Reading Music: On Trying to Pay Attention to Paul Stanley’s Autobiography While the Country Falls Apart

Emily Nokes meant to write about the KISS member’s paperback months ago —then Trump happened.

I’m going to level with you: I read Paul Stanley’s Face the Music: A Life Exposed about five months ago, meant to write about it while it was still “so fresh in my mind,” and then promptly got distracted by the all-out crumbling of our already horrifying nation. When we should collectively be studying the complete works of Angela Davis or at least locating the nearest copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, reading anything else feels like junk food. I guess, then, that puts a book written by Paul Stanley somewhere in between “the after-dinner mint you absentmindedly put in your mouth and immediately didn’t want” and “7-Eleven meat tube you ate at 5 a.m. while blacked out.”

Since I’m not entirely sure where the book is right now, and because I can’t give a single brain cell more to millionaire white dudes, I’m going to write this review based on my foggy memory and the notes I found but don’t remember taking.

Second confession: apparently, the decisions I’ve made in my life so far have put me in the unsettling territory of having ALREADY read half of the autobiographies of the original members of KISS (Ace Frehley’s No Regrets and Gene Simmons’ Kiss and Make-up), and it’s worth noting that the one common theme that cuts through the stale format of guy-talking-to-a-ghostwriter-about-his-life-of-rock-stardom is the ultra-bitchy attitude each member has toward the others. Gene Simmons was basically like, “I’m incredible and I’ve never drank, smoked or done drugs in my entire life, but I’ve slept with 4,897 women. Peter is illiterate and Ace is ugly. Paul was jealous of me because I was the leader.” Ace Frehley was basically like, “Yeah, I don’t remember a lot and I’m pretty disconnected from my own actions, but Gene and Paul were uptight pricks. Plus ‘Back in the New York Groove’ was the best solo hit so I can’t be that bad of a guy.”

In Face the Music, Paul Stanley takes a more whiny approach that can be boiled down to, “Gene totally left me to do ALL the work and took then took credit for it! He was gross! He didn’t appreciate me! Oh, yeah, and Ace and Chris were smoldering train wrecks who ALSO didn’t see how much work I did.”

Final disclosure: I don’t care that much about KISS. I never really have. I admire their costumes, platforms, zest for merchandise and dramatic childishness, but, like…it’s taken slogging through three whole autobiographies to realize they wrote “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and other radio hits so omnipresent they ceased registering as songs. But, hey, it’s never really been about the music. The concept of KISS was the product of Simmons and Stanley knowing what they wanted and then getting it. They weren’t rock gods in the sense that they could play extremely well; they were rock gods because they said they were. People love that shit! People love that shit so much it appears to be a similar strategy used by our new government.

But OK, OK, OK…let’s focus on Stanley again, because that’s what he desperately wants.

Paul Stanley, born Stanley Eisen, is Starchild, rhythm guitar player and founding member of KISS — the one with the star over his eye, perma-pursed red lips and a huge chip on his sexy shoulder. The chip isn’t completely without merit, though. Stanley was born with a condition called microtia, with means he had one ear and is partially deaf. Stanley was also born in 1954, an era during which, from what I gather, everyone was an asshole. Kids teased him and his teachers didn’t realize that his limited hearing was affecting his ability to learn (???) and therefore he was constantly accused of “not applying himself.” He coped by growing out his hair until he was wealthy enough to afford reconstructive surgery.

I completely feel for Stanley there, but the larger issue of his resentment-bordering-on-hatred toward his parents is like…PUH-LEEZE. OK, OK, let me preface this by saying that other peoples’ way worse experiences don’t discount Stanley’s painful perception of how he was raised, but, whoa.

Face the Music begins with these sentences: “Home is an interesting concept. For most people it is a place of refuge. My first home was anything but.”

Maybe I’m totally desensitized, or maybe I was reading that in the Unsolved Mysteries voice, but the roughest examples he gives are: a) the time that he asked for an electric guitar and they gave him an acoustic one instead and he refused to play it, and b) the time he asked his dad if he thought he was good looking and his dad answered, “Well you’re not bad looking.” Oh, and they ALSO don’t give him enough attention for sleepwalking.

Honestly, his parents just kind of sound like a stressed-out, mismatched couple dealing with their own shit (for example, Stanley’s volatile and wild sister, who began exhibiting signs of mental illness at a young age — a situation that basically took up all of their time and energy until she could be institutionalized). And not to keep ragging on the ’50s, but isn’t that the era where half-assed (leave your kids alone while you go out to dinner) yet stern (don’t talk about feelings ever) parenting was the norm? Ugh. The rest of my notes are just instances of Stanley whining.

You know what? Stanley’s victimhood is such a major thread that I’m going to skip trying to “review” the typical tales of excess, heartbreak, therapy and idiotic money issues and just go ahead and summarize the rest of Face the Music by way of a little list I’d like to call…


  • Gene Simmons, for being cheap and for being an egotistical only child who wasn’t very handsome without the makeup.
  • Peter Criss for blurting out, “I have a nine-inch dick,” within the first five minutes of meeting him and Gene. And because “Peter could barely read or spell.”
  • Ace Frehley for refusing to help load any equipment in or out of their first show, and for pulling out his penis and saying, “This is my dick without a hard-on.”
  • His first girlfriend, for cheating on him back at home when he was out on tour, cheating on her.
  • Presumably his sister still, who he never brings up again.
  • Peter Criss for having the worst face paint.
  • His mom and dad again forstill not giving him credit about his millions of dollars and sexual partners.
  • Everyone he went to high school with, even though he forgave them when he showed up in full glamor for a high school reunion, all pumped up and ready to gloat — then realized that they were the sad ones for aging and not becoming billionaires.
  • His first wife, whose ex-boyfriend was actually just still her boyfriend.
  • Ace again, for actually being the worst.
  • Peter again, for being the actual actual worst.
  • The media, for not realizing that being uptight was actually a really cool move on his part because drugs are for total losers and there are too many women to use, anyway.
  • Himself, for “not letting anyone in” until he meets his second wife, who he KNEW was the one when she asked him if he wanted anything out of the fridge. Actual sentence: “No one had ever asked me that before, if she could get something for me.”
  • His parents, again, for not giving him enough praise for his title role in Phantom of the Opera.
  • His parents one last time for insinuating he was some kind of control freak when he insisted on keeping his name on the lease of the house he bought them.

I mean…

Emily Nokes is a musician, writer, graphic designer, illustrator, Libra, candy enthusiast and the singer/tambourinist in glittery feminist punk-pop band Tacocat. Her hobbies include giving pretty good home bang trims, puffy painting, stoned shopping and taking photos of her luxuriously large grey cat, Doctor O. As a writer and illustrator, her work has appeared in Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, where she previously worked as music editor before deciding to tour basically all the time.

(Photo credit: Michael Lavine)