Music » City Slang

Paul Stanley explains why Kiss never set out to be cool and struggles to name a single influential woman in his life

by

comment

Paul Stanley truthers are a thing now.

A quick YouTube search of Kiss' starry-eyed frontman turns up several people claiming that Stanley has been lip-syncing through the band's most recent farewell tour performances. One user, In My Head, points out that Stanley is about "three feet away" from the microphone when his intro scream to "Psycho Circus" kicks in. During "Lick it Up," a song created during the band's unfortunate "unmasked" years, YouTube user Jake Tanis provides video footage "proving" that Stanley falls "a couple of milliseconds" behind on his verse as the audio continues. And then there's user Shane Diabolo, who appears so outraged by Stanley's lip-syncing and recent Kiss concert ticket prices that he records his commentary whilst seatbelted in his car and suggests we would be better off supporting our neighborhood Kiss cover band than paying to see the real deal. "At those prices," he says, "Kiss my ass."

For more than 45 years, Kiss has managed to be a contender on both "best" and "worst" rock 'n' roll band listicles. Some hail the band for being harbingers of pseudo-satanic arena-rock and showmanship. Others are quick to chastise the band's tongue-wagging, blood-spitting, glam rock gimmickry, uncompromising pageantry (er, stagecraft), and undying misogyny. If you're Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, you likely fall into the former camp and might share the sentiment that Kiss is a "comic book rock band [with] spackled faces [and] a couple of hits."

When we speak to founding member Stanley — a title he shares with the band's self-proclaimed proud egomaniac and notorious womanizer Gene Simmons — it is on International Women's Day. Instead of launching into a series of questions about the aforementioned lip-syncing truthers, or his art (his mixed-media paintings, not his music), or whether he was aware that he had penned an anthem the city of Detroit never knew it needed, let alone asked for, we ask him about women.

In an attempt to name a single influential woman in his life, Stanley stutters and stammers for a few minutes and confesses that he has been "stumped" by a question that he, in 45 years, has never been asked — and based on his response, has never thought to answer.

"Wow," he says. "That's hard to do."

During a segment for the 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, during which Stanley appears in bed with women in varying states of undress draped around him, director Penelope Spheeris asks if he believes more women should be in rock 'n' roll. Here, he does not hesitate.

"In every way possible," he says. "I have a deep appreciation of women, and the deeper the better."

With some baiting, Stanley eventually lands on Motown singer Martha Reeves as being an influential female. He likes Pink and "Gaga" and with a bit more conversational guidance, he cites the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, for having "transcended all music."

"As somebody who's pretty well-versed in opera, to hear her interpret in her own way Nessun Dorma was just crazy," he says. "She somehow managed to keep the emotion of that so palpable and the fact that the first time she did it, she came in at the last minute to replace Pavarotti. Show me one female artist who doesn't list her in the top five."

"The End of The Road" tour, which the band announced with a performance on America's Got Talent last year, is a pretty long road. Kiss is less than halfway through the tour, which spans the globe and will carry the face-painted rockers through the end of the year and could bleed into 2020. The farewell trek is the second final tour the band has embarked on, though this one boasts the band's longstanding lineup consisting of Stanley aka Starchild, Simmons as Kiss' resident Demon, Eric "the Catman" Singer on drums, and guitarist Tommy "The Spaceman" Thayer. Absent from the tour are ex-members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who are welcome to make special appearances along the tour but will never be acting members of Kiss again, according to a statement Simmons made in Guitar World, adding that they have used up their "three chances" at cleaning up their act. What Stanley does promise for the upcoming run is that Kiss will have pulled out all the stops to raise the bar on the band's history of live performances, which have been almost entirely reliant on bombast and the gratuitous use of pyrotechnics.

"There are all kinds of progress at this point that allowed us to really, I guess, turn up the heat in more than one way, as opposed to a lot of artists who are out there who could use each other's stages because they're generic," he says. "They may be technical marvels, but generic technical marvels with no real identity. The only people who could step on our stage would have to have eight-inch heels and would have to be us."

Formed in New York City in 1973 through an ad in the Village Voice, Kiss received, perhaps, its warmest reception in Detroit well before putting our city's name in the title of a song. "Detroit Rock City" from 1976's Destroyer is as steady of a pillar in the pantheon of songs that mention Detroit but aren't really about Detroit, such as Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," though when released as a single, "Detroit Rock City" failed to perform in markets other than Detroit. It was released as its own B-side to a re-issue of Peter Criss' ballad "Beth" — the band's highest-charting song to date. Though the inspiration behind "Detroit Rock City" came from a tragic incident during a Kiss performance in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a concertgoer was killed by an oncoming vehicle outside of the venue, Stanley says he was deliberate in his tribute to Detroit.

"It was heartfelt and well-deserved," he says. "When we were still an opening act or a second-on-the-bill act in most of the country, Detroit embraced us in a way that I was humbled by because Detroit has been such a spawning ground for great music. To be taken in and given the kind of reception we were so early on needed to be thanked. There have been songs about other cities and I thought, boy, you're missing the boat. Thanks for leaving Detroit to us."

While Kiss is just one of the legacy acts to announce a farewell tour in the past year, it's not as much about saying goodbye as it is about reliving the band's 46 year-long-career that, aside from their simultaneously released solo records, has not veered too wildly off its path of destruction. The same band that has offered not one, but two, generations of the Kiss Kasket (an actual coffin plastered in photos of the band engulfed in hellfire and is, allegedly, the preferred eternal resting place for both deceased members of Pantera — Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell) also suggests that its farewell tour is a celebration of life. And what better way to raise a toast to the band's victory lap than with an official Swarovski crystal-covered Kiss logo coffee cup (which is currently being offered through Kiss' online store for $429.95)?

"The Kiss Nation has become a tribe. It's not your normal audience," Stanley says of Kiss fans. "It's your family. It's this huge secret society, where everybody comes to celebrate. There's a sense of self-empowerment, a sense of celebration of life. And it's now or never," he says. "People have always heard the legend and now you get a chance to see is it true and is it worthy of what you've heard? And by the last song, if not by the first song, you know, for sure that if you've never seen us before, you should have."

There's something universally true about Kiss and the members of Kiss Nation — the belief that anything is possible. Stanley says that he identifies with the audience for that reason. He says that he has personally encountered fans ranging from doctors to ex-convicts, all of whom have credited Kiss' music for helping them overcome adversity or for getting them to where they are now. He likes to think Kiss continues to "lead by example" and that they've inspired people to follow their dreams, even if people think those dreams — or stage outfits — are ridiculous.

"The band started with the idea of not being confined by other bands' limitations. And I certainly never had the idea of trying to be cool and maybe that's what made us cool. We still remain black sheep because there are still people out there that don't get it and that's OK," he says. "Singing about self-empowerment, singing about celebrating life, singing about having a good time may seem trite to some people, but it's timeless and what we were singing about 40 years ago will be true 40 years from today."

So, what can be learned from the Kiss formula, other than the importance of facial moisturizer and flame-retardant space armor and that not being able to readily name a single influential woman in your life is far from a deal-breaker in the eyes of Kiss Nation? If it ain't broke, why fix it? And if it is broke, just put makeup on it.

"I believe we create unknowingly or knowingly, we create our destiny," Stanley says. "It doesn't necessarily mean we wind up where we thought we would. We play a major role in determining our direction and that leads us to whatever we're going to go to. So, this was the path that I wanted and to believe that I would be doing it 45 years later is unfathomable. Yet, here I am and here's the band packing arenas and going down in a storm, because we're Kiss and we're forever."

Kiss will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13 at Little Caesars Arena; 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-7000; 313presents.com; tickets start at $72.

Get our top picks for the best events in Detroit every Thursday morning. Sign up for our events newsletter.