Tuesday, April 03, 2018

No Regrets - Ace Frehley

I had probably heard something about KISS before they appeared on In Concert, but watching them on TV that Friday night in their leather outfits, with their wild antics and heavy, guitar-based 70's rock, I was hooked! I was able to experience them several times during their first few tours (they would play everywhere, including the small towns and venues near me, and I got close enough to literally touch them) and dug their music throughout most of the original line-up (although things like "Beth" turned off most of their early fans). I'll still pull out the early albums and can always appreciate the over-the-top outrageousness of their marketing and live shows and am fascinated by how it all came about.

Growing up in NYC, Ace had a lot of opportunities early on to see great r'n'r - from the early package tours with the Who and the Cream to festivals with all the giants of the early 70's. One of my favorite of his reminiscences is that, due to the much more lax security of the day, he was able to walk backstage (he looked like he belonged in a band at the time) and hang out with the likes of John Kay! He was even put to work at times and helped set up drums for - and with! - Mitch Mitchell!

He played with whatever band came along for a number of years and honed his chops and then one day he happened upon a want ad for a guitarist and went down to meet Paul, Gene and Peter. He won them over, they did some gigs and was able to record a 5 song demo at none other than Electric Ladyland studios with the incredible Eddie Kramer engineering! With the help of a manager, they got a record deal with the brand new Casablanca Records and put out four albums within 18 months! I thoroughly enjoy Ace's reminiscences about the process of recording, although I think he gives the band a bit too much credit on the popularity of live albums. Yes, their live record shot them to superstardom, but many bands had used this tool before, with Deep Purple being an obvious example of a band getting a major hit from one of these. I know I'm being picky, but it is funny how people remember things like this.

As he was spiraling downward into addiction (alcohol and cocaine), he gives less and less details about recording and tours, although he was happy with his solo album that was released while the band was still together. After a few more records, he leaves the band and here the story becomes fairly depressing, as he lives the bleak life of an addict, with no regard for the safety or property of himself or those around him (driving a car into his baby's nursery is just one example). While he seemed to be a happy-go-lucky rock'n'roller previously, at this point, he's pretty much an ass. Throughout the rest of the book, he mostly just recalls cringe-worthy stories of stupidity and excess and multiple near-death experiences. It is fairly amazing that he is still alive - he did become sober - but this part of his life is anything but fun and wasn't very enjoyable to read, but hopefully it will serve as a warning to some.

As often happens for me, the stories of the 60's and 70's are highly entertaining and engaging, but the later years are pretty horrible, more so than those 70's icons who simply became "normal" and settled down to boring lives. Ace didn't become boring, but I'm glad he wasn't around me!