Face the Music: A Life Exposed from Amazon.com!
So for several weeks leading up to this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction I saw KISS trending in nearly every news site I follow. I get updates from Ultimate Classic Rock, and I received a KISS e-lert every damn day for a month. Lot of yakking back and forth. "Paul did this to us," whined somebody. "Ace is still a damned drunk." Yada yada. I asked my KISS-fan friend Joe if they got this much press at the peak of KISS-mania and he said no. "Mainstream media hated their guts," he told me.
In this book, Stanley touches a bit on the derision and odd looks they endured from the beginning - from labels, critics, and peers. To read how he looks back on the past, it's clear he's not embittered by it. "No Drama" fast becomes a theme, but it's difficult to avoid. Stanley does admit his unwillingness to put up with the two-faced sort (using a blow-up with Slash as an example) and the desire to show up past naysayers (as illustrated in an anecdote about a high school reunion), but for the most part Face the Music is what happened and where with KISS, from inception to almost present day, as Stanley remembers. If you're expecting four hundred pages of "screw Ace and Peter" you will be disappointed - probably because recent media hype of this book may have led you to believe it's a bash-fest. Face the Music isn't all prancing unicorns, either, but it is brutal and engaging in its honesty.
Now, I reviewed Peter's book and I enjoyed it, too. I'm not yet on the KISS Army caravan but I own more albums now than I did in 2012. Since it's been two years since reading Makeup to Breakup my recall is shot, but I don't need to reread it to tell you how differently Peter and Paul tell their sides of the story. Before we get into that, though...
Stanley's pre-KISS years are marked by physical and emotional problems, everything from a dysfunctional family to a disability that luckily did not affect his musical ability. As with Criss, school offered little in terms of a future, and music proved the greater draw. Early interactions with Gene Klein/Simmons tell of a combined curiosity and skepticism that leads to a more "functional" dysfunctional relationship that remains intact.
Early KISS antics roll through the seventies on mounting credit bills and a steady climb toward fame that explodes with the release of Alive! - and the subsequent buffet of women and expensive things. I get from this book Stanley had more fun recalling sexual conquests than dealing with financial problems that plagued much of their career (understandable). Where Criss had issues with KISS merchandise threatening to undermine the band and make them appear cartoonish, for example, Stanley argues the decision wasn't any different from how The Beatles were merched a decade before them. People still go for their music, right?
When you get to the chapters on the big reunion and tours, you may think you have to choose sides. Were Ace and Peter used to generate cash, or were they asked back to recapture old magic in a setting that stood to benefit everybody involved? Stanley argues for the latter - despite having two other musicians on the payroll, the full costume/makeup tour with the original four happened as a way to end that lineup on a strong note. From Stanley's view, that was the hope, and it didn't work out that way.
And the accusations of racism that caused all the recent press? It's maybe three or four sentences, one of which is vaguely worded. Early on in this book you feel Stanley's discomfort as he remembers his first encounter with anti-Semitism (which involved neither Ace nor Peter), and it's Stanley's perception of his bandmates' overall behavior that likely prompted the remarks, if only to create a bigger picture of conflicts within KISS as you read. I can't say what Stanley thinks of Ace and Peter beyond what I have read here, but the passages read more like observation than accusation.
What he has to say about Gene, now... no, nothing to do with race or creed. I'll leave you with something to anticipate.
I enjoyed Face the Music. Stanley's enthusiasm for KISS as an entity, more than a band, is infectious. It ends in a good place, too. This went out before the HoF ceremony, and some might think that would make for a good coda to any story, but you read Paul's book and know he's nowhere close to finished.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author, editor and avid reader.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Get this book now.
As I sit to write this review, KISS is scheduled to perform where I live. Being elsewhere at the moment, it appears the opportunity to see the band play live has eluded me once more. I will admit, though, (and not to slight Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer) if the day does come I hope I get to see the original lineup. It would take a miracle, I know, but such sentimentality keeps me from spending money on acts that have replaced key players. When Rush puts Darren Stephens in place of Alex Lifeson, I'll know it's the end.
On this blog you'll find reviews of both Ace and Peter's memoirs. Where these books cover the entire span of KISStory and beyond, Nothin' to Lose does as advertised: it's a lengthy eyewitness account of the band's birth told in the oral history fashion similar to Sharp's other effort, Starting Over (also reviewed here). While this method of storytelling brings many voices to the forefront, I find this style risks the loss of an objective point of view. The book's introduction about KISS reads like a gushing fan letter, which didn't irritate me but did leave me wondering if any unflattering remarks or anecdotes didn't make the cut under the watchful eyes of Gene and Paul.
Nothin' compiles the memories of a huge cast involved in the band's genesis as Wicked Lester through their early association with Casablanca Records. More than thirty years after his death, Neil Bogart represents an enthusiasm for KISS's showmanship and drive through archived interviews - you also hear from early fans (many relatives and close friends of the original members), early road crew, former managers, and other musicians. Yes, I do give them points for an extensive section on the Rush/KISS connection, the Bag Man story, and an amusing picture of Geddy Lee covered in whipped cream that a few people I know will want to see.
You might wonder, how are Peter and Ace represented here? They do have voices, though Peter's contribution to Nothin' isn't as large as Gene and Paul's, and Ace appears less frequently. Nothin' to Lose offers a view of the early days of KISS with little evidence of in-fighting - maybe a few vocal concerns about drug and alcohol, but otherwise everybody plays nice. This doesn't mean you won't find gossipy bits to enjoy; I came away from the book with the perfect Boogie Nights image in my head about Casablanca. Nobody can accuse the 70s of being boring, and despite the healthy size of the book I wanted to read more. 1975, where the book technically ends, marks the beginning of the golden age of KISS. Tales of the humble start, from the tiny clubs and an odd Seinfeld connection, provide a wealth of memories for fans - perhaps this book's success will inspire a second volume.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who still hasn't seen KISS live.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who still hasn't seen KISS live.
Monday, November 26, 2012
I became a huge fan of KISS in the sixth grade. I find it amazing that a band gets to such popularity on word of mouth alone. The entire first wave of KISS took place without MTV, without YouTube and with very little radio airplay. I was a fan of Ace's, and I wanted to play guitar like him. He is the person who first inspired me to pick up the guitar more seriously. Later on they became too cartoonish for me, mostly due to the merchandising and Phineas T. Barnum-impersonating Gene Simmons.
I picked up Ace's book, No Regrets, because I was looking for another rock bio and my Amazon preferences led me here, as they say. My dear friend Kathryn reads and reviews them here, and somehow these have always proven to be great late-night conversation fodder for us. We enjoy sharing details of bands and their books and do, like most people, discuss what we read, watch, and listen to.
Ace starts his adventure in his youth and spends a lot of time talking about his seemingly nice middle class upbringing. He came from a loving home, had hard-working parents, went to Lutheran school, and all was a nice time growing up in the Bronx until he decided to join a gang. Ace's life moves more into juvenile delinquency, but all along he remains a student of the world and his surroundings. He can diffuse things with humor which he displays in abundance in this book with intelligence. Yes, I said it, intelligence. Ace is definitely a bright guy. Funny, too. He almost became a graphic artist instead of music, and even designed the KISS logo that we see today.
He takes us through the KISS story by letting us in on the early inner workings of the group. Gene and Paul were introverted, nerdy, and not the "ladies men" they would later turn into. Ace got his nickname by being the Ace, the one who got all the girls. He was a master at talking to girls. He had and still does have the gift of gab.
So does Ace let Gene have it in this book? I'd say he does, but he also is very kind. I won't reveal how the "Gene issue" goes but I think it's an interesting part of the book, but not all. Ace does not blame anyone for his misadventures except himself, and what misadventures! His drug use and abuse, alcohol, glue sniffing and car crashing is legendary. As someone who lives between where he lives and NYC we often heard stories by locals of Ace's misadventures. All are documented here.
The book is well-written, and he had help via Joe Layden and John Ostrosky, but having heard Ace speak in interviews the voice appears to be his. The events in the book, any of which could have taken his life, are described in vivid detail. He takes responsibility, and yes, this is a rehabilitated individual who chooses not preach about it. He's surprisingly sensible throughout and values his relationships and honors his family as much as humanly possible for a person in his state. There could have been more detail about KISS and his relationships in the band. This book is heavy on Ace and somewhat light on the rest of the band. There is great detail on the early days, and it gets lighter about the band as the book goes on. He does take the high road here, in a lot of places.
There is plenty of dirt, as these books are made for it, but there is not a lot of dirt on other people in here. Sure you'll get a good back story of the infamous Tom Snyder appearance (YouTube it, Ace was drunk and on fire!) but you won't get a lot of detail about Peter's departure or Gene's money-making schemes. Even with the lack of KISS dirt, this is a great read and I highly recommend it. It went fast, too fast, and was hard to put down. You don't have to be a KISS fan to appreciate it, the story of Ace is enough to carry the book because there is just so much story to tell. Amazing he has lived to tell it.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
I picked up Peter Criss's book, Makeup to Breakup, after my closest friend told me he was reading Ace Frehley's book (look for a guest review on that one soon). He went into Ace's book already knowing much of the story, being perhaps a more avid fan, and from the notes we've compared it may be safe to say Criss's book delves a bit deeper into the "KISStory."
The story opens with a jolt more intimidating than any full makeup live show, where Peter briefly contemplates suicide after riding out a rough California earthquake. While an unwavering faith in God and devotion to family ultimately pull him back, this event seems to symbolize the shaky ground on which Criss has walked through much of his life, from early beginnings running with gangs to false starts with fledgling bands until his first meeting with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.
Criss and co-author Larry Sloman paint a rather vivid picture of the drummer's youth and pre-KISS days. As with other musician memoirs I've read in recent years (Sammy Hagar's for one), the requisite juvenile delinquency sets the stage for an interesting life. George Peter Criscuola stood out in school and in the neighborhood, and not necessarily in a good way. A stint in a gang helped toughen him for life on the road as a drummer, yet he left his tenure with KISS a victim in many ways.
Criss notes here that Simmons has painted him as the complainer in the group, and if Criss's word is to be accepted over the other band members he has good reason. Criss's desire to play in a band apparently conflicted with Simmons's desire to play up a brand - profits from the KISS-logo condoms, coffins, underwear, etc. aren't likely to hit Criss's bank account, and the resentment is strongly felt in this book. It's interesting to note, too, that Frehley had designed the iconic logo that the band markets with fervor.
But this is a review of Makeup to Breakup, not a critique of the band's marketing strategy. I find that as I read books like Criss's I become torn emotionally. The guy had millions at one point, and one might find it challenging to feel for him when he hits a low point personally and professionally, especially when you read of all the coke snorted, the women banged and tossed away, etc. In some chapters Criss appears unapologetic for certain actions, and when you come to the point where you want to close the book and leave him to reap what he sowed, you read about how the KISS machine drew him back in so they could make more money off the Catman, and you feel insulted right along with him.
What may win you to Criss's corner, KISS fan or not, is his unwavering appreciation for his fans. Criss may never see a dime from sales of lunchboxes and t-shirts, but at the end of the day he knows the KISS Army formed for a love of the music, and his contributions are no less important than the other members'.
I imagine hardcore KISS fans will debate over whether Criss is entitled to his financial share of the legacy or if Simmons and Stanley acted with benevolence in giving Criss a "second chance" after years of drug abuse on the job. Either way, fans now have a third point of view of the KISStory to consider, and it's worth reading.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.