Biography: KISStory Review: A KISS … Before Dying?

Bittersweet endings are anything but rare on television. Likewise, finding KISS on television — especially for the aging rockers amongst us — has been like discovering bubbles in water for the last five decades.

Gene Simmons’ proud stagger and Paul Stanley’s powerful pursed lips have frequented screens large and small — just gravy atop the half century’s worth of music the inspiring heavy metal musicians have bestowed throughout KISS’ legacy. 

But with Biography: KISStory, a two-night event on A&E, KISS fans will get to see something they might not be used to. 

KISS at Tribeca 1

Paul and Gene spend much of their mini-series interviews inside Electric Lady Studios, where they laid down their first 1973 demo with recording maven Eddie Kramer. The studio was created and opened by Jimi Hendrix in New York.

While fans are used to seeing the musical superheroes playing their roles onstage and in interviews, KISStory provides them a platform to just kinda’ chill and reminisce.

We’ve seen the two competitively rib each other in the press. But seeing them kick back with each other, we are privy to the chemistry that brought them together.

Together with fellow superstars Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, they fought the world and wouldn’t accept losing as an option.

KISS: the current lineup

We find it refreshing to see the duo so grounded and relaxed. 

What we miss is the presence of Ace and Peter.

“Neither Ace Frehley nor Peter Criss participated in the creation of this documentary and do not endorse the views in this program” is displayed before specific segments.

I’d like to know if they were presented the opportunity to be involved and turned it down or if they had no chance of providing their sides of the tumultuous story. We hear them in audio from past interviews, but their voices are sorely needed in this doc.

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While we would like to think the foursome are a dysfunctional family, we know such a belief is fantasy, much like the personas the group created for itself.

We know the rivalry between Peter and the rest of the band is still strong when during one segment, Paul and Gene discuss the “Cat-Man’s” refusal to allow the production use of the hit song “Beth,” written and sung by the drummer. 

Paul suggests if the refusal was to hurt the two remaining members — well, they’re “not hurting.” The fans are the ones “hurt.” Are we really hurt, though? Really? We can hear the song in its entirety any time we please, no?

While Paul’s point is valid, it’s also one that is further divisive. When viewers notice the absence of the song in the soundtrack, we might briefly wonder why, assume it has to do with rights ownership, and then move on. 

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Now, however, we are reminded how strong the tension is between them to this day. But, to be fair, that is excellent television.

The screeners made available at press time did not include a good portion of the KISS library during live performance sequences. Let’s hope some musical filler is replaced by actual KISS music when the documentary airs.

Still, though, we do get a decent chunk of KISS tunes throughout. We even get to watch Paul play some riffs in his house (I believe the same house in which he recently welcomed the public to an estate sale upon planning for its destruction — and yes, this fan was there!).

Other fascinating tidbits offered in KISStory include discussions of lesser-known albums and what might have been the downfall of KISS had Gene and Paul not consistently kept maneuvering around changes in the industry and the loss of band members.

Emotions also run heavy as the duo discusses personal failings, destructive egos, and the heartbreaking death of KISS’ second drummer Eric Carr due to cancer.

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Carr insisted on appearing in a video for a song that does not feature his drum skills, as he had been battling the illness arduously for months. His “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” performance was Carr’s last gig playing drums before his passing very soon after.

Possibly most touching is Gene and Paul’s lasting friendship. While we often hear they aren’t always the best of pals and sometimes do not attend each other’s major life events (nuptials, for example), they make a strong case that they are there for each other when it counts. 

All the superstardom, money, and nude female entourages never dismantled the friendship at the heart of why it existed. That friendship might be the true “superhero” in this story.

Though surely groovy to hear about, it can be a slap to a fan’s outstretched hand to hear band members discredit songs or albums of which they aren’t necessarily proud. Such albums could be favorites for some die-hards.

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When KISS realized it suddenly had to compete with the glam bands of the 80s, the albums may not have been incredibly popular. But Asylum, the first album featuring lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, has always been a personal favorite of this fan.

Still, it is of interest to hear the creators diss some of the music and especially their flashy dress code of the era. 

Many factors contribute to why fans love certain songs or albums: age, pivotal personal experiences, the ability to buy an album with your own money, the first time seeing a band live, etc. 

Asylum was the first KISS tour I had a chance to see. That show blew my mind and was all this sixth grader could talk about to everyone who would listen at school for a week. My schoolmates knew everything about that show, too, whether they wanted to or not.

I’m not alone in knowing my life was made better by KISS and others of the ilk.

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It’s hard, now, to think of KISS as the rebellious angsty punks of yore, knowing them for the mass amusement park-style entertainment staples they have come to be. The docu-mini serves as a hefty reminder. 

There was a time when kids were not allowed to even listen to KISS. “It’s not for everybody, KISS isn’t,” says Gene at one point in part one.  “Not everybody likes Jesus, either.”

The documentary succeeds at serving up info even die-hard KISS Army members may not know, or at least remember. 

At one point, we are graced with some of Gene’s acting screen-test footage. I’d say, “Don’t quit your day job;” we do know from his celluloid excursions, he evolved into just an OK actor. Though, there is no denying the unforgettable impression he made as Velvet Von Ragnar in Never Too Young to Die.

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KISStory comes as the band embarks on The End of the Road Tour. Sure, with KISS, a tour like this will likely last ten years — hell, I’ve already seen the tour twice and may get the chance again. But will they ever invite Ace and Peter back for a ripping finale?

Current bandmates Tommy Thayer (guitar) and Eric Singer (drums) currently play “The Spaceman” and the “Cat-Man,” respectively. 

Knowing how strongly some entity has helped shape one’s life seems to contradict the feelings when seeing said entity as just a group of young kids creating something unusual for the first time.

You mean, there was a time they weren’t gods??? Frickin’ weird, man.

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Paul sums up the band’s mission in a few words: “Believing in yourself against all odds. That’s KISS.”

Gene Simmons’ mother fled the Nazis in Berlin to birth him in Israel.

Paul Stanley was born without an ear due to microtia.

They didn’t just survive. They conquered the world. And f#ck, that means we can too!

Hit the “SHOW COMMENTS” button below to share your favorite KISS songs, tours, albums, or memories, along with your opinions of the docu-mini.

Biography: KISStory is a two-night event airing on A&E on Sunday, June 27, and Monday, June 28 from 9-11 pm ET.

Kerr Lordygan is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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