by Matt Wardlaw
This week KISS will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There have been no shortage of verbal pyrotechnics and plenty of controversy surrounding the group since its induction was announced last fall. The controversy is largely centered around the decision to induct only the four original members — Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Joel Peresman, the New York-based President and CEO for the Rock Hall defended the decision in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, telling the magazine, “With KISS, there wasn't a single person we spoke to that didn't feel the reason these guys were being inducted was because of the four original members.” During our phone conversation with KISS guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley, a founding member of the group, he made it clear that they don’t lose a lot of sleep (or any) thinking about the critics. The opinions that really matter are those of the fans who have supported KISS nearly nonstop throughout its 40-year history as a band. In his words, they’ve “taken the test” and they’ve bought the albums and come to see the shows. At the end of the day, he says that no matter what the critics might think, “I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m proud to continue doing it.” For the first time, Stanley is telling his side of the story in depth with his new book Face the Music: A Life Exposed. Weighing in at nearly 500 pages in length, it’s an engaging read that covers quite a bit of ground. We spoke with Stanley about the new book and he shared some of his memories of Cleveland during the conversation. He also gave us a brief glimpse of what’s left on the agenda of things he’d like to accomplish.
It’s great to talk with you.
Well, Cleveland Scene is a paper that I’ve known well for quite a long time.
What are some of your earliest memories of playing Cleveland?
Musically, I always remember the Agora, which was one of those great stepping stones to playing your theaters. It was a great concert club and attracted a lot of great bands and we had a lot of fun there. The fun usually continued at Swingo’s, which fortunately or unfortunately is long gone. That was a hotel that was in a way a monument to everything rock and roll. You know, Cleveland, whether it was ‘MMS….there was definitely a Cleveland mindset that was very, very appreciative and very tuned into what we were doing, from very early on.
I remember seeing a picture around the time of the reunion tour with you guys and the Belkin brothers who were also wearing the makeup. KISS definitely came up at a time where relationships with the right promoters were a make or break thing so key to a band’s career.
Well, there was a time where each region had a promoter or choice of promoters and some of those guys were terrific and the cream always rises to the top. Jules Belkin and his whole family, they were our Cleveland family. I still love seeing any of them, Mike or Jules [Belkin] or any of them.
A quote that stuck with me from the book was “we weren’t Simon & Garfunkel, we weren’t the Everly Brothers — our songs were built to rock.” Did you have a pretty clear direction when you first got going with the band as far as where you wanted things to go?
Totally. It was never about the makeup. It was always about the kind of band we wanted to be. I was fortunate enough as a teen to have seen Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin — and I’m not talking about in arenas and stadiums, I’m talking about small places. So Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who — the list goes on and on. Those were the bands that inspired me. So how we chose to dress it up came secondly. It was always part of the big picture, but it was never “Let’s wear makeup and play music.” It was “Let’s play music and wear makeup.” So the priority was always how much horsepower is our engine going to have and then what color are we going to paint the car?
As far as the makeup, do you feel like that cost the band critically and do you regret that piece of the plan?
Not in the least. Present company excluded, critics are a lucky bunch. They didn’t go to school to get a degree in being critics — in a sense, they’re entertainers and they’re given a lot of credence by some people and ignored by others. I don’t need somebody to tell me what good food is. Good food is what I swallow and bad food is what I spit out. Likewise, I don’t need to be educated about art or music, because it’s totally subjective. The people that count are the people who pay hard-earned money for tickets, hard-earned money for CDs, hard-earned money for T-shirts, belt buckles or whatever. So why would I chase the approval of people who really haven’t taken the test? So no, not at all. You’d have to ask the millions of people who are happy that we’ve done it. To this day, I still have issues with critics and with politics of critics and I am proud of what I’ve done and proud to continue doing it.
We’re in the age where in rock and roll, everybody and their brother is writing a book. What I liked about yours is that it’s very real in comparison to a lot of them that you read.
Thank God! [Laughs] I think that most books written by entertainers should be written on rolls of soft toilet paper, so that they would have a better use. I don’t see any purpose in writing a self-congratulatory love letter about supposed accomplishments and remembrances that may or may not have happened. What’s the point? The only reason I wrote a book was because I began to think that my life and where I started and where I ended up could inspire other people to find their own path. Also, for my children to better understand what it took for me to succeed. Unless there’s a purpose like that that serves other people, what’s the point of writing a book?
You’re a guy where as it is, everything you say and do is sliced and diced into soundbites and quotes on the internet. How much did you think about that as you were diving into this project?
I’m somebody who knows how to make a statement or thought concise and that would constitute what is commonly known as a soundbite. But my book needed to go deeper than that. My book had to expose my life so that other people might be able to identify with it. The concept of your heroes or the people who inspire you as [being] perfect really undermines you as a fan. I wanted to draw more of a sense of commonality and perhaps it would make some people realize that we all have similar issues and then it just comes down to [figuring out] how do we deal with them?
In the book, you tell the story of the opportunity that you had to write songs with Jon Bon Jovi for the album that would become Slippery When Wet. That’s a heck of an opportunity to pass on, to Desmond Child in this case, but certainly you can’t do everything. You have to pick and choose the things that you do based on what makes sense at any given time. Are there things and opportunities that you regret passing on?
I don’t regret that at all. The best thing that happened to Jon was Desmond. It wouldn’t have been me. Interestingly, we always tend to believe that things would be the same if we had been involved and been just as successful and that somehow we missed the boat or we missed an opportunity. The truth is, things would be drastically different if we were involved. They might have flopped or they might have not succeeded. So I don’t regret that. Desmond was the perfect person to do that and I couldn’t have done that.
Are there other things that you regret?
No, I can’t think of any. I make my choices and most of them may be pragmatic, but that’s a good way to deal with things. Once I make a decision, I’m at peace with it. All choices are mine. So once I choose to pass, it’s over.
You’ve said a lot of things recently about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Would you feel differently about it all if it had been handled better?
Well, unfortunately all of my worst suspicions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were all confirmed by the way things were handled. I mean, you can’t separate the methodology from the Hall itself. I’ve not been in a position where I have to put up with crap from anybody and people who hide behind an organization when they’re actually pulling the strings and people virtually have no vote and where rules are made to be broken and manipulated to suit the [purposes of the] people behind the scenes. I had heard stories and thought that all to be true and now I can confirm it absolutely is. We should go forward, but their answers or comebacks have been weak at best. I think everything has been handled poorly and without any respect and a lot of arrogance.
With the 40th Anniversary tour on tap for KISS, what do you, Paul Stanley, still want to do as an artist and creative type?
Tour. Be a great dad. Watch my kids grow up and watch my oldest finish NYU and if he chooses to pursue music. There’s a lot that has to do with the people around me. It’s a different life when you see yourself as the most important person. It’s a much more fun life when you allow someone else to be the center. So my family, where they go and how they develop and how I participate — that’s important to me. Where I go as a father and as a husband and also where the band goes. The band has never been better. The band has never sounded better and the band has never gotten along better. We are proud and steeped in our past, but we don’t live exclusively there. I’m very happy to get up every night and play with those guys. I just saw them yesterday at the press conference and we just have a lot of fun. We laugh a lot and there’s a work ethic, which is something that I’m proud of, where everybody wants to make the and as great as it can be. That’s how you become more well-known and respected. When you’re in it saying “How can I use the band to make me more famous,” well you’ve put the cart before the horse. I’m very happy in the band and I want to continue that and continue things that are going on with my family and also perhaps go back and do more musical theater.