Barbarous Book Club

BOOK REVIEW: NO REGRETS BY ACE FREHLEY (WITH JOE LAYDEN AND JOHN OSTROSKY)

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No regrets? A better title for Ace Frehley’s memoir might be No Consequences. Parts of Frehley’s life play out like an episode of COPS, except that the fuzz show up at a multimillion dollar mansion rather than a tenement. Cars are wrecked. Bottles of booze are chugged. Drugs are snorted. World class tools like Gene Simmons are annoyed. And in the middle of this, Space Ace manages to convince every kid with heavy metal dreams to pick up a guitar.

There’s no shortage of KISS books on the market , including pictorial tomes, collector’s guides, and outsider accounts. Simmons wrote a biography (and launched the short-lived magazine Tongue), but it’s little more than a narcissistic web of sex exploits. Paul Stanley is too preoccupied with his art collection to write. Peter Criss is enjoying a well-earned retirement at the Jersey Shore while a scab occupies his drum stool. Frehley is a Rock Soldier to the end; he’s sober, releasing music, and finally telling the world about the rocket ride of KISS and his life after stardom.

And what a story it is, even before Frehley ever donned the Spaceman makeup and costume. Paul “Ace” Frehley was another kid from the Bronx who ran with gangs and seemed destined to never leave his neighborhood. Music fueled his dreams.  In the late 60s he was wowed by arena rock shows, especially a Who and Cream gig: “This was big time rock ‘n’ roll and I wanted to be part of it. I wanted the whole deal: the giant amps, the special effects, the chicks screaming my name from the front row.”  School was of little use.  He gigged constantly until the guitar became his greatest passion.

While KISS seems to have become a household name overnigh,t their rise to 70s megastardom was anything but quick. Early KISS albums like their debut and Dressed To Kill – the albums that resonate in a catalog checkered with bombs like The Elder – didn’t sell. KISS, like many bands today, earned their reputation and living on the road.  Alive was a calculated marketing ploy that took off; by packaging the experience of KISS live on double vinyl, the band ensured that every kid in America would want to see their concerts. Stunts like blood in comic book ink and concerned parents fueled the demand.

Frehley walked the line between superstar and addict. He shined on stage and in the moments he wrote songs like “Shock Me.” But he was a wreck offstage. During the shooting of Kiss Meets The Phantom he stormed off set, raced away in a Mercedes  and ended up drinking in a bar in a random Los Angeles suburb. During a taping of the Tom Snyder show a drunk but hilarious Frehley commanded the host’s attention;  Simmons looked livid despite layers of makeup. Other incidents could have ended badly, particularly the night Frehley drove his DeLorean through the Bronx at more than 100 miles per hour – going the wrong way.

In No Regrets, Frehley is honest about how his excesses colored his judgment and performance. His appetite for drink and drugs often made him largely unavailable to family and friends The greatest casualty might have been his career. He had some success in the 80s and 90s as a solo artist (before the KISS reunion) but was never able to recapture his high point; when his solo album outsold his KISS bandmates by a wide margin.

Ace Frehley will always be beloved by KISS fans. At one point in time he was a combination of a guitar god, a superhero and an alien. Simmons might own the copyright for the KISS coffin but Ace  — both the guitarist and author — is the living example of why KISS once conquered the planet.

-JN

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