They didn’t want a band, they wanted an extravaganza
By LARRY GETLEN
Nothin’ To Lose
The Making of KISS, 1972-1975
by Ken Sharp with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons
In the fall of 1973, the managers of the rock band KISS hired a magician by the name of Presto to teach one of the band members how to spit fire.
Band manager Bill Aucoin thought it would be a great on-stage stunt for the band’s singer/rhythm guitarist, Paul Stanley. But when he brought it up to the band and asked, “Which one of you guys doesn’t want to do it,” every hand went up except for that of singer/bassist Gene Simmons. From that day forth, Simmons’ fire-breathing has been one of the band’s key live attractions and an essential part of the rock star’s image.
Only problem is, Simmons didn’t raise his hand by mistake, and never wanted to take on the dangerous stunt.
“I thought he said, ‘Which one of you guys wants to breathe fire?’ ” Simmons says in this oral history of the band’s early years. “I thought, f – – -, I don’t wanna breathe fire. It was a negative question and I forgot to raise my hand, so I was stuck.”
“Nothin‘ To Lose” delves into the often surprising origins to many of KISS’s stunts, outfits and gimmicks, which helped make them the most successful rock band ever to come out of New York City.
KISS began as many bands do, fueled by two guys with a dream who played any run-down local club they could. The band built their chops in seedy venues like the now-defunct Coventry on Queens Boulevard — Joey Ramone, a fan of the band, was in the audience there for their first gig ever — or the Diplomat on West 43rd Street in Times Square.
But Stanley Eisen and Gene Klein — now better known as Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons — were not your average 1970s New York rockers. Both were adamantly drug- and alcohol-free and viewed themselves more as entertainers than musicians.
“The idea,” Stanley says, “was to combine some of the old Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building sensibilities with the Beatles sensibilities and make it more guitar-driven, like Led Zeppelin or the Stones and the Who.”
It wasn’t a band. It was an entertainment extravaganza.
As they developed, KISS took inspiration from everywhere — not always successfully. While they tried to be glam at the beginning, in keeping with hot rockers like David Bowie and local rivals the New York Dolls, they simply couldn’t pull if off. With all the members except for Criss over 6 feet tall and only Stanley possessing traditional rock-star looks, the band failed horribly at androgyny, with Simmons saying that “Paul was very convincing but I just looked like a football player in a tutu.” (Guitarist Ace Frehley was mocked by his bandmates after one photo shoot for his resemblance to actress Shirley MacLaine.)
They shifted to portraying monsters and aliens instead. Inspired by The Beatles and Alice Cooper, they created four distinct personas and, encouraged by management to inhabit them fully, took these alter-egos so seriously that each band member wrote a backstory for his character. (After seeing their live show in 1974, Cooper deadpanned, “What they need is a gimmick.”)
Their wild leather outfits came from shops like “an S&M gay biker’s clothing store called the Eagle’s Nest” and others like the Pleasure Chest in the West Village, as well as pet stores that provided them with studded leather collars.
“We went into parts of the city and buildings that I didn’t know existed,” said Stanley. “We saw strange things like a hood with a hose coming out of the mouth.”
The band got some of their clothes for free, courtesy of Criss’ mother, who would embroider T-shirts with the KISS logo and then glue glitter on them; and guitarist Ace Frehley’s mom as well, as she sewed a T-shirt with silver wings for her son, and another with a skull & crossbones for Simmons.
Their infamous makeup developed over time, starting with your basically glammy lipstick, rouge and eyeliner, then evolving to various experiments with whiteface.
Each deveoped their own makeup style, with Simmons coming up with “a combination of Batman and the Phantom of the Opera.”
Simmons then modeled his demon walk after a serpentine, loping-gaited martian named Ymir that stop-motion effects master Ray Harryhausen designed for the 1957 science fiction film “20 Million Miles to Earth.”
“I realized I couldn’t copy the movements of Mick Jagger or the Beatles because I didn’t have a little boy’s body,” Simmons says. “But I could be a monster.”
From our friends at http://www.kissonline.com/
Nothin’ To Sludge