PART B: DROWNING IN THE GENE POOL
Continuing on in my occasional series about my favorite Rock ‘N’ Roll band of all-time, this chapter deals with Gene Simmons’ 2001 autobiography, Kiss And Make-Up, which I recently read. I swore up and down that I would not spend one thin dime on this book, and I’ve lived up to my word. I never said I wouldn’t borrow it from the library and read it, though, did I? Anyway, can you say “hatchet job”? While I do believe most of the stuff Simmons wrote about his mom and his upbringing in Israel, as well as his family life with Shannon, Nick and Sophie, I had a lot of trouble buying the crap he wrote about Ace Frehley and Peter Criss throughout the book. I have no doubt If you asked each member of Kiss to tell the story of the band, you’d get four different versions of what truly happened anyway, but Ace and Peter don’t deserve the hammering they received here. Neither of them are saints, by any means, but I thought Gene’s poison-pen skewering of them was uncalled-for.
As the Demon himself once said, it’s okay if long-time fans don’t always agree with the things he and Paul Stanley say and do—at least it shows that we care. If fans like me didn’t care, we’d not say anything at all. Therefore, I have a few nits to pick with the Artist Formerly Known as Chaim Witz, which I’ve itemized below…
In regard to the Kiss solo albums released in 1978, Gene writes:
“After twenty plus years of sales figures, I’m at the top, slightly ahead of Ace, who is slightly ahead of Paul. Peter’s sold the least well of the four. None of the albums really yielded hits. The song that got the farthest was Ace’s ’New York Groove’, which went to number 14. Peter didn’t chart. 'Radioactive', my single, stopped in the twenties, and Paul’s 'Hold Me, Touch Me' was a little lower that.”
Uhhh, at the top of what, Gene? In the twenties of where? That ain’t the way I remember it—Ace’s album (which was generally considered the best of the four) sold the most, followed closely by Paul’s (which sounded the closest to a regular Kiss album). Gene’s album (which was downright weird) and Peter’s album (which was like a poor man's Eddie Money record) both lagged way behind. Neither Gene (#47) nor Paul (#46) even sniffed the top 40 with those songs Gene mentions, so I don’t know what chart(s) he’s referring to.
Regarding the possibility of reuniting with Ace and Peter at the time of the Kiss Conventions in 1993-94:
“Ace and Peter had become so crippled by their emotional problems and by various substances—they had become so diminished as human beings and as musicians—that they would have been an embarrassment.”
Sorry, Gene, I ain’t buying this bullshit, either. I don’t know about Peter so much during that time, but I saw Ace play live here in K.C. in ‘94, and he put on a damn good show that night. The Spaceman sure didn’t resemble no cripple, that’s for sure.
On the 2000 “Farewell” tour:
“People were crying in the audience, but maybe it wasn’t because they were never going to see us again—maybe it was because Ace and Peter were playing so badly. As the tour went on, it became clear to me that the decision to make this tour the last one was not only smart but maybe inevitable. Musically, it was the worst we had ever been.”
Okay, this stuff pisses me off the most, I think, coming from Mr. “Buffalo-fart” bass solo man and from the man who screamed “Let me hear ya, Kansas City!”—in St. Louis! First off, I caught no less than four shows on the “Farewell” Tour, and they were all first-rate. I’ve also watched videos from that tour numerous times since then and at no point do I consider Frehley’s and Criss’ musicianship to be subpar, and if I did find their performances to be as poor as Gene claims, I would say so. I will say this, though—it’s no secret that neither Ace’s nor Peter’s heart was in the Kiss thing by that time (can you blame them?), but they still played like professionals to the end. And if Peter was such a terrible drummer, then why, Gene, did you bring him back for the Alive IV Kiss Symphony thing in 2003? Makes no sense…
Gene talked about Ace and Peter during the band’s early days:
“Ace did nothing.”
Gene used this same line numerous times talking about how Frehley allegedly didn’t help load equipment, didn’t write songs, didn’t participate in band meetings, didn’t play in any reindeer games, whatever, when the band first started to tour. If he was such a lazy-ass, then why didn’t you find a suitable replacement? After all, you almost went with Bob Kulick before Ace aced him out at your auditions.
“Ace had a fascination with Nazi memorabilia, and in his drunken stupors he and his best friend would make videotapes of themselves dressed up as Nazis…Ace showed me a piece of tape where he and his best friend were making verbal threats against ‘the Jew in New York‘ (Mayor Ed Koch), saying ‘We’ll cook him up.’ Of course, he was drunk out of his mind. Paul (Stanley) and I weren’t thrilled about that. But Ace laughed at how funny he was when he saw the tape.”
I find this one hard to believe. If I were Jewish and my mother had survived the concentration camp horror like Gene’s mom did and some palooka came along and pulled that kind of crap in front of me, I woulda decked his sorry ass and he’d no longer be my friend and bandmate. Ace Frehley doesn’t strike me as being a malicious dude—he’s no angel, and he is indeed of German descent—but I just can’t fathom that he’d be that cruel and insensitive, especially to his closest cohorts, regardless of how drunk he got.
“We were in the back of a station wagon, four of us…Peter and Ace would strip off their pants and stick their dicks against the window of the station wagon we were touring in.”
And during Gene’s and Paul’s first encounter with their future drummer:
“Peter walked up and said, ‘Hi, I’m Peter Criscoula and I’ve got a nine-inch dick.’”
Not buying either one of these stories, either. Again, Peter and Ace are hardly model citizens, but I’m having trouble envisioning these incidents being true. Even if they are true, why bring them up now? What good comes from it other than soothing your own vindictive ego, Gene? And if Ace and Peter so loathsome, then why didn’t you kick them out of the band when you had the chance before you hit the big-time? Why did you put up with them so long, if they were such douche-bags?
Regarding original Kiss manager Bill Aucoin:
“I didn’t realize it immediately, but Bill was gay.”
I do hope, for Mr. Aucoin’s sake, that his homosexuality wasn’t a well-kept secret before Gene’s book came out. If Aucoin is indeed gay and proud of it, then no harm/no foul, I guess (on Gene, I mean), but I thought it was totally unnecessary for Simmons to out him when Bill’s sexual preference really had nothing at all to do with Gene’s personal life, much less the history of the band.
Regarding the 1974 remake of Bobby Rydell’s 1959 hit “Kissin’ Time”:
“We also extracted a promise from (Casablanca Records boss man) Neil (Bogart) that the cover version of the song would never appear on any actual Kiss albums, that it would be a one-shot deal to promote the (kissing) contest. Of course, it didn’t work out that way—the song later found its way onto some albums and re-releases.”
Huh? SOME albums? Uhhh, “Kissin’ Time” appears on every copy I’ve ever had of the first Kiss album—Side 2, Track 1—and I have yet to ever see it on any re-releases. It is true, however, the song didn’t appear on initial pressings of the first album when it was released, and if you happen to possess a vinyl copy of Kiss that doesn’t contain “Kissin’ Time”, it’s probably worth a goodly sum of money. I know I’m being anal here, but I don’t get that “some albums” bit.
As for the rest of the Kiss and Make-Up, I could’ve done without Gene’s incessant Alpha-male boasting about fucking all those groupies over the years. There’s a big difference between quantity and quality, and sticking your dick in every female you stumble across that has a pulse don’t really impress me much. I also grew quite weary of constantly being reminded of how Gene had never been drunk. Fine, Mr. Holier-Than-Thou, me and Ace and Peter aren’t worthy of your blessing, evidently, but I still want to know what the fuck you were doing on that Miller Lite beer TV ad about five years ago.
Ace Frehley had a pretty good comeback on Gene in 2002: “Gene Simmons is a good musician and a good songwriter, but in the year 2002 Gene uses the bass as a vehicle to be a businessman, promote Kiss merchandise, get laid, and do a hundred other things.”
There were a couple things in Gene’s book that did actually jibe with me, however...
On the laid-back southern California lifestyle he encountered while dating Cher in the late ‘70s:
“California was also awash in est, and in meditation, and in Eastern mysticism. I didn’t have much use for any of them. Even when the Beatles were going through their Maharishi phase, I felt betrayed. You idiots, I thought. While India may be a spiritually brilliant country, spirituality meant nothing to me. Children are dying there every day of starvation. I’d rather be unspiritual and fed than spiritual and starving. Sorry. This was always my philosophy—pragmatism.”
As crude as Gene sounds, he does bring up a legitimate point here—if India is such an enlightened country, then why is there so much poverty there? I’ve tried reading books about the whole meditation thing and “living in the moment” and just accepting things as they happen in life, and it’s all a load of bullshit to me. My brain just ain’t wired that way, sorry kids.
On hob-nobbing with celebrities while dating Cher:
“To me it was chit-chat. I’ve always been about the facts—give me the information. And then it’s off to the pleasure zones.”
Maybe there’s a little Gene Simmons in me after all, because I totally agree with him here. I’m a horrible schmoozer at parties or in other social situations in large part because idle chit-chat bores the shit out of me. Like Gene, I’m more of a cut-to-the-chase kind of person. Don’t get me wrong—get me on a topic of discussion I’m interested in, and I’ll talk your ears off, but just chewing the fat about mundane banalities is incredibly dull to me.
Gene also wrote that he once worked for something called the Puerto Rican Interagency Council in New York. With an acronym like that—P.R.I.C.—it seems like a perfect fit for Gene!
Meanwhile, Paul Stanley had some more disparaging comments about Ace and Peter in the paper recently…
Regarding the reunion years:
“I think we had people who were delusional about their songwriting abilities and musical abilities. There was an unfortunate carryover of bad habits that people had sworn they would never do again. It’s strange when people come back to a band nothing but grateful, with promises they’ve learned from their mistakes, and as soon as they have money in their pocket, quickly develop amnesia.”
“Are you still glad you did the reunion?”
“Totally. Totally. It was magical at the beginning. But ultimately, the only magic I wanted was to make certain people disappear. And that was a shame. It had the potential to be much more than just a reunion tour. But it quickly became clear that it couldn’t progress. It was an opportunity for people to hone their skills and take the band to another level. But I guess that was left for Tommy, Eric, Gene and me.”
It kills me how Paul always sounds like he’s reading off a script when he talks about the past in his undying effort to stay “on message”. Love him to death, but I long ago grew weary of him chanting the “there are four stars” mantra when it comes to Kiss. It’s always been him and Gene and whoever wants to kiss their butts the most in this band. The only time you can associate the term “four stars” with Kiss is the hotels they stay in.