Monday, April 14, 2014

Wouldn't You Like To Know Him: Reflections on Paul Stanley's new book Face The Music: A Life Exposed


     First off, I have a great deal of respect for Paul Stanley and I have long been a huge admirer of his songwriting skills, he's clearly very talented. KISS were my favorite band for all of my formative years and I was ecstatic when the original line-up reunited in 1996. I was lucky enough to see the band twice on the subsequent tour and I treasure those memories. Unfortunately ever since that triumphant Reunion Tour I have found myself repeatedly disappointed by decisions that have been made by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, from the disastrous Psycho Circus "reunion" album to the deceptively monikered and marketed "Farewell Tour" to the recasting of the "spaceman" and the "catman" as entities other than Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. The most recent and perhaps most unfortunate development in the KISS saga has been the completely unnecessary controversy surrounding the band's long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It seems rather obvious to me that the four original members of KISS should have performed together one last time at the ceremony and amicably and respectfully paid tribute to the band's legacy and its devoted fans. It would have been a very special moment but it did not happen because Gene and Paul did not let it happen and a wonderful opportunity was squandered, and for what?
     Let me begin by saying this: Paul Stanley's book Face The Music: A Life Exposed is by far the best of the four KISS memoirs. Of course if you've read the other three books you know that that isn't saying much. Gene's book was a self-congratulatory love letter to himself, Ace's was predictably scant on details, and Peter's I suspect was mostly a work of fiction. Paul's book is the best of the four almost by default. Let me put it this way: unlike the other three, Paul's book is actually good. Paul Stanley has always struck me as the most down to earth and level-headed of the four and in a brilliant move he waited until the other three guys had each written a book before writing his own, thus Paul Stanley gets the last word and he takes full advantage of that position, slamming all three of his original bandmates mercilessly. 
     In the opening chapters of the book Paul describes a very difficult childhood, thanks in no small part to the deformed ear and partial deafness with which he was born. Clearly he struggled. He also laments his upbringing, lambasting his parents for the lack of affection they showed to each other and to Paul and his mentally unstable sister (who apparently attempted to kill young Paul with a hammer). Paul does not hesitate to blame many of his later problems forming relationships on the relationship that he had with his parents. This is understandable, but considering how aware Paul is of his own issues and what may or may not have caused them (he devotes a great deal of the book to describing how his feelings about his deformed ear and the way that others reacted to it damaged him emotionally and inhibited him in his social interactions) one might think he'd be more sympathetic when it comes to the personal issues of others. He is careful to trace many of his own problems back to how he was treated by his parents and his deformity and its ramifications, but when it comes to other people (those same parents, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Eric Carr) he never even seems to consider the possibility that these other people maybe had some negative experiences in their own lives that might help explain some of the behaviors that Paul so resented and for which Paul did not hesitate to judge them harshly. His superior tone throughout makes it clear that he made little or no effort to relate to or empathize with these others. It's all judgement and dismissal.
     I urge any KISS fan who reads Paul Stanley's book to undertake this exercise: when you get to the part where Paul describes Ace Frehley circa 1977-1978 stop reading the book, put Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album on the stereo, and then pick the book back up and read Paul's description of Ace while listening to the record that Ace made in 1978 and you tell me, could the guy that Paul describes possibly have made that masterpiece of an album? The answer, of course, is no. The Ace Frehley solo album is so clearly an example of an artist at the top of his game as opposed to the bottom of a bottle. Think about this: as of 1978 Ace Frehley and Peter Criss had taken part in a juggernaut of a career that had produced six studio albums and two live albums in four short years, not to mention an almost non-stop touring schedule, hundreds and hundreds of concerts. Yet according to Paul by 1977 Ace and Peter were utterly inept living disasters. Here's what I think: Paul Stanley is GREATLY exaggerating Ace and Peter's ineptitude. Why? I don't know: bitterness, resentment, a desire to undermine their credibility, an effort to downplay the importance of the roles they played in the success of the tell me. 
     Here's something else to ponder: Paul Stanley tries very hard early on in his book to convey just how important the formation of this band was to him and to his future. He is very careful to point out that the band that he was forming in 1973 was everything to him, he had no plan B, the band simply had to work, absolutely everything was riding on it. So think about it: with everything on the line Gene and Paul chose Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. Why did they choose Peter Criss and Ace Frehley? Clearly they had many drummers and guitar players to choose from. Why Ace and Peter? Obviously because they liked them and thought they were talented. Gene and Paul selected Peter and Ace as the drummer and guitar player that they felt they needed in order to make their band successful. Why else would they have chosen them? But now Paul would have us believe that KISS succeeded in spite of Ace and Peter. Bullshit.
     At least Paul admits in the book that Carnival of Souls and Psycho Circus were misguided disasters but he places most of the blame on Gene for the former and Bruce Fairbairn for the latter. He criticizes Ace and Peter for not accepting responsibility for their mistakes but when it comes to weakly imitating grunge or completely dropping the ball on the reunion album Paul refuses to take responsibility for his own mistakes. At one point Paul complains that during the making of Psycho Circus the only way that he heard from Peter or Ace was through a lawyer. So now I finally understand why Ace and Peter were not involved in the making of the so-called reunion album. It's pretty simple: Gene and Paul ripped them off big time on the Reunion Tour, apparently making at least ten times as much as Ace and Peter, so Ace and Peter decided to renegotiate and use the making of the album as leverage, and who can blame them? But rather than treat Ace and Peter fairly Gene and Paul decided to make the album without them and then, showing an utter lack of respect for the fans, promoted it as a reunion album.
     So yes, I accuse Gene and Paul of ripping off Ace and Peter on the Reunion Tour. Gene and Paul exploited unfair leverage they possessed and kept the bulk of the profits for themselves, even though Ace and Peter were equally important and equally deserving, in my opinion, of reaping the rewards. I say Gene and Paul ripped them off. What might Paul's retort be? To call me an anti-semite, perhaps? Paul accuses both Ace and Peter of anti-semitism but doesn't offer a shred of evidence beyond an anecdote about Ace buying Nazi memorabilia while the band was on tour. Paul is being extremely disingenuous at this point in the book since any Kiss fan who owns Lydia Criss' book has seen the pictures of Paul wearing that same Nazi memorabilia. 

That's Paul on the right.

     Yes, Paul dressed up like a Nazi with Ace and Peter and posed for pictures, then 40 years later used that same memorabilia as evidence of Ace's anti-semitism. That is very underhanded. It's outrageous. FYI: Ace Frehley is currently engaged, and she's Jewish.

     The way Paul tells it Ace and Peter were essentially impossible to work with by the end of the Reunion Tour and the fact that the band was even able to perform on any given night was an absolute miracle and simply a testament to Gene and Paul's own fortitude and dedication in the face of such adversity, thus it's perfectly understandable that Gene and Paul chose to do TWO MORE WORLD TOURS with Ace and Peter. If Paul is to be believed then Gene and himself are guilty of defrauding fans, launching tours they knew would be substandard just for the payday, but here's the thing: I think it's quite apparent that Paul Stanley is exaggerating. Big time. I attended the Reunion Tour twice and the Farewell Tour once and I didn't notice any problems. Anyone reading this who attended any show on any of the three tours the reunited line-up put on, please tell us in the comments below, did Ace and Peter perform well at the shows that you attended or not? If Paul is to be believed there should be a slew of complaints below from fans who witnessed concerts ruined by Ace's and Peter's unprofessional behavior. Paul Stanley spends much of the book repeating himself, whether it's about Peter's outrageous demands at hotels (supposedly he insisted upon the windows being covered with aluminum foil--that was Elvis, Paul) or Ace Frehley's constant state of intoxication (there are plenty of clips on Youtube from this time, interviews and performances, of a perfectly together Ace) but if one takes an objective look back at all that KISS accomplished when Ace and Peter were a part of the band it seems rather obvious that Paul Stanley is exaggerating, his motive being twofold: 1) to discredit Ace and Peter and play down the importance of the role each played in the success of KISS (both times) and 2) to buffer the current line-up of KISS against snipes at its own credibility. 

     The early chapters of Paul Stanley's book, about his formative years, are great, very enlightening and emotionally effective. He also romanticizes the early years of KISS quite well and really seems to have enjoyed being in the band circa 1973-1976. It appears to have all started to go wrong with Destroyer and I think I know why: Ace and Peter hated working with the taskmaster Bob Ezrin and honestly, I don't blame them. In my opinion Ezrin set out to force KISS to make a non-KISS album. If I were Ace or Peter I would have bailed on Ezrin's album as well and it's no wonder that KISS returned to Eddie Kramer and the band's classic sound for the next album, Rock and Roll Over. Ace and Peter perform well on Rock and Roll Over but Paul just can't give them credit, he instead describes how Peter could not carry a tune and had to be coached line by line how to sing "Hard Luck Woman." But isn't it strange that Peter did just fine singing Paul's song "Black Diamond," an undeniable KISS classic, on the first KISS album? Why did Paul let him sing it if he was so terrible, and how did it turn out so good? To me it seems rather obvious that what changed between 1974 and 1977 was Paul's perception, not Peter's ability.

     I do not deny that Peter and Ace were obviously difficult to work with at times, I would simply assert once again that Paul is exaggerating greatly in his descriptions of the two, and he has a clear motive to do so. Paul implies that Gene and himself deserved to make at least ten times more than Ace and Peter from the hugely successful Reunion Tour because himself and Gene kept the band alive through the eighties, but ironically Paul spends a great deal of the book complaining about how Gene deserted him in the eighties and left him to do all the work. Thus by Paul's logic the only member of KISS that deserved a big pay day come reunion time was Paul Stanley, but here's the thing: I believe that the Reunion Tour would have been just as big if KISS had split up in 1980. I believe that MANY of the people that bought tickets for the Reunion Tour bought them IN SPITE of the eighties, they were not really fans of KISS in the eighties and did not go see KISS live in the eighties, but they came back in droves for the Reunion Tour. Paul Stanley discusses every album and tour in his book but he skips over the 1992 Revenge Tour, why? Because KISS played to empty arenas on the Revenge Tour. The Reunion Tour was a success because it was those four guys back in the make-up, not because Paul kept the band alive with "Let's Put The X In Sex."

     The timing of Paul Stanley's book was impeccable, it came out the same week that KISS were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in that context the fact that Paul spends so much of the book denigrating Ace Frehley and Peter Criss is disappointing but not surprising. As I said early on, Paul is very honest about his own personal issues and what he thinks caused them, but he never bothers to wonder what might have caused the issues he saw in Ace and Peter. That's called empathy, and Paul lacks it, at least when it comes to Ace and Peter. Instead of empathy he judges them quite harshly and congratulates himself for not making the same mistakes. He just made different mistakes. I definitely recommend this book to any KISS fan but as you read please be sure to reflect upon all that KISS accomplished in the seventies and the three world tours they pulled off between 1996 and 2000. Think about all of the hard work and dedication that went into it, and not just from Gene and Paul. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss also rolled the dice on a dream. Ace Frehley and Peter Criss contributed a great deal to the band, including a staggering amount of time and effort. Paul Stanley's assessment of Ace and Peter is ridiculously one-sided and unfair and completely lacking in empathy. They deserve far more credit than Paul Stanley seemingly would allow, and they deserved to play together with Gene and Paul one last time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gene and Paul made a big mistake that night and I suspect they already know it, but it's too late.

The good old days



MSR734 said...

Really a great summary of the book and, I feel, fair criticism on Paul's views on the other guys - especially Ace and Peter. One point that I think is also worth mentioning is how critical Paul is throughout the book about Gene, which I did not see coming. I know they don't always see eye to eye on a lot of the business/marketing, but I was quite shocked at how candid Paul was about his feelings over the years as to Gene's contributions, or lack there of, to the band. Your review brings up some great points, so well done. Definitely a must-read book for any KISS fan. And to answer your question, I saw KISS on the Reunion and Farewell tours and all four guys played great. I was also at the KROQ Weenie Roast show in CA - their first gig back together since '79, and it was absolutely amazing. Cheers.

Genebaby said...

Great review. I'm still reading the book, yet to get to the real Gene issues.

Baked said...

Completely agree with everything you said. I have grown tired of the shit-slinging of Paul & Gene. Peter & Ace have done their fair share too, but they have never downplayed Paul & Gene's involvement. I find Paul's tactics the last couple of months to be totally classless. Downplaying everything Peter & Ace did and calling out the RRHOF just seems like book promotion to me. He's looking for sales. What else is new in the KISS camp? I too have seen KISS many times since the reunion, and although I agree it isn't right having 2 guys wearing the classic make-up, Eric & Tommy are far superior musicians at this stage in their careers. The last 2 times I saw the band, they were by far the most impressive. Paul & Gene have both lost their voice, and they are merely shells of what they used to be.

Unknown said...

I´d seen Kiss a bunch of times in the 80´s, then I saw Ace at a solo gig out on Long Island in 94 and was blown away by how "vintage Kiss" it sounded when he played the old Kiss songs, with just one guy from the original line up on stage...then it downed on me: The "sound of Kiss", the Music so to speak, WAS/IS Ace´s guitar/feel, both lead and comping..It sounded more old/vintage Kiss in that club then Kiss ever did since Ace left...So, go figure...He absolutely contributed something to the Kiss sound in my book judging from that gig. Book was ok, but, really, Stanley is just as pathetic as all the other Ego-maniac rock stars..and the stuff about cooking and gardening, haha..Well written, but I found a typo or two..( E-book version) , I dunno if it has since been corrected or exists in the printed version but it was surprising, no proof reader present hired? or a really cheap one?..

SUGAR D said...

i completely disagree with your assessment of Peter and Ace's skills during the reunion era and i completely disagree that they should have received an equal share. Why should they? I saw the reunion/farewell./p.c. tours over 20 times and there were nights when i was holding my breath hoping Ace was going to make it through the show. Peter was off cue multiple times. That said, when they were on, it was magic. I have first hand knowledge that Ace was going through multiple prescription bottles of Valium on the tour and it showed. He looked depressed onstage at times. Not spacey cool, just completely out of it. Kind of like android Ace from KMTPOTP.
I also disagree with your assessment of Peter's book being fiction. You "suspect" huh? I thought it was the best of the four and Peter is easily my least favorite member. It was funny, shocking and a page turner.
I do agree that Paul's take on Ace's skills were a head scratcher. If he ended up so shitty, why did they give him more songs on Dynasty and Unmasked?
And KISS needed to play that sham of the rock hall???? Are you serious? Peter couldn't play 15 years ago? I wouldn't want to risk my legacy for a possible trainwreck at the Rock Hall. Do you honestly think those guys would look good in makeup and spandex? For fucks sake Tommy Thayer does Ace frehley better than Ace Frehley does Ace Frehley. The last reason we need ANOTHER reunion is due to the fuck tards at the Rock Hall. KISS should have told them to go fuck themselves. We don't want your induction. Now THAT would have got some press.
Reunion has been done. It was what it was. It doesn't need to be revisited.
Paul's book was ok. He seemed to gloss over a lot and didn't go into much depth about anything including the business side. He made Jesse Hilsen sound like a saviour and didn't go anywhere near the embezzlement of Revenge tour proceeds.
As a fan since 1978, all this bitter and petty BS the band has spewed is just dumb. They are all insecure rock star fucks and I have about had it. The mystique is long gone. I'd rather read 16 magazine circa 1979 than anything they have to say present day.

SUGAR D said...

Additionally, your theory on Destroyer and it all going wrong then is ludicrous. Sure Ezrin was a taskmaster, but if it wasnt for Destroyer, ol' Petey wouldn't have had his "hit". While Destroyer is not even in my Top 5 KISS albums, probably not even Top 10, it's clearly considered their best studio album by the general music public. So history has proven Ezrin was the right decision.
It all went wrong when more and harder drugs got introduced and the fuck ups in the band, became bigger fuck ups. Peter was mentally unstable from the beginning. Throw in an 8 ball of cocaine and you get what you got. It has nothing to do with which producer they picked. Hell, the hired Poncia to do 2 albums to pacify Peter and where was he?!?!?!

Unknown said...

B.J. Kahuna, I want to thank you for your review of this book. Admittedly, I started reading it with the assumption that I was going to get the standard "Paul's book is the truth" type of review which has seemed to be the standard given on many of the music magazines and websites. So when your review started with "Paul Stanley's book ... is by far the best of the four KISS memoirs", I almost stopped reading. But I hung in there, and I'm very glad I did. The discrepancies between Paul's inspiring story of his childhood trauma thru his lifelong journey to overcome his own problems and his very harsh judgements towards three of the people who at one point in his life were his only family is so obvious now that you've pointed them out. The reason I think Paul's book might be looked upon so favorably is that it is written in a manner that shows him as the winner due to his shortcomings, upbringing, diligence and will power, and the other three guys as losers due to their shortcomings. Paul's book is from his perspective, and it is both inspiring on one hand, and very aggressive and judgmental on the other. He obviously had it in for Peter throughout, most likely motivated by revenge for the things Peter said in his book about Paul. I don't trust Paul's account any more than Gene's, Ace's, or Peter's. All four books are simply four separate accounts of what happened, and they are all the truth through the eyes of their respective author. As a lifelong KISS fan, I had to read them all. And I kind of wish I hadn't.

Brian J. Kramp said...

Sugar D, Destroyer is CLEARLY the point at which things started to go wrong within the band, mostly because Ezrin didn't care about making a KISS album, he cared about making "A Bob Ezrin Production." Yeah Peter got his hit, with a song that belonged on an album by The Carpenters. You're dead on about Paul and Jesse Hilsen, at one point Paul says it was Jesse Hilsen who hipped him to the fact Glickman Marks were mismanaging things, then later Paul takes credit for catching on to Glickman Marks and argues that it shows he had a better business mind than Gene, meanwhile he made his therapist the band's manager and rumor has it said therapist fled the country with some KISS money, so who knows. I saw the Reunion Tour twice and it was great. Everybody wants to make out that Ace was a mess on tour but where's the evidence? I've never seen a shred of evidence, nothing.

venom said...

Paul's not exaggerating how fucked up Ace and Peter were, sure they may have sounded good on the albums thanks to studio trickery, but it was a whole different story live, they cared more about doing drugs then they did about the band at that point and it was really starting to show.

I didn't think there was any "bitterness" there, I think some KISS die-hards just have such an overly idealistic view of the band that they don't want to hear anything negative about Ace or Peter, I actually felt sorry for Paul for having to put up with their bullshit for so long, he truly had the patience of a saint, if I was dealing with those two and their assclown behavior all the time, I would've kicked their asses and told them to straighten up or get sacked.

Ace wasn't always bad on the reunion tour, from what I heard he was pretty good in late 90s, but it was at the turn of the millenium where he and Peter really starting turning in subpar performances, and Ace had a consistent habit of always showing up late, which made him look disrespctful.

I don't think Paul and Gene "ripped off" Ace and Peter at all, the fact is those two had sold the rights to their characters long ago and they barely put up a fight, it was their own fault for not seeing the forest for the trees. I don't think there was a "lack of respect" in Psycho Circus, it was just a case of getting the wrong producer, Bruce Fairbarn has done some great work, but like Paul said, without his usual team he seemed lost, and unfortunately great cuts like "In Your Face" didn't end up on the album because of his needless meddling.

Would I have loved to see them play together one last time? Yeah, but there's different versions as to why it didn't happen, some say that Ace and Peter just didn't want to do it because of sitll holding on to resentment, and honestly I don't think either of them were capable of putting in even a passable performance nowadays.

Brian J. Kramp said...

venom, I disagree with almost everything you wrote. Studio trickery? Whatever you say, man

Unknown said...

Ace Frehley cost G&P A LOT of money when they had to re negotiate their contract with Polygram. Was suposed to be like 42 Million, with 20 million on merchandising. Ace walked away from it. Ace was either going to drink himself to death, or die in a car wreck. He had to bail. And G&P have never forgiven him for that.

Brian J. Kramp said...

You're right, Brian, except obviously all that money was fantasy because they weren't going to sell any records or merchandising. But I agree, they really resent Ace for jumping ship when times got tough. But they never say that, they just continually try to diminish the contributions Ace and Peter made.

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