kiss-return Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone reports:

All that’s missing from Gene Simmons’ home office is a cash register. He has stuffed a wing of his otherwise tasteful Beverly Hills mansion with Kiss merchandise, turning it into a shrine to his favorite guy, Gene Simmons, and the band for which he’s spent 40 lucrative years playing bass, breathing fire, spitting blood and waggling a tongue so freakish he’s had to deny grafting it from some unlucky cow. There are thousands of KISS things in his lair, overflowing from glass cases: Halloween masks; life-size busts of the band members’ heads; dolls; action figures; coffee mugs; motorcycle helmets; plates; blankets; demonic Mr. Potato Heads; sneakers; bibs; a bowling ball.

On one wall is a plaque commemorating 100 million Kiss albums sold worldwide. “This room,” says Simmons, adding extra portentousness to his baritone, “didn’t happen by accident.”

KISS still tour. But the only original members left are Simmons and the band’s frontman, Paul Stanley…Drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist Ace Frehley, the ones who took the whole party-every-day thing to heart, who crashed sports cars and threw furniture out of hotel windows, are long gone. You can sometimes catch Simmons and Stanley talking about their old bandmates with distant fondness, as if they were parked in their very own KISS Kaskets, rather than living quiet lives in New Jersey and San Diego.

When he’s not slinging button-pushing, right-wing lectures (he claims that the Vietnam War was a great idea), Simmons can slip into boastful defensiveness, but there’s something puppyish beneath it all, as if he’s daring you to like him. “All the credible bands can kiss my ass, with all due respect,” he says, apropos of not much, within three minutes of my arrival. “The original forefathers who are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and I don’t mean the disco or the hip-hop artists, what the fuck are they thinking? – couldn’t spell the word ‘credibility’ and never thought about it. It was an antithesis of the self-imposed mandate, which is, ‘Do what you want to do.’ In other words, no rules.”

In April, KISS themselves will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 15 years after they first became eligible. The band members share a distrust of the institution, which represents a rock establishment that long dismissed [the band] as lowbrow purveyors of gimmickry – presumably in contrast to the dignity and reserve of a berouged Little Richard screaming nonsense syllables. “The most important thing,” says Simmons, “is that it’s validation for fans who were picked on for liking KISS as opposed to, I don’t know, Air Supply.”

The Hall of Fame ceremony could have included a heartwarming reunion of the original lineup, but maybe that kind of thing is for hippies. Instead, Simmons and Stanley insisted on playing as the current KISS, with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. “We heard, ‘We would like Ace and Peter in makeup,'” says Stanley. “And we said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ That band is long gone. I question what Ace and Peter would look like in those outfits. We’ve spent 40 years building something, and to dissipate what we’ve done, or confuse it by sending mixed messages? What we offered was to play with Tommy and Eric and then bring out Ace and Peter to play with us.”

Criss and Frehley were so insulted by that proposition that they threatened to boycott the ceremony. “I won’t be disrespected,” Criss says, sitting in his New Jersey home. “How can you put me in the Hall of Fame and then tell me to sit over there in the corner while another guy puts on my makeup and plays? That’s an injustice. To the fans, too.”

Stanley was affronted by the Hall’s refusal to induct any of the musicians who played with KISS after the original guys (several lead guitarists, plus two drummers: Singer and Criss’ original replacement, the late Eric Carr). “I don’t need the Hall of Fame,” says Stanley. “And if there’s not reciprocity, I’m not interested. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, practically every member was inducted, and virtually all 175 members of the Grateful Dead. Rules need to apply to everybody.”

Simmons, meanwhile, says that Frehley and Criss “no longer deserve to wear the paint.” “The makeup is earned,” he adds. “Just being there at the beginning is not enough. You know, quite honestly, my hand to God? I would have preferred the same lineup all these years. But if I fuck up, I should be tossed out. And if you blow it for yourself, it’s your fault. You can’t blame your band members. ‘Oh, look what happened to me. Oh, poor me.’ Look at my little violin. I have no sympathy.”

Hanging out in his San Diego condo, Frehley says that the resistance to a reunion is all business: After all, the current lineup has a summer tour planned. “The reason they don’t want to perform with me and Peter,” he says, “is because the last time they did, they had to do a reunion tour. We play three songs, the fans go crazy. They don’t want to open up a can of worms.”

Frehley and Criss may not get the performance they want, but it looks like they won’t have to see anyone else in their makeup. Outmaneuvered, for once, Stanley and Simmons announced in late February that they wouldn’t perform at all.

[Paul] Stanley comes off as friendly and warm, though he can be chillingly blunt in assessing his old bandmates. But if you believe Criss and Frehley, he is a Dick Cheney-like figure in KISS, the real power behind a flashier figurehead. “Pauly’s the one you’ve got to watch for,” says Criss. “He’ll leave this building, and then you’ll go, ‘Holy fucking shit, he cut my throat.’ He really is the leader of KISS. He’s the guy who pulls the strings – trust me.”

“I know two people who demonize me,” he says. “It’s funny, because I don’t know anyone else who does. I can’t possibly be responsible for those guys’ situations or failures. Any more than I can make someone else responsible for mine.”

Stanley does agree that Simmons’ prominence as a band spokesman is misleading. “Gene’s makeup is the face of KISS,” he says. “It’s the strongest. But the idea that he’s the motivating force in the band – that’s only believed by people who don’t know the band.”

Once Frehley was out of KISS, it was up to Simmons and Stanley to keep the band alive – and Simmons was busy pursuing an acting career and other projects, including managing Liza Minnelli’s career. Stanley felt abandoned. “And it wasn’t like he was making Gone With the Wind,” he says. “Some of it was more like passing wind! But what I resented was just being informed and then working to his plan. It didn’t seem fair.” He considers KISS’ 1984 album, Animalize, close to a Paul Stanley solo album. “I could deal with that. What I couldn’t deal with was that somebody wanted to be paid for not doing their job. If it applied to Ace and Peter, it applies to Gene, too.”

He laughs when he hears that Simmons played me some of the very un-KISS-like ballads he writes for fun. “Gene loves the sound of his own voice,” he says.

Presented with a list of Stanley’s beefs with him, Simmons simply pleads guilty. “The luckiest break I ever got was meeting Paul Stanley,” he says. “Who hated me when he first met me – thought I was arrogant. True! Self-absorbed. True! Guilty as charged. Thinks that he’s better than he actually is. Guilty as charged. And yet something in that mixture between us – you know they say that purebred dogs are retarded. It is the differences in things that make something stronger.”

When I ask Stanley if the two men have ever sat down to work out their differences, he’s genuinely confused. “I’m curious . . . what’s there to work out?” he says. “The fact that we have 40-plus years between us means we worked it out.”

[While I was at Simmons’ residence], Paul Stanley [dropped by], bringing by a copy of his book – he hadn’t let Simmons read it, but heard I was asking about it, and figured it was time. Simmons is delighted to see him; it’s clearly been a while since he came over. “Do you want a drink?” Simmons asks.

“I gotta go home and give my kids a bath,” says Stanley, handing over the book.

Simmons flips to the pictures at the centerfold. “Oh, my God,” he says, “look at this photo of Ace and Peter. Where was that?”

“The one satisfaction those two guys should get in life is knowing that every day, we talk about them,” says Stanley. “A day can’t go by that you don’t remember something that is astonishing.”

“Or makes no sense!” Simmons adds. “And is completely baffling, or so self-destructive.” (There was, for instance, the time Ace gulped a bottle of perfume in a limo, after hearing it contained alcohol. And the time Criss shot the big-screen TV in Simmons’ house with a .38 revolver after learning his girlfriend had slept with an actor shown on the screen.)

It seems clear that there’s at least one person Simmons wants as a friend. They’ve been together so long, and even Simmons isn’t egotistical enough to think they can tour forever. “Physically, I won’t be able to do this into my seventies,” he says. He has me lift a spiked leather stage jacket from a nearby chair – it must weigh 25 pounds. “I’m 64 now. Three more tours. Two, if I have a life change of some kind.” He and Stanley do, however, talk about replacing themselves with new members and having KISS continue to the end of time.

“Sometimes,” he says, “when I come out and sit out there, just relax between meetings and stuff, Paul’s right: I keep thinking about Ace and Peter. ‘What are they doing now? Where are they?’ It’s gotta be close to the end. How do you make any money? How do you pay your bills? I mean, it’s gotta be . . . you’re in your sixties. Peter’s gotta be 67, 68. I think he’s 68 now. That’s it. You’re done.”

Each member of KISS had designed his own makeup. Criss relinquished the rights to his character when he left (although he’s confused about the circumstances), and Frehley maintains that he licensed his. He says he’s due to get the rights back soon, a claim Stanley called a “fantasy”: “We own it. He sold it.” In the meantime, Thayer, who once worked as the band’s road manager, wears Frehley’s makeup. Says Frehley: “I mean, a supergroup has one of the most dynamic, greatest lead guitarists in the world leave the band, and who did they hire to play lead guitar? Their road manager, who used to be in a KISS cover band. How insane is that? You can’t make this shit up.” He is, in general, unimpressed with the band’s current state: “Paul’s voice is shot.” (Thayer, whose KISS cover band was just a goofy side project while he was in a major-label metal band, responds, “These guys like to say, ‘Oh, he was the road manager.’ I’ve been in music for over 30 years.”)

The band’s current drummer, Eric Singer, points out that Frehley never complained during the portion of the reunion era that had him playing with Singer – in full Catman makeup – instead of Criss. “Well, Peter sold his makeup,” Frehley says with a shrug.

On some tours, Singer has even sung a version of Beth, which breaks original drummer [Peter] Criss’ heart. “How much more can you slap me?” he says. “How hard do you want to hit me? It’s my baby – no one sings it like me. And I said to Gigi, ‘You know what, it’s like the Lone Ranger: You can take his mask off and put it on another guy, but it’ll never be Clayton Moore.'”

Read KISS’ entire cover story at Rolling Stone.

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  • WhatIsTheDeal? on

    So, what is the big beef between G & P and Ace, and G&P and Peter? I don’t remember the reunion Tour ending all THAT badly. I think that G&P have creted this firestorm to distract us because they want to keep the money from KISS.

    • Eddie on

      Reunion tour did not end badly, Farewell tour did

    • WhatIsTheDeal? on

      How so? What is the beef????

    • JB on

      Money and old habits.

      Ace…regardless of what anyone says was/had never stopped drinking when the Reunion tour rolled around. One of the agreements was no drugs, no booze. Gene and Paul clearly overlooked that to pull off the Reunion tour. By all accounts Peter held up his end of the bargain but Ace never did. Both were paid a flat fee for the Reunion tour of 2 mill. The rub came when the Reunion tour was winding down as Gene and Paul made an enormous amount of money and would not renegotiate. Again, though Pete and Ace were paid 2 mill apiece whether the tour succeeded or failed. That ain’t chump change to show and play rock n roll. As the contracts were redone for the Pyscho Circus album and following tours things began to get really bad. Ace again was full blown off the wagon (not that he was ever on it at the time) and Peter’s bitterness about dollars started taking over i.e. read his book. I mean the Farewell tour…Ace was dead drunk onstage at the Nashville show. Started Shock Me twice and dropped his guitar trying to find the hook that took it up to the rafters. I’d say by that point Gene and Paul had enough. In the end…the band would not have continued “in makeup” without Ace and Peter if hundreds of thousands of fans had not supported it. Hard to sell something when people don’t want it…evidently enough people/fans wanted it because Kiss has carried on without Ace and Pete for the second time in 40 years. I don’t like the current version but plenty of fans have, no denying that.

    • Jim from Houston on

      Once Gene and Paul discovered they could Put Thayer and Singer in the Makeup and pay them less and Make bigger profits it was a done deal.


      Serves Paul & Gene right for using Ace & Peter to get back on top. I say this as a fan for 36 of my 40 and a half years. I remember the early 90’s the ship was going down, Revenge, Alive III (Came out on my 20th birthday) and Carnival Of Souls were not big sellers. Paul & Gene said for years there will never be a Reunion tour, but after the reaction at MTV Unplugged they saw $. Why shouldn’t Ace & Peter have gotten more money when millions were made on the Reunion tour?

    • Klaus Baumgarten on

      If your drinking affects your performance in a way that it becomes obvious or disappoiting to the fans, that is of course really bad and cannot be tolerated within such a production context should it occur more often. But also not to renegotiate the split of such an enormous success that was because of all four of them and not just becaue of G and P also shows that A and P really did have and still have something to be angry about. The reunion saved A and P from being bankrupt, it savedalso G and P from having to bury the band sooner or later, but in the end who made the real profit compared to whom did the audience that shovelled in the money want to see??

    • Brian B on

      Where are Eddie’s Kool Aid comments ???

    • Keith Gallant on

      For the record, I have been a HUGE KISS fan since Rock and Roll Over came out back in the seventies. I have read comments from folks on this site since the whole HOF thing came out, and I can’t get over how completely unrealistc some people can be. You may not like Paul or Gene’s position, but there is no denying that they have a valid point. Had the HOF elected to induct all of the people that had been in KISS over the years, as they have for other bands, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And, while there is no denying that Ace and Peter are the original members, Eric has been in KISS since Revenge came out! And the last two records with Tommy have been pretty decent, way better than Psycho Circus. Do I wish that the original lineup had lasted all 40 years? Of course, I do! But I am realistic enough to understand that people sometimes cannot stay together, and that outsiders should not judge one side or the other without intimate knowledge of what truly went on behind closed doors. I have supported both Frehley’s Comet and Ace’s other solo projects. While I cannot honestly say the same for Peter Criss, I certainly do not condemn him or Ace for their previous addiction problems. But I also don’t blame Paul or Gene for not being willing to enable them by continuing to work with them. I also don’t condemn Paul or Gene from continuing the band without Ace and Peter. I can honestly say I have enjoyed all of the various incarnations of KISS (even The Elder, though Unmasked was pretty bad!).
      And for all of the folks that have condemned Paul and Gene for “just doing it for the money”, please grow up! If anyone believes that ANY band is playing music for anything but the chance to make it big and make a ton of money, I have a bridge to nowhere I want to sell you! And for all of you that have condemned Paul and Gene for having HUGE EGO’s, they have earned the right to be that way! They both know that they aren’t the greatest musicians, but they have managed to become superstars despite this, because they worked hard and did not let the excesses of the music business divert them from their goal of becoming successful. To me, that is something to be extremely proud of.
      Bottom Line: For those of us who still like KISS, we will continue to support the current incarnation of the band. For those who don’t, you are free to express your opinions and not buy the albums or go to the shows. But try to remember that noone but the people that are there truly know what has gone on or is going on between the members.

    • Van on

      I understand that the original lineup got along well in the Reunion Tour.

    • Matt on

      Eddie: what are the chances that all 4 of these guys actually take the stage together for an acceptance speech? Seems like there is just too much bad blood. Will make for some nice and awkward television.

    • Eddie on

      I think they will and put on a good face

  • Andrew on

    It’s funny how Ace and Peter are skewered for getting high when I still hear Paul on Alive asking the crowd if Anybody out there like the taste of alcohol” before Cold Gin. Which Ace wrote and Gene sang with such conviction/ At least Ted Nugent wasn”t a hypocrite

    • John G on

      That’s why KISS have always been phonies. I guess sex was their big thing. But yeah, if you “Rock and Roll All Nite and Party Everyday” you get kicked out of the band! If you’re going to “Shout it out Loud” and get your party started, make sure you don’t have any alcohol, cause Gene won’t show up. And “Cold Gin” – must be about the playing cards during the winter.

    • doug r. on

      that’s a good one! but only gene & paul are phonies.

  • Don on

    Eddie, after all the RRHOF stuff dies down, do you believe the original 4 will do some type of performance within the next two years? Seems like Paul would do it if it’s on his terms and not the Hall’s terms.

    • Eddie on

      No way, it is over.

    • Van on

      Can you see the original lineup talking to each other again after the HoF?

  • Lee on

    Gene comes in to his Beverly Hills mansion to Shannon after the tour “Hi honey I’m home”…..146 C-list strippers later. He’s a joke….and uglier every year.

    • John G on

      I didn’t think he could get uglier than ugly! The roast was hilarious with Shannon basically admitting she’s with Gene for the $$$ (like anyone ever doubted that) and Lisa Lampinelli’s Planet of the Apes comment.

    • Klaus Baumgarten on

      They both deserve each other:-)

  • Joe on

    It’s funny, “KISS” is on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine for the FIRST TIME EVER….1973—April 2014. And again…….”KISS” is on the cover….Ace,Peter,Paul & Gene—–“KISS”. Just think about that because if you can read between the lines this cover ….. and the COVER ALONE says a lot——case closed!!! Joe in The Cuse.

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