In May of 1980 when Peter Criss was shown the door it was the official nail in the KISS Coffin (available exclusively at KISSonline.com) for the original lineup. The signs were there as the band split into two factions. Gene and Paul in one corner with Ace and Peter in the other. I know that’s simplifying things quite a bit as we now know Paul disliked everyone not in his mirror. KISS would eventually maneuver this storm and come out strong starting with the 1983 release Lick It Up. While much has been debated as to who/what saved KISS, less has been discussed as to what killed KISS. I mean of course in both instances it’s a series of events and actions over some time and not a singular moment or person. But it’s KISSmas in July so let’s have some fun with a special KISS themed “Whodunnit?” and figure out just Who killed KISS?
Peter Criss. He managed to hide his bitterness in the early years. My guess is as much as he may have felt shunned at times and as much he may have made things difficult, he largely went with the flow because what else was he gonna do? The giant pile of money didn’t exist and at least this band was making progress. But once he could use a fresh $100 bill for every line of coke Peter’s attitude was largely predictable. People with his personality always feel they deserve more. They are always sure deals are being made behind their back. And when backed into a corner they would cut off their tail to spite their ass. His talents have been debated but his pettiness hasn’t. He can blame drugs, a failing marriage or the stress of being away from home and family. The bottom line is life is better for Pete when he is in KISS. And worse when he’s not. It was exactly what he signed up for and he was rewarded handsomely. To rock the boat to the point where he actually stopped playing during a concert? Easily the most likely member of KISS to say “Don’t you know who I am?” Peter’s lack of respect for how good he had it made working with him extremely difficult. And that’s how Peter Criss killed KISS.
Ace Frehley. The second most likely member of KISS to say “Don’t you know who I am?” Famously chose playing cards over working in the studio for the record Destroyer. This guy is just lazy. The guitar must have come easy for him or he wouldn’t still be playing. A point proven by his never evolving style. And just like Pete, no respect for how easy he had it. If you think about it, not much was asked of him. Yet it was still too much. Fame went to his head. He has no understanding that the money will eventually run out. Alcohol and drugs also played a role. And he never doubted a word of worship some hanger on threw his way. The free fall he suffered was predictable and deserved. He brags about his fans but often treats them like shit. Once he could buy anything he wanted and do whatever he wanted, he no longer wanted to be in KISS. He likes to point at the over commercialization or how young their fan base was getting as reasons he became disillusioned. In truth he just couldn’t be bothered once he had it all and those were just convenient reasons to justify his predilection to doing nothing. It’s nice he came blame it on something because It’s more likely that I fart smoke than Ace will ever have an honest look in the mirror. Throw in the unintended consequence of his solo album and the song “New York Groove” being a hit and now he had all the evidence he’d need to prove how he was right to feel that way. His head got too big and his inability to be honest with himself is how Ace Frehley killed KISS.
Gene Simmons. It’s odd that Gene was the most reluctant when time came to take off the make up because no one wanted to be Hollywood more than him. He wanted the world to know he was dating famous people and had famous friends. He’s often given credit for being a great marketing mind when in reality he’s nothing more than an opportunist who said yes to everything. By the end of 1975 KISS was the band all the cool kids liked. In two years they would be the band all the first graders liked. While that may have been fine with him, it clearly wasn’t with Ace and Peter who never joined a rock band to become family friendly entertainment. They wanted to be Vegas and Gene wanted to be Disneyland. Almost a byproduct of Gene’s attitude about drugs and alcohol, I doubt he ever truly understood cool and was always that lonely immigrant kid escaping into horror movies and comic books. Time after time Gene made band decisions without thinking the other members might not agree. He didn’t consider the effect his actions had on the unity of his band. The only reason he was in a position to do all these things was because of KISS. And to disrespect his fellow band mates was disrespecting KISS. Paul tells Gene he just saw this amazing band called Van Halen and Gene tells the world he discovered this new band called Van Halen. Imagine sitting next to this clown in interview after interview and have to listen to him minimize your work while simultaneously taking credit for it. Gene is a selfish man child who never grew up. He has no friends because he insists on being the stereotypical only child. Gene made band decisions that others in the band felt projected an image they weren’t comfortable with and he didn’t care. That combined with his unwillingness to give credit where credit is due is how Gene Simmons killed KISS.
Paul Stanley. At last check he still hasn’t gotten over junior high bullies. Arguably the biggest talent in KISS. Early on he was the best songwriter. He has always been the strongest singer. And while he was never gonna be Jimmy Page, Paul Stanley can play some guitar. But the bitterness of being born with a deformity never left him. He was passive aggressive with band mates. He was the one person that could actually smack Gene down a peg but didn’t do it until 1988. Gene can’t help himself. You hand Gene a prototype of a KISS toilet brush and he’s gonna greenlight it. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Paul knew better yet seemingly stood quiet. Almost because it irritated Ace and Peter. He never accepted them as equals on even a human level. It’s quite possible he was more petty than Peter. In a group setting, you sometimes need to accommodate others who may not realize the need to reciprocate. But if no one is willing to be the bigger man the outcome is doomed. Paul never like Peter or Ace. Once they got big his disdain for Peter was impossible to hide and he always viewed Ace’s substance abuse as a problem with a simple fix. By having no respect for the contributions of Ace and Peter combined with his unwillingness to pump the breaks on much of the merchandising, is how Paul Stanley killed KISS.
Bill Aucoin. It’s hard to imagine KISS reaching the heights they did without Bill Aucoin. It’s also quite possible Bill caused their demise. Bill came from a TV background and never viewed KISS as musicians as much as an act. Rather than sit them all down when the issues started to sprout, he just tried to appease each of them as individuals which was a different thing for each member. Which is really just leaving a problem to fester with no real resolution. And he had his own ego boost with the bands success. Taking on new clients when the band who made that possible was starting to fracture. He was more concerned with his own portfolio than protecting the only reason doors were being opened for him. Bill treated KISS like a cash machine and he was intent on getting every dollar. When it mattered most he didn’t act like a manager and that’s how Bill Aucoin killed KISS.
Neil Bogart. Probably the closest thing to P.T. Barnum we saw in the 20th century. Neil Bogart understood the industry and how it was run. He knew how to create public interest through spectacle. But he knew nothing of actual artist development. He spent money faster than it came in and if not for duping the powers that be at Polygram into buying Casablanca Records, largely based on inflated interest, he would’ve been bankrupt by 1978. Much like Gene, Neil couldn’t say no to anything. In his head, there was nothing to discuss. Why wouldn’t the band like to go another 8 months without ever being home? He was more concerned with impressing people in other worlds than he was at running a label. He treated KISS as a commodity and not humans and that’s how Neil Bogart killed KISS.
Success. If you knew each member of the band before they got famous. Before they got rich. And knew them well. You would never think they could keep it together with wealth and fame. The fact Gene and Paul have managed to remain partners is nothing short of a miracle. Keeping four people on the same page is much easier when there are few options. We all work with people we don’t care for, but we don’t quit our job. But if we won the lottery we would. Success means more opportunity. More opportunity means, of course, more options. By options, I mean outsiders telling four fairly credulous simpletons what their ego’s wanted to hear. Odd when you think of it. If the band had never taken off, they would’ve eventually broken up. And once they did take off they were doomed to splinter in some sort as well. Success fed each member of KISS with just enough ego boost to blind them to the fact they needed each other. And in that way Success killed KISS.
Disco. Once Paul got a gold record, he started chasing trends. It started innocently enough with a song inspired by Rod Stewart‘s “Maggie May”. But once he wrote a Disco song Paul never totally got back to what made him great. He followed trends and leaned on co-writers. One of whom was future super songwriter Desmond Child of which their first collaboration was the Disco song “I was Made For Loving You”. Had Disco never existed, Paul may have never lost his greatness and Desmond Child may have not became the premier songwriter of the 80’s meaning Aerosmith would’ve faded away. In other words, the world would be much better. By being too enticing for Paul to resist, Disco killed KISS.
Well, that’s at the very least some debatable fodder. Was it Gene? Paul? Neil? Disco? The real truth is Gene and Paul looked at success with KISS like it was a carrot at the end of a stick. Something they will forever chase. While Ace and Peter saw it as a journey up the mountain. Get to the top and enjoy the view. And let’s be honest. Once they did get big, none of the members of the band gave proper credit to the role the others played. Come back next week when I’ll discuss who saved KISS. Spoiler alert. Not Vinnie.