KISS-ed off

Reunited and it feels so good -- at least for a couple of years and a few million bucks. The pyrotechnics, the blood spitting and fire breathing, and the hyperbole churned out by that one-man, one-note press whore Gene Simmons leave no doubt KISS is back. And they're hotter than hell. Today, anyway. Rock and roll over.

But even as thousands of thirtysomethings revert to pubescence and twentysomethings ride the pop-culture nostalgia wave -- watching slack-jawed as Simmons "flies" 50 feet to the arena's ceiling, Paul Stanley makes the standard cracks about his "love gun," Peter Criss flails behind his drum kit perched on its platform, and Ace Frehley totters around the stage -- there exists a nagging, pervasive rumble: What next?

That question was answered in part a few weeks back with the not-entirely-unexpected "departure" of KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer, two rock-solid players who provided the band with a musical stability and honesty it lacked during much of the early Eighties. Kulick plied his trade with KISS for twelve years -- longer than Frehley was originally in the band. Singer, who played on Stanley's 1989 solo tour, became a member in 1991.

Said a Mercury Records press release dated August 15: "In light of the extension of the KISS reunion tour, guitarist Bruce Kulick and drummer Eric Singer have decided to leave KISS in order to fully pursue and consider current offers and creative outlets." It came as no surprise, really.

But sources close to the band confirm that Kulick and Singer didn't leave KISS of their own volition: They were fired, plain and pitifully simple. After all, there was no way Kulick and Singer could come back after the tour, no honest way they could KISS and make up with Simmons and Stanley after being ditched for Criss and Frehley and the millions of bucks this current tour is raking in. It would be anti-climactic, a firecracker after an atom bomb.

Simmons and Stanley were briefly in Los Angeles, prior to KISS's August 17 Donington show in England, to inform Singer and Kulick -- in person, bless them -- that their services would no longer be required. Bam. See ya. Nary a tear streaking the greasepaint.

Singer was eager to do an interview a few weeks ago, but the day after Simmons and Stanley showed up at his front door with his pink slip, Singer clammed up. He would only call the split "amicable" and insisted he was ready to get on with his drumming career -- which, since the KISS-reunion-imposed hiatus began earlier this year, has mostly consisted of studio session work.

"We want to thank our fans for their support over the years," Singer says in a press release issued by Mercury Records. "And we look forward to sharing our future endeavors with them." Not long ago, Simmons insisted that "Bruce and Eric are being paid very well," and that he understood their frustration at being left off the current tour.

"In my perception," said Paul Stanley recently, "this is a reunion of the original lineup.... It's an ongoing evolution.... We've always been very straightforward with them, and I just spoke to Bruce the day before yesterday. I was with Eric in L.A. before we left. We had dinner a bunch of times. As fans, they felt there was no choice for us but to do this, and, as members of the band, they were torn. You know, in a perfect world, they would like to be on tour, but KISS is a very ..."

He paused.
"I guess ... paradoxical kind of band and existence, and many things, as is the case now, seem to coexist. KISS is a beast that, at times, we can coax in one direction or another, and then there's other times when we just have to hold on and let it take us where it's going."

But can he imagine himself in their shoes?
"No," Stanley said, "I'd rather be in mine."
Ultimately, everybody -- from the band members, old and new, to the record label and even the fans -- had to sense this tour might be a last hurrah, even despite Simmons's cleverly worded and continual evasions. The new live compilation disc, You Wanted the Best, You Got The Best!!, is barely crawling out of stores: It has sold a meager 500,000 copies worldwide, which is about what the recent Unplugged has sold. By comparison, the band sold out four straight nights at Madison Square Garden. Tickets for three Los Angeles gigs also moved fast and furious, and band merchandise is flying out the door.

KISS in 1996 exists as a visual spectacle, not an aural one. And, yes, it's the only game in town, as Simmons often likes to boast. In Simmons's not-so-humble opinion, the only musician who comes close to putting music on the same level as performance-wardrobe-stage show is Trent Reznor. "I know while he was recording Downward Spiral, he had two dolls on his recording console -- a Jesus Christ doll and a Gene Simmons doll," he says. "Two Jews who haven't done too badly."

The beginning of the end of the KISS lineup that included Singer and Kulick likely came when the KISS conventions -- those $100-a-head extravaganzas promoting all that is KISS -- started rolling across the country last year. Criss attended the Burbank convention with his teenage daughter, and Simmons issued an invitation to Frehley to jam at the New York City gathering, but the guitarist was on tour at the time. MTV was happy to cover the conventions for The Week in Rock, and Simmons hints he first spoke to the network about doing an Unplugged around that time.

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