by Alex “Penn & Griller” Zander and Ed “Baby Meat” Kowalski
Let’s face it, kiddies: deep down inside, most of us harbor a longing to strap on a guitar or pick up the drumsticks and stand in front of an screaming crowd but, since 99.9% of us poor slobs lack A) the talent, B) the ambition C) the connections or D) all of the above, we’ll have to settle for reading about the ones who DID make it! Since we’re in a retrospective kinda mood, Uncle Alex and Uncle Ed are gonna jump in the Wayback Machine and take you back to the 70s & 80s to review some of our favorite rock star autobiographies!
Back in the day, both of us were huge KISS fans, and they are one of the few bands whose entire original lineup has written autobiographies. Let’s take a look at each of the four, in chronological order of release:
Gene Simmons, KISS and Make Up (2002)
A: A nice coming to America rags to riches story that we (old fans) all knew before reading the details of Chaim Witz becoming Gene Simmons. From there is just more of the same, Gene talking about himself in great detail and other than taking credit for the marketing genius that was behind the Mega KISS Merch Machine, he pretty much just comes off like the pig that he is. A lot of “me” and very little
“we” in terms of the worldwide success that is KISS.
E: Pretty much what you’d expect from the author of a book titled Me, Inc., KISS and Makeup is a sober, detailed and self-aggrandizing look at Simmons’ favorite subject: himself. Not the worst of the four, but pretty damned close.
A: I agree with Ed: not the worst of the four but next to last for sure.
Ace Frehley, No Regrets (2012)
E: When I was about ten years old, a relative gave me a copy of The Brothers Karamazov as a Christmas gift (I know, right?). Reading Dostoyevsky as a kid was easier than reading The Spaceman’s bio, which came across like a six-year-old was his ghostwriter. Just a painful read in which Ace blames everyone but himself for everything that has ever happened to him. This is your brain on drugs…
A: Unlike Phys Ed, I loved this book. Ace is the lazy underdog of rock guitarists but comes off as a loveable fuck up. Hilarious are his tales of Gene’s sexual escapades and lack in the hygiene department,
the arrests and trouble with the law, the near fatal car accidents, a struggle with addiction and alcoholism and his loves in life particularly that for his daughter Monique. Sad is the part where Gene
hosted his own Celebrity Roast and practically begged every band member to appear and none did. Maybe karma in a way after the manner in which Gene treated Ace’s daughter in regards to the movie Detroit Rock City.
Peter Criss, From Make Up to Break Up (2012)
A: I always said that Peter’s KISS character was perfect for him because he is nothing more and nothing less than a big PUSSY. As one would figure in the book he’s threatened to write since the late 80’s (which was then titled A Face Without a KISS), he digs his claws in deep on his former band members ruthlessly. He talks a hell of a lot of the size of his dick as well as his bandmates private parts which I don’t think anyone cares about. He spends a lot of time, maybe every chapter about him crying like a baby. A total asshole of a friend who was violent and destructive to those around him and their property while trying very hard to sound like a victim. He quit the biggest band in the world and travelled the world with his Playboy Playmate wife who he ditched his ex wife for. Peter Criss may be the most ungrateful rock star in the world and maybe even a bigger prick than Gene Simmons. I highly suspect it was the things he said about Gene and Paul in print is the reason the original Fearsome Foursome didn’t play that farce known as the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Induction, and deservingly so.
E: Ever dated a girl who tells you her entire life story within the first hour of your first date, never letting you get a word in edgewise? That’s how this book reads. For someone who’s pictured on the cover in full Catman makeup, he spends little time on KISS, at least until the reunion and tour, and even then it’s just a vehicle to spew venom at Gene and Paul (and, to a lesser degree, Ace).
Paul Stanley, Face the Music: A Life Exposed (2014)
E: Where Gene’s book shone the spotlight on himself for the sake of making Gene look good, Paul shines that light on himself to hammer home a very real, and moving, story: born with a deformity and deafness in his right ear, he overcame crippling self-esteem issues, thanks in part o his Starchild persona. A fascinating read, and easily the best of the lot.
A: Easily my favorite of the four. Paul is honest from his early struggles with a birth defect and insecurities to being just a little bit full of himself as a rock god, but in a tasteful way. It’s fun to read about his discovering sex and the struggle to make KISS what would be one of the most significant bands in history. He goes into great detail about the making of each record and being the force behind what kept KISS alive in the non-makeup years while Simmons was busy with many things outside of the band. Paul gives everyone credit, shines light on Peter and Ace’s believing their hype and how the song “Beth” really came to be. I loved every page of this book and it was nice to read the truth about how the KISS management was behind the marketing and merchandising and how the label almost went broke
supporting KISS as disco bands made Casablanca famous. An invaluable read for any rock n roll fan.
Guilty pleasure time! Everyone has that one (or more) artist that, in the seclusion of your car or in the privacy of your ear buds, you’ll crank up every time…
Rick Springfield, Late Late at Night (2011)
E: OK, confession time: I’ve always been a big fan of Springfield’s music, so I was more than a little intrigued when Alex recommended this book. From humble beginnings (and attempted suicide) in Australia to soap opera stardom to a Grammy-winning record (Working Class Dog), Springfield covers not only the highs (literal and figurative) of his life and career, but also the raw emotions that came with the lows. His book has a pretty deep spiritual undertone that underscores his search for peace.
A: I have no problem in admitting that I am a huge Rick Springfield fan. The guy is a solid guitarist and he writes good songs with catchy hooks. It’s a damned shame people only associate “Jessie’s Girl” with his success. I enjoyed the stories of his coming up in Australia, his young work on American TV, his depression and especially his sex addiction. He’s very honest and much of his music has been autobiographical over the years and those tales transcend nicely onto the printed page. Be it “Me and Johnny”, “My Father’s Chair” or “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, a Rick Springfield fan is already familiar with the musician’s life, and it’s nice to fill in the blanks with such fine details. Did I mention Sex Addiction?
And our latest read:
Billy Idol, Dancing with Myself (2014)
A: I bought this book for Ed and myself at the same time. For Ed it’s because he’s old and it was a 50th birthday present. What would a good ol’ friend expect, Cheetos and soap? Billy’s book is fascinating. As an old school OP (Original Punk) Billy Idol single handedly made punk music sexy and ushered it into the MTV age with style and attitude. Which is amazing when you realize how much drugs this man put into his body. Another coming to America story after he’s put together with KISS manager mastermind Bill Aucoin Idol topped the charts and the touring circuit steadily for more than half a decade. Along the journey nothing got in the way, not girlfriends, band members, accidents or arrests. Not even rivers of human phlegm. Billy Idol did it his way and is the true spirit of a punk rock rebel. This book is the story of the man and the demons that were kept very wisely out of the press.
E: Idol is one of those celebrities whose public image gives one the impression that they are nothing more than a junkie with the IQ of a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese (see also Frehley, Ace). From the first page of the first chapter, he proves that image totally false (important to note that Idol wrote his memoir WITHOUT the aid of a ghostwriter). A fascinating read about the evolution of his stage persona and his fusion of punk with dance music.
Next up for Ed? I’m currently knee-deep in Sammy Hagar’s Red, with ex-Guns & Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy on deck. After that, who knows? Maybe Scott Ian’s book I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy from Anthrax or Jerry Lee Lewis’ recent autobiography Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story.
Coming in 2015: Pantera vocalist Philip Anselmo releases Mouth for War: Pantera and Beyond and Marky Ramone’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone hits the bookshelves, along with Lita Ford’s Living Like a Runaway.
Notable note from AZ: while none of these are by far my favorite rock ‘n roll autobiographies, they were each very enjoyable in their own way. I think everyone can agree that the Motley Crue book The Dirt may be the best one out there even though my feelings about the band aren’t favorable in anyway. Slash’s book is worth noting as is Sammy Hagar’s Red.
One cannot talk rock biographies and not think of No One Here Gets Out Alive, the infamous Jim Morrison’s story and another that followed years later Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend by Stephen Davis (which far eclipses any other book on the subject). Of course, two great Chicago legends and Wax Trax alums are must-reads: Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and, from former Revolting Cocksman Chris Connelly, Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock – Alex Zander