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40 years of Kisstory: Gene Simmons' 'Kiss and Make-Up' book review

Gene Simmons 'Kiss and Make-Up'
Gene Simmons 'Kiss and Make-Up'
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Gene Simmons - 'Kiss and Make-Up

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This year promises to be a milestone one for Kiss, as well as their massive, ferociously loyal fanbase, appropriated named the Kiss Army. Among the upcoming highlights of 2014: this year marks the 40th anniversary of the band’s first two albums; a long, loooooong, criminally overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (seriously, they should have been inducted way back in 1999); Paul Stanley will release his autobiography, 'Face the Music: A Life Exposed,' on April 22. Hopefully there’s more to come too, like a celebratory tour.

The Starchild is actually the only original member whose life story remains to be published. Drummer Peter Criss released his in 2012, Ace Frehley’s came out earlier that same year, and Gene Simmons got the ball rolling back in 2001 with 'Kiss and Make-Up.' All but the Demon’s have been reviewed on this page – read my review of Criss’ 'Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss' here and read my review of Frehley’s 'No Regrets' here – and Stanley’s will be reviewed here as well. For the sake of completion and in honor of this very monumental year in Kisstory, here is my review of Simmons’ 'Kiss and Make-Up.'

Gene Simmons has become one of the world’s most hated musicians in rock history. He is seemingly universally reviled by critics – he is largely ignored by Rolling Stone magazine, and the only reason he is finally getting his Rock Hall induction is apparently because of the Kiss Army, who voted in such numbers on the Hall’s website that Kiss beat every other band in the poll, even Nirvana. The reasons for all the vitriol aimed at Simmons are legion: he’s been accused of whoring out the Kiss name by putting it on every conceivable piece of merchandise, from Hello Kitty dolls to condoms to even coffins. He only cares about money and doesn’t give a crap about artistic integrity. The band’s makeup and stage shows are so over the top it’s ridiculous. All of these criticisms are valid to a point – Simmons himself admits it, but he’s not afraid to point out the hypocrisy of these critics. He set out from the start to make the band more than just another band. He wanted to make a Kiss a brand, not unlike Walt Disney. He says – and rightly so – that all professional musicians have sold out. How else could you make a living if you didn’t sell albums, concert tickets, t-shirts, etc.? Simmons has worked his butt off for decades to get where he is too, so no one can accuse him of being lazy. In the beginning, Kiss was putting out two albums every year. Indeed, from 1974 to 1994, the band released 25 (!!!) albums in the US (that’s counting the four solo albums from 1978 as well as two greatest hits packages but not counting the 'Kiss My Ass' tribute album). Kiss also toured in support of most of these albums, and even made a movie. Simmons may go overboard with the merchandising – he admits that even Paul Stanley thinks so – but he earned every dollar he’s made and he mentions his love and gratitude for the fans several times in the book. He definitely does not take his fame and fortune for granted.

Indeed, what separates this autobiography from pretty every other one (with the exception of Sammy Hagar’s) is Simmons’ strong work ethic and clean lifestyle. He claims to have never been drunk, not even once, and he only got high once and it was an accident (he ate what he thought were plain old brownies at a party). Those expecting wild stories of debauchery and the eventual rehab will have to look elsewhere. Of course, most rock stars are addicts of some kind, and for the Demon, it’s women. As of 2001 (when 'Kiss and Make-Up' was published), Simmons admits he has slept with at least 4600 women (and photographed the majority of them too). Frehley, in his autobiography, accuses Simmons of sleeping with anybody with a vagina, and Simmons doesn’t contradict him. He freely admits having liaisons with women 40 years his senior, or 40 pounds heavier. There’s more sex in this book than a brothel in Las Vegas.

As with most books of this sort, most of the people who will read it already know the stories, but want to hear them straight from the rock star’s mouth. From a childhood of poverty in Israel (when Simmons went by his real name, Chaim Witz) to his romantic relationships with Cher, Diana Ross and Shannon Tweed, to his philosophies on marriage and religion, even if you are a five-star general in the Kiss Army, there is still a lot of stuff here you didn’t know about the Demon. All of this information comes straight from the man’s fire-breathing, blood-dripping mouth too: he wrote the book without a co-author, which is exceptionally rare in the realm of rock star autobiographies. That’s quite an achievement, but on the other hand, it would’ve nice if Simmons talked about the recording of Kiss’ extensive musical catalog. The actual music of Kiss, which continues to influence thousands of bands all over the world, is barely described at all (although the paperback version of the book contains an extra chapter briefly detailing the making of their signature album, 'Destroyer').

Fans of mudslinging will enjoy 'Kiss and Make-Up' too. Simmons has plenty to say about Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and Vinnie Vincent, and almost all of it is negative. Frehley in particular is the target for a lot of scorn. While Simmons does acknowledge Frehley’s guitar mastery and the fact that he designed Kiss’ iconic logo (though he downplays that fact), he also accuses him of being lazy, impossible to work with, and an anti-Semite. Peter Criss is a whiner according to Simmons, and “Beth” is less his song than it is producer Bob Ezrin’s. Vinnie Vincent constantly reneged on contracts.

The worst crime committed by this book, however, is that it was published too early. At the time, Kiss was right in the middle of their “farewell tour” in 2001, but tensions with Ace and Peter had reached critical mass…again. There’s a foreboding sense of finality at the end of the final chapter. Simmons even admitted that the 1998 album 'Psycho Circus,' would most likely be the final album of new Kiss music ever. Of course, Kiss has since released two very good studio albums (read my review of their most recent one, 'Monster,' here), and now the band is soon to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band is still going strong and Simmons was even a reality television star for a while. It seems inevitable that this book will be re-released some day with extra chapters, or will be followed up by a second tome.