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KISS and Tell?

  Kiss And Make-Up
Gene Simmons
Crown, 2001
Rating: 4.0
 

Posted: January 02, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Gene Simmons is a mama's boy.

That's one of the more telling insights we come away with after reading the world-famous KISS bassist's new autobiography. Oh, there are tons more tidbits about Simmons -- born Chiam Witz in Israel, later known as Gene Klein on the streets of New York -- in the pages of Kiss And Make-Up. But that one little factoid goes perhaps the farthest in explaining just how Simmons -- Demon, rock star, consort of Cher and Diana Ross and arguably the face of KISS -- grew into the larger-than-life figure he is today. As the only child of a fiercely protective Jewish mother, Simmons often got the message that he was the most special person in the world -- as when his mom cold-cocked another kid's mother for daring to lay a hand on her boy. Reading this, it's easier to get a handle on the enormous, planet-sized ego of one of the rock world's more interesting figures.

Oh, the story of KISS is told here, as well -- Simmons' knocking about the local rock scene, his joining forces with a young singer-songwriter named Stanley Eisen (known to you and me as Paul Stanley), his vision of a band bigger than life, bigger than the Beatles, bigger than anything the world had ever seen. We're privy to the early years of struggle (Paul and Gene having their practice space broken into and their equipment stolen, the poor performance of the band's first few albums) and the eventual, gradual rise to world domination. We're also treated to tales of Simmons' many sexual conquests (approximately 4,600, if Simmons is to be believed) and his relationships with Cher and Shannon Tweed (the mother of his two children).

But in the end, what we really get is Gene Simmons talking about the subject he loves most in the world, Gene Simmons. And there's nothing wrong with that -- what else are we to expect from his autobiography? -- but given Simmons' outsized ego, the reader isn't left with much in the way of introspection, or glimpses into the contributing factors to his emotional and psychological makeup. Save for occasional allowances that he can be something of a pain in the ass, and a willing admission that he was less than discriminating in his pursuit of female companionship (which he innocuously refers to as "chasing skirt"), there are few indicators that Simmons is, at heart, a regular guy.

In fact, it's somewhat to the book's credit that he often ends up looking like something of a jerk. When Wicked Lester (the band that will eventually become KISS) is offered a contract only on the condition that a longtime friend of Gene's be let go, Simmons shows little sympathy for his friend's plight, avowing that it's strictly business and noting that his future relationship with said friend becomes strained. Similarly, when Simmons inadvertently has a sexual liaison with a girl who'd struck up a correspondence with drummer Eric Carr, Simmons doesn't seem to understand why Carr might be upset. Which is to say nothing about his frustration with Cher's desire for a normal relationship, which is anathema to a man whose preferred way of relating to women doesn't necessarily involve getting to know their names. Or, for that matter, his pious insistence that he's never been drunk or high, save for the dentist's chair and one incident involving pot brownies.

But if Simmons occasionally comes out smelling like something less than a rose, he still comes off much better than the other two founders of KISS -- guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss. Simmons misses no opportunity to drive home just how difficult, insecure and downright unpleasant his two bandmates often were. Fair enough -- no relationship is perfect, after all. But Simmons belabors the point, and his attitude begins to seem like sour grapes.

Still, these are minor complaints, and Kiss And Make-Up is an engaging read, especially when it follows the band's career. Interesting tidbits abound -- at one point, Simmons claims that a despondent Eddie Van Halen asked about joining the band; at another, that he invented the traditional metal salute -- and Simmons (no ghost writer is credited) writes in an easy, conversational style. And if he doesn't ever really probe all that deeply -- the band's VH-1 "Behind the Makeup" documentary is more revealing, and more critical than Simmons gets here about the band's career missteps, including the non-makeup years and Music from The Elder -- Simmons still manages to give readers a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most iconic (and arguably influential) rock and roll bands of the past thirty years. In fact, Kiss And Make-Up succeeds much like a KISS concert: The book never takes off its makeup, but the surface entertainment it provides should render that point largely irrelevant.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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