Paul Stanley has risen to international fame playing the role of the Starchild in Kiss.
However, in his upcoming autobiography, Face the Music: A Life Exposed (HarperOne), the guitarist discusses two other roles he has played that have affected his life as much if not more: the Phantom of the Opera and family man.
The market for rock autobiographies has been fertile lately, and many tend to follow the same formula of addiction, conflict, conquests on the road and business deals gone bad.
Stanley’s book takes a more unique path as he opens up about nagging feelings of emptiness, even as the band was at the height of their Seventies mega-stardom. He also is candid about his relationship with Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons.
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Stanley about Face The Music.
GUITAR WORLD: All of the other original members of Kiss have written books. What made this the right time for you?
I never saw writing a book. I think, just by nature of what they are, autobiographies are fatally flawed. Most of the time they tend to be grandiose in their perspective because someone is writing about themselves. I had no desire to do that. Honestly, I’ve looked at most autobiographies and thought they should have been on soft tissue paper on a roll and they would serve a better purpose. Just to write about real or imagined victories or successes or achievements isn’t what I wanted to do.
When I finally realized I could write a book that could be inspirational, that could show that everyone has obstacles and even the people we might look up to and aspire to be have been through their own trials and tribulations and can succeed, that was intriguing. The idea of writing a book my children could read to understand what I've been through to be where I am was what really made me do a 180-degree turn.
I didn’t want to write a book about Kiss. I wanted to write about my life. I wanted to write about somebody who faced a lot of adversity and obstacles and thought they knew how to resolve them and found out I wrong. I was fortunate enough to achieve the success I thought was the answer, and then I was fortunate enough to roll up my sleeves and figure out what it really took to find contentment and happiness.
The book has a happy ending. Otherwise, I couldn’t have written it. People have told me it’s a great book. If I were still stuck in the middle of it, I wouldn’t have written it.
Everyone has written the book about their rock star life. Yours takes the reader on a journey. You had a goal, you had obstacles as a young man. What I found most interesting was that even when achieving success, there was discontentment and isolation.
I think that’s the beauty that can be passed along to other people. How other people perceive you doesn't affect how you perceive yourself. No matter what you achieve and what you hide from others, you can never hide it from yourself. True happiness and true contentment in life have to come internally. That may be a cliche, but it was certainly never more glaring than in my life. Once you realize you're still unhappy, you either start medicating yourself or start figuring out what’s next.
In the book, you can see how the arrival of your first child, Evan, brought about a change in your outlook. It seems your family brought you a real sense of contentment.
I think it is eye opening that if we choose to be great parents it’s because we move ourselves from the center of the universe and give it to the people we love around us. Having children can be incredibly healing, and it also can make us better people because we are supposed to lead by example. If we set a good example, we live better lives. I found a lot peace and a lot of joy in being a parent.
Whether or not you're a fan of Kiss, the father angle makes it an interesting read.
I would think somebody is going to do themselves a disservice if they don't read the book just because they don’t like the band. It is not a book about the band. It’s a book about a person who, although on the surface might seem very much unlike the reader, I’m very much the reader.
One of the things you discuss is your role in The Phantom of the Opera. Can you talk about throwing yourself into that challenge? Obviously everyone knew you as the Starchild and the voice of Kiss.
I think you have to remember I stepped outside of character to be in a rock band. I was a shy, insecure, unpopular kid. Innately when I saw the Beatles and even before that with Elvis Presley, I had this epiphany that that's what I wanted to do. I didn’t play guitar. I hadn’t written a song before in my life, but I think so often we lose sight of our potential because as kids we believe we are capable of everything and that gets beaten out of us by people who fail.
The same thing happened to me with Phantom of the Opera. I had seen it in London in 1988, and while I was watching it I had that same thought. I had never done musical theater. I had no idea what went into it. Ten years later I found myself auditioning for the part and getting it. So at that point I got thrown into the deep end of the pool. Don’t wish for something unless you are ready to get it. At that point my determination was to be great. Not to denigrate something, but to do it justice.
The stakes were high and interestingly when I watched Phantom in London. I never connected the dots and never saw how much of it was me, somebody hiding behind a mask and incapable of really giving. I only learned and connected those dots as I was doing the show. It was eye opening for me and also very freeing.
Anyone who is familiar with the story and looks at the first half of your book can see there's a parallel with his character and your character.
In the book, you mention your guitar playing and realizing your strengths and limitations. Was your pursuit songwriting because you felt that was your strength?
I always saw myself as a very solid guitar player, but we should never fool ourselves because we lose time and we can’t bring that back. If we do a hard assessment of ourselves we can better plot our course. I didn’t feel I could be the gunslinger guitar player I loved, but I also knew I could be a pretty consummate rhythm player, which is an art in itself. Some people see rhythm guitar as what a lead player does before he’s good enough to play lead. And there are others that are great lead players that are not able to play rhythm. They learned to run before they could walk.
As I played, I found myself more to the rhythmic elements like Pete Townshend or Keith Richards or even Jimmy Page, who is a brilliant rhythm player. I had no aspirations to go beyond that. My guitar playing worked as a vehicle and a foundation for my songs. I became a better guitar player as time went on and I also became a better songwriter.
It was interesting to read how you came full circle in your relationship with Bill Aucoin [original Kiss manager]. Was that closure something that helped you in your road to where you are now?
It was incredible. It was something so special to reconnect with Bill in a way where we could resolve old tensions but also revel in our lives now. It was so fulfilling and perhaps in many ways that was what I was looking for with the band reunion, but that wasn’t to be.
With Bill I was blessed to become very close to him, and he was somebody in the formative years of the band was pivotal. We could have never made it without him. He is somebody whose importance can’t be overstated. The bitter sweetness of becoming good friends and having him come to art shows and concerts, even when he was very sick, was more than poignant. It was an incredible addition to my life.
Face The Music: A Life Exposed will be available in hardback and e-book April 8 from HarperOne Publishing. Stanley and Kiss will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame April 10 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. They've also announced their 40th anniversary tour with Def Leppard. You can find more about Stanley at PaulStanley.com.
Paul Stanley Book Signings:
Monday, April 7 Barnes & Noble, Tribeca, NYC 6:00 PM
Tuesday, April 8 Barnes & Noble, Staten Island, NY 7:00 PM
Wednesday, April 9 Bookends, Ridgewood, NJ 6:00 PM
Wednesday, April 16 Barnes & Noble, The Grove, CA 7:00 PM
Thursday, April 17 Warwick's, San Diego (La Jolla), CA 7:00 PM
Friday, April 25 JCC, San Francisco, CA 7:00 PM