18 Things You Learn Hanging Out With Kiss

Cocaine, Jiminy Cricket and insane concept albums: more Kisstory from our cover-story interviews

Kiss Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley
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Kiss
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Reporting Kiss' belated first Rolling Stone cover story was an adventure, of sorts: Senior Writer Brian Hiatt went to Starbucks with the Starchild, had the Demon ask if he wanted a "nosh," hung out in the Catman's finished basement, and, after weeks of trying, finally got the elusive Spaceman to sit down for a long chat in his San Diego condo. Many hours of interviews with the band's current and former members (plus producers and others) provided far more material than could possibly fit into one magazine article, even at 7,600 words. Here, fresh from the transcripts, are even more nuggets from the annals of Kisstory.

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1. Kiss may have gotten the idea for their makeup from two other acts. "We loved the New York Dolls," says Peter Criss, who grew up with the Dolls' drummer, Jerry Nolan. "But when we tried that, we looked like four old drag queens. Then we saw Alice Cooper one night at the Garden, and thought, wow, he's the only guy up there wearin' somethin' – what would it be like if four guys wore it?"

2. The current and former members disagree over the definition of "rock & roll." Ace and I were wilder, we were rock & rollers," says Criss. "We wanted to be at the parties, we wanted a lot of girls, we wanted to cause trouble, we wanted to wreck rooms like Keith Moon. It's not a science – maybe the chord's off a little, or maybe you speed up a little, or you maybe you slow down."

Retorts Paul Stanley, "Once Ace was playing guitar in the studio with rings and a bracelet on that were just hitting the guitar. And I said, 'Ace, you've gotta take that stuff off, it sounds terrible.' He goes, ‘That's rock & roll.' I go, ‘No, there's rock & roll and then there's awful.' You can't use rock & roll as an excuse for doing something that's sub-standard or not good or out of tune, or not showing up on time. That's not rock & roll, that's just fucking up."

3. Ace Frehley, who quit the band in the early Eighties, doesn't like to be lumped in with Peter Criss, who was fired a couple years earlier. "They talk about me as if it's the same as what happened with Peter," says Frehley. "I get a bad rap. So a lot of times I'd rather distance myself. I love Peter to death, but, you know, I'm a different guy with a completely different story."

4.  When Gene Simmons was 12 years old, his hero was Jiminy Cricket (he covered  "When You Wish Upon A Star" on his debut solo album): "I saw this little bug singing, 'Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you,' and I'm thinking, 'Me?' It was a religious experience. Jiminy Cricket was my Christ. This kind of dawning of consciousness of, 'I can be great.'"

5. Frehley always knew he would be famous. "By age 16, I knew I was going to be a professional musician and be successful," he says.  "If I wouldn't have been successful with Kiss, I would've been successful with somebody else. Because I just had the drive. I used to go see the Who and Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and there was always a voice in my head saying, 'You can get up there and do that.'  I used to tell people in my family, I used to tell my friends. And they used to say, 'What are you, crazy?'"

6. Kiss' founders see the band's fans as proud outsiders. "I always looked at our fans as the big heavy kids in the back of the room bein' made fun of," says Criss. "Or the kid who had long hair in the neighborhood when no one had it. And those are the kids who really needed a hero."

7. The British band Slade (who recorded "Cum on Feel the Noize" years before Quiet Riot covered it) are often cited as a major influence on Kiss, but Stanley feels that's exaggerated. "That gets kind of taken out of proportion," says Stanley. "I loved Slade because of the sing-along directness of their songs. I loved Noddy Holder as a front man. My mirrored guitar came from seeing him with a mirrored top hat. But I don't believe they were part of the blueprint."

8. Frehley believes he had a Keith Richards-like ability to function under the influence. "No matter how crazy or fucked up I was, I could still deliver," he says. "I knew I could get drunk in the afternoon and snort a couple lines of coke and then I'd be fine for the show. It wasn't the healthiest thing to do, but I didn't want to let down the fans!"

9. But now Frehley is proud to be an example of sobriety. "My greatest days are when I'm doing an autograph session and a guy walks up to me and he says, 'Hey, I got six months sober because of you.'  Because I used to get fan letters from kids, and they'd say, 'We heard you smashed up your car. I smashed my car up last week, Ace! What do you think of that?'"

10. Criss had to re-learn the band's catalog from scratch when Kiss reunited in 1996 ­­– but he says anyone would've had to do the same. "I really forgot all the songs after 17 years," he says. "I was so frustrated at needing to relearn Peter Criss. Like, why did I put that intricate part in there? And now I've got to redo that part! I would go home, I kid you not, and watch old shows from the Seventies like a football player."

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11. Simmons has little sympathy for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. "I don't think it's sad at all," he says. "He was white in this racist world. He was fuckin' rich. And he was a movie star. If you wanna take your life, good luck to you. You know what's sad? A loving husband or mother who crosses the street and gets run over by a truck. That's sad. Because you didn't have anything to do with it."

12. For all their hard living, both Frehley and Criss are in good health. "I just got the cleanest bill of health I've had in 10 years," says Frehley, 62. "I don't have any damage to my internal organs. I'm the luckiest guy. As long as I stay sober, I'm good for easily another 20, 25 years."

Adds Criss, 68, "I've never been in better shape. I take no blood pressure medicine. I don't have diabetes, thank you, Jesus. I don't have cancer anymore. Recently, I had a hernia finally taken out after 15 years 'cause it was like an alien, you know the movie Alien?"

13. Stanley has long had a gift in mind for Simmons: "My joke used to be that for a birthday present, I was going to have a device made for him that was headphones with a mirror and a microphone so that he could watch himself talk all the time."

14. The band thought their infamous mess of a concept album, Music From 'The Elder' ­was a masterpiece – until they started playing it for people. "We were so off course that we really thought we were creating genius," says Stanley.  "The record company heard it, and it was like a scene from The Producers. We might as well have been singing 'Springtime for Hitler,' you know? So we were delusional. And we spent the better part of a decade saying 'We're sorry' to the fans. And they don't forgive you that easily."

15. Stanley thinks it was a mistake to try to introduce new characters in the band – in a short-lived Eighties incarnation of Kiss, guitarist Vinnie Vincent was the Ankh Warrior, and the late drummer Eric Carr was the Fox. "People didn't buy it," he says. "And that was another reason that the fan base started to dissipate. It lost its believability. It became a menagerie – we could have had Snail Man. And we saw a decline that started gradually, but quickly we fell off the edge of the cliff. To go from doing multiple nights in an arena to, next tour, not being able to sell out a theater, is stark."

16. Stanley loved taking off the makeup in 1983. "I wanted that recognition," he says. "It was a big disappointment in the Seventies when I realized that going without makeup meant we couldn't go to, like, awards shows. It was like I was living this dual life, and just sitting on my sofa at home."

17. During one of the band's reunion tours, Ace Frehley punched the band's then-road manager, Tommy Thayer, who would go on to take Frehley's place as Kiss' guitarist (and wear his Spaceman makeup). "In his book he says he decked me or knocked me out or something, which is far from the truth, really," says Thayer, who had chastised Frehley for breaking band rules by having his girlfriend in the band's dressing room after a gig. "Ace said ‘fuck you,' and under my breath I said something like 'you're an asshole,' and I turned around and started walking away. He came up and just, like, hit me in the back of the head, just took a cheap shot, and I kind of lost my balance a little bit. And from then on, things really took a turn for the worse."

18. With some help from Rob Zombie's guitarist, John 5, Peter Criss has resumed work on a solo album he put aside in 2008 after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. "It's heavier than anything I've ever touched," he says. "My music always owed more to R&B because I grew up on Motown. But this is different. I really went for what they've been wantin' from me forever, with a heavier approach, big guitars.  And they'll still hate it, and then they'll go, "Why don't you go back and do the pop?" [Laughs] Trust me, I've got the craziest fans on the planet earth!"