Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: “Nothin’ To Lose – The Making Of KISS (1972-1975)” | By Chris Alexander

Last year, FANGORIA published the official KISS Monster Magazine (issue #1 is still available in our store here, while the 3D issue #2 is sold out) and it’s no secret that this writer/editor is obsessed with but two things: horror movies and yes, KISS. It was a fixation that locked in preschool, and it was seeing Gene Simmons with fangs, leather, metal and bat wings on the cover of 1977’s LOVE GUN that drew me to Dracula. After the swoon of discovering garish and bloody perversions of gothic horror ebbed, I later fell in love with KISS’ patented brand of trashy 70’s rock n’roll and it’s that adoration of Paul Stanley’s scream and Simmons’s stomping, spitting persona that I’ve carried with me and will keep close to my heart until I die, whenever that may be.

And though I swear I know everything about the band—I’ve written about them extensively, and have met them all on multiple occasions—I’m really just an amateur compared to some. Compared to Ken Sharp, I’m positively Cro-Magnon. Sharp has been interviewing KISS (and many other noted classic rock figures) and putting pen to page about their ever-morphing legacy for three decades-plus and along with writer David Leaf, wrote the official authorized KISS biography BEHIND THE MASK a decade ago—a tome widely recognized as the most thorough collection of KISSstory facts yet published. This September, Harper Collins is publishing Sharp’s latest investigation into the band’s legacy with NOTHIN’ TO LOSE: THE MAKING OF KISS (1972-1975), created in collusion with Simmons and Stanley. And man, is it an epic.

The book indeed charts the salad days of Simmons, Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. From the first meetings of a hirsute, heavy and arrogant Simmons (then Gene Klein) and the scrappy teenage Stanley (then Stanley Eisen), to their session time at NYC’s Electric Lady Studios while sculpting the KISS prototype band Wicked Lester, to their first ill-attended gig at the Coventry nightclub, this is in essence a sex and fantasy soaked story of the American Dream trying desperately to turn its motor over and eventually succeeding beyond all expectation.

Sharp’s task with this book is not an easy one. Serious fans of the band have heard the narrative arc of KISS’ rise before. Of Gene’s love for horror movies and comic books defining his physical presence and worship of Paul McCartney informing his evolving “walking bass” style. We know of Paul’s unfettered addiction to Led Zeppelin. Ace’s mis-matched sneaker demeanor and sci-fi tinted outlook. Peter’s “dirty livin” and love of Gene Krupa. It’s all here; their Alice Cooper influenced experiments with make-up design and shocking, cinema-stained stage antics, the flop of their first three albums even while concert arenas were selling out, the climactic release of their game changing 1975 monolith ALIVE! and all the feast, famine and post-60s excess in between.

What the author has done here, miraculously and creatively, is tell that tale and tell it well, serving as an ideal entry point for new KISS fans looking for a peek into the past, while going deep into the vaults and offering insight from those who circled in the KISS orbit. Here we have not only living KISS family members like Sean Delaney and Neil Bogart’s widow, Joyce, supplying anecdotes, but the book is saturated with recollections by a stack of bands that KISS played with and opened for (and admittedly, almost always assassinated) like Black Sabbath, Bob Seger, Iggy and the Stooges, Ted Nugent, Blue Öyster Cult, Cooper and many, many others. He also includes comments from tech guys, FX people and fans that were there to witness the slow, steady rise of one of history’s most recognized pop culture entities. It’s all thrilling, funny, revealing and compulsively readable stuff.

But there’s another thing at play here which, for the ardent KISS fan that’s stayed with them for 40 years of triumph and tragedy, is a rare treat: a respect for the way things were. It’s no secret that Ace and Peter’s sour attitudes and endless battles with addiction, coupled with Gene and Paul’s focused and sometimes perhaps overbearing control and protection of the band/brand have lead to ample wars of words and ugly ink spilled. But here, more often than not, we simply get warm, wistful recollections from four very different men who for a brief time came together to form a brotherhood, making something incredibly special and unprecedented. Four broke kids who tempered their passions with practicality and changed history and had a blast while doing so.

And whether intentional or not, with NOTHIN’ TO LOSE, Sharp has also clearly laid out the blueprint for what could be, if any savvy Hollywood schmoe is paying attention to this, the best goddamn rock and roll movie ever made. So someone make it already…

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