The KISS phenomenon spread rapidly and is still going strong after more than 40 years.
By: Richard Ouzounian
Back when Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were forming the glam rock entity known as KISS, they had to improvise for their theatrical look. For instance, their studded collars came from a pet store.
“They had made them for Great Danes to wear,” says Stanley, on the phone from a Staten Island bookstore, where he’s preparing to sign copies of Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS.
Stanley says he wanted the band to be “intensely performance-oriented, without turning it into musical theatre. So we needed a flamboyant visual look, but what?
“We were too big to do the androgynous thing. It’s one thing when you have a guy who’s as skinny as my wrist wearing his sister’s clothes. It’s something else when you’re a linebacker trying to squeeze into it.”
The book, newly published by HarperCollins, is by Stanley and Simmons with music historian Ken Sharp.
It’s made up of first-person remembrances of the band, both from its creators and the people on the other side of the footlights.
“History is always interesting if you view it from a bunch of perspectives,” says Stanley. “You get lots of varied views from people watching the same car accident from different corners.
“I’m happy that the book doesn’t just have our memories, but those of the people who were looking at us from the outside. You remember what they always say about the forest and the trees.”
Stanley and Simmons were kicking around in 1971 as a not-quite-making-it group called Wicked Lester when Stanley decided it was time to define what he wanted out of his career.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household with all kinds of music, classical as well as rock, which helped me appreciate all kinds of performance,” says the New York-born Stanley.
“I also was able to go the Fillmore East in those days when $3 got you a ticket to see Led Zeppelin, Woody Herman and Blue Cheer all on the same night. (Promoter) Bill Graham believed in eclectic programming and so do I.”
KISS was struggling to define itself in the early years.
“I believe people come to hear the music, but they come back if the whole experience knocked them out,” Stanley says.
“I wanted to be in the band I never saw. I was an evangelical rock performer, like Steve Marriott or Humble Pie. You went onto the stage to testify and you wanted to bring back believers.”
Part of that was the band’s look.
“What did we want? Black leather and studs. Where did you find those things? Well, there was a gay S&M clothing store called The Eagle’s Nest and they made a lot for us,” Stanley says.
And then there was the face-painting. “We liked the concept of being able to immerse yourself into your own fantasies and come out a completely different person. Makeup helped us do that.”
(Another time Stanley performed in makeup was in the title role of The Phantom of the Opera during the final months of its Toronto run in 1999. “I always wanted to do that show. I love the dichotomy of playing someone who’s a murderer and an artist, someone who yearns for acceptance but can’t believe it when it happens. An emotionally crippled person. I enjoyed playing that,” he says.)
After spreading their wings at a tawdry club in Queens called Coventry, KISS went on the road. First stop, the Northern Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton.
“They needed a last minute replacement for Mike Quatro, Suzi Quatro’s brother. Three shows, three cities. The first night in Edmonton was OK, but then we were booked into high school cafeterias. Our road crew took the lunchroom tables and gaffer-taped them together. That was our stage.”
The KISS phenomenon spread rapidly and is still going strong after more than 40 years. Stanley attributes part of the band’s longevity to what the music was about.
“People said we were shallow, but we were singing about self-empowerment, singing about celebrating life, singing about going against the status quo and reaching for what you believe.
“Man, that’s got a lot longer legs on it than ‘Save the Whales.’ ”
A shout it out loud- shout out to our friends at KISSONLINE for the above.