Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Keep It Simple Stupid

I was never a particular fan of the costume-rock band KISS. The one song I really liked was the power-ballad "Beth," and that was so unlike everything else they did, it was part of the attraction.

For me, KISS was about the show, not so much the music, and it didn't call to me. By the time they hit it big, I was past the days when I wanted to sit in front of amps turned up to eleven watching comic book rockers and explosions. Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

Ace Frehley (rhymes with "Hailey") one of the original four members and the lead guitarist,  has done his autobiography, and I was curious enough to pick it up. Called No Regrets, it certainly seems to offer a few of those.

It's a warts-and-all story, but it didn't really move me. Maybe it is because I wasn't a big fan back in the day and don't care as much. Hardcore KISS fans will probably love it.

It's written well-enough; Joe Layden and John Ostrosky are co-credited as writers. It's got all the beats of a VH-1 rise-and-fall rock bio. The unknowns getting together, rehearsing, coming up with new songs and ideas for presentation that would set them apart. The subsequent rise from hauling their own gear from bar-to-bar, to getting a record deal, opening for bigger bands, then hitting it big-time.

It tells of how they agreed early on it would be all-for-one, one-for-all, evenly shared across the board. And how that ended badly. 

There are sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, name-dropping, the excesses that should have killed them.

Well, a couple of them. Frehley (Spaceman) and Peter Criss (Kitten) were the party boys; Paul Stanley (Starchild) and Gene Simmons (Demon) didn't indulge in the booze and coke, though Simmons, as Frehley paints him, was a stone sex-addict totally without a sense of humor. He'd nail any woman who had a pulse, (and you get the impression that Frehley didn't think that was necessary,) and bring polaroids to show the boys the next day.

So they went up the ladder into arena rock, got locked into a Broadway-style performance that the live audiences loved, but that didn't usually translate into the albums, which were cranked out really fast, four of them in the first couple years. 

Not that they didn't sell a lot of records, they did.

They spent several weeks in the studio doctoring the "live" album that brought them into the top echelon of seventies rockers, to get that unfiddled-with live-performance sound. Frehley's explanation is defensive, and ends with, "Does it matter?" 

In the grand cosmic scheme of things? No. Of course, neither does Milli Vanilli ...

Frehley's love/hate relationship with the band is foremost on the pages. Simmons, nee Chaim Weitz, an Israeli by birth, gets skewered pretty well. At one point, after Frehley had left the band, Simmons supposedly called to ask him to show up at a TV roast in Simmons' honor. Frehley says this was puzzling, and he declined. He checked around and found out that nobody else in the band was going, either, and how sad was that? The roast was a disaster, he says, and no surprise that it was. He allows as how Simmons had no friends.

He also says Simmons was always about the money and fame, and that for Frehley, it was about the music, and he wasn't all that interested in the money. 

Uh huh. I'm always a little leery when a millionaire rock star who spends high, wide, and everywhere says it's not about the money. Maybe it isn't, but he didn't turn it down.

There is a sequence in which Frehley says his daughter was the victim of a cruel trick by Simmons, and how he never liked the guy after that, and why that was one of the reasons he quit the band the second time. But the telling of how his daughter was in tears and him not bailing right then, or going over to punch Simmons out seems more a retrospective rationalization than it does fatherly outrage. I was really pissed off at the motherfucker, but, well, you know ...

Of course, when you are drunk or stoned or both, all your waking hours, recollections of things might be hazy. Like Keef, he says he's clean now but if anybody is taking bets on that not lasting, put me down for fifty bucks.

In the end, you don't come away with a portrait of the boys in KISS as hale-fellows-well-met, but of the usual disfunctional set of egos jockeying with assholes for the best spot at the trough.  

Maybe after having read a slew of these, it ought not to be a surprise to me by now. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception.


steve-vh said...

Have you read Simmons "Kiss and Tell"? Yeah he paints himself well but it is interesting and flows well.
Been a Kiss fan for a long time and of Frehley's Comet (a very underated effort). I was eagerly anticipating his latest solo CD and when it came out was pretty disappointed.
hadn't heard about this book, thanks for the recommendation

Anonymous said...

"Hard Luck Woman" is another good doesn't-sound-like-KISS tune.