Kiss: The Pagan Beasties of Teenage Rock

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Everyone takes the bellboy as a signal to end the radio interview. As I walk to the door, Alan Miller, head of promotion for Kiss' Aucoin Management, jokes: "If you say anything to hurt the group, we'll break your legs."

The four band members stare intently into the mirrors in their dressing room and smear on makeup as Bill Aucoin, president of Aucoin Management, announces that "Beth," their hit ballad of 1976, has tied with "Disco Duck" for best song of the year in the People's Choice Awards.

"What did we win?" says Stanley. "A hundred pounds of dog food?"

Aucoin chuckles and says they have to discuss how they will receive the award since they will be on the road during the ceremony.

"I don't think we should be on TV at all," says Simmons.

"Are you kidding?" says Aucoin. "We'll make it a surprise for Peter. He'll go out to sing the song alone as usual, and you guys will come out and say you just got a wire that you've won the award. Peter says thanks, blah blah, you walk off and he does the song. We'll put together a tape and send it to the show."

After a few more minutes of makeup smearing, Criss announces with ridiculous solemnity that it is time for Gene Simmons to come out of the closet and admit to his leadership role in the gay liberation movement. He suggests several loathsomely graphic possibilities for the origin of Simmons' long tongue, to uproarious laughter among several roadies and other assistants.

"He says if he likes you he'll swallow it," says Stanley. "He even owns stock in K-Y jelly."

Simmons stands defenseless against this locker-room onslaught and says nothing after a couple of lame attempts to link Criss' Italian heritage to the Mafia. I catch his eye and for the first time see the monster pleading.

Someone brings in a box and says it is a present from the family at whose house Kiss has been invited to party after the concert. Criss opens the box and pulls out a bottle of wine. "If these people are as rich as they say, how come they send us Gallo?" he asks. "Oh, man! Look at this!" He passes around a greeting card that shows a photograph of a slightly obese businessman, his wife and two beautiful children smiling out from their suburban living room. "This is Middle America, man. They're sicker than we are."

Peter Criss walks out of the bathroom with a smoking hair dryer in his hand. "I was blowing on my hair when all of a sudden sparks started coming out of the thing," he says. "I could have gone up in flames. Imagine that: all these years of bombs going off next to me every night and I finally get done in by a hair dryer."

As he settles down in a chair to towel off, I ask about the ribbing of Simmons. "That was heavier than usual because you were there," he says. "We were showing off and really getting to him because the press means so much to him. Joking keeps my mind off the performance and keeps us all friends."

And the outburst this afternoon with the DJ? "It's a game. We built up this whole thing about being outlaws against the system. But I do feel the guys behind desks a lot of times don't know what the hell's going on.

"My social life has suffered," he continues. "I go to parties and find myself really scared – always sitting in the corner, not knowing how to act. It's sick. I used to go to parties and flaunt the rock-star role, but now that I am one, I can't. I'm losing the real Peter Criss somewhere and it scares me. I never go to sleep at night. I sometimes have an insecurity that I'm not good enough for the success. But I believe I've worked very hard and I'm entitled to it now. I've cleared that up. I'm pretty happy. I'm very excited over the band."

Does he find any conflict between the Christian crosses he wears around his neck and the group's image of evil and sex?

"I find myself evil," he says. "I believe in the devil as much as God. You can use either one to get things done."

What would he tell God about how he had been spending his life if the hair dryer had in fact fried him?

"I don't know. I'm having a good time. It's all show business. I would tell him, 'You should have been there, man.'"

Ace Frehley braces himself for my questions with a beer and a firm dismissal of a couple of little kids who are staring at him at the party thrown by the family who sent them the Gallo. They've turned out to be more upper than middle class, with a mansion in Grosse Pointe, just outside Detroit. Seeing "the spaceman" without his makeup, the children appear to have just learned that there is no Santa Claus.

"I go crazy about privacy," says Frehley in a heavy New York accent. "I have to, to keep my sanity and handle stardom. Onstage I'm Ace Frehley, and offstage I'm a kid from the Bronx. I consider myself lucky in a way. Mick Jagger will always be Mick Jagger, but I can take off my makeup and know who I am. When all the girls scream, it's not me they're grabbing. It's what I represent."

Does he really believe he's going to another planet?

"I eat, sleep and drink my character. It is my fantasy to go to another planet. By the time I'm 40, interplanetary travel will be common. Nobody will want to talk to me at that age anyway. Stardom is a temporary phase. You become a candidate for the nuthouse when you believe what you are is everlasting."

Don't all stars play for immortality, though? Doesn't he want to be remembered in 50 years?

"I'm gonna be on Mars. It doesn't fuckin' matter. This planet won't be here in 50 years."

And how does he feel about deodorant?

"Better to compare us to President Carter," he says, "because people vote the same way they buy records."

All the members of Kiss were fuckups in high school: Frehley was thrown out of two schools and dropped out of a third in the Bronx; Criss got his knuckles rapped by nuns in Brooklyn and was humiliated for wearing his hair too long; Stanley was chronically "at the bottom of the smartest class" in school in Manhattan; and Simmons was the inveterate class clown and a fan of monster comic books in Queens. All were driven by an unquenchable craving for fame and a love for simple rock & roll. Stanley and Simmons found each other six years ago and formed a band that played everything from country & western to rock. That flopped, but the two took their money from a shelved album and invested in a loft and the most imposing-looking equipment they could find. In early 1973, Simmons called up a drummer who had placed an ad in Rolling Stone saying he would do anything to make it. That was Peter Criss, and they played together for several months as a trio. After about 60 guitarists had answered an ad they placed in the Village Voice, they were impressed enough by the surliness and musicianship of Ace Frehley to hire him on.

The focus of the band existed from the beginning: heavy theatrics, heavy metal and heavy makeup, though they looked more like vermin than monsters at the time. The emphasis on the projection of power was also immediate: they played in front of a huge wall of amplifiers that, if the lights were misplaced, would be revealed as having no speakers inside. They stenciled the Kiss logo of double "s" lightning bolts on all the equipment so it would appear as if they were a big touring band.

Copying addresses out of Record World, they sent out press releases and invitations – to anyone even vaguely connected with the music business – to their gigs, for which they rented their own halls when they couldn't get bookings. Bill Aucoin, then president of an independent TV production company that did a syndicated rock show called Flipside, showed up at one show and offered to get them a record contract in two weeks if they would let him manage them. This he did, with Casablanca, a label just starting under the aegis of Neil Bogart, former copresident of Buddah.

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