It's hard to imagine a time when KISS didn't exist. A friend wearing a Gene Simmons mask introduced me to their music when I was five years old, living in Germany. The Berlin Wall hadn't fallen yet. He revealed the KISS Double Platinum as if he were holding the holy grail of heavy metal. Since then, I've watched the band reach the height of their stardom in the late '70s, the nightmare of losing their makeup (and in essence their power), to the rise from the ashes in the '90s with the original member reunion.
Their painted faces mesmerized me, and I devoured their TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Starchild, Space Ace, Catman and, my personal favorite, the Demon battling evil robot doppelgängers: they were my superheroes.
They were a lot people's superheroes. "There are more people than I can count that have KISS tattoos," said Paul Stanley in a recent press conference with journalists from across the country and Canada. "That's like being a lifer in the Army. Anybody can put on a uniform and take it off, but when you tattoo yourself, you're in it for the long haul. So that's an incredible sign of dedication."
These "lifers" are part of the "KISS Army." Legend has it that a mob of fans once surrounded a radio station, demanding to hear KISS. Today, their legion is innumerable. "Knights in Satan's Service" is one of their more notorious monikers. But with soldiers from four generations of fans, it's not hard to imagine why people outside of the tribe would not look fondly on a bunch of people celebrating a fire-breathing demon onstage singing about the god of thunder.
"I think you can't have the dedication we have from our fans unless they sense the same dedication to them," said Stanley. "We may not always do what fans are happy with, but we stick to our guns and do what we believe in, and it's ultimately what we think is best for the fans."
It must be working. For 40 years, grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, sons and grandsons have been descending upon arenas and amphitheaters like a tribe to watch what some would call, "The greatest music show on earth."
And now they're bringing the greatest music show on earth to Gexa Energy Pavilion in Dallas on Saturday, July 13, as part of their 40th anniversary celebration, which also includes the release of a Paul Stanley memoir, Face the Music: A Life Exposed, and a vinyl box set, KISSTERIA, a compilation of 40 tracks, one from every major album, live selections and an unreleased demo from 1977.
"Look, the band is firing on all cylinders," Stanley said. "We're out there to do a victory lap, although the race is not over yet. There will be more races. But this is a celebration of everything we've done to date."
Head over the page to hear what Paul thinks about the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and the new stage design!
It will also be a celebration of the band being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame since their newest members, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, weren't allowed to perform with their legendary band.
"The Rock Hall was really nothing more than a mosquito buzzing around my ear," Stanley said. "It will always be about the band, the music and our fans, and no small organization with a big name can call the shots or decide what is or what isn't valid or does or doesn't belong in the [Rock 'n' Roll] Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, no matter who may own the name, is ultimately what the people decide is in the Hall of Fame."
This year, the band is bringing what Stanley believes is their best stage design ever. They call it "The Spider Stage" because the lights are shaped like a spider with legs that dangle toward the stage. They wanted a setup where the lights and the stage were one.
The band is also celebrating outliving the critics, proving they're not just a fly-by-night disco band. "Time tells all," Stanley said. "What's happened over time is those critics and naysayers and people who were clueless to what we were doing... We were a pure rock 'n' roll band who didn't add anything to hide what wasn't there but only added to enhance what was there. The people on the street became the critics."
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This takeover includes 28 gold albums, more than 40 million of them sold in the United States alone, making them one of the world's best-selling bands of all time, a list that also showcases such legendary acts as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.
They are more than just a legendary band. They're iconic.
"What I remember of the first gig was that the commitment and conviction that the band had to itself in delivering what it believed was missing in music," Stanley said. "The focus, the sense of what we are and what we represent has never changed. It didn't matter whether we were playing for 20, 20,000 or 200,000 people. We are KISS. We started building a legacy at that very first show and it's never veered from that.
"Going out on our 40th anniversary tour," he continued, "is just a way to re-state who we are, put our eight-inch heels firmly back on the ground and let people know that the legend lives. Everything they heard remains true. This is a band unlike any other band and you only have to come see us to know it. When we started there were no shows like ours. Then it reached a point where many bands had 'KISS shows.' Any band with money can do a 'KISS show,' but no band can be KISS."