In his new memoir, Face the Music: A Life Exposed, KISS's legendary lead singer talks about overcoming adversity, coming up in the music industry and the Starboy alter-ego that has made him the most easily identifiable front man in the world. KISS will play Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre as part of their 40-year celebration tour later this summer. Here, Paul Stanley shares some of the secrets to his success:
Small and steady wins the race
One of the things I talk about in my new book is this idea of small wins – setting up tiny, manageable goals on the way to the big picture is a good way to make those larger goals feel achievable. If you look at your life as a room that’s in dire need of cleaning up, that can overwhelm, but if you just pick up one object and putting it where it belongs, and then you do that a few more times – that’s a start. Definitely there was a point in my teenage life where I realized I had to make changes, but I think if I had known how much work was going to be involved I would have been to scared to try. I guess that’s a case of ignorance is bliss. Another good example might be learning to play the guitar – if you set out thinking that the goal is to master it, you will probably give up. Instead, have smaller goals and eventually those small victories will start to accumulate.
Overnight success is overrated
The problem with music today is that nobody learns their craft any more. We live in a time where you can become a sensation by posting a video on YouTube and you can get a record deal because you won a talent contest on television. The Carrie Underwoods and Kelly Clarksons are few and far between. For the most part, there is no substitute for hard work. You learn your craft by applying it over the years – by seeing what works and what doesn’t. You can’t learn to hold an audience of 10 or 20 or 100,000 people if you were making your album in your living room the week before. KISS started off as a club band. From tiny clubs we worked our way up to being third on the bill in theatres, and then we were headlining at theatres, then we were second on the bill at arenas. By the time we were headlining those huge venues we knew exactly what we were doing. If you buy a car, you want to make sure it has a guarantee.
You can’t rock and roll all night, every night
I love great wine, but I don’t drink drink. I never have. People say they are social drinkers, but if you’re with people every day then all of a sudden you’re an alcoholic. That’s not me and I feel very sorry for the people who do deal with those addictions. The rock-star archetype is a cartoon, it’s not real, and when you try to live that lifestyle you end up pathetic or dead. I never aspired to be a dead legend. From the time I was little, it was clear to me that using drugs was just another way of putting a gun in your mouth. There is this tendency to romanticize or celebrate the tortured artist, but I think we should spend less time commending people who stop using drugs and spend more time giving kudos to the people who never did. Somehow there’s this idea that destroying your body should be a badge of honour. I don’t believe that.
On being a better half
The first secret to a good partnership is knowing its limitations. If you don’t expect something from somebody that they can’t give you, then you’ll never be disappointed. And then the second part is to realize that how somebody affects you ultimately has everything to do with you and very little to do with them. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but Gene [Simmons] and I have been working successfully together for 40 years. I feel lucky to have sustained such a successful partnership, but I think it’s also important to remember that a business relationship is just that – business. You don’t have to love everybody at the office – you’re fortunate if you can get along and have success. If you want love, get married, have a family.
Character is what you do when the makeup isn’t on
At the end of the day, you have to face yourself. I grew up with a deformed ear on the right side of my face because of a condition I was born with. I grew my hair to cover it, but eventually I realized that it’s not about what other people see you as, it’s how you see yourself. Over my career I have always tried to make decisions that I could live with in the long term. Early on, KISS turned down a major tobacco campaign because we decided it was unethical and immoral to be supporting cigarettes. We certainly could have used the paycheque at that point, but you think to yourself, ‘How would I explain this to my kid?’ There was another time back in the 1980s. A bunch of musicians were singing and dancing and talking about ‘I’m not going to play Sun City’ because of apartheid and everything that was happening over there. [In 1985, there was a We Are the World-type video where several major artists protested against Sun City, a casino resort in South Africa.] KISS was one of the first bands to refuse to play there; we just didn’t need to stand on a soap box and talk about it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.