The men behind the masks
April 12, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
The band Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 10, 2014. Here are the men behind the masks, holding their awards.
From the left, they are Paul Stanley (guitar, vocals), Ace Frehley (guitar), Peter Criss (drums), and Gene Simmons (bass, vocals). This was the first time the original lineup got together in thirteen years. It’ll almost certainly be the last.
Kiss has been performing for four decades. In the weeks before the ceremony, the feud that caused the band’s breakup reached a crescendo, Simmons and Stanley on one side and Criss and Frehley on the other. At the core of the friction is alcohol and drug abuse. Both Frehley and Criss sacrificed their careers to their addictions.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted only the four original band members, refusing to include current drummer Eric Singer and current guitarist Tommy Thayer, as well as former members Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John and Bruce Kulick. In retaliation Stanley and Simmons declined to play in full makeup during the ceremony. Frehley and Criss had threatened to boycott the ceremony if such a performance had taken place.
And it also doesn’t. By design.
I didn’t follow the Stanley-Simmons-Criss-Frehley feud. Every now and then, I’d see incredibly insulting things they’d said about each other, but I didn’t go out of my way to look them up. The only book I’ve read about Kiss is C.K. Lendt’s Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup, an unauthorized, unflattering look at the band. I don’t actually remember anything from it.
In this interview Eric Spitznagel asked Simmons something I would never have.
Ace Frehley and Peter Criss recently published memoirs, and they both made you out to be the bad guy… They also both claimed in their books that you never shower.
Okay, so what? What’s your point?
Were they telling the truth?
What does showering have to do with being a responsible human being? What else? That’s what makes you an asshole, because you don’t shower? Okay. You win. You win.
In 1996 I spent two hours with Simmons in two small rooms, sitting no more than four feet away from him. He had no smell at all. I hadn’t heard that he didn’t shower, but if I had, I wouldn’t have asked him about it. We were having too much fun. I wanted my interview to be different. It’s the easiest thing in the world to go straight into the gutter. Everybody does it. I didn’t want to be like everybody else.
I also didn’t want to ask about Frehley and Criss’s addictions. Alcoholism is ghastly. An alcoholic is typing this post. Yet I agree with Simmons.
I won’t stand for drunks and alcoholics who get up on stage and consider it their birthright. I consider it a privilege to get up there and arrive on time and be sober, and I’ll be an asshole to anybody who thinks otherwise. You know who else is an asshole? Your teacher was an asshole. Your parents are assholes. Your drill sergeant was an asshole. Because they wouldn’t let you get away with shit. Ace and Peter have had a lifetime of being losers. And not just with drugs and alcohol. They’re losers because of wrong decisions. You sleep in the bed you make. How many chances in life do you get?
My alcoholism didn’t hurt anybody except for me. If I’d had business partners and family depending on me, and if I consistently failed them because I was always drunk, then I would’ve deserved no mercy. Nobody has the right to drag down others.
But I still feel bad for Frehley and Criss. In the photo at the top of this post, Frehley has already broken his award. The record is missing from the figure’s hands. Frehley said something in his acceptance speech that chilled me.
Hopefully, I got another ten or twenty years to go.
Word for word that’s what my father said about every three days for the last two years of his life. It was his incantation. He’d known he had cancer since 2008, but he did nothing about it except cross his fingers, chant his prayer, and hope that he’d live. For at least a quarter-century, Dad drank two fifths of Scotch a day. By the time he died, he was a physical cataclysm.
His endocrine and circulatory systems had broken down from his refusal to manage his diabetes, his heart was shot from his high-fat diet, he’d had multiple strokes that he hid even from his doctors, his feet and hands were numb and ice cold, and he had a rock-hard tumor the size of a soccer ball in his middle.
When I see Frehley and Criss, I just think of my father. I understand perfectly Simmons’s anger; at the same time, I can’t bring myself to pile on. All I can say is, “I’m sorry.”
My favorite Kiss song with the original lineup is “100,000 Years.” The bass is outstanding.
They can all be proud of what they accomplished together when they were just starting out and the sky was the limit.
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