“Erik is not truly dead. He lives on within the souls of those who choose to listen to the music of the night.” – The Phantom of the Opera
Confetti fluttered, streamers streamed, fireworks flew. Blood was spat, fire was breathed, Dr. Love was called. On stage, the band, one of the most famous rock troupes in the history of the genre, had saluted its fans at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena anthemically: “You keep on shouting, you keep on shouting – ‘I wanna rock ’n’ roll all night, and party every day.’”
And then it was all over but the shouting. Kiss, formed of greasepaint, power chords and chutzpah in 1973, is retiring from the road. (Its current schedule of spectacle shows, dubbed the End of the Road World Tour, calls for a return visit to Scotiabank on Aug. 17.) Bassist Gene Simmons and frontman Paul Stanley, aged 69 and 67, respectively, have earned the right to retire. What they don’t have the right to do is to retire Kiss.
In the interests of full disclosure, I admit to being a lifetime fan of the band. Of course, there is no other kind of Kiss fan. I was inducted into the Kiss Army in the 1970s, back when a Kiss lunchbox was standard issue. Now the band’s merchandise includes Kiss coffins. You see, it’s a cradle-to-grave commitment when it comes to the Love Gun gods, and the relationship has always been the symbiotic kind. We drive them wild. In return, as the song goes, they drive us crazy. That’s the deal, and the rabid fan base – the Army – has kept up its end of the bargain. But Stanley and Simmons? They can go, but gentlemen, leave your uniforms behind, please.
It‘s important to point out that the founding members of Kiss (Simmons, Stanley, drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley) originally presented themselves as theatrical characters. Simmons was the Demon and Stanley was the Starchild. They still are. Criss was the Catman. Frehley was the Spaceman. Their current replacements (drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer) now play those characters. So, at Scotiabank Arena, the cat-costumed drummer took to the piano and sang Beth, the middle-school slow-dance staple penned and originally performed by Criss. Which is fine. The actor/members of Kiss are replaceable; the characters are not.
During the Toronto concert, Stanley – in remarkable physical shape, by the way – mentioned that he was familiar with the city, given that he had played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera at what was then called the Pantages Theatre in 1999. So, the man knows roles. He knows theatre, and Kiss concerts are nothing if not that. He has no more business retiring the Starchild than the original Phantom, Michael Crawford, would have had taking the mask and cape home with him when he left the original Broadway and West End productions.
Given that the personas of former Kiss members Criss and Frehley live on without them, the precedent for eternalness has been set. Besides, did the New York Yankees fold when Babe Ruth was no longer with the franchise? Did we stop eating Cobb salads after the namesake restaurateur Robert Howard Cobb died? How many Bozo the Clowns have there been, anyway?
The career of Kiss has always been based upon maximum commerciality. In a gimmick that paid off outrageously, the band members chose to perform in disguise. When it suited them, they presented themselves anonymously. Now Simmons and Stanley wish to pull off their masks, so to speak, and assert themselves as something other than cast members in a travelling roadshow. In the name of what, vanity? Ego? I’ve seen a dozen Bozo the Clowns pile out of an automobile, and none of them claimed to be the real (or only) one.
So, Kiss, by all that is right, loud and bombastic in this world, should carry on. Others can fill the platform shoes left behind by Simmons and Stanley (who perhaps can live on in the backing tapes of their vocals they’ve been accused of using in concert lately). “Everything rocks and nothing ever dies,” the great rock critic Robert Christgau once wrote. Or as Stephen Sondheim put it, “Losing my timing this late in my career, but where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns. Well, maybe next year.”
Just as there ought to be clowns, there ought to be Kiss. Not just next year, but every year.
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