By Brian Ives
Over the weekend, HBO aired this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which included the long-awaited induction of KISS. There was a lot of speculation as to how that would go down in the weeks leading up to the event given that there was lots of sniping in the press between founding members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (who are both still in the band) and Ace Frehley and Peter Criss (who are not).
It turned out that, although the band declined to perform, the induction was pretty civil and even a bit sweet. Gene Simmons shocked the audience by saying the words “We are humbled.”
Paul Stanley, however, used the opportunity to speak out against the Rock Hall, saying, “I believe that the spirit of Rock and Roll means you follow your own path regardless of critics, and regardless of your peers. I think we’ve done that for forty years. Here we are tonight, basically inducted for the same things that we were kept out for. The people, I believe we’re speaking to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and what they’re saying is, ‘We want more.’ They deserve more. They want to be apart of the induction. They want to be apart of the nomination. They don’t want to be spoon-fed by a handful of people. Choices. The people pay for tickets. The people buy albums. The people who nominate do not. Let’s not forget that these are the people that make it all possible.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO and President Joel Peresman reacted to Stanley’s speech in our interview with him.
If Paul comes off bitter lately, it’s because most of the questions he’s been asked these days are about the Rock Hall, his former bandmates, or even Gene Simmons. A more well-rounded picture of the guy comes from his recently published memoirs, Face The Music: A Life Exposed. Perhaps the biggest revelation is that Stanley, not an artist generally associated with angst, came from a pretty tough background and was born with a condition that came to define much of his life. So here’s five moments from the book (which is well worth reading in full) that give a more complete picture of the man.
Playing The Phantom Changed His Life: When Stanley played the lead role in a Toronto run of Phantom of the Opera in 1999, he received a letter from a woman who observed, “You seemed to identify with the character in a way I haven’t seen in other actors.” She invited him to get involved in AboutFace, an organization devoted “to helping children with facial differences.” Stanley himself was born with no right ear and is deaf on that side as well. He mentions this on the first page of the book, looking back on the kids who called him “the one-eared monster.” In 2000, he became the organization’s spokesman: “I found that helping others helped me heal myself. It created a calm in my life that I had never known before.”
Related: Frequently Asked Questions: KISS
“Lick It Up” Is Deeper Than You Think: The band’s first single after taking off the makeup and one of their biggest hits from that era came from a sort of dark place. Stanley was heartbroken after hearing about an ex’s marriage. He reasoned that the best way to feel better would be to write a song about feeling better. Plus, he’d read that Beethoven wrote his second symphony while suicidal, and it lifted him out of his funk, and so he wrote a song to try that would do the same. “It felt better than singing a song about being sad.”
Sometimes a Guitar is More Than Just a Guitar: While Lick It Up kicked off a huge comeback for the band, Gene Simmons lost interest in the band as the ’80s rolled on, to Stanley’s frustration. When it came time to shoot videos for two new songs from the greatest hits album, Smashes, Thrashes and Hits – “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard,” Stanley didn’t bother to even play guitar. “KISS had devolved into my band,” he recalls. “I had never wanted it that way, but there we were… I was the frontman. KISS was my band now. Whether I liked it or not.”
Gene Simmons’s Prowess – Debunked! His marketing prowess, that is. If you were wondering what the Simmons/Stanley dynamic was before reading this book, you’ll be glad to know that Stanley is incredibly frank about it. The licensing of the KISS logo and brand is but one point that they disagreed on. “His use of the KISS logo and makeup and his self-promotion in the press escalated in the late nineties and beyond. I saw the term ‘marketing genius’ used in reference to Gene quite frequently in the wake of subsequent tour. It turned my stomach. Contrary to the notion that Gene spearheaded or maximized our merchandise empire, the truth is that over the years the vast majority of licensees have sought us out and all solicitations go through our product development team. Neither Gene nor I has had an active hand in any significant deals.”
He’s a pretty compassionate guy: In fact, compassion was the theme of a speech he gave at his son Evan’s high school graduation ceremony in 2012. “I talked about my ear deformity and deafness and the way I shut myself off from others as a result. And then I can to the most important part — the part about realizing how i can help myself by helping others; how I can free myself from harsh judgement by not judging others. When someone asks for a handout, it’s easy to look down on that person or to say, ‘Get a job.’ America is the land of opportunity, yes, but not everyone gets the same chances.” Although lest you think of him as too much of a bleeding heart liberal, he adds, “You don’t necessarily solve anything by helping the person, but even if you provide a moment’s respite from difficulties and pain, it’s worthwhile. Plus, you’ll feel good about it.”
Stanley and KISS’s story is still ongoing: the band kick off a co-headlining tour with Def Leppard on June 23 in West Valley City, Utah.