August 08, 2012
JMB: KISS and Mötley Crüe are touring together this year, when’s the last time you went to a show?
CK: I’ve seen KISS tons of times, the Crüe maybe a handful. They really vary in quality. Some shows Vince doesn’t seem very interested to be there. I saw one show where Tommy was clearly trying to illustrate how unhappy he was to be forced to tour. KISS always play hard and they always deliver. I’ve never seen a bad KISS show.
JMB: What do you think about Paul and Gene in their 60s still in makeup and platform boots?
CK: My opinion might be unpopular. I know people hate that Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are wearing Ace and Peter’s makeup but my hope is that at some point Paul and Gene will replace themselves and KISS will just continue for like, a hundred and fifty years…
JMB: (in Gene voice) Oh yeah!
CK: …that KISS will stop being about members and will exist as a single idea. And that when people talk about KISS, they will talk about them in a way unlike any other band that has ever existed. No members, just full-on roles.
JMB: I think about stuff like that all the time. It’s like I have Heavy Metal Aspergers or something. The thought of Tommy and Eric in the makeup doesn’t bother me because they do a solid job of playing the roles of Catman and Space Ace.
CK: At times Tommy plays a little too clean though. He could actually stand to be a little more unpolished.
JMB: Maybe as he gets better, he’ll get worse.
CK: If this fantasy were to occur, I think Paul would leave the band and then Gene would have to make the decision to carry on. I can see that happening. Three replacement members and Gene. Gene’s certainly the hardest member to replace if you actually want him to be the character that he is. He’s a very tall man with obviously a very large tongue. I’ve seen a lot of KISS tribute bands and that’s always the key to success. If they can find a guy who looks like Gene and a drummer who sings like Peter. And also if whoever plays Paul has enough chest hair.
JMB: I saw a tribute Paul once with a glued-on chest wig.
CK: It’s kind of a tough detail to replicate.
JMB: I remember fifteen years ago people were speculating how a fifty-year old Gene Simmons would surely have to hang up the boots. Saying even then that Spiro, the best tribute Gene, could take his place. In 2012, Gene is sixty-three, still going and if he were to retire – well, Spiro and a lot of the great tribute guys are middle-aged now.
CK: That’s right. It complicates this fantasy. OK, let’s say Paul and Gene retire and they are replaced by two guys in their mid-twenties. Then they’re way younger than Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. So at what point do we replace the replacements? Wow, this is weird that we’re having this conversation.
JMB: That’s a compliment coming from you. It’s July hot here today and I was smoking a little of that nostalgic KISS crack, thinking back to when I was eleven years old. I’m at my Dad’s apartment for the summer and there’s this girl with blond hair and freckles named Ashley Braxton. She’s a little older but her sister lets it slip that Ashley kinda likes me. Dad leaves for the night and man, she’s coming over. I remember trying to figure out which KISS record would be the most conducive for what might be my first real make-out session.
CK: Hum. There are certain situations KISS are great for. I’m not sure that is one.
JMB: What would you have suggested?
CK: “Shandi” or “Hard Luck Woman”? But if you play “Hard Luck Woman” that’s surrounded by a bunch of other songs that are just about screwing. Like in a very sort of unromantic way.
“Put your hand in my pocket
grab onto my rocket” – “Take Me” (precedes “Hard Luck Woman”)
“Whoo, makin’ love (makin’ love)
all night long,
makin’ love (makin’ love)
makin’ love (makin’ love)
all night long” – “Makin’ Love” (just after “Hard Luck Woman”)
CK (cont): Maybe the first KISS record. If you played “Kissin’ Time” at that age, it might seem like a funny enough coincidence to make you kiss someone. In general, perhaps you should find a 10CC record.
JMB: For a KISS-obsessed kid, everything had to revolve around the band. It wasn’t like I considered my dad’s Conway Twitty cassettes. Which, come to think of it, were even dirtier….
CK: How about Paul’s solo record?
JMB: Paul seemed a little too… into himself? Like you’d play Paul’s solo LP to stare in the mirror and pout.
CK: Paul’s album had that hilarious song… what was it? Oh, “It’s Alright”! Where Paul is basically saying: It’s OK if you only want to have sex with me and never see me again. I’m fine with that. Don’t feel any pressure to be involved in my life. It’s alright.
JMB: (laughing) Exactly! I went with Peter Criss’ album. He was the tender guy with all the ballads.
CK: Oh man. I’m very forgiving. I like the fact that Peter’s record exists but it’s just not strong. Gene’s is good, Paul’s is good. Ace’s is great. I’ve listened to Peter’s record maybe eight times in my whole life.
JMB: When you had to save your money a long time to buy music, you’d listen until you liked it. I wore all those records out. Kids have that un-jaded capacity to enjoy stuff that isn’t all that great.
CK: That’s true. When you’re young and have limited money and a limited amount of music you can make yourself love anything. If you asked my 500 favorite records of all time, I would not list Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy. And yet I know every single word on that record. I was waiting for it so much. So whenever one of those songs comes up on iTunes I have this complete rote memory – an absolute understanding both musically and lyrically — of a song I often don’t even like.
JMB: Peter’s next record (Out of Control) was better. It was a good compliment to Unmasked. Comic strip cover, post-disco Pete songs. It’s the best second solo release from any KISS member.
CK: I disagree. I’d say All Systems Go. What are your views on the Vinnie Vincent records?
JMB: Invasion was like… the apex of axe-slinger masturbation. When I first started playing guitar I found it easier to do a bad Vinnie Vincent impersonation than Ace or Randy Rhodes. You could do this really fast widdlywiddlywiddly WHOO WHOO WHoooOOOooo thing and pass it off as a Vinnie. But I’m a big fan of what he brought to KISS. If he would have just been taller….
CK: (laughing) Yes.
CK: Especially in the “Lick It Up” video. That’s a good record and the first Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion album is awesome – one of my favorite of the 80s. I just wish I could get a real answer into what happened between Vinnie and Paul and Gene. They clearly hate him, say that he was never actually in the band, that he was the most self-destructive person they had ever met – but they will never give a specific story that illustrates this. I’ve heard rumors that he was kicked out of KISS because he was gay, that he refused to sign an insurance waiver – which doesn’t seem like a reason to get kicked out of a band? Part of me feels he wanted a bigger share of the songwriting and there’s no way Paul and Gene were going to give that up.
JMB: My theory is that Paul and Gene were looking for an employee. They were still feeling burned from the Ace and Peter deal. Vinnie put a lot of shine on Creatures and Lick it Up and I think that made them nervous. Also, I don’t think Vinnie was mentally in a place to wheel and deal with those guys.
CK: Did you read Ace’s biography, No Regrets?
JMB: Yeah. I was real disappointed.
CK: It should have been called No Details. The entire book seems to be a litany of Ace Frehley regrets then at the end he goes, “But I have no regrets!”
JMB: The first time I heard Ace’s solo LP I was shooting pinball at Scruffy’s Play Palace — still really too young to get it but I remember feeling like, this is the perfect soundtrack for playing pinball in a blacklit arcade. Anytime I hear
“Ozone”, it takes me back to Scruffy’s. That cheese fries and carpet cleaner smell…. The Spaceman was my favorite as a kid but after that first record he seemed so — apathetic?
CK: Because I’m such a big fan, I tend to see everything through the lens of KISS. Gene is John, Paul is Paul, Ace is George and Peter is Ringo. The first George Harrison solo record, All Things Must Pass, was so good because he had all this great material that he felt he couldn’t get through McCartney and Lennon. Ace’s record is similar to that. He was the most interesting song writer in KISS at the time. But much like George Harrison, he put all that emphasis on the first release and then it seemed downhill. I’ve went back and I like a lot of George Harrison’s solo career and I like a lot of Ace’s. The Frehley’s Comet releases were good. Trouble Walking was not bad. Anomaly had one really great song. “Pain in the Neck”? The guitar playing reminded me of Alice in Chains.
JMB: “Pain in the Neck” and “Outer Space” sounded sufficiently Frehley to me. I was not a fan of the tuned-down guitars. Ace just needs to sound like Ace, not Pantera.
CK: Ace was my favorite too but Paul Stanley is now for the same reason McCartney is my favorite Beatle. When you look over their career, they were the guys who kept things together and put the greatest emphasis on the music. Gene Simmons pretty much gave up on music in the 80s. Paul stepped up and even through Asylum or Crazy Nights his attitude was: Regardless of the limitations, we have to do the best we can. I appreciate that.
JMB: That guy has taken little time, if any, from music and touring in the last forty years. Yet he still plays the aloof card. I can’t see Paul doing a frickin’ reality show.
CK: Family Jewels is so fake. I can’t take it. I know it’s weird to use fake as a criticism when you’re talking about a band like KISS but it’s a new level of fake. As someone who watches a lot of reality TV I’m always stunned that the producers don’t realize that what draws people to reality programming is — for lack of a better term – the reality of it. You want to at least see glimpses of authenticity.
JMB: Gene is the great confabulator.
CK: Paul isn’t exactly forthcoming but Gene flat out lies. Gene Simmons will say whatever he thinks will get attention. If he wants to claim their new release is the best record they’ve ever recorded– he’ll just say it. If he wants to say they made four times as much money as they actually made on a tour – he’ll just say it.
JMB: Remember when it was worse? Circus and Creem and all those magazines used to print the most ridiculous stuff, just carny Gene working over the marks. And I was a total KISS mark. I’d read Creem at the Piggly Wiggly magazine rack and it would drive me nuts. Remember when Gene said there was going to be a 3D KISS Nintendo Game that would “blow the fan’s minds”? I believed that crap.
CK: (laughing at JMB)
JMB: I thought I had their plan down. KISS put out three studio records, then a live LP. Everything from the first release to Alive II happened in three and a half years. Ten records! That’s crazy. I figured after Dynasty, Unmasked and Creatures it was time for Alive III. So I read an article where Gene says, There’ll be another studio LP later this year, then four more solo albums because the fans demand it. Alive III will be a triple LP with two live sides and one all-new studio release. Look for a lot of new music between now and next KISSmas! Chuck, I didn’t sleep for three days.
CK: It just goes back to why it’s fun to think about KISS. It’s almost like KISS are some kind of corrupt political entity. They will never admit that the reason they made those solo records was to fill a given contract. You can find the contract online! Have you ever wondered why KISS had an extra side to Alive II? Just because they didn’t have enough material? Contractual obligations? Because Ace isn’t even there except on “Rocket Ride”. Rick Derringer is playing guitar. It’s interesting that Peter Criss is on the cover of Unmasked but Anton Fig is playing drums. Did they think people wouldn’t like the band if Peter wasn’t there? It’s just weird. What did they think they were accomplishing by not admitting this? What was their hope? I feel like that’s one of the central keys to enjoying the idea of KISS. Trying to figure out what they were actually trying to do.
JMB: That’s why I called. To talk to someone who obsesses over the minutiae of music as much as I do. I just turned in this heavy sort of book about midnight psychiatric crisis and making peace with the Southern Jesus. This agent guy asked what I wanted to write next. I told him: Something about KISS. He was like, Ah, geez….
CK: I would certainly read a book about the behavioral psychology of KISS.
JMB: I’d have to write it from my ten-year old brain too. Tell those stories of buying your first record, seeing that first live show. Trying to pick the right song to get a girl to kiss you. What I figured out today is that, yeah, I love to analyze rock and roll with my adult mind. But I also I love the way the music makes me feel like a kid again.
CK: So did she kiss you?
JMB: It was kind of sloppy and silly and not very romantic at all – but yeah, she kissed me. And when it was over we giggled and rode our bikes through the sprinklers down Kelly Drive. So I guess, in a sense, it was a real good first kiss. Maybe that’s the reason I like Pete’s solo record. Those songs still bring me back to that night. I guess music is about the closest thing to a time machine we’ve got.
CK: Anytime I hear “Think About You” from Appetite for Destruction it takes me straight back to my senior year in high school. I had a football game that night and was driving home in my brother’s pick-up to have an early supper. Even talking about it right now with you, I’m in my mind on that gravel road, in that old truck. Music can rip you back to another time in life and that’s an amazing thing.
CHUCK KLOSTERMAN is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books, including Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Eating the Dinosaur; and The Visible Man. His debut book, Fargo Rock City, was the winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. He has written for GQ, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Spin, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Believer, A.V. Club, and ESPN, and he now writes about sports and pop culture for Grantland.com.
Chuck’s Ten Favorite KISS sides
1.) Side 1: LOVE GUN
2.) Side 1: KISS
3.) Side 1: ALIVE II
4.) Side 4: ALIVE!
5.) Side 1: DRESSED TO KILL
6.) Side 2: CREATURES OF THE NIGHT
7.) Side 2: ALIVE II
8.) Side 4: ALIVE II
9.) Side 1: KISS: ACE FREHLEY
10.) Side 1: ANIMALIZE
Blaine’s Five Best Lesser-Known KISS Songs
1.) Smoke (Dressed to Kill-era demo)
2.) I (actual rocker from The Elder)
3.) Naked City (super-catchy song from Unmasked that sounds nothing like KISS)
4.) Mainline (Peter Criss does Rod Stewart better than Rod Stewart)
5.) Yes I Know (2008 Simmons successfully capturing the KISS spirit of ‘76)