© Dave Ling - May 1992 - previously published in RAW magazine
“Kiss are an interesting band because sometimes we fall over on our arse, and it’s great that we get up, dust ourselves down and start all over again,”
Paul Stanley’s observation is a fair one; the vocalist/guitarist’s 20-year career has after all known more ups and downs than even that of West Ham United. Indeed, the 1980s and early 90s were not a good time for Kiss, constant line-up changes, patchy platters and a string of movie distractions for bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons tarnishing the legend that they’d built through the previous decade.
Eventually the 70 million-album selling band decided enough was enough. Simmons put his acting and his Simmons Records label behind him and their vision once again became unified. The 1991 US tour saw them regrouping in astonishing style, delivering an entire set of killer tunes and taking out an ambitious stage show that featured lasers even a talking Sphinx! Kiss were back harder, grittier and more entertaining than in living memory.
Having survived last year’s tragic death of long-time drummer Eric Carr – he was quickly replaced by ex-Badlands man Eric Singer – they recorded what is likely to be a turning point in their fortunes, the just-released ‘Revenge’ LP. Combining the in-bred commerciality of yore with a rediscovered hunger, Kiss have made their most satisfying and consistent record since 1982’s ‘Creatures Of The Night’. In particular, ‘I Just Wanna’ and ‘Take It Off’ are as salacious as ever, the latter inviting the female listener to “Wave your panties in the air/Lick your lips and shake your hair”! Meanwhile ‘Spit’, ‘Heart Of Chrome’ and new 45 ‘Unholy’ all boast a vitriol and power that has been long missing. In other words, ‘Revenge’ is little short of a Kiss re-birth.
“It’s just a big fat dick, just an erect sonofabitch. It’s gonna f**k you
like you’ve never been f**ked before.”
Gene Simmons on the ‘Revenge’ album
In honour of this new lease of life, here we are in San Francisco to witness Singer’s first gig with the band at the start of a string of 11 low-key club dates. Tonight Kiss we be playing the tiny Stone club, and RAW has been invited to be a fly-on-the-wall.
“I lost all of my friends because of these club gigs. In any of these cities there are between 2,000 and 200,000 who want to go to a place that can hold only a couple of hundred,” jokes Gene, as we sit in a limousine on the way to local radio station KRQR. “We’re just doing these gigs because we don’t wanna wait till August when our full American tour begins.”
“They’re a listening party for our fans,” adds guitarist Bruce Kulick. “We wanted to do something a little bit different.”
Gene smiles: “Yeah, eating cupcakes and listening to something called ‘Unholy’ are strange bedfellows.”
Simmons himself is unexpectedly friendly, even exhibiting a self-mocking trait. Whilst we discuss the phenomenon of Kiss bootlegs he tells me that he prefers audience tapes to mixing desk ones, “because you hear the kid next to the person who recorded it say: ‘Wow! Didn’t Simmons get fat!’
“One of the shows we’re doing is in New York at a club called L’Amours, which was one of the first clubs we were played, so it’s a lot like going home,” he continues. “So is ‘Revenge’, because it signifies the death of the pop crap we’ve been putting out. It’s over.
“On our last tour of America we were onstage for two and a half hours each night. I’d look across the stage, Bruce’d be shredding and we knew we had to do more of that music. It was time for the band to do it all over again. It was time to show every little cocksucker with a small fly’s dick and a tattoo on his shoulder that the big boys who were here first were now back. Revenge.”
Gene has said some pretty damning things about the string of albums that immediately preceded ‘Revenge’, even stating that some of them were “crap”.
“Absolutely. But it’s tough to think that there’s trouble in paradise when your record still sells millions. I doesn’t suck to get a Top Ten hit in England with a song that goes [mockingly]: “Crazy, crazy, crazy nights”, but it doesn’t make my dick hard. I’m proud of ‘Destroyer’ [from 1976] because it made a statement, so did ‘Creatures Of The Night’ and ‘Alive’  was its own thing. On the rest all that stands out is just the occasional song. ‘Revenge’ is just a big fat dick, just an erect sonofabitch. It’s gonna fuck you like you’ve never been fucked before.”
We arrive at the radio station where the deejay welcomes “Gene Simmons and, er, company from Kiss,” not even aware of Bruce’s name. Simmons, of course, is the wily old pro and feeds him a few interesting lines anyway. An entertaining one concerns Vinnie Vincent, the ex-guitarist who co-wrote both ‘Unholy’ and ‘I Just Wanna’ after leaving Kiss under a considerable cloud following 1983’s debut non make-up album, ‘Lick It Up’.
“Vinnie has hit some bad times, he was hit by a paper from the US government. He’s down and out so we thought we’d help him out a little bit,” he tells San Francisco. “Vinnie was in the band for a short time, and then he was let go. He was also let go from a band called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, which is tough to do. That might give you a clue about what’s wrong with Vinnie.”
“To say that Gene was unfocussed would be kind. He was addicted to a bunch of
pseudo Hollywood celebs telling him how great he was, and he finally woke up
and realised that nothing beats rock ‘n’ roll.”
Back in the limousine, Gene is talking about having a Top Ten hit with ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II’, their cover of the old Argent song and Kiss’ contribution to the soundtrack from the Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey movie.
“We didn’t even know it was being released [as a single] because it’s a different record company [East West],” he says. “In fact, we were thrown off the Argent tour in 1974. In those days, nobody would let us open for them, not Queen or Mott The Hoople. We’d be blowing the stage up! The sons of bitches used to pull the plug on us at encore time because we’d gone down so well. But revenge is sweet because they’re gone and we’re not.”
“Someplace I really had a screw loose in me and I think that comes from being an alien,” he elaborates. “Not from another planet, but I’m from Israel. When I came to America I felt different, right from the moment some kid told me, ‘Why can’t you speak English? So I learned to speak the language better than the people who were born in the country and wound up teaching their children how to speak it properly. It all comes from me needing to prove I’m as good as – if not better than – them. Everything in my life has been based around that. I love knowing absolutely useless information, like where the word Easter comes from.”
“We refer to Gene as The Man Who Wouldn’t Shut Up,” confides Kulick. “He’ll talk to anyone about anything.
I believe it! But what qualities will Eric Singer bring to Kiss?` “He’s such a team player,” Bruce replies. “He’s an experienced drummer, but what I like most about Eric is that he’s a complete guitar freak. He plays air guitar to all my solos on ‘Revenge’. During the mixing stages while we were all standing around I expected him to say, ‘Bring up the snare a little’, but he’d be moaning that the bass wasn’t loud enough. His focus isn’t just about himself and he’s very tuned into what Kiss is about.”
When Vivian Campbell recently joined Def Leppard, it was hinted at that he wouldn’t become a full member straight away, a move borne of financial necessity. What basis did Eric join Kiss on?
“It was down to whether or not he was willing to go and get the sandwiches,” Gene smiles. “No, you join the family. Vinnie Vincent was in the band for an album, and he toured. Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and a lot of other people were in the band, but what you contribute and how much you care indicates whether you last or not. And that includes everybody, even Gene Simmons. If I start showing up late I should get thrown out like anyone else. Eric is in, unless he starts to fuck up.”
On the bus between the hotel and the gig, Simmons and Stanley demonstrate their rapport, Paul demanding that the air conditioning be switched on “because only one of us comes from the jungle”, with Gene raising his hand in mock admission. But does Paul share Gene’s opinions on the decline of Kiss?
“I think Gene may over-emphasize things based upon the fact that it was him who was going badly wrong,” responds Stanley. “The band was in nowhere near the trouble that Gene was in; I think he’s the first to admit that. To say that Gene was unfocussed would be kind. He was addicted to a bunch of pseudo Hollywood celebs telling him how great he was, and he finally woke up and realised that nothing beats rock ‘n’ roll.
“We started to lose it around 1985, we’d started to find ourselves again with ‘Creatures Of The Night’. ‘Lick It Up’ and ‘Animalize’ [‘84] were both real good, but after that it went nowhere. I don’t even know if we were hitting the target, we certainly weren’t hitting the bullseye! It didn’t cause any friction because if someone in your family is fucking up, you just go along with it. The band continued and did fine…”
“…That’s why Paul’s in such good shape,” interjects Singer from the seat in front. “Did you ever see that guy Hercules who held up the world? That was Paul holding up Kiss.”
“Thank you,” Stanley beams. “I think the best analogy is when somebody looks at you and says, ‘Did I doze off?’ Well, that was Kiss. We kinda didn’t realise that we were falling asleep. Nobody was focussed for a while. Bruce, too. He has only just discovered that playing guitar should come from the balls and not the brain.”
"I don't find the song 'Take It Off' satirical at all. I like the image of a
woman with great hair and a great body who's swinging her panties."
The gig at the Stone is easily the best I’d seen since they performed at London’s Wembley Arena in 1980. Kicking in with an astonishing string of classics like ‘Love Gun’, ‘Deuce’, ‘Heaven’s On Fire’, ‘Parasite’ an arguably the greatest party anthem of them all, ‘Shout It Out Loud’, Kiss quickly hit an easy groove and don’t look like anything can stop them. Singer is a blur of movement, also contributing backing vocals, while Kulick is his usual dignified self, keeping out of the way of Simmons and Stanley’s determined charges around the boards. ‘Strutter’ precedes ‘Calling Doctor Love’ before a beefed-up ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ leads into ‘100,000 Years’. Then ‘Unholy’ and ‘Take It Off’ represent ‘Revenge’ admirably, before an unbelievable final run-in of ‘God Of Thunder’, ‘Lick It Up’, ‘Firehouse’, ‘Tears Are Falling’, ‘I Love It Loud’, my own favourite ‘I Stole Your Love’ (YEAH!), ‘Cold Gin’ and ‘Detroit Rock City’. Classics one and all. And for encores, they take the roof off the place with ‘I Want You’, a surprisingly ballsy ‘God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II’ and the sweat-drenched finale of Rock ‘N’ Roll All Nite’. Phew! You wanted the best, and you definitely got it.
Afterwards, in Paul’s $160-a-night hotel suite, the dressing gown-clad frontman is elated and keen to talk about the show.
“I don’t think the band has been this focussed since we started,” he gushes. “Kiss isn’t about me. It isn’t about Gene, and it isn’t about Gene and me. It’s about the chemistry between the four members.”
I wonder whether Paul thinks the humour of Kiss goes over peoples’ heads? After all, nobody can sing that line about waving your panties in the air and be serious.
“Actually, I am,” he replies stone-faced. “It’s funny you should pick that one. It’s a proud moment in a titty bar when a woman can sing her panties over her head. To me, that song celebrates all that’s good in a strip club. A woman who dances like a naked filly I something to behold… and be held! It certainly puts a sparkle in my eye, but I don’t find it satirical at all. I like the image of a woman with great hair and a great body who’s swinging her panties. Maybe it’s just me?”
Maybe it’s just me, too. But we move on and discuss the possible Spinal Tap connotations of the song ‘Tough Love’, a tune that’s just a word or two away from the Tap’s famous couplet of: “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’”. Again, Stanley shows no sign whatever of amusement.
“Gene wrote that, but he didn’t know it came from a Spinal Tap song,” he offers sincerely. “That’s not a place we should be stealing lyrics from, but you’re not the first person to point it out. Strange as it may seem, I haven’t followed their career that diligently.”
So we move onto the band’s reputation for on the road debauchery.
“For me, it’s just sex and rock ‘n’ roll – I leave out the drugs,” says Paul. “There’s been times when there were more women than one could even believe, but you run the risk of becoming a parody of everything a rock band is when you get into cocksmanship. I’ve leave that to the pipsqueak bands because there’s nothing sillier than bands trying to score points over how many blowjobs they’ve had.”
But doesn’t Stanley’s chest-beating vintage stage intro to ‘Love Gun’ fall down under these very same rules?
“Yeah, and truthfully we do less of that these days,” he parries. “I don’t have to tell you that I got laid for it to have happened. When something starts to be like a comedy routine, I don’t want any part of it. Then it truly does become Spinal Tap.”
In conclusion, I ask Stanley whether the opulence of a hotel room with a phone and TV set in the bathroom is conducive to maintaining the hunger to play great rock ‘n’ roll.
“Hunger has nothing whatsoever to do with financial status,” he responds defensively. “There’s a lot of people who don’t have a dime in their pocket who still suck. We don’t employ an entourage of people to stroke our egos. We used to, but in the end you become Elvis. If you can’t get yourself into the hotel lobby in the morning then you should just go home, none of that pampering shit goes on here.”
He’s on a roll now: “People who get into this business for fast cars or big houses are transparently obvious. If this was truly about making money then I wouldn’t be doing it anymore – I’ve already made enough. Someone who truly loves what they do will always be obvious. You may fall asleep and doze for a while but ultimately you have to say, ‘For fuck’s sake, let’s get on with it’. I’m now every bit as hungry as when all of this started, because it’s about pride again.”
Kiss have woken up. God save the second-raters!
The official Kiss website
Witnessing the internal mechanisms of one of the world’s biggest rock acts is always a privilege, and it’s made all the more appetising when that band has been under-performing for a number of years. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley both admitted that Kiss had “dozed off” (Stanley’s term) and were attempting a hasty alarm call with the ‘Revenge’ album in San Francisco in 1992. To their credit, they spoke frankly about where they’d been going wrong, though it’s hard to take Paul’s quotes about panty-swinging women with anything approaching seriousness. Since this interview, however, the group found they had no option but to replace Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Although their bank balances swelled immeasurably it didn’t last, and Singer is now back on the Kiss drum stool, with ex-Black ‘N Blue man Tommy Thayer wearing Frehley’s make-up. Bizarre, and not very tasteful if you ask me. (25th August, 2004)
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