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Kiss: The Pagan Beasties of Teenage Rock

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I ask who he voted for in the 1972 presidential election. He says McGovern and admits there may be something wrong, on occasion, with mass taste. "But nothing is right or wrong in music. There are just certain tastes. People in New York hate Lawrence Welk, but he sells half a million records every time out and he's got about 30 releases."

"Will you admit it's still shit?" I ask.

"Somebody out there likes it."

"Jacqueline Susann sells more books than Shakespeare, but she's still shit and Shakespeare is still Shakespeare."

"Wait a minute!" Simmons exclaims. "I think Shakespeare is shit! Absolute shit! He may have been a genius for his time, but I can't relate to that stuff. Thee' and 'thou'; the guy sounds like a faggot. Captain America is classic because he's more entertaining. If you counted the number of people who read Shakespeare, you'd be very disappointed."

"No aesthetics exist aside from what people buy?" I ask.

"You bet."

"But Madison Avenue, for instance, doesn't much believe in what it sells. Nobody needed a deodorant before they created a market." Simmons answers by spraying his pits with a can of Royal Copenhagen. I continue, "All they're selling is a stupid image of getting laid or something. They're selling an illusion to get money, which is just another illusion."

"So why not commit suicide," he helpfully suggests, "and get rid of this pain you're having? TV is an entertainment medium. If I had a computer go on the air to list the ingredients and price so there wouldn't be any images, it would be the most boring commercial ever. I wanna see a slut put it between her legs and ram it in and out! Then I'll go buy it!"

"I'm saying don't sell shit in the first place. The human race got along without deodorant for 10,000 years."

"We must have smelled like mooses."

"There's a whole theory of evolution that says we survived because we smelled so bad that no other animal would eat us."

"I get eaten great because I smell so bad – and so what if deodorant is shit? I demand this shit! I am full of shit!"

"Do you consider yourself more socially significant than deodorant?"

"No."

The telephone rings for the umpteenth time and Simmons answers. He is the only member of Kiss – and one of a very few rock stars of any stature – who registers in hotel rooms under his real name. The result is a deluge of calls which he feels he owes his fans. "Yes, dear. Open your hand and look at it. My tongue is longer than that...."

The subject changes to his personal motivations for getting into music as a career. "After graduating from college," he says, "I taught sixth grade at P.S. 75 at 96th and West End, near where I live now. I lasted six months because I couldn't stand the kids. I wanted to beat the shit out of them. That's the age when rebellion first sets in. I started teaching for the same reason I'm doing this: I needed to be onstage. All people need to be noticed, but some need it more. I'm an extreme version of what everybody is ... I don't want any kids of my own. I'm the last male in the family and I want the line to end with me. I'm very guarded in my personal relationships. I never want to get married."

"You know how it is when you sleep with chicks on the road," says Billy Miller, latest in a long line of Kiss tour managers. "You'll do anything to make them leave before morning. Without their makeup, they look like Señor Wences' fist."

Anderson smiles at the analogy as Paul Stanley lies on a couch, exhausted after the show. Most of the big black star over his right eye is sweated off. Did Stanley find any validity in the charge that some of their lyrics were sexist?

"Fuck 'm," he says. "I don't believe in women trying to be me. We're two different species. You get trouble in a relationship when they try to act like a man. Somebody needs to be in charge. I have a lot of respect for my own opinion."

Could it be that many rock stars lead insulated lives on the road and get distorted impressions by being with groupies all the time?

"Well, it would be easy to generalize that all women want is a free meal and a fuck. That's not my generalization, though."

Stanley is the Virgin Mary of Kiss – in the Unholy Quadrenity, he is the most approachable by the worshipers. He does the majority of singing, all the talking onstage (in a Southern accent rather incongruous with his upbringing in Manhattan), and some amazing dancing that includes clicking his heels in the air while wearing eight-inch platforms. It is almost more an athletic test of endurance than a concert.

I tell Stanley about the deodorant discussion with Simmons. "If we're selling something," he says, "it's good. We're selling escapism, relief from nine-to-five problems. Many people lead dreary lives and we fulfill a need to get away from it all. People take Valium, people buy records. It's just not as heavy as you want to make it. We reach the masses, we have fun, and that is valid. I sleep very soundly."

A photograph of Kiss without their makeup has never been published, and I wonder about the great emphasis placed on preserving the mystique. "We're not telling you we're from another planet or that we're laboratory creations," he says. "We try to keep, a sharp image because the public wants it. Who would have wanted to see Clark Gable without his false teeth?"

After Stanley takes a shower, we go down to the hotel bar, where a woman comes up to point out a rose tattoo on her shoulder, identical to one on Stanley's shoulder. He wears no makeup, but with his plentiful hair, fringed leather jacket and high platform shoes, it is obvious he is a rock star even if you can't place the face. I find Star Stowe's Bunny friend and, thinking to flirt, ask if she's really a lesbian.

"Don't say that out loud! I'm the most man-hungry woman in the world," she says, genuinely upset. I change the subject to Simmons. "He was right this afternoon, you know," she says. "He's always right in everything, except when he's wrong."

In his hotel room in Detroit, Peter Criss takes a quick swig from a white plastic bottle. "This protein liquid is the worst shit I ever tasted," he says with a grimace, as Al Ashton, a Canadian disc jockey, sets up a tape recorder to interview him and Ace Frehley. "I'll try anything to wake up. Even vitamins."

"Why not just take speed?" suggests Ace Frehley, who's slumped in a chair.

"'Cause I don't like it."

During the interview, Frehley will say that he wants to go to another planet before he dies, but Criss is the first to open up, reminiscing about his childhood. "They threw me out of the choir because I drank all the wine when I was an altar boy," he says. "They used to lock me in the closet for hours in school. They made me sit in the wastebasket. I hate nuns, man."

The resentful memory seems to jar loose some inhibitions because Criss is soon railing against the present-day equivalent to his old nuns. "We're the ones kicking shit out there every night! The only ones who know what's going on are the band and road crew. Record executives just sit behind desks getting their pictures taken for the trades and grabbing all the credit... Oh, God! I didn't say it! I've pulled a John Lennon!"

Frehley shrieks with high-pitched staccato laughter. The DJ asks about his childhood. "I was in the Bronx somewhere, floating." Again he shrieks. And his future plans ? "I want to start a monkey farm." Another shriek.

"And the agents!" Criss resumes, shouting. "They're bigger assholes than the record company. They'll book us anywhere. They drug us, say they'll let us bring our old ladies, have bodyguards to lock us up." A bellboy wheels in a cart with a big silver bucket of ice. "Oh, no! Not more champagne!" Criss cries. "See what I mean about drugs?"

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