ARE A ROCK RELIGION
July 15, 2012
By Paul Lester

ROCK BAND Kiss, of the heavily made-up faces and extravagant costumes, have unveiled their latest release, a book entitled Monster. It weighs a suitably monstrous 4st and, when opened, measures 5ft wide.

“A band that is bigger than life deserves a book that is bigger than life,” says singer and guitarist Paul Stanley to cheers from the assembled media. “Size does count,” adds Gene Simmons, the bassist with the legendary long tongue and Lothario reputation. “It is the Rolls-Royce of books,” he says, explaining how each tome is hand-bound, and goes on to describe the fanatical devotion of the sort of fan likely to cough up the necessary £2,700 to acquire a copy of Monster as “Kisstianity”.

“It sounds cultish but some people have dedicated their lives to Kiss,” says drummer Eric Singer.

So do they worry that fans may take their ardour for the band, who have sold more than 100 million records worldwide since forming in 1972, too far? “Well,” says Simmons, “Eric has someone stalking him right now.”

Kisstinianity, he says, “is a religion of sorts, only without anybody having to die for anybody else’s sins.”

Kiss’s supreme confidence has helped them survive while so many rock bands have fallen. There are not many groups who, after four decades, can still reach number two in the American charts, as Kiss did in 2009 with their last album Sonic Boom.

“We are arrogantly self-confident about who we are and what we mean and we subscribe fully to the idea that we are legends,” says Simmons.

He’s not finished yet: “We are, by some estimates, the four most recognised faces on Planet Earth, and I can prove it to you,” he says, turning to yours truly. “You’re a schooled man, you’ll know that Sweden is a monarchy. That means they have a king. What does the king of Sweden look like?”

I admit I have no idea, “which is interesting because everybody in Sweden knows what Kiss look like”.

Only in full painted face and outfits?

“Of course,” he replies, adding: “We are supremely arrogant but on the other hand we are humbled and eternally grateful for the opportunity to stand in front of our bosses, our fans, and work our butts off.”

This comic self-aggrandisement and respect for their fanbase has helped Kiss survive.

“That, and being in the right place at the right time, with the right songs,” he says, “and pride: pride in craftsmanship, in standing up straight, showing up on time and, by God, doing a good day’s work.

“There is everything to be said for leading a straight life,” he adds, more seriously. At 63 Simmons is a living testament to abstaining from excess (give or take the 4,000 or so women he’s alleged to have slept with).

“No drugs, no booze. Your schmekel [Yiddish for penis] will work better, you’ll sleep better, you’ll look better. There’s nothing as shameful as God giving you five senses and you going out to get chemicals to numb those God-given senses.

“Absolutely, it’s a pathetic stereotype of a rock’n’roll star: stupid, high, ear pierced, tattooed,” agrees Paul Stanley.

“Most of the time it’s a stereotype propagated by a critic who does none of that and lives vicariously by seeing someone else risk their life. I never wanted to be a dead legend.”

Lead guitarist Tommy Thayer chips in: “A lot of musicians fall into the trap of a drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle. You have to be smarter than that. Kiss are.”

“Listen,” says Stanley. “I have four kids and a wife, I have a fabulous life, and I answer to no one. That’s my idea of a rock’n’roll lifestyle. When people used to say ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ I’d tell them: ‘You can keep the drugs.’

“Anything worth doing is worth remembering. When people say, ‘I don’t remember the Seventies’, that’s really sad. I do. They were great. They were everything they’re talked up to be.

“Any woman I was with is worth remembering. I lived 10 lives but the reason you’re interviewing us and not Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix is because we kept away from drugs.

“All drugs have ever done is killed your creativity, killed your spirit, or killed you.”

How do Kiss stay in shape for their concerts, which are often several hours long and feature pyrotechnic displays that require total concentration?

“We go to the gym,” says Thayer.

“We work out. We’re serious about it because our shows are more physical than any other band’s. You really have to be in shape.”

“Or,” jokes Stanley, “we won’t make it to the end of the show.”

Thayer, of course, is a relative spring chicken at 51, while Singer is 54. Both are replacements for, respectively, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who left the band following addiction problems. If Simmons has any regrets, it’s that he didn’t take them aside often enough to help them overcome their issues.

“That’s why,” he says, “it’s such a privilege and an honour to have Eric in the band. He can sing, has great song ideas, plays his ass off and always shows up on time.”

In a way, Kiss are more of a brand than a band; an institution that is bigger than any individual. “We represent Americana,” declares Singer, “like McDonald’s or Coca Cola. The Kiss logo is a trademark, a signature.”

But the last word inevitably goes to Gene Simmons, with a little help from a cartoon sailor with bulging arms.

“Kiss,” he proclaims, “stands for bombast. We are guilty as charged, yes, of making a complete spectacle out of ourselves. You’re goddamned right we do. And all the critics who didn’t understand us have long since been buried in my backyard. They’re dead.

“I’ve learned some important life lessons over the years, principally: be the best you can be but be yourself. I espouse Popeye’s philosophy of life: ‘I am what I am and that’s all that I am, I’m Popeye the sailor man.’

“We could never be The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or Queen, but equally they could never be Kiss. So dream big. Love big. Lead a big life. Because you never know, it might be the only 24 hours you’ll have on earth.”

● Kiss Monster is available at kissmonsterbook.com