It took a few decades but the members of Kiss’s original lineup have all written their autobiographies. Gene Simmons wrote an amusingly egocentric light read, Peter Criss wrote the dishiest one and Ace Frehley wrote a confessional dominated by tales of bad behavior. Paul Stanley was the last holdout and his book is memorable, albeit not for the reasons he might want it to be: simply put, his tome Face The Music is one of the most stunningly bitter autobios ever written by a successful rock musician.
In fairness to Stanley, this book has a dark beginning that rivals the “troubled childhood” section of any other rock autobio you care to mention. He’s born with a damaged ear that not only gets him teased by classmates but also causes partial deafness that results him in being considered a poor student when he can’t hear his teachers. He also had to contend with a mentally ill older sister prone to flying into violent rages. To top it all off, his parents seemed indifferent to his many problems and largely left him to fend for himself.
This would give anyone a huge chip on their shoulder, one that could only be lifted by the power of rock music. Stanley ably testifies to his love of listening to and playing rock music – there’s some fascinating stuff about the early days of Kiss, how they built their personas and the guerilla marketing they undertook to get noticed – but the chip on Stanley’s shoulder never budges.
Stanley’s clear memory of the events that marked his career is matched by his inability to forgive any slight occurred along the way. As a result, Face The Music becomes weighed down by a pathological need to settle all the scores that have amassed in his mind over the years. It’s no surprise that Criss and Frehley, both famously difficult, take a drubbing here but it is shocking how lays into Simmons at points in the book.
Simmons is an egocentric type and was famously inattentive to Kiss for much of the ’80s – but ultimately came around and resumed being an equal partner in the band’s destiny with Stanley. However, Stanley recounts his complaints about his cohort with a sharpness that suggests his anger remains fresh over every time he felt let down by Simmons. Readers will walk away feeling the Simmons/Stanley pairing is less a partnership between lifelong friends and more a shotgun marriage between two separate entities who ignore their differences for business purposes.
And Simmons isn’t the only surprise target of Stanley’s wrath. Bill Aucoin, the manager who brought them to prominence, not only gets criticized for his management failings but also gets skewered with some nasty gossip about his later days. His ex Donna Dixon is raked over the coals for falling out of love with him, complete with insults for her choice of husband, Dan Ackroyd. Another shocker is the dismissive treatment of longtime Kiss drummer Eric Carr, who is portrayed as a dimwitted, mentally fragile underling. Even in the recounting of Carr’s death from cancer, Stanley still criticizes him. Carr is a beloved figure in Kiss fandom and fans who haven’t read this book yet are likely to be shocked by the casual cruelty of how he is portrayed in this book.
It’s a shame that the book is so awash in venom because Stanley can be impressively candid about himself when he’s not settling scores. Face The Music has interesting stretches where he lays out what life was like for someone who became famous but was too insecure to build real friendships or romantic relationships. There are memorable tales of gorgeous apartments and pricey collections that bring no joy as well as ritzy nights on the town that ultimately end with Stanley alone. He’s also startlingly frank about the transactional nature of most of his sexual relationships – and rest assured, he never lets a chance pass by to let the reader know about when he had cheap, impersonal sex to feel better.
Surprisingly, Face The Music winds down to a happy ending. After sections about a rancorous marriage that ended in divorce and a recounting of Kiss’s comeback tour that offers a fresh crop of nasty Criss and Frehley tales, he meets a woman he loves, gets married and successfully raises his son from his past marriage as well as a new daughter. Stanley imparts life lessons and advice a-plenty as the book comes to a close but they feel hollow because his bitterness continues to pop up (unforgettable example: an explanation for why he didn’t invite Simmons to his last marriage ceremony).
Ultimately, Face The Music is a compelling read… but a key part of what makes it compelling is the difference between how Stanley thinks he is presenting his story and the way it actually comes off. For all its self-revealing detail, the book ultimately comes off as the chilly work of someone who never managed to work through his grievances about his life. It’s a shame that a successful person who has enjoyed such an interesting career is still angry when he looks back at it.