Raunchy, good-hearted memoirs of the prodigiously tongued co-founder of megaselling band KISS.
Simmons (previously Gene Klein, previously Chaim Witz) defends his warts-and-all narrative of pop-culture collisions and 1970s excess by noting, “Those of you who believe in KISS need to know the truth.” The most colorful, engaging sections here deal with Simmons’s childhood in Israel and Queens. He attended yeshiva to please his fiercely devoted mother, yet became obsessed with “television, the Beatles, superheroes, science fiction, girls. Everything about America.” As for the band’s roots: “We all picked up guitars because we all wanted to get laid,” Simmons writes. With his ambitious songwriting partner Paul Stanley, and the rougher-edged Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, Simmons lived and rehearsed in dingy lofts while writing flamboyantly muscular songs like “Strutter” and “Firehouse” and devising schemes to attract industry attention. Their tactics worked well, and their dynamic stage show (incorporating pulp-Kabuki makeup, tight leather, pyrotechnics, fire-breathing, and blood-spitting) rapidly built their reputation. KISS sold out stadiums throughout the ’70s, but by 1982 internal strife and commercial missteps made the band appear shopworn. KISS soldiered on without Criss, Frehley, or makeup throughout the heavy-metal 1980s. The events become less compelling here, as Simmons surveys his merchandising savvy and his then-insatiable drive for short-term romance: Like many aging rockers, he recalls his odyssey with hazy bonhomie and good-humored bluster that can turn nasty, e.g., his gratuitous slams of ’70s art rock bands and ’90s grunge and his acrimonious portrayal of Criss and Frehley as self-destructive chuckleheads who needed to leave the band for everyone’s benefit. They were eventually hired back as contract players, in time for a final tour in makeup and appearances at lucrative, popular fan conventions.
“The KISS Army” will appreciate Simmons’s fondness for them and uncritically consume his heavy-metal memories.