October 07, 2009
'Gene Simmons Family Jewels," the A&E reality show starring the spidery, fire-breathing, tongue-dangling KISS bassist as a family man, is stuffed with slumber parties, home movies, teen girls saying, "Whatever," and (somewhat randomly) a depressed comedian Carrot Top at a bar. But it doesn't have Paul Stanley. "God knows, he's asked me enough times," says singer and guitarist Stanley, who co-founded the band with Simmons in 1972. "There's nothing that appeals to me less than creating a TV life, as opposed to living my private life. It's just not for me. I also don't like the idea of confusing what Gene does with what KISS does. It's better to keep 'em separate."

For a man who has spent the past 37 years wearing demonic black-and-white makeup and singing "Love Gun" wearing leather pants and no shirt, Stanley, 57, is pointedly serious on the phone. Asked about Casablanca Records, the '70s disco label that broke KISS and was known for its executives' copious cocaine use and excessive behavior, Stanley says he spent little time there. Asked about Ace Frehley, the fellow band founder who spends much of his newfound solo career bashing KISS as sellouts in the press, Stanley says he's just glad the guitarist is clean and sober. Asked what he wants for Christmas, Stanley delivers a mini-lecture about supporting the American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Stanley is especially serious about the band's first album in 11 years, "Sonic Boom," which he produced. Leaked tracks such as "Modern Day Delilah" don't have quite the same winking debauchery of such KISS classics as "Rock and Roll All Nite," "Black Diamond" or "Strutter," but the guitars are loud, the vocals are operatic and the backbeat is booming. "This couldn't be more KISS. It catches the fire, the urgency, the adrenaline and the firepower," Stanley says, from Detroit (Rock City), where he and Simmons just began a tour with guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer in lieu of founders Frehley and Peter Criss.

"The idea that perhaps 'Sonic Boom' could have been made by any other lineup is somebody's personal insanity, but it's not true. The first person I usually go to for feedback is Tommy, and Eric has been in and out of the band for 14 years."

Beginning in the early '80s, KISS tried to move beyond its trademark showmanship and toured for more than a decade without makeup or tall black space boots. They returned to the shtick in 1996, and have been making the big reunion-tour money with costumes and pyrotechnics ever since. Even the worldwide economic crisis hasn't dented the band's stage production, which hits Nassau Coliseum Friday and Madison Square Garden Saturday. "The last thing we've done is cut back," Stanley says. "You know, in a time of recession and a time where money is so tight, it's all the more reason for us to pack more in. People need to get more bang for the buck. Who better than us to do it?"

KISS goes from studs to spuds

Special to Newsday

Why would KISS sell its latest album exclusively through Wal-Mart? Four words: KISS Mr. Potato Heads. "They came to us with the idea of Mr. Potato Head," insists Paul Stanley, who, with the band, also authorized KISS M&Ms, as well as Halloween makeup and wigs. With CD sales plunging for more than a decade, it makes sense for KISS to follow The Eagles and AC/DC, who sold millions of their comeback discs using Wal-Mart's marketing power in recent years.

KISS' three-disc set includes the new "Sonic Boom," a CD of re-recorded classics and a DVD. "The world is always changing. If you don't adapt, you perish," Stanley says. "Some people will scratch their head and say, 'What does that have to do with rock and roll?' And I would say, 'KISS lives outside the rules and laws that are defined for rock and roll.' " It should be noted, however, that Wal-Mart will sell neither KISS Kondoms nor KISS Kaskets.


Special to Newsday

In the '70s, KISS bewildered critics with its one-dimensional, sludgy hard rock and ridiculously sexual lyrics like this one, from "Christine Sixteen": "I don't usually say things like this to girls your age, but when I saw you coming out of the school that day - that day I knew." But the hits have held up surprisingly well, and the sludge has influenced bands from the Replacements to Mötley Crüe to Nirvana. Here's KISS' top 10:

1. Rock and Roll All Nite - KISS might play this one at the Coliseum. If you ask real nice.

2. Black Diamond - Starts with pretty acoustic guitars, then plunges directly into the headbanging - something Nirvana and a generation of grunge and emo bands have made a career out of.

3. Christine Sixteen - Kind of reprehensible and pervy, until you consider it's in the tradition of such lascivious blues classics as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl."

4. Goin' Blind - Another in the continuing theme of older men desiring teenage girls: "I'm 93, you're 16 / Can't you see I'm goin' blind?" Rocks especially hard.

5. Shout It Out Loud - One of KISS' best-ever sing-along melodies, from 1976's "Destroyer." (Follow the instructions: "You got to have a party! Shout it out loud!")

6. Strutter - KISS' music grew directly from early glam-rock punks like the New York Dolls, who favored big guitar chords and elaborate costuming. "Strutter," from the band's 1974 eponymous debut, is of a piece with the Sweet's "The Ballroom Blitz."

7. Rocket Ride - Guitarist Ace Frehley's signature song, even though he no longer tours with the band. Simple, sexual. Not rocket science.

8. God Gave Rock 'N' Roll to You II - This swaying, 1992 rewrite of an Argent song is one of the few classic live sing-alongs from the makeup-less portion of KISS' career.

9. Two Timer - Written by Gene Simmons in 1975, this harmony-heavy rocker blames the woman, but at least Simmons doesn't spare himself - a "three-time loser."

10. Beth - After all that guitar bluster - a tender ballad. Contains one of the band's best lines: "Me and the boys are playin' / And we just can't find the sound."

WHEN | WHERE KISS plays Nassau Coliseum Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $21.50-$125, available through Ticketmaster, 631-888-9000, ticketmaster.com. The band plays Madison Square Garden on Saturday; tickets, $25-$150, at Ticketmaster. "Sonic Boom" comes out Tuesday.