Thanks to everyone who attended last night’s screening of Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen in San Francisco. The Q&A was fun even though it was a million o’clock for me when I did it!
Who’s got questions? I’m thinking about doing a podcast or something called Ask Mr. Zen. Send your questions with Ask Mr Zen in the title to email@example.com for consideration!
* * *
I just finished reading Paul Stanley’s new autobiography Paul Stanley: A Life Exposed. My friend Greg Fain, practice leader at Tassajara, described me as a “non-ironic KISS fan.” That’s sort of true and sort of not. I’m non-ironic in the fact that I actually like them and listen to them rather than being one of those people who just wears KISS t-shirts to be ironically hip.
On the other hand, even when I was a teenager I knew KISS was stupid. But stupid in a good way, meaning that they were very transparent, honest and unpretentious. I remember having an argument with a friend when I was in high school that Christine Sixteen was a more real version of the same sentiments Sting of The Police espoused in Don’t Stand So Close to Me.
Sting coyly coos, “Young teacher / the subject / of schoolgirl fantasy / She wants him / so badly / knows what she wants to be,” while Gene Simmons gets right to the point and says, “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age / But when I saw you coming out of school that day / That day I knew / I got to have you / I got to have you!” Both Sting and Gene Simmons were school teachers before they became rock stars, by the way.
I appreciated the way KISS didn’t try to sugarcoat their stuff the way more “intelligent” bands like The Police did. I liked The Ramones for the same reason. In fact I always thought The Ramones had a lot on common with KISS. Same as I feel Ted Nugent has a tremendous amount in common with Iggy and The Stooges musically even though most of their fans don’t realize it because their political views are so different. KISS was dumb and fun and never tried to be anything else (other than on their disastrous concept album The Elder, which is a whole other level of stupid, I love that album, by the way!)
Paul Stanley is the last of the four original KISS men to put out an autobiography. Gene Simmons was first in 2002. It took until 2011 for the next one to come out from Ace Frehley. Peter Criss followed up in 2012 and now we have Paul’s version of events. I’ve read all but Ace’s books, which I started on the other day.
Gene’s book was funny and entertaining. He takes credit for everything! Peter’s book was very well put together by his ghost writer in that it really sounds like his voice. This is something Ace’s ghost writers (he had two) failed at. Ace’s book sounds nothing like Ace. Paul Stanley doesn’t give his ghost writer credit on the cover like Ace and Peter did. But at the very back of the book he finally acknowledges he had help. Gene claims he wrote his on his own, and he’s such a workaholic maybe he really did.
The most striking thing about Paul’s book to me was the way he never misses an opportunity to say something bad about Peter Criss. It seems like every time the original KISS drummer’s name comes up, Paul finds a way to tell us that Peter never really wrote the songs he was credited for, or that he was a drunk, or that he was manipulated by his girlfriend, or even that he was a crappy drummer. I take exception to that particular criticism. If KISS had had the John Bonham-like drummer Paul Stanley thought they truly should have, they would have been far less interesting. The fact that Peter Criss was back behind this Zeppelin-meets-bubblegum monstrosity trying to play like his hero jazz drummer Gene Krupa gave KISS a unique and very cool sound they lost when Peter left.
Ace Frehley, on the other hand, is treated pretty kindly. Paul Stanley praises his talent and ability in the early days while bemoaning how Ace let drugs and drink ruin what had once been so promising. Paul’s not as brutal to Gene as he is to Peter. But he does get in a few digs about how Gene Simmons isn’t nearly as good a businessman as he wants people to think and how he takes credit for lots of things he never actually did.
It’s also funny that Paul Stanley seems to be more interested even than Gene Simmons in letting us know how rich he is. To me, it’s borderline criminal that Paul Stanley sells something like $2 million a year worth of paintings that nobody would spend a dime on if he weren’t a member of KISS, or that he once spent $70,000 on a lamp. It’s disgusting and it’s part of the reason there’s so much pain and poverty in this world. Have the decency to at least feel like an asshole about it, Paul! Like I do for buying your book. But I digress.
That being said, it was a good read. I got a little tired of hearing how the fact that he was born with a deformed ear made him do nearly everything he ever did in life, whether good or bad. But I did like learning that superstar Paul Stanley is just as shy and introverted as I am much of the time. He tells the story of driving to some fancy restaurant at the height of KISS’s fame, then feeling like too much of a loser to go in alone and driving home to eat a TV dinner. I do stuff like that all the time. Like Paul Stanley, I find it extremely difficult to relate to people unless they know I’m (sort of) famous. I just feel so incredibly awkward starting conversations. It’s far better to let other people start them with me. Then it’s easy whereas otherwise it feels impossible.
I was able to pull out a few very tangentially “Zen-ish” things from Gene Simmons’ book when I wrote about it in Hardcore Zen. But I can’t really come up with anything comparable in Paul Stanley’s book. If you’re not already a fan of KISS there’s probably not much in it for you. Even if you are a fan, he doesn’t give the kinds of insights I’d like to read about, like specifics about how they got the bombastic sound on the Destroyer album or how much of KISS ALIVE was actually recorded live. For anything close to that kind of stuff you need to read David Leaf and Ken Sharp’s KISS: Behind The Mask.
Sorry, readers, for the lack of “Zen” this time. But I’m working on a couple of new articles that address issues of practice. Stay tuned!
* * *
I ain’t Paul Stanley. Nobody spends $2 million on any of my drawings! Your kind donations make this blog happen and pay my rent (once again last year I earned more from blog donations than book sales). Thank you for your support!
Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014. Sign up now! Seats are going fast!
Sometimes a movie is made to tour.
Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?
Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact firstname.lastname@example.org the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.