KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

Farewell To The Kings

(Commentary, July 2000)

The Times Leader
July 7, 2000

By Alan K. Stout
Times Leader Staff Writer

click to enlarge"So this is farewell?" I ask Paul Stanley, beginning what will at times become a bittersweet phone interview.

"This is it," says the Starchild. "This is where we part."

In case you haven't heard, KISS — the powerhouse rock band that Stanley helped form 27 years ago — is packing it in. The group's "Farewell Tour" is heading into the home stretch, as millions of fans around the world head out to a stage near them to say goodbye to the self-proclaimed "Hottest Band In The World."

And that, of course, includes me.

"What's that?" I can imagine some of you saying. "A music journalist? Having an affinity for KISS?"

You bet your 1978 Gene Simmons action-figure I do.

As of this writing, I've seen KISS 24 times in concert. And I've never seen any group put on a better show.

Trust me. I've seen everybody.

No group is better.

For me, however, KISS has never really been about the big show, the makeup, costumes or pyrotechnics. KISS, to me, has always been about music. And get this straight — particularly my fellow high-brow music critics and all of you reluctant radio jocks — KISS has recorded whole lotta great music.

From the crunch of "Deuce" to the vigor of "Shout It Out Loud," KISS has consistently proven to be a band with a penchant for the driving riff, the great hook and the buoyant vibe. Ace Frehley, like many guitarists of his era, plays with more feel than flash, but always seems to bring the right touch to the solo. Stanley's rhythms bleed with energy, and bassist Gene Simmons and drummer Peter Criss have always steered the ship quite capably.

Again — for most KISS fans — it's always been about the songs.

click to enlargeAnd you don't sell 80 million albums and be second only to The Bealtes in gold records without having some great songs. The band's early albums — "KISS," "Hotter Than Hell," "Dressed To Kill," "Destroyer," "Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun" are loaded with strong material. And although 1975's "Alive" and 1977's "Alive II" more than aptly document this era of the group — the era for which it is most renowned — the great tunes didn't end there.

Even in the '80s, after the departure of Frehley and Criss, KISS was still making better hard-rock records than most of the bands of the day, many of whom proudly proclaimed to be their disciples. It was in this era that KISS, sans makeup — while continuing to sing about life, love and sex — also began hitting on one of its favorite topics: the concept of individuality and self-confidence. Tunes such as "I," "Get All You Can Take" and "King of The Mountain" came with one theme and one message: Go for it. And for many teens who at the time were just beginning to discover who they were and what they wanted to do with their lives, that theme was a good one.

The band's concerts also continued to be among rock's best.

From the electricity in the air on the "Lick It Up" and "Animalize" tours to the thunder of the late Eric Carr's drum solo on the "Asylum" tour, KISS never let a crowd down. Pure energy best describes the band's two surprise "Crazy Nights" club shows at the Ritz in New York City in '88, and the set lists they unveiled for 1990's "Hot In The Shade" and 1992's "Revenge" tours stand among their best ever.

Of course, we all know about '96, when the original lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Frehley and Criss reunited and the group's "Alive/Worldwide" extravaganza became the year's highest grossing tour. And 1998's "Psycho Circus" blitz was equally entertaining.

Now, now, now ... before you go dismissing my comments as just some kid from the '70s that ever let go of his boyhood favorites, let me explain some more. I've seen the Rolling Stones many times. I also grew up listening to The Who, and think Pete Townshend is the most underrated songwriter in the history of rock. I've spent more time listening to Bruce Springsteen than anyone I've ever met and have seen him four times on his current tour alone, and I know he's probably the most important songwriter of the past 25 years. I've also seen U2, and I know that it is also a band that a matters. And Sting is a genius.

But I love KISS just as much as all of 'em. I love the band's energy. I love the band's attitude. I love the band's persona. I love what they've done for rock 'n' roll, and how they've almost single-handily redefined the modern stage show.

And I love their music.

There are six strings on an electric guitar. There are 22 frets and 45 unique notes. And if you delve into KISS' records, you'll find they've found all of ' em. There is almost always an insanely catchy groove, a snarling lick or a driving chord.

At one point in my interview with Stanley, I tell him about the rose tattoo on my right arm — the exact same one he made famous more than 25 years ago. It is not there to emulate my favorite rock star, or to simply pay homage to one of my favorite bands. It is actually there not for today, but for another time in my life. It is there to remind me, years from now, of the vibrancy of youth. It is there to remind me of all the times I walked out of KISS concerts with a soaked t-shirt, a hoarse voice and a big smile. It is there to remind me of the power of rock 'n' roll.

"So this is farewell?" I ask the Starchild.

"This is it," he says. "This is where we part."

Thanks for the wonderful ride, guys.

We wanted the best, you gave us the best.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story ran as a side-bar to the Paul Stanley interview from 2000 titled "A Proper Farewell," which can be found under the interviews section of this website.

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