Face the Music: A Life Exposed
By Paul Stanley
HarperOne, 480 pp., $28.99
With the publication of this glitter-, greasepaint- and leather-slathered tome, all four original members of KISS have now penned their autobiographies.Not surprisingly, as one astute Web site pointed out recently by comparing the quartet — their memories and opinions of the same shared incidents don’t always coincide. Or even come close to similarity. Lead singer/rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley, aka “The Starchild,” always seemed like the most level-headed member of the group. Now he has written the best memoir of the four with the most insightful — and probably accurate — reading of KISStory.
Face the Music is being released the same week of KISS’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, amid soap-opera-worthy squabbling and infighting among both various members/former members and the Hall’s organizers. It should be a very, very interesting ceremony tomorrow.
Casual fans will be surprised to discover at the book’s start that Stanley (born Stanley Eisen) was born without a fully-formed right ear, just a mass of cartilage, a condition called microtia. Not only did it render him completely deaf on that side of his face, but it led to taunting from neighborhood kids as “Stanley the One-Eared Monster.”
Then throw in an upbringing with two unhappy parents seemingly incapable of expressing love or support, and a sister with diagnosed mental problems who once attempted to kill her younger brother with a pair of scissors shortly after leaving a mental institution. You can see how a boy’s drive and ambition to become something — anything — else fueled his desire to become a rock and roll star.
In fact, Stanley writes of how the famous KISS makeup and costumes allowed him to be become the flamboyant front man, a character that he could never be in real life. He carried a crippling self-doubt that would haunt him even as he became world-famous, rich, worshipped by fans, and was bedding actresses and Playboy and Penthouse centerfolds by the dozens.
“My makeup was a mask that provided distance between me and the crowd,” he writes. “And it gave me the shield I needed. Whatever fears I had of being ridiculed… disappeared. The makeup was my armor. It protected me.”
On a side note, Stanley utterly dismisses the rampant rumors that he is/was gay, though even he admits it was an easy conclusion to come to given his effeminate and androgynous stage persona and moves.
The story of how KISS became “the hottest band in the world,” according to their own concert intro, is already well-documented, most recently with the extensive oral history of the band’s early years, Nothin’ to Lose. But Stanley adds a lot to the story from personal experience and sheds light on his love/hate relationship with his KISS co-founder and bandmate, the even more-driven-to-succeed Gene Simmons.
In fact, Stanley pulls no punches in his sometimes withering views of his bandmates.
>> Gene Simmons is an egotistical, greedy, self-promoting blowhard and undeserved credit-grabber for music and marketing far more interested in the “I” than the “We.”
>> Peter Criss was a none-too-sharp drunkie/druggie, and a barely competent drummer who had to be taught his parts like a child. He also made outrageous demands while constantly threatening to quit the band and brought in an overbearing wife into the reunion years.
>> Ace Frehley was a self-destructive drunk and drug addict who squandered his talent, exhibited bizarre behavior (even by KISS standards), and was incredibly lazy in life and music. But, hey, Stanley writes, he was usually funny as shit!
In the beginning, the makeup, costumes, special effects and member personas were a way to get KISS noticed in addition to their hard rock music. And it made them big. Really big, all over the world as records sold in the millions and concert tickets by the tens of thousands.
The visual image of KISS had arguably as much to do with the band’s success as the band’s music. But when the merchandising begins to spin out of control with toys, and the ill-fated TV movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park is a horrid mess — though I remember rushing home from a fifth grade school carnival to catch its initial airing on TV — Stanley has incredible doubts about the band’s direction.
He sees the audience lined up to see the band on the Dynasty tour, whose accompanying album featured a (gasp!) disco hit, filled with kids and their parents instead of Zeppelin-loving hard-rock enthusiasts, and writes that those people might as well have been “lining up to see the circus.” His feeling was buoyed by the KISS’s stage costumes which now included Technicolor feathers and frilly stuff.
Soon, the band is barely selling 1,000 seats in venues that they could have sold out at 18,000 years earlier. Facing hair metal and grunge, Stanley says he was afraid to throw his guitar pick too far into the crowd for fear of it hitting empty floor.
KISS would famously take off their makeup and begin to rebuild their fanbase. But ultimately, the popular (and financial) pull to reunite with the since-dismissed Ace Frehley and Peter Criss proved too strong. It led to massively successful tours. Though, later, Frehley and Criss’ old problems resurfaced, leading to another parting.
The current KISS lineup finds Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer donning the ousted pair’s distinctive Spaceman and Catman makeup and costumes, to the disdain of many of their most hardcore fans. Stanley argues less than convincingly that KISS is a brand and a feeling, and it doesn’t matter who wears the outfits.
There may be some validity to that. Simmons has envisioned “KISS” bands playing across the country after he and Stanley hang it up like touring companies of Broadway musicals. But whatever the future holds for KISS, Face the Music is a fine summation of the band’s past, written by the member who is the most reliable narrator.