Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rock Reads: A Seasonal Guide For The Rock & Roll Literate | by James Campion

Nothin’ To Lose – Ken Sharp, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons (2013)

If there is only one book you read about rock and roll this holiday season, then it has to be Nothin’ To Lose – The Making Of KISS 1972-1975. It is a monster and you will love it. Not because you are a KISS fanatic or remember when KISS mattered or when progressive/glam/dinosaur rock ruled the world, but because for my money this is the finest researched oral history of this remarkably creative and incredibly outlandish period in the culture of American rock and roll.

Author Ken Sharp’s inexhaustible ride through the mean streets of the New York City rock scene—post-hippy and pre-punk—and across the country through over 200 interviews paints an elaborate picture of risk, sacrifice and mayhem that helped to establish one of rock’s most enduring icons.

“What I endeavored to do is create a documentary on paper,” Sharp explained to me during a recent interview. “It was fascinating to bring in all of these voices, everyone from the band themselves to producers, engineers, touring bands, publicists, record company folks, roadies, competing bands from their New York club days, costume designers, the list goes on and on. Hearing from people who have rarely if ever spoken on the record before helped to bring into focus this rare, behind-the-scenes story of what it was like for a band starting out long before they were stars.”

When word got out last year that Nothin’ To Lose was in the works and that original members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were connected, the hullabaloo from fan blogs and on message boards was mixed. Since the other two original members—Ace Frehley and Peter Criss—had recently released tell-all memoirs taking to task their former brethren and the critiques from inside the KISS camp in response had been mostly vitriolic, the buzz was this would be a one-sided tale completely controlled by the usual tight-lipped stronghold of the KISS propaganda machine. Nothin’ To Lose is anything but. Sharp, who has worked with KISS on liner notes for the band’s box set, as well as photograph archiving and tour books, spent years conducting all the research himself; almost, as he describes, as if he were a detective following leads, getting tips and working back channels to compile the real stories behind the hype.

Stanley and Simmons, although heavily involved, read many of these anecdotes only a few months prior to publication and, according to Sharp, did not censor a thing. “To my great surprise, Gene and Paul never attempted to expurgate anything from the final text. And I think mainly it’s because most of the people around KISS at the time I cover in the book, 1972 through 1975, and the band themselves were all on the same page. There was a one-for-all mentality from the road crew to manager Bill Aucoin and Casablanca Records chairman and founder Neil Bogart. They were all on a mission.”

In fact, throughout the process of collecting all these memories, Stanley and Simmons would comment to Sharp how much they were learning about their past, mostly due to having to spent the formative years of KISS constantly touring and promoting the band and not being privy to firsthand knowledge of major decisions and seemingly ancillary incidents that would ultimately decide their fates.

Beyond the vast array of memories shared by those who were there, Nothin’ To Lose is bursting with rare photos and images that sends the reader back in time; gig posters, homemade ads, handwritten setlists, club date tickets, the reel-to-reel tape box of the original KISS demos and much more. “I worked really, really hard on getting so many rare and previously unseen images,” cites Sharp. “Especially my favorite photos of the band recording their first album without the makeup, which I got from Eddie Solan, the band’s roadie/engineer at the time. They really bring you inside a world that, when you were growing up, you always imagined what it would be like to be inside the studio with these guys.”

Nothin’ To Lose – The Making Of KISS 1972-1975 directly answers to that old rock and roll adage of “You had to be there!”