It’s not usually a good idea to judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard not to with Ace Frehley’s new memoir, No Regrets (Simon & Schuster). The cover image features the former KISS guitarist slumped in the back seat of a car, his hair greasy and his eyes bloodshot, giving an unconvincing thumbs up to the camera.Frehley has had plenty of triumphant rock star moments in his career, but this ain’t one of them. He looks wasted and tired, like he just threw up on or near a passed-out groupie and he’s trying to decide whether to shotgun another beer or huff some paint fumes. If that sounds mean, well, you might want to give No Regrets a read. Frehley doesn’t exactly portray himself as a role model for clean living. There are high-speed car chases with the cops and mishaps involving Uzis and homemade explosions. Airplane glue is ingested several times but not, curiously, cold gin. A .357 Magnum is fired inside a house, unwashed polyester costumes become conduits for sexually transmitted diseases, and a groupie gets hit in the head with a golf club after her body is painted with onion dip. If it’s kind of gross or a felony, Frehley has probably already freely admitted to doing it.
I called Frehley to talk about his memoir, and we ended up talking about Nazis and aliens. For somebody who’s been allegedly clean and sober for almost three years, he was literally the most stoned-sounding person I have ever spoken to in my life.
From Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt to Led Zeppelin’s Hammer of the Gods, the best rock biographies tend to be a little disgusting. There’s drugs and vomit and groupies and mud sharks. Does your book have enough disgusting rock star behavior to be a bestseller?
I think so. It’s pretty high on that kind of stuff. Between the car accidents and the shenanigans on the road, I think it holds up as well as any other rock star bio out there. But I have to admit, I haven’t read any of those other books, so I don’t really know. I just know what people tell me about my book and how it compares. The one thing everybody tells me is “Boy, this would make some fucking movie.”
There’s a paragraph in No Regrets that I personally think is one of the greatest things ever written about a rock band. It’s about the unexpected consequences of all your unwashed KISS costumes being stored together. Would you mind if I read it to you?
“The suitcase filled with hot, sweaty leather, crabs jumping gleefully from the Demon to the Starchild to the Cat to the Spaceman. Must have been like a giant petri dish.” Did you actually get crabs from your bandmates’ costumes?
Yeah. We all got it.
With all those STDs floating around in one suitcase, who could say where any of it originated. Did you ever identify patient zero?
It was definitely Gene (Simmons). He admitted as much. He told us he had ‘em. “Occupational hazard, boys.” Whenever any of us got crabs, we always just assumed it was from Gene’s costume. We were a little more particular about who we slept with than Gene.
Even before getting Gene’s crabs, weren’t you also taking regular shots of penicillin during KISS tours, just as a precaution?
Well yeah. It’s what you do when you have multiple partners. Back in those days there wasn’t AIDS. The only things we had to worry about were gonorrhea or worst case scenario syphilis. But strong antibiotics kill that. We’d pull into a town and if it’d been awhile since we’d been checked out, we’d go to a doctor and say, “Hey doc, can I get a shot of penicillin?” And then we went on our merry way.
You mention in the book that some female fans wanted to have sex with you while you wore the Spaceman costume. But you left out the details. Was there a whole role-playing thing involved?
A what? [Long pause.] No, there wasn’t any major role-playing.
There was no set-up? No context? They didn’t want you to say things like, “Let’s go back to my space pad and have space sex?”
Naw, nothing like that. They were already with the Spaceman so, you know … by definition the fantasy was already true.
Did they ever ask you to do dialogue from Phantom of the Park?
[Laughs.] Oh come on.
“You’re looking for someone, but it’s not KISS.” Nothing like that?
You’re reading too much into it. We just did what we did.
You just had sex while wearing moon boots.
Yeah. It’s just part of the fantasy.
You also reveal in the book that you had groupie orgies with Paul Stanley and Peter Criss. Did the other guys wear the KISS makeup during sex?
It was usually without.
Did Paul do all the talking like he does in KISS shows? “You wanted the best, you got the best!”
Naw. Paul does all the talking in a KISS show because he’s pretty much the frontman. But as for the rest of it [laughs] there wasn’t a lot of talking going on.
It’s funny the things that surprised me in No Regrets. When you revealed that Gene Simmons didn’t shower with the rest of the band, my first reaction wasn’t “What a party poop.” My first thought was, “The guys in KISS showered together?”
You have to understand, that was only when we were playing sports arenas. They don’t have regular shower stalls. You have a locker room and then you have one giant shower with ten sprockets coming out of the wall. What’s the big deal?
It’s not a big deal, I just-
A lot of the places that we played hosted sports teams. It’s one big shower where all the guys in the team shower together. But Gene would never shower with us. He’d go off alone or shower by himself back at the hotel. Whatever!
Everything about the KISS costumes is fantastic, but I never understood the codpieces. Why did you need them? Were you constantly getting kicked in the nuts?
I never had a codpiece. I was … oh wait, I guess I did have it on one costume. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s not like we needed them. It was just part of our stylized costumes.
So being in KISS wasn’t like being in a Benny Hill episode?
No, no, nothing like that. But it did get over the top. When we toured Australia in 1980, our costumes were designed by the same people who do circus costumes. When we were getting started, we made our own costumes. We found everything in little shops in Greenwich Village. Those early costumes were tough and they had studs and leather. But towards the end, the whole thing shifted and became larger than life and a little silly. We became a parody of ourselves. I was starting to lose my identity to the Spaceman.
You apparently came up with the Spaceman character because you were fascinated with space travel. In a science fiction kind of way or a “I seriously want to go to space” kind of way?
All of the above. I’ve always been obsessed with science and physics as well as science fiction. I read books on quantum mechanics all the time.
No you don’t.
I do! My dad was an electrical engineer. My brain is just attracted to that type of stuff. I also read a lot of books about Einstein. I’m fascinated by the speed of light and whether we can go beyond it. Some people believe that time travel is possible. I’m also completely intrigued by the idea that maybe human beings were spawned from aliens.
I’m going to need you to elaborate. Do you mean like in Scientology? Are you talking about Xenu?
Listen, homo sapiens have been around for about 300,000 years. But in the last 5000 years our brain capacity has tripled. And there’s no explanation for that biologically. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that we mated with aliens and our DNA mixed with theirs and gave us that much more intelligence. How do you think the pyramids got built?
I don’t know. Egyptian teamsters?
What about Chichen Itza and all that stuff? All the great civilizations from the past had one commonality and that’s pyramids.
How do you know that you personally have alien DNA? Is it just a hunch? Or do you ever feel or think or behave in a way that suggests an other-worldly bloodline?
Well, let’s just say that sometimes I feel a lot smarter than other people.
I never took a guitar lesson. I never took an art lesson. I just know how to do a lot of things and nobody ever told me how to do it.
You think one of your extraterrestrial ancestors had some crazy guitar skills?
Maybe, I don’t know. How does that work? It’s like I inherited an intelligence and I don’t know where it comes from.
Of all the bad behavior documented in No Regrets, you didn’t really dig too deep into the Nazi controversies. Like the KISS logo, which you designed, with the two lightning bolt S’s reminiscent of the Schutzstaffel.
There were so many crazy rumors about us in the early days. Like that KISS stood for Knights in Satan’s Service, or that we were Satan worshippers or Nazis. And it all turns out to be completely false. Paul and Gene were Jewish, I was brought up a Lutheran, and Peter Criss was a Roman Catholic.
Even if it was an accident, when it was pointed out to you that the KISS logo had some unintentional Nazi symbolism, did you or anybody else in the band ever think, “Maybe we should come up with something else?”
Nope, not at all.
You couldn’t spell KISS without the Nazi-looking lightning bolts?
I’m glad we didn’t, because it’s probably one of the most recognizable rock logos in the world. I think it’s probably number three. There’s a website that rates all the rock logos, and we’re definitely in the top ten.
Yeah, but the swastika is also recognizable and that doesn’t mean Coldplay should use it in their name.
I’m still glad we didn’t change it. And I’ll go on record saying it wasn’t modeled after Hitler or Nazis. It was just cool lightning bolts.
What about that time when you purportedly burst into Gene’s hotel room while wearing a full Nazi uniform and started shouting “Sieg Heil” at him?
Well for one thing, it wasn’t just me. Paul and Peter were there too. They were all dressed as Nazis.
Okay, I didn’t know that, but I’m not sure if that makes it less creepy or weird.
We had gone to a toy store in Japan and there was all these old Nazi uniforms. We ended up buying a bunch of them as a joke. We had a few drinks and we dressed up in the uniforms, and we were taking a few pictures, admiring them, and somebody said, “Hey, let’s knock on Gene’s room and surprise him.” In retrospect it was really not a cool thing to do. I think he was caught off guard.
I’m sure anybody visited by three Nazi officers in the middle of the night would be a little confused and freaked out.
Yeah, but Gene’s mom was in a concentration camp. In hindsight, I feel bad about it. It probably brought back some negative memories for him. But when you’re in the heat of the moment sometimes, you don’t realize that you’re doing something that could hurt somebody. I want to go on record saying I don’t believe in Hitler or his ideology or anything he stood for.
You just like the uniforms.
Yeah, they did have the coolest clothes.
Those Nazis could be spiffy dressers.
They really could. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Hitler’s ideology, there was still something fascinating about his costumes. I always thought they had the coolest costumes. It was very fashionable.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MTV Hive.)