If you haven’t been following the ridiculous shitstorm that has been the prologue to Kiss’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this Thursday, here’s a quick recap: In the band’s fifteenth year of eligibility, the Hall was finally shamed into allowing one of the most successful groups in rock 'n’ roll history to pass through the pearly gates of their glorified gift shop in Cleveland. They even asked Kiss to perform at the awards ceremony at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, but with a caveat: Guitarist/vocalist/narcissist Paul Stanley and bassist/vocalist/even-bigger-narcissist Gene Simmons would have to do the gig with original guitarist Ace Frehley and original drummer Peter Criss, both of whom originally split with Kiss in the early 80s, rejoined briefly in the mid-90s, and haven’t played with the band in nearly 15 years. Simmons and Stanley refused, saying they wanted to perform with their current Kiss bandmates, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. But the Hall gave them the finger on that one.
Meanwhile, Stanley is making the morning talk-show rounds, promoting his new autobiography and shit-talking his former bandmates (and Simmons) at every opportunity. “At this point, it’s becoming petty,” Frehley says from his hotel room in New York two days before the Hall Of Fame ceremony. “Those guys just come off so cranky. I mean, you’ve got millions and millions of dollars, you live in a big house, you’re a huge rock star, people all around the world think you’re great. What do you have to put people down for? Paul and Gene are way too uptight, and it’s making them look bad.”
This whole Hall of Fame thing has turned into a real fucking soap opera, hasn’t it?
[Laughs] That’s a good word for it. I haven’t been paying too much attention to what people are saying on the internet, no matter who it is. I’m trying to finish my new record, so I can’t let that rent a lot of space in my head.
It seems like every day Paul Stanley has a new disparaging comment to make about you and Peter Criss.
Well, I’m appalled at Paul. [Laughs] I’m appalled at the whole thing.
One thing he’s been saying that makes a lot of sense is that the Hall of Fame has basically been shamed into inducting Kiss. They don’t really want to do it, but the demand from fans has been overwhelming for the past 15 years. Do you agree with that assessment?
There’s been a lot of pressure on them to induct us over the years, and they resisted. We could’ve been inducted 15 years ago. You’re eligible after 25 years as a band, but they waited 40. Sooner or later, it doesn’t matter to me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a big honor and I plan to have a good time. Paul’s been getting involved with the politics of who’s being inducted—who should be, who shouldn’t be, as far as the people who joined the band after me and Peter left—but I try to stay away from all that stuff because it’s politics. I’ve always tried to keep music and politics separate.
Do you think the guys who came after you and Peter—Eric Carr, Vinnie Vincent, Eric Singer, Tommy Thayer, Bruce Kulick—deserve to be inducted as well?
I don’t know what the rules are. Supposedly there are certain guidelines that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has, and obviously they didn’t meet those criteria. I know for a fact—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame told me—that the reason they refused to induct Tommy and Eric [Singer] is because they’re not contributing anything original to the band. They’re just copying stuff that Peter and me did during the first ten years of the group. So they’re just actors, basically.
Do you have any sort of relationship with Tommy and Eric?
I’m friends with those guys. I really like Eric—on the last Kiss tour I did, I’d hang out with Eric and have a few laughs when we were in Australia. At the time Tommy was our road manager, which is kinda bizarre. I mean, you can’t make this stuff up. What rock supergroup has a dynamic lead guitarist who leaves the band, and they replace him with the tour manager? You can’t make this shit up. If somebody wrote that as a script for a rock 'n’ roll film, nobody would believe it. But Tommy’s not a bad guitar player. He’s got his chops. Not very original, but it is what it is.
There’s been a huge pissing match over which members of Kiss should play at the ceremony. The Hall of Fame wanted you and Peter to play, but Paul and Gene said they’d only play with Tommy and Eric, because they’re the current members. Some folks are saying that all of you should play. As it stands now, there will be no Kiss performance. What do you think about the whole debacle?
I don’t have a problem with Tommy and Eric playing. The problem I have is that Paul and Gene shot down the idea of playing with Peter and me and wanted to perform with just Tommy and Eric—in makeup, too. That’s makeup I designed. I’m supposed to sit there while I’m being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I gotta watch some other guy playing in my costume and makeup? That didn’t sit very well with me because the Hall of Fame requested that just the four original guys perform.
You recently said that the reason Paul and Gene don’t wanna do that is because the fans will want a full-blown reunion tour afterwards.
Well, that’s what a lot of people say. They’re afraid of history repeating itself. When we did Unplugged in 1995, Peter and me came out and did two songs and the place went crazy. Paul and Gene had to buckle to public opinion, and the fans wanted a reunion. They had just done an album with Bruce and Eric that they had to put on the back burner. But it was the most successful tour that year. We grossed over 250 million dollars. It was insane. So they don’t wanna open a can of worms. Outside looking in, as an unbiased person, I don’t blame them. But it’s been 40 years. I was in the band, I left the band; I rejoined in ’96 for five years, left in 2001 and the fans have always been there for me. They really want the reunion. Ever since the announcement that we were being inducted, that’s all I hear from fans. All they want is for me and Peter to perform two or three songs and that’d be the end of it. But Paul and Gene shot it down. They can’t give the fans ten minutes for supporting us for 40 goddamn years?
Do you think it would be unfair to Tommy and Eric if you and Peter performed at the ceremony?
What do you mean unfair? They’re not even being inducted!
What I mean is that Tommy and Eric are current members of Kiss. It’d be kinda shitty of Paul and Gene to ask them to sit out a performance so they could play with you and Peter.
A lot of people are being honored at the ceremony. Some people are getting up to do a few songs, and some people aren’t. We’re only talking about a couple of songs. It’s not a concert. If I was in charge of the whole thing, we could just get up there in Italian-cut suits or something—we wouldn’t even have to wear the makeup.
Paul’s book recently came out. Have you read any of it?
I haven’t read it, but I’m sure he threw me under the bus in one way or another. [Laughs] Although I heard he threw Gene under the bus more than anyone.
Apparently he thinks you and Peter are anti-Semitic.
That’s absurd. I’m engaged to a Jewish lady! I’ve been with her for five years. Her name is Rachael Gordon and she’s a singer-songwriter. I met her in San Diego on my 2008 tour. And my whole life I’ve been in the music business. You know the music business is controlled by Jewish people: My attorney, my accountant—everybody’s Jewish. [Laughs] I’m anti-Semitic? Are you out of your mind? You know what the problem is? Paul’s cranky because he can’t call me a drunk or a drug addict anymore. He can’t say I’m unemployable. He can’t say I don’t show up, because I do these days. So now he’s grasping at straws just to grab headlines for his goddamn book.
After 40 years, Kiss made the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time this month. Did you see the article?
At one point, both Paul and Gene acknowledge that they think about you and Peter every day.
I don’t believe that for a second. [Laughs]They try to avoid us. We’re like a bad rash that won’t go away. [Laughs] But it has to be irritating when all they hear from the fans is, “Yeah, Tommy’s OK, but there’s nothing like the real thing.” That’s gotta be frustrating for them. Their fallback position years ago was, “Yeah, Ace was great, he contributed a lot to the group, but he’s a drunk and a drug addict so we can’t use him.” But I’ve been sober for seven and a half years, so what’s their fucking excuse now? And now Paul’s calling me a Nazi? It’s ridiculous.
Is that why you didn’t participate in the new Kiss documentary that’s coming out?
I wasn’t actually contacted by Kiss about that. Their bodyguard contacted my bodyguard and offered me a small amount of money to do it. They tried to come in through the back door because, you know, they don’t wanna pay me any money. But if they don’t pay me now, they’re gonna pay me a lot more later. That’s just the way it works. My attorney is on top of it. If they would’ve been up front, that’s different. But they go through my bodyguard and say it’s some guy from England who’s producing it when really it’s Paul and Gene that are producing it. They’re the money behind it, and they’re trying to get me cheap. But I’m in the middle of a record. I don’t have time for nonsense. Supposedly they’re using some old interviews I did. I probably come off like a knucklehead, but who knows?
Later this month, you’re gonna present an award named in honor of fallen Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, who was actually buried in a “Kiss Kasket.” Don’t you think that’s a little weird?
Yeah, it is a little weird. But Kiss fans are weird—everybody knows it. These days I have to be transparent, you know? [Laughs] There’s nothing I’m gonna say that’s gonna shock anybody. So, yeah, a lot of Kiss fans are kinda strange. But that’s okay because we’re strange.
I can’t believe the Kiss Kasket is a thing that exists.
If it was my decision, I wouldn’t have gone there. There’s a lot of things that Gene has done with the merchandising that are just over the top. He’s got everything from prophylactics to toilet paper—anything to make a buck. It’s embarrassing.
That’s one of the reasons I left the group. Towards the end, I’d go out and see kids in the front row with Kiss dolls and lunchboxes and my manager is going, “Hey, Ace—watch the cursing tonight. We’ve got kids in the front row.” I mean, we started out as this heavy, mean, nasty rock 'n’ roll group wearing leather and it turned into a goddamn circus.
J. Bennett wishes he had a Kiss lunchbox.