Dale Sherman is an author who is also a massive KISS fan. In KISS nerd circles that gives him a helluva lot of credibility and it shows in his work. He’s authored great books such as Black Diamond (and the collector’s guide sequel) as well as books on Alice Cooper and others but like most KISS fans, he keeps coming back to the beloved. The great thing about his work is that while he is quite obviously a big supporter of the band he’s not ever afraid to take a much more objective look at the big picture or even point out things that are downright goofy (let’s be real, there are many). His latest book is called KISS FAQ and it is a real fun read which runs the gamut of topics all of us KISS dorks might talk about while kicking back a few over dinner at Applebees after a grueling KISS convention. I recently decided I had to chat up Dale about the band and the book. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: You’ve written a couple of other books including one of my favorite KISS books Black Diamond. Unlike that book or another great book, Behind the Mask, this is less of a straight biography and more of a book for true KISS nerds with info and stories I have never heard before. Your subtitle says it all…’All that’s left to know about the hottest band in the world’. It also manages to serve its purpose without alienating a newer or more casual fan. Was that difficult?
Dale Sherman: One reaction I’ve been glad to get from the book so far is that of reviewers saying they had no background or interest in KISS, but found that they got sucked into the book and couldn’t stop reading it. I’m glad to hear that, because that was one of my aims – to write something for the KISS Army, but also for people who are just curious about the band and know little about them. In fact, one of my favorite reviews was one where the critic essentially said, “I hate KISS, and I hate this book because I keep coming back to it to read more!”
My main difficulty was trying to find a way to write in the background details that casual or non-fans wouldn’t know without simply regurgitating information I had already covered in one of my previous books. My bio about the band, Black Diamond, had been updated and reissued in 2009, so I need to find a way to cover SOME of those areas without fans thinking “well, I already read all this in his other book” , which was a challenge. For example, the first chapter is biographical details on the band members, which obviously would be in a bio, but I tried to put the emphasis on things of a more personal nature than one would in a bio (for example, the noticeably anti-Semitic nature of the way people will use Gene’s birth name in interviews, or how Paul Stanley has managed to keep most of his life private over the years). It wasn’t easy, but on the other hand, it forced me to be more creative about it.
LRI: One of the first critical pieces of info that maybe gets under-reported is that the visual aspect of KISS was not solely a Gene Simmons, Bill Aucoin or Sean Delaney creation. Paul, Eric, Peter and Ace were all at one point involved in graphic arts. Do you think this point is as important as I do and why or why not?
Dale: I think so, and a good example is found in the Wicked Lester chapter of the book. When Gene and Paul go to the other members of Wicked Lester and say, “We want to wear makeup and costumes on stage,” the other guys in the band balk (with the exception of one that thought it may be a good way to hide his identity from his bosses). As an artist, or even from being around artists, there’s a tendency to be a little looser, having a greater understanding of the visual and even a sense of “willing to do anything.” So when Ace and Peter were presented with the idea of makeup and costumes, they were fine with it, because they could see the potential in it. Plus, you have those creative talents branching out aspects of the band. Gene didn’t come up with cat makeup for Peter and Paul didn’t dress Ace – they put their own touches on their makeup, costumes and characters.It drove the four members of the band, and later Eric, to do something more than the ordinary, and I think their background in art was a big part of that understanding as to their vision.
LRI: Its great that so much of the book is dedicated to debunking rumors or in some cases, lies and misinformation. We both clearly love the band but it seems like there are more instances of myths, lies or recreations of truth in Kissdom than in many other bands? Why do you think this is?
Dale: I’m reminded of the “Chicken Incident” story that involved Alice Cooper in their early days. Without going into a lot of background, a live chicken accidentally was killed during the show. Soon rumors went flying around that Alice killed chickens on-stage every show. Frank Zappa – who was working with the band – called Alice up and asked if the rumors were true. Alice told him that it wasn’t true. Frank’s response was, “Well, don’t tell anyone the truth.” Meaning that the publicity surrounding the rumor was too great to try to correct it. I think KISS benefited from rumors about them as well, and having the whole “hidden identity” factor in-place certainly helped in creating a mystery about them. If someone wanted to think that Gene had a cow’s tongue grafted on to his own, what did it hurt? It only made people talk about them. I think as well that it had something to do with it being the ‘70s. Back then we couldn’t just Google info and find out if rumors were real or not; we would spend months trying to figure out if the new KISS show had the band smashing a car on-stage or not (as the DESTROYER rumors went). Everyone had some rumors about them during that period and KISS was no different, which is why so many of them still surround them today.
LRI: I interviewed Dennis, Neal, Kane and lots of the Alice Cooper guys and am a huge fan of that band so I need to check out your book on that topic. Do you think its unfortunate that the original Alice group wasn’t able to last as long as KISS and do you think KISS benefited from their dissolution?
Dale: I believe that the Alice Cooper Group (a.k.a. the ACG) was on its way to becoming the Rolling Stones of the 1970s and if they had stuck it out a little bit longer, that kind of legacy would have kept them going through the 1970s and onward. People forget today, but Alice and the band was pretty much IT when it came to talking about bands in the early 1970s and they could do no wrong (certainly had the hits to prove it). It was unfortunate that they’re not remembered more than they are, and when the band decided to go on their “break” in ’74 and then never reunited, there was a vacuum for several artists to jump in and fill.
KISS readily did just that, and the four original members have repeatedly stated over the years that one of their goals was to be “four Alice Coopers on stage.” So there has been no disguising the fact that KISS looked to the ACG as a launching point for their act. They then added in a spice of Arthur Brown, a dash of Slade, and hints of several other acts, but the ACG was the main ingredient there, and it was easy to see how fans of the ACG would naturally have some interest in what KISS was doing, even if they didn’t really compare the two.
LRI: You have an entire chapter dedicated to the favorite and least favorite cover art designs of the KISS albums. I love Sonic Boom and Monster but HATE the cover art. Do you think we as KISS fans simply expect more in terms of art and design than say Pearljam or Aerosmith fans? Are we spoiled?
Dale: Maybe a bit and I think that has more to do ultimately with Casablanca’s handling of their albums in the 1970s than KISS itself, looking in hindsight. While KISS may have always been motivated to “give the audience a little extra” in shows, it was really up to the record company to say, “let’s do the same when it come to the albums.” So you get these great painted covers by Ken Kelly for DESTROYER and LOVE GUN, and the amazing photos seen on the live albums, plus all these little extras, like stickers and posters and booklets, etc. None of that would have happened without Casablanca saying so, and once Casablanca was out of the picture it’s easy to note how the whole process about creating great album covers and these cool extras all fell by the wayside. So we are a bit spoiled there. Especially when we have band members promoting each new album as not only the “greatest album since DESTROYER” but will have all these neat extras and an amazing cover. Look at how MONSTER was promoted – they teased the cover bit by bit over a week, only for it to turn out to be an alternate portrait of the band from a photo-session we had already seen pictures from over the previous few weeks. It seemed like a joke, like “Oh, this can’t be the cover. C’mon guys, what’s the real cover.” The sad thing is, it’s a very good photo of the band. But after all the hype it seemed to be a letdown. I think the record company does itself no favors by going that route. Maybe they do see the band as just a nice annuity for the company, but a little more effort would gain them more interest over time. Wish they could see that.
LRI: The whole concept of the band continuing on without Gene or Paul, Kiss II. Its been mentioned by Paul numerous times and you touch on it in KISS FAQ. I LOVE Tommy and Eric and I also became a fan during the 80s when members came and went. I would most likely support this KISS II concept and keep rockin and rolling all night and partying every day til I take a dirtnap. The million dollar question is who would be ‘Starchild’ and ‘Demon’ and am I the only sheep that would plunk down for such a thing?
Dale: I suspect that the best way to go there is to have the band be comprised of people no one have really heard of, because the minute you stick someone somewhat known in the role then it’s always going to be “Eddie Van Halen as Space-Ace” instead of just “Space-Ace.” The band always went after guys who weren’t well-known by the masses before, and I think if they want the characters to stand, they won’t change their attitude for the sake of KISS II. Keep in mind as well that Tommy and Eric are both in their fifties and I suspect that when Gene and Paul bow out, they’ll do the same. No point in sticking around to be the senior members of the “next generation” and risk any possible backlash, when you can retire with the years you had with Gene and Paul on your resume and move on to new projects. I think the biggest problem is related to what I stated above – you can’t have guys who want their own careers; they will forever be known as embodying these characters and expected to perform and (although I doubt it) write songs like these characters. It would be like training to be an actor and then being stuck in a Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyland for the next twenty years. Maybe you’re the best Mickey Mouse in the world, but people don’t know you for what YOU can do, only what you can do as Mickey. Same here – does any serious guitarist really want to be known simply as “some guy who is inside the costume”? So you need people with no personality and no interest in striving to be something more, which doesn’t suit KISS at all. That, or hungry guys that will put up with it for nine months to a year before moving on; hence, expect a lot of turnover there.
Plus, I think fans’ interest will be that of curiosity at first, then moving on to something else. I certainly do not think fans will embrace new music from such a band, even if you had Gene and Paul write it and Bob Ezrin produce it. Because fans want to see someone there from the original foursomes and not just their clones. They may think that Tommy and Eric prove otherwise, but it is still HALF of the original foursome, and that’s good enough for most people. Move them all out and it just isn’t going to happen.
Will it happen? I think it will, but only on a limited scale. You may be able to see such a group do well in smaller theaters, but once they can only get bar-gigs, I believe KISS will pull the plug and just rent out their name to the various tributes bands already out there. Much cheaper and pays more in the long run. I won’t be surprised when KISS II happens, but I doubt it’ll last few long.
LRI: I think you could have written a completely separate book about the KISS movies, your breakdown of The Phantom of the Park and Gene’s acting career to be my personal favorite chapters. I will still watch the theatrical version of Phantom almost monthly and have turned my kids onto it (and Trick Or Treat) as well. The band has made plenty of mentions of embarrassment and the cringe factor but despite all that, do you think it magnified or enhanced their importance to some 80s kids like myself?
Dale: I think there’s a certain amount of mystery about the movie for the kids from the 1980s that stumbled upon it on the old WorldVision VHS tape (or the Good Times laserdisc/VHS tape that came out later in the 1980s). First the sense of “They did a movie?” followed by “Why is this so terrible?” yet ultimately the question of “How did they get to make a movie?” So I think those kids come out of it thinking, “My favorite band was so big they could make a stupid movie where they are superheroes AND still play songs in-concert! Did Led Zep every get to be characters in a movie? Did AC/DC get to fight robots? My guys are extra cool for that reason alone!” Hence, I agree that it may be a bad move on their part at the time, but in the long-run it really has enhanced their status as a world-famous band.
LRI: You mention several turning points and divisions among fandom about certain events on KISS’S timeline. Were there any points you as a fan yourself felt those ‘dividing factors’ could have been avoided or handled better?
Dale: It is easy to point to the whole Eric Carr situation as one that could have been handled differently, but I feel that for the most part the band actually thought they were doing what was best for ALL involved, including Eric. I also believe that, looking back, they probably would agree that they could have handled things in a different way than they did. As a fan, I think the band really missed a great opportunity after the Reunion Tour by not doing an album that was strictly “those four guys locked in a room and playing music together.” Gene and Paul had an excellent opportunity to prove one way or another to the world if Peter and Ace could bring it to the table anymore by doing such an album. If it had worked, then everybody would have won; if it didn’t, then the fans – and more importantly, the record company – would have blamed it on Peter and Ace. Either way, Gene and Paul would have won the gamble. Besides, a success there would have demonstrated to fans and the press that all fences were mended and then they could have done anything at that point – even a chance to move forward as a non-makeup band again. I still can picture them coming out saying, “Okay, that Reunion stuff was a great trip back to the ‘70s for everyone, but KISS isn’t about the past. We proved that we don’t have to be just about the makeup and the characters back in the ‘80s. It’s a costume we can wear if we want, or not, and for now we can move forward without it” Then do a tour without makeup as the original foursome, which would have sold tons of tickets just from curious fans alone (“Can they pull this off? Can they prove that it’s the music that matters?” and all that other stuff you got from the critics back at the time of LICK IT UP over again, really.) I think Gene and Paul – and probably the record company as well – were worried as to what would happen if they let Ace and Peter do the album as part of four equal segments of the band. KISS was already looking at their contract with the company as “on the fence” and it mattered they had an album that sold well and didn’t feel adventurous enough to go that route.. If they had thrown Peter and Ace a couple more bones, it would have made all the difference, but everyone decided to play it safe, and we ended up with a very safe album that not many like, as well as causing a good chunk of fans to fall back into the “Ace/Peter vs. Gene/Paul” mode that darkened fandom for most of the 1990s and still does today. It’s a shame – so many creative things could have come out of PSYCHO CIRCUS and instead, it’s just a monument to the in-fighting between band members and fandom as well.
But, it all comes back to the same thing in the end – they didn’t go that route and they did just fine and dandy with the makeup and the costumes and the old songs, so how can anyone convincingly argue they are in the wrong? Thus, it’s all just down to a fan’s pipe-dream.
LRI: I think, actually I KNOW there has been a lack of emphasis on the bands 80s and 90s legacy that has been in effect since 1994 and that is the ONLY thing that truly irritates me or that I would change about the band. I am so glad that Bruce is there to fly the flag for that era since Eric is sadly gone and Vinnie is so reclusive. Do you think the band is proud of their gold and platinum from that era and if so why is it so necessary to act like none of the unmasked era ever happened?
Dale: The real irony about this is that I remember one of the biggest gripes in the KISS Army back in the 1980s was, “Why won’t they do more of their stuff from the ‘70s? Why do they have to concentrate so much on the ‘80s stuff?” I think they are proud of those albums and that period, but you can’t sell a lot of merchandise with images of KISS from 1985. The makeup and the costumes is what pushes lunchboxes, comic books and – perhaps unfortunately – album and ticket sales. To do that, they have to concentrate on the ‘70s period because that is what people are expecting of them. As I stated before – there was a chance to break out from that mode in ’98 with the PSYCHO CIRCUS album, or even as late as 2000 when Peter was ready to bail, but they felt otherwise and thus there’s a tendency to ignore the ‘80s in order to give what they think the people want.
LRI: Your book KISS FAQ is great and needed to be written. Of all of the insider autobios (Gene, Shannon, Lydia, Peter, Ace, G.G. Gordon) which have you read and do you think anyone else needs to write one?
Dale: First off, thanks! As to the other books, I have read most of them. I’ll give points to Peter for writing the book he always said he would. Whether you agree with his story is nearly besides the point; he said he would write a book that would nail everyone to the wall and he pretty much accomplished that. It actually feels like the real guy telling his story. C.K. Lendt’s book, KISS & SELL does a pretty good job of going through the paces of a period that is now – as you said earlier – forgotten, the ‘80s. I think Ken Sharp has done a remarkable job with his official books for the band; getting them to talk about things that commonly do not get discussed. Gene’s and Ace’s books all fell a bit flat for me – it’s way too easy to read them and think, “Okay, a ghostwriter recorded a couple of interviews with the guy and then threw something together quickly.” Not much of substance in them. I think Paul would write a remarkable book about the band if he put his energy into it – like the Yin to Peter’s Yang. Supposedly he is working on one, so we’ll see. As for Vinnie, I think he may have something to say if done correctly, but I also think one by Bruce may actually be kinda cool if he focused on his career as a musician and not just on the period of his career with KISS. The guy has had a very long, creative career and that would be fascinating to read.
LRI: Last question…thanks for talking to us. You have a great foreword from Bill Starkey who famously started the KISS ARMY wayyy back in the day when radio stations actually took phone calls and might play what you wanted to hear. I actually want to interview him because even that story is one that’s been tweaked and reshaped over the years. Despite some ups and downs and with nothing to gain or lose financially Bill STILL loves the band and their new music but insists on seeing them as real people and not the gods they’ve often been portrayed as. Was there any particular reason you chose to open up KISS FAQ with Bill’s words and do you think in many ways he’s still like most of us fans?
Dale: I think Bill really is the epitome of the true KISS fan. He has been there since early on and has taken the highs and lows of the band in stride and is always hopeful that the next thing the band does will prove to the world how right the KISS Army is about the band. He’s also humble about it. I’ve never seen the guy act like “Hey, I’m the number one KISS fan! Let me through!” (something I have seen of some other fans, unfortunately, over the years). He loves talking KISS with other fans. There’s an old saying that once someone says they’re cool, they can no longer be cool. Bill has never tried to promote himself as the Number One KISS Fans, and thus I think he accomplishes being exactly that. Bill also had something to say that was unique as a fan. The introduction he wrote is what he would tell fans if he met them and that says a lot of how I view the KISS FAQ in general – not as a place to simply jolt down details and fact, but a chance to discuss with fellow fans aspects of the band that normally get little notice in the other books about KISS. As fans, we’re all in this together, and the KISS FAQ book is just another way of showing how much we as fans love the band, even if there are the occasional goofs and weird things that happen along the way. Fortunately for me, a lot of people have been coming back to me after reading it saying that they felt like they were sitting with me at a KISS expo and discussing all the cool things about the band when reading it. I think that’s the best results I can hope for with the book, and I hope that others feel the same way if they pick up a copy.
Thanks to Backbeat books and Dale for doing this…..We urge you to pick up a copy, at 15 bucks, it is WELL worth it
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