t remember something that is astonishing.”
“Or makes no sense!” Simmons adds. “And is completely baffling, or so self-destructive.” (There was, for instance, the time Ace gulped a bottle of perfume in a limo, after hearing it contained alcohol. And the time Criss shot the big-screen TV in Simmons’ house with a .38 revolver after learning his girlfriend had slept with an actor shown on the screen.)
“I’m 64 now. Three more tours. Two, if I have a life change of some kind.” He and Stanley do, however, talk about replacing themselves with new members and having Kiss continue to the end of time.
Simmons stands for a moment on his porch in the cool of the evening, staring at his yard, where man-made waterfalls flow in the darkness. It’s peaceful here, though somewhere inside are a bunch of guns in case he has to shoot intruders.
“If you threaten me, I will take you out,” says Simmons. “I welcome anybody who dares go over those gates.”
Paul’s right: I keep thinking about Ace and Peter. ‘What are they doing now? Where are they?’ It’s gotta be close to the end. How do you make any money? How do you pay your bills? I mean, it’s gotta be . . . you’re in your sixties. Peter’s gotta be 67, 68. I think he’s 68 now. That’s it. You’re done.”
Ace Frehley is in good spirits. “I’m happier than a pig in shit,” he says. “I’m healthy, I’m working, I have a beautiful woman.”
My problem is that God gave me too many gifts. And from all the drugs and alcohol, I have attention-deficit disorder, so sometimes I just stare at the computer. But that’s OK. You know why? Because I’m alive.”
Frehley is just back from Las Vegas, where he spent a couple of days recording and gambling. “I lost five grand,” he says. “No big deal! Peanuts. I can’t drink; I can’t take drugs anymore. There’s other vices.”
In any case, Frehley started to self-destruct very early in the band’s career. Kiss became superstars with the Alive! double album, the first of the Seventies’ blockbuster live albums (though they heavily doctored it in the studio). Afterward, they sought to make their first fully produced studio album – their previous LPs could be thin-sounding and demolike. They brought on Bob Ezrin, the formidable taskmaster behind Alice Cooper’s hits. Frehley clashed with Ezrin, and had trouble coping with a certain readily available substance. “There was so much cocaine in the studio with Bob Ezrin, it was insane,” Frehley recalls.
Soon, Frehley was threatening to leave the band for a solo career. “We were this heavy rock group,” he says, “and now we had little kids with lunchboxes and dolls in the front row, and I had to worry about cursing in the microphone. It became a circus.” Their manager, Bill Aucoin, came up with a genius solution: They’d all record solo albums, and release them on the same day. Frehley, whose songwriting had been pent up, George Harrison-style, made the best record, all sleek hard rock. It also had the biggest hit, “New York Groove.” (Simmons claims his solo LP – which included a cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star” – outsold Frehley’s. “Fuckin’ Gene,” says Frehley, laughing. “Those fuckin’ guys are trying to rewrite history.”)
Soon afterward, Frehley voted, “reluctantly,” with the rest of the band to remove Criss, whose playing had deteriorated under the influence of pills and coke. Criss took revenge in his book, going into great detail about Frehley’s bisexual experimentation in the Seventies, in an apparent effort to freak out the band’s less-open-minded fans. Frehley shrugs it off. “When you’re high, you’ll do anything. So what? It means nothing. I’ve always been heterosexual. I’ve lived 10 times as much as people live in one lifetime. . . . I’ve done every drug, I’ve done the ménage à trois and everything else in between. I’ve tried being bisexual. It’s stupid! It’s not for me!”
Frehley called his autobiography No Regrets, and he needed to interview old friends to recover enough memories to write it. He has since remembered more, and is working on a sequel. “The working title,” he jokes, “is Some Regrets.” He throws his head back and laughs.
[Peter Criss] has a policy of not coming to the door. He last did so a few years ago, and he didn’t like the results.
“I opened up, and there’s these six, like, skinheads from Norway,” he recalls, in his thick, old-timey Brooklyn accent. “And they’ve got tattoos on their heads and black T-shirts. They look right from white supremacy. And they’re like, ‘We want your autograph! We flew all the way here from Finland.’ They could’ve killed me. We’re livin’ in a crazy world. After John Lennon got it, and George Harrison gets stabbed in his own house?”
Somewhere upstairs is Criss’ most prized showbiz achievement, a People’s Choice Award for “Beth.” Criss co-wrote the song with an old bandmate, the late Stan Penridge, and Ezrin then heavily tweaked and arranged it for the Destroyer sessions. Criss is desperately proud of the song, but Stanley claims the drummer had little to do with its creation. “Peter can’t write a song, because Peter doesn’t play an instrument,” Stanley argues.
“I think I’m the first drummer, next to Mitch Mitchell and Charlie Watts, that incorporated jazz fills in rock & roll. There’s not many of us.”
He doesn’t deny that his playing was slipping under the influence of drugs, but he feels the band could have given him more chances. But like Frehley, what really kills him is that someone else is bringing the Catman to life. “I’m not upset that they got the bigger barrel of the monies and the bigger homes and the bigger cars and the bigger watches,” he says. “But I’m pissed at myself that my makeup slipped through my hands. That’s my cross that I bear.”
On some tours, Singer has even sung a version of “Beth,” which breaks Criss’ heart. “How much more can you slap me?” he says. “How hard do you want to hit me? It’s my baby – no one sings it like me.
Criss was horrified when Frehley drunkenly confessed that the guitarist was making $10,000 more per night. Criss took to drawing a single tear on his cat makeup as the tours wound down.
Stanley and Simmons point out that Criss made millions of dollars, but he says that’s not the point. “Come on, simple as this: Look at their houses; look at my house. I was being treated like a freakin’ slob. They treated my wife like a whore.”
Despite it all, he dearly wishes they could all get it together for one more performance.
“What can I say? I still love my band.”