The sideshow at Dodger Stadium is about to begin as Paul Stanley emerges from his backstage trailer, shirtless and in full kabuki drag: bright red lips, his face painted harlequin white, a black star over his right eye. The singer-guitarist is here to perform with his band KISS but hears his name and walks over to a crowd gathered at the fence.
“Arriba!” yells one fan, and Stanley reaches over to shake hands, as dozens of cellphones take snapshots. “Let me see your shoes!” shouts another, and Stanley half-climbs the fence to swing a tasseled silver-and-black platform boot over the top. “Thanks, Paul!”
In less than an hour, Stanley and his musical partner of four decades, Gene Simmons, will lead KISS through two short sets of hooks and hard rock riffs as halftime entertainment for an ice hockey game between the Kings and the Ducks. It’s another strange gig in the ongoing saga of KISS, which long ago evolved from band to lucrative brand, ready for high-profile special events, reality TV and cradle-to-grave business ventures in the form of KISS Hello Kitty Dolls, KISS comics, books, T-shirts, action figures and restaurants as well as KISS caskets and KISS urns.
In one more way, 2014 could be the band’s most surprising year since its initial 1970s pop culture explosion, beginning with KISS’ induction April 10th into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It welcomes the hard-rock quartet into the critical pantheon that has at times violently rejected KISS and acknowledges the band’s huge impact on rock spectacle.
“I still believe the heart and soul of this is a band. The music is imperative,” says Stanley, who has produced the last two KISS albums and next month releases an autobiography, “Face the Music: A Life Exposed.” “Maybe our horizons are broader because we have an opportunity to go other places. Why not? Whether it’s a football team or restaurants, people say that’s not rock ‘n’ roll. Let me tell you what’s rock ‘n’ roll: Winning is rock ‘n’ roll.”
Being voted into the Hall of Fame is a victory that comes 15 years after the band’s initial eligibility and annual outrage from fans. But next month’s ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn also means dealing with old wounds and complications that began with the final exit of founding guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss more than a dozen years ago. In their place ever since are lead guitarist Tommy Thayer, 53, and drummer Eric Singer, 55, who both wear the makeup designs of their predecessors (designs owned by Simmons and Stanley).
“The naysayers, and some of them are loud, talk about Tommy or Eric being impostors. I think an impostor is a guy up there doing it for a paycheck,” says Stanley, back in his trailer and now dressed in his full stage regalia, with black feathers on his shoulders and medallions over his chest of a guitar pick, a feather, a star. “We’ve never been happier.”
Any hopes for a reunion in makeup of the four founding members at the Hall of Fame ceremony ended last week with a band decision to not perform in any capacity. A statement on the KISS website read: “This is understandably an emotional situation where there is no way to please everyone.”
Negotiations with the Hall of Fame stalled, say Simmons and Stanley, who wanted to include Singer and Thayer, while the Rock Hall wanted a reunion of the original quartet in makeup.
“Imagine getting onstage and playing with a lineup that does not exist,” says Simmons, 64, comparing the situation to a forced reunion with an ex-spouse. Both have bad memories of years of substance abuse by their former partners but say they are happy and proud to accept the award with the former members. Putting the original quartet in makeup was “a nonstarter,” says Stanley.
Simmons and Stanley questioned whether the former members were up to performing. Reached via email, both Criss and Frehley are working on solo albums and say their problems with drinks and drugs are behind them. Frehley has been sober for seven years.
“We should of been able to work it out as grown men; it’s a shame we couldn’t,” writes Criss, who also survived a 2007 breast cancer scare.
“My guitar playing, singing, writing, performing and producing skills are as good or better than the past,” Frehley writes. “For years, Gene and Paul have been trying to minimize my contributions to the band, even though I designed the famous KISS logo … and designed the trademarked makeup for the Spaceman character.”
All four said they were open to joining the night’s traditional jam session at the end of the night. “That’s what the celebration is all about,” Frehley writes.
Long before being voted into the Rock Hall as a band, Simmons and Stanley were outspoken critics of the rock institution and its rules. “We had issues before this happened. It doesn’t turn into a love fest now,” says Stanley, but acknowledged, “There are some people who are angry or hurt by this, and I don’t want to see that.”
The controversies over the Hall of Fame and newer members wearing classic makeup are issues mainly for older fans with an emotional attachment to the original band. [Bassist Gene] Simmons calls up a photo on his computer from a stadium show in Stockholm, then another from Lima, Peru. Both show ecstatic young fans in the front rows.
“Can you see the faces? That’s about 90,000,” he says of the crowd. “You see a bald head in there? You think they … about Ace and Peter? They’re going, ‘Who?’ We’ve been around 40 years, and only two members stayed there the whole time, never quit, no drugs, no booze. KISS is bigger than anybody in the band.”
Read more at the L.A. Times.