Friday, April 27, 2012

Kiss: The Pagan Beasties of Teenage Rock

Rolling Stone's 1977 feature on the fearless foursome

Here is a reprint of the first and only KISS feature in Rolling Stone, April 1977.

Peter Cade/Central Press/Getty Images

Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss of KISS.

By Charles M. Young

April 27, 2012 3:10 PM ET

This story is from the April 7th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.

"We broke Lawrence Welk's attendance record in Abilene, Texas. I'm very proud of that," says Gene Simmons, the Kiss bassist, notorious for his grotesquely long tongue and for dressing like a pterodactyl. We sit at a backstage dinner table on the first of three nights they are playing Detroit's 12,000-seat Cobo Hall – exceptional dates because they are doing mostly secondary markets this tour. "We're hitting places they've never seen a big band, and they'll remember us forever. The reaction has been amazing. I was watching the local news in Duluth and the announcer said there had been a robbery at the auditorium. I thought, 'That's it for the gate receipts,' but it turned out some kid had gone up to the window and stolen three tickets at gunpoint. I don't understand it. Tickets are so ethereal. One concert and they're gone. Now money, that's real power."

Money, I object, is as much an illusion as a ticket.

"Not if everyone believes it," says Simmons, holding up a fork. "If I say this is a royal scepter and everyone recognizes it as such, then it's a royal scepter and I'm king. That's power, not an illusion."

Before I can insist it's still a fork, guitarist Paul Stanley – known for the black star over his right eye and for his bright red lips – sits down and stuffs a piece of cake into his mouth. "I'm really sick to my stomach," he says, licking the fingers of one hand, holding his taut belly with the other, and searching for another slice with the calm eyes of an addict who has enough money to feed his habit. "I got chills and everything. I thought I was going to pass out onstage last night."

Maybe he would feel better if he stopped eating gunk?

"The best diet for the road," he says, "is soup for lunch and candy for supper. It keeps the weight off and you're speeding on all that sugar by show time."

A roadie announces that it is time for a sound check, and the three of us walk to the $300,000 stage set in the cavernous auditorium. Drummer Peter Criss – who paints his face to resemble a cat – is already at his kit and nearly falling off his seat, laughing at his own ludicrous version of the bang-the-drum-slowly ending of the Chambers Brothers' hit, "Time Has Come Today." Guitarist Ace Frehley, who plays the role of a spaceman with two silver stars splashed over his eyes, ignores the folderol and sends occasional blasts of power chords echoing through the hall. None of the members of Kiss is wearing the makeup he invariably puts on for public appearances, and, stripped of paint, Stanley comes the closest to handsome, with patrician features that one could imagine, in another age, riding a two-stallion chariot too fast down a crowded Roman street and lashing the backs of slow peasants. Frehley looks like the original 1967 acid casualty, his face as pock-marked as the moon backdrop on his side of the stage. Criss appears several years past his official age of 30, but his eyes are a child's in their lack of calculation. With his swarthy central-European complexion and flaking black fingernails, Simmons could look filthy stepping out of a shower. Though we are all about 6'2" in our stocking feet, Frehley, Stanley and Simmons tower over me in their eight-inch platform shoes and I begin to realize the luxury of height. All these years, I've been talking down at people. Standing here under Simmons' unflinching gaze, I am somehow the wimpy one whose opinions don't matter.
"Come here. I want to show you something," he says, ascending a staircase to the parapet of the ruined castle that is his side of the stage. It is spattered with red from the nightly ritual of puking blood during his bass solo. "We're 40 feet over the audience. You know what this is?" The 40 feet are straight down and the only answer I can think of is acrophobia. Simmons steps to the edge and gestures over a sea of empty seats. "This," he says, "is power."

According to Scientific American, every time a buffalo farts in Africa, thousands of dung beetles are alerted to the possibility of manna from heaven. The relationship between the farts and the beetles is a peculiarly honest one. Each species of beetle is genetically programmed to eat a particular kind of dung, so the buffalo need not sponsor marketing surveys to discover where they have to fart for maximum return on their investment. Competing herds do not advertise themselves or offer promo samples. As for the product: buffalo farts do not promise to reveal the meaning of life. Buffaloes do not promise to craft farts that make the whole world sing. They do not promise intellectual respectability if a beetle can interpret their fart sounds with sufficient pedagogy. Buffalo farts promise shit, which is what they deliver.

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