July 31, 2021

‘Give your face’: Paul Stanley (Kiss), on top of rock despite everything | Culture

– “Dad, am I handsome?” Asked Paul Stanley as a child.

– “Well, you’re not ugly,” replied the father.

Paul Stanley was born with a malformation called microtia. He was deaf in one ear and instead of one ear (the right one) he exhibited a stump. He grew up in New York in a family with few resources. His parents were bitter: they did not love each other. His only sister, two years older than him, developed mental problems and suffered violent attacks. A dysfunctional family and a hostile home. One day the boy was left alone in the small family apartment with his sister Julia. She got a breakout, grabbed a hammer and slammed on the door to her brother’s room. Nine-year-old Paul waited inside in terror as the door splintered. When he was a foot away, Julia left. Paul started crying. When his parents arrived, the boy quickly told them about the incident. They yelled at him and beat him, blaming him for the event. “We will take you to the psychiatrist,” his parents snapped.

“I became an object instead of a child. But the children weren’t the only ones staring at me. The adults did it too and that was even worse ”. This is how Paul Stanley tells it in a memoir that was published in 2014 in the United States as Face the Music: A Life Exposed and that six years later it arrived in Spain translated as To face (EsPop).

My home seemed as fraught with danger as school. I could not shake off an overwhelming sense of fear.

Stanley (New York, 69 years old) appears on the screen to speak to EL PAÍS with a jovial appearance, an enviable mane and a face in which some well-executed retouching can be sensed. He wears a leopard print shirt and uses a microphone to speak vintage Golden. Behind him you can see an infinite room with a window through which the Los Angeles sun breaks through. He is at home.

Elton John with the original four members of Kiss (Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley) in 1977 in Los Angeles.Michael Ochs Archives

“When we free ourselves from secrets we get stronger. It is the things we hide that weaken us. The moment we count them, it is as if they left. That happened to me when I wrote the book. I was deaf in one ear and had a deformity. People talked to me and sometimes I didn’t hear anything. They made fun of me. It was a very difficult situation that conditioned me for many years, ”he says.

“My home seemed as fraught with danger as the school. I could not shake off an overwhelming sense of fear. I was only 15 years old and I felt like I was losing my mind. And he had no one to talk to, “says Stanley in his memoirs. Bullied at school, with parents unable to support him, isolated and vulnerable, Stanley received a lifesaving shock of electricity one day in 1965: he saw The Beatles on television. The Ed Sullivan Show. “That was my lifeline. That was the vehicle that I could use to get out of misery, ”he says. To become famous, to be respected and envied, to get affection on stage, something that he had never received. He lived in New York, the perfect place. He saw Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, the soul titans live … He bought a guitar and started practicing.

Paul Stanley, sitting on a stool, with part of his band Soul Station, during the recording of the album, in 2020. / OLIVER HALFIN
Paul Stanley, sitting on a stool, with part of his band Soul Station, during the recording of the album, in 2020. / OLIVER HALFIN

He met Gene Simmons (bass and voice), a Jew like him, but of a much more affluent class. They recruited Peter Criss (drums) and Ace Frehley (guitar) and assembled Kiss in 1973. Stanley sang and played guitar. They decided to put on makeup, dress in lycra garments, wear platforms, fill the stage with pyrotechnics. The sales of their first three albums could not economically compensate for expensive direct ones due to the bulky prop. With his chaotic record label (Casablanca Records) on the brink of bankruptcy, his manager, visionary Bill Aucoin, made two crucial decisions for the group’s career: to release a live album (Alive!, 1975), which would make them millionaires, and launch the most profitable marketing industry in rock history: selling dolls, T-shirts, key rings, underwear, makeup and even coffins related to Kiss characters.

They played rock to shake their butt with celebratory lyrics. They hid their personality with paintings. They called themselves Starchild, Demon, Spaceman, and Catman. They were rockers, but also superheroes. Some called them “mamarrachos”, for others they were idols. 40 years have passed and, after the millions of albums released and filled in concerts, there are few who dispute its greatness.

Nor has it been a placid path. The relationship between the four was rough almost from the start. Stanley has accused Criss and Frehley of “nefarious professionals”, “lazy”, and in the case of the drummer, “bad musician”. The drug problem further cracked their relationship. Stanley and Simmons claim to be clean rockers. “I never got high,” says the guitarist and singer today. “If you see someone put a gun to their mouth and pull the trigger to blow their brains out, I’d rather not be next. I have seen many people die from drugs, or very creative artists who have been lost. I have seen many famous musicians who are unable to create anything because of drugs. From the beginning it was clear to me that I wanted to be in control. I did not become famous to become a dead legend ”. Criss and Frehley survived, but have been out of Kiss for years.

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The relationship between the two leaders (they have always been in the group), Stanley and Simmons, has turned out to be pendular. Stanley blamed him for having focused on private business, on developing an acting career that has come to nothing and leaving Kiss in the background. Meanwhile, he was pulling the group alone. After four decades it has developed a comfortable ecosystem. “I am a fighter and a survivor. If things go wrong, I work harder to improve them. No one has been the owner of my destiny. Only me ”, he expresses softly as a summary of his life.

Stanley has four children (the oldest 26, the youngest 10) and is enjoying his second marriage to Erin Sutton. In the last part of her memoirs she forgives her parents, but then she writes: “Having children has given me a second chance to face the childhood I never had. It is cathartic for me to educate them in a loving and protective environment that I never got to know ”.

These days the musician focuses on his musical project Paul Stanley’s Soul Station. Has recorded a disc Now and Then, where he recreates soul classics: Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson or The Temptations. He does it with a band of 15 musicians and responds to the challenge with feeling and attitude. “Soul was always a part of my life. I saw Otis Redding in concert when I was 15 years old and it blew my mind. It is like when you see a classic painting: immediately you perceive its greatness and it is impossible that not everyone will like it. That’s what happened to me with Otis. “

Kiss has scheduled performances in July in Spain and assures that “they will be.” Faced with the journalist’s incredulous face, he insists: “I am optimistic. And I am based on the fact that things are going better now ”. Do you envision Kisses in the future without you? “I would like to and I believe it is possible. I think the band is more important than any of its members ”. And he has a burst of humility: “I didn’t invent anything. I am the product of many things that I mixed: Sam Cooke, Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott… And the priority of always respecting the audience and putting on a great show. So why not, someone can replace me ”. And with this formula, the singer has just guaranteed the immortality of Kiss.

Stanley managed to get an ear implanted about 20 years ago after three attempts. He is still deaf in his right ear.