Frehley Was Happy to Kiss Kiss Goodby : Glitter Group’s Singer/Guitarist Says the Band ‘Became a Nightmare’
One well might look back at glitter rock with a mixture of bemused nostalgia and bewilderment. Bridging the gap in the early- to mid-’70s between the hippie and punk eras, glitter was pure, apolitical entertainment--a decadent self-indulgence which, while undeniably fun, seems more than a bit silly and naive in retrospect.
As the ridiculousness intensified from the grunting dumbness of Gary Glitter to the studied dementia of Alice Cooper, the advent of a group like Kiss became inevitable.
Tongues protruding, fake blood spewing, flashpots blasting and decibels soaring, the quartet from New York City parlayed its extreme version of rock theatricality into a popular phenomenon. Cloaked in garish costumes, bizarre makeup and vertigo-inducing platform boots, Kiss injected the sensibilities of pro wrestling, Saturday morning cartoon shows, Grand Guignol and the circus into its act, and became one of the most commercially successful groups of the decade.
Former Kiss singer/guitarist Ace Frehley, who’ll play Wednesday night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, is best remembered for dressing in spaceman garb and igniting smoke bombs that were set into the body of his guitar. During a recent telephone interview, Frehley, 42, recalled his days as a superstar with some ambivalence:
“Kiss started out as a great idea, but after a while, it became a nightmare for me, like a chain around my neck. I hated to put that damn makeup on. I remember one time in Paris, we had a big show and I guess I had too much to drink that night. I fell asleep with my makeup on, and when I woke up, my eyes were swollen shut from an allergic reaction to the silver paint. I couldn’t see a thing, and it flipped me out!
“Those big boots were a problem for me, too. I’d say I fell down onstage one out of every four shows--I just hit the deck. But (band members) Paul (Stanley) and Gene (Simmons) were good about it--they’d cover for me. They’d walk over and act like it was part of the show.”
Frehley also remembers being emotionally ill-prepared as a young man to deal with the group’s success.
“It was overwhelming. I wasn’t ready for the houses and the cars, I wasn’t ready to be a millionaire in my 20s. I blew a lot of what I had. But I could still retire today just off the royalties from past albums if I wanted to.”
By the late ‘70s, Kiss had started to wear out its welcome among “serious” rock fans and was drawing an ever younger and less-sophisticated audience. Kiss comic books, toys and yes, even an animated cartoon show, hit the market, sealing the band’s appeal to the teeny-bopper crowd. By 1982, Frehley had had enough. He left the group (drummer Peter Criss had quit two years before).
“My life’s been a lot calmer since then,” Frehley said. “I’m my own boss, I call the shots and I work at my own pace. I don’t kill myself. I’m having a lot more fun, believe it or not. The pressure isn’t what it used to be, so I can actually go onstage and enjoy myself.
“Paul and Gene carry on with (Kiss),” Frehley added with a sigh. “They’re workaholics. We’re on speaking terms. We don’t hang out together but to be totally honest, we didn’t hang out together when I was with the band, so no big deal.”
In 1987, after a few years of rest, Ace unveiled his own, far less showy hard rock group, Frehley’s Comet. The group recorded two albums and a live EP but enjoyed only moderate sales. “Frehley’s Comet never achieved the kind of success we had with Kiss, but then,” Frehley argued, “Kiss hasn’t achieved the kind of success we had when I was in the band.”
In any case, Frehley dumped the Comet handle in 1990 and recorded “Trouble Walkin’,” his first album simply under his own name.
“After I left Kiss, I was a little insecure,” he said. “I wanted to promote more of a band image but in reality, it came down to the fact that no one really cared about who the other guys were, and I was kind of beating my head against the wall. Invariably, when I’d pull up to a show, the marquee would say ‘Ace Frehley.’ So I decided to drop the Comet on the last album.”
Currently between labels, Frehley calls his current roadshow the “Just for Fun Tour ’93.” He has been performing such old Kiss favorites as “Detroit Rock City,” “Parasite” and “Strutter,” songs he hadn’t played in years. And even if all Kiss’ hyper-flash didn’t suit him, he still maintains a young headbanger’s attitude about music even as he settles into middle age.
“I still like playing through a stack of Marshalls turned up to 10,” he said gleefully, “and sticking my ear right into the cabinet-- without earplugs, man! If you come to my show, expect that your ears are going to be ringing for a few days.”
* Ace Frehley plays Wednesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Mad Max opens the show at 8 p.m. Tickets: $18.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.
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