2.13.2014

No Regrets by Ace Frehley

"This is remarkable. I've never met anyone with your resistance to tranquilizers."
"Well, Doc, being a rock star is a very stressful occupation."

The cover design is mostly fine, but the "A Rock N Roll Memoir" bit is a little silly, isn't it? I'd have put "The Spaceman Speaks!" on there somewhere. And maybe a fake-blurb from Toucan Sam: "Awk!"
As Ace himself readily admits, "let's face it, my memory isn't what it used to be." So even though we get the usual cross-section of early childhood details, rock star excess stories, drunken or drugged-up escapades, and the (more or less) happy ending common to most rock star memoirs, how much of it is as-told-to-the-author and how much of it is personal recollection is never quite certain.

On one hand, this means little, so long as the end product is entertaining. And although more than one reviewer thought this book should have been titled No Details, I can safely say that it is definitely entertaining. As Eric Singer notes, even the dullest Ace stories are crazier than anyone else's:

You'll never meet another person like him. Ace Frehley stories are the absolute best. Anyone who has ever worked with Ace will verify it. One night before a Kiss show, he actually took Viagra because he wanted his dick to be hard during the concert. When I asked him why, he said, "So people can see me get hard in the costume." He even tried snorting it once (...) He thought it would get into his system faster. So Ace snorted the Viagra... but his nose swelled up instead. True story! When I tell this stuff to people, they think I'm lying or embellishing. But it's all absolutely true. 

That story is not retold in No Regrets, but rest assured the stories we do get are all equally crazy. What I like about this one is Ace's motivation for snorting the Viagra. i.e. it's a great story that Ace snorted Viagra, but it's even better when you learn he was doing it "for the fans." I love that he (and Peter. And Paul and Gene, too, let's be honest) are so convinced seeing these guys get aroused in their costumes is part of what the fans want.

Hell, maybe it is. As for what this fan wants, erections, in-costume or otherwise, ain't it. But the general zaniness of Ace's approach to things definitely is. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line (as evidenced in the tell-all books published by former assistants and girlfriends) Ace's general zaniness was overcome by general addiction, and you can feel him straining, somewhat, to relay the stories without a whiff of regret. (Despite the title.) 


Put another way, while Ace may have learned "to live without regrets," he seems somewhat reluctant to embrace his own antics as wholeheartedly as he did, say, on the Tom Synder show.

That's probably a good thing, all around. But it lends a certain sadness to things. When you read about Ace's antics in Peter's and even Gene's books, there's a certain "Oh that rapscallion - what a loon" quality to the escapades. Not as much - though not absent altogether - in No Regrets. 

Would I have been more interested, say, in a mock-memoir of an alien from the Planet Jendell sharing his account of fifty-plus years of exile on Planet Earth? Sure. Might have been a harder sell for the public, though I suspect a younger Ace would have really gone for the idea, but it points to a different problem with the idea of a Space Ace memoir: the myth of the Spaceman overshadows even the real-life-craziness of Ace Frehley.

Space Tuba
Reconciling the two is no easy task, and in the final analysis, Ace wasn't quite up to it. We get instead this relatively breezy but not exceptionally insightful collection of anecdotes and musings. 

And info on the Frehley's Comet years (and Kiss reunion tour) is similarly thin.
The most discoverable moments come when he talks about his early days, running around the Bronx with the Duckies (a street gang immortalized - or as immortalized as something can be in a nearly-forgotten film - in The Wanderers) or sneaking backstage to hang out with John Kay and Jerry Garcia and others ("For awhile there I was the Leonard Zelig of the American rock scene, popping up randomly alongside the biggest stars in the business.") or seeing Cream and The Who at the RKO Theater. It's easy to see the formation of his personality and  outlook during these passages. 

Long hair was a political statement and threatened people in authority. To be perfectly candid, I was blissfully unaware of issues of any greater significance than how to get chicks out of their clothes. I was hardly a political dissident. Any hippie tendencies I might have exhibited were strictly a matter of convenience and lifestyle. I wanted to get laid, get drunk, get high, and play in a band. I wanted a certain look onstage, and by achieving that look, I found myself getting bundled in with war protesters and demonstrators.

Despite this disclaimer, Ace's "hippieness" comes through loud and clear in other passages, particularly anything involving guardian angels or the number 27. (Gene wrote a bit about Ace's obsession with the number 27. From Gene's perspective, it wasn't so lucky, and he recommended Ace get a different one.)


Passages like these: 

You never know what life might bring… or when it might come to a screeching halt.
And it’s best to act accordingly.

Life as a rock star at the highest level is weird beyond words. It’s great in a lot of ways, obviously, but it’s disorienting, too. You very quickly begin to realize that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. Everything you do is designed to help the machine keep moving. (…) After awhile, the make-up became almost like a prison.

comprise an awful lot of the reading. On one hand, it's relevant insight. On the other, it's the sort of insight you can come up with on your own without having lived Ace Frehley's life.

But since it is Ace's life we're talking about...

INTO THE VOID

Ace was well on his way to being an alcoholic before he joined Kiss.

Alcohol, mainly beer, made me a different person, and I kind of liked that person. He wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody. Not only that, but he was smooth as silk when it came to dealing with girls. It all goes hand in hand. Women like guys who are confident, funny, cocky. A little bit dangerous. I was all of those things in a single package. I’d found girls and alcohol to be a great combination. The rock and roll would soon follow.

It wasn't until Kiss hit the big time (around the time of Destroyer) where he was introduced to cocaine, and he discovered this put him "in a whole different league as a drinker." Cocaine enabled him to stay up drinking for days at a time. He discovered this led to nuclear-war-sized hangovers, so he started gobbling tranquilizers and painkillers to mitigate them. As he points out, this wasn't quite that out of place in the anything-goes atmosphere of late-70s New York. Finding doctors to prescribe weapons-grade pharmaceuticals (and accept uncut cocaine in lieu of payment) was relatively easy.

These years are dealt with (for the most part) honestly. (I say "for the most part" because he's somewhat cagey - and it's understandable - about the amount of time he spent pretending to be sober or "working on it," when he was still quietly feeding his demons. Again, in spite of the title, you get the sense he'd rather his life story was defined a bit more by his successes than his decades of addiction.) The reader gets a contact high as Ace pals around with Belushi or heads to Studio 54 with models on his arm, snorting lines with Mick and Bianca and whomever else in the office, and the contact-jitters as he realizes he's incapable of stopping the neverending party on his own.


Being addicted to Betty * occupies a lot of your time. I’d get a large prescription of antibiotics from my doctor and make sure they came in a capsule form. Then I’d empty out a dozen capsules and very carefully refill them with cocaine. After the capsules were reassembled, I’d mark them with a tiny dot so I could tell them apart from the rest. If anyone tested the capsules for illegal drugs, the chances were better than 6 to 1 in a prescription of 90 pills that the coke wouldn’t be discovered. This type of insane planning surely sounds obsessive to a normal person, but if you’re strung out, this amount of meticulous preparation for a trip is almost commonplace.

* "Betty White" was Ace's sobriquet for cocaine.


OZONE (I'm the kind of guy...)

I have a reputation for being one of the world’s worst drivers, but that’s not entirely well deserved. I’m actually a pretty good driver; I’m just a really bad drunk driver. Trouble is, from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, whenever I got behind the wheel of a car, the odds were pretty good that I’d been drinking.

Ace's vehicular misadventures are somewhat legendary. I'll only focus on three here.

The first: After a multi-day bender, he was attempting to leave a bar in the city and head back to Connecticut when a cop spotted him love-tapping the parked car behind him as he pulled out into traffic. What followed was, as Ace recounts it, "a real life game of Grand Theft Auto where I led the police on a chase through Westchester County." Pushing his DeLorean to the limit, he managed to lose the cops - multiple times - but was busted when he pulled into a diner to use the pay phone to report the car stolen. (The car was billowing smoke, and he was battered and bloodied from the chase. But he didn't think anyone would notice, nor did he himself notice the phalanx of squad cars that surrounded the diner as he made call after call, trying to sort it out.) Needless to say, this did not end well for the Spaceman, and he spent the next day and night suffering through an agonizing withdrawal and hangover (not to mention a dawning awareness of the mess he was now in.) Cell #27, ironically enough.

Also ironic: This was how he met his AA sponsor, who was one of the cops chasing him. "If you ever want to stop living like this," he said, giving Ace his card, "call me." Eventually, Ace did, and the two have been friends ever since.

In a way I was fortunate. Had this been 25 years later, the fallout would have been much worse: mug shot on TMZ.com, video clips of my courtroom appearance on CNN, and cellphone footage of the car chase on YouTube.

The second: He and Anton Fig (drummer for many an Ace project, as well as Kiss's Dynasty and Unmasked albums) went out fishing and got wrecked, and he totaled the car on the way back. They walked away from this one (first fishing out the coolerful of trout from the trunk) and only discovered the extent of their injuries hours later at home. Reluctantly agreeing to go to the hospital, his mood brightened when the doctors sent he and Anton home with two huge bottles of Percocet.

"Jackpot!"
The third is another escaping from the cops story, this one ending with his making it home to his mansion in Wilton, CT and calling his lawyer to (somehow) get the cops who started surrounding the place to "back off." What this entailed he doesn't describe, but once he discovered that they had left, the party continued. He got out his .357 Magnum and walked out into the driveway amidst other houseguests.

I was interested in figuring out how many times a .357 Magnum bullet would ricochet off concrete walls before coming to a halt. I felt I was being scientific, figuring out the trajectory of the bullet, where it would strike, and the geometry of the angles its paths would follow. 

Although nothing bad happened as a result of these scientific inquiries - besides scaring his guests back into the house - a similar incident involving an uzi that blew up in his hand led him back to the hospital. (Apparently, the right combination of firearms, pills, coke and booze brought out his inner Sid the Science Kid.) The doctors discovered pieces of bullet shrapnel had embedded themselves in his chest.

The other: with the docs and the bullets in his chest after the uzi jams. “At one point, the surgeon asked a nurse for a magnetic probe to help locate the fragments. “I don’t think that’ll work,” I slurred. “Excuse me?” the doctor said. “Bullets are made of lead, right? How you gonna’ find ‘em with a fucking magnetic probe? Lead isn’t magnetic."

It's got to be something to be medically corrected by Ace Frehley.

SAVE YOUR LOVE

Perhaps tellingly, you end up learning more about his buddies and their antics than you do about any of the ladies involved in the Ace Frehley story. Outside of a few obviously heartfelt passages involving his daughter Monique,

Despite almost killing her as an infant when he crashed his truck through the wall of her nursery, stopping inches away from her crib. She wasn't in it at the time, but still.
not much is revealed about his personal relationships, whether with his wife Jeanette 


or with his other daughter Lindsay (fathered while he was still married to Jeanette.) We learn a bit about Jeanette's family (all Teamsters, whose extracurricular methods of persuasion he'd offer up to Kiss management when they ran into trouble) and that their first maid Ellie once vacuumed up "Mr. F's happy powder" while cleaning. That's about it. Virtually nothing is said of his time with Wendy Moore, who penned the tell-all Into the Void.

Given that book's contents, perhaps this last omission is understandable.
He has more to say about his relationships with other Kiss members, though.

Gene was a 50 year old accountant in a 23 year old body… (He) was incapable of loosening up to join the fun, even in a setting that clearly called for some spontaneity and horsing around. How seriously can you take yourself when you’re sitting there in a superhero costume and full face makeup? I love the guy, but he never, ever got it.


Gene is a sex addict in much the same way that I’m an alcoholic. He’s had a lot of unkind things to say about me over the years. Some of the criticism is legitimate. In sobriety you embrace accountability, and I can’t deny that my drinking and drug use eventually became highly disruptive and problematic. But some of the personal jabs have been harder to take, partly because we were all friends at one time, and we did do something remarkable, but also because Gene wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with. (…) He lived in a state of perpetual infestation. (…) What can I say? Gene is eccentric. Always has been.

That "we did something remarkable" bit makes me a little sad. Because it's true. It'd be nice if these guys could have just worked it out, if only on the strength of that. I mean, wouldn't it? Isn't that what any fan of any band wants, their heroes kicking back and happy about what they accomplished and the tunes they brought to your life?

But that's a rarity in the rock band world, not the routine. He trashes Gene in a few places, but (even now) he's a lot nicer about the guy than Gene ever is about him. Equally understandable, perhaps, but it's too bad. 

He sums up Gene's solo album rather amusingly: "Fucking Helen Reddy, Gene? Really?"


"Paul? I don't know. Paul basically just became Paul - a glamorous singer with sex appeal."
In other interviews, Ace has expressed some confusion about Paul's more recent assertions that the two of them were never really friends. 

"Peter, well, he had a thing for cats. What can I tell you? He became my best friend in the band and is a really sweet and sensitive guy and I miss hanging out with him."

His thoughts on Kiss are pretty much what you'd expect them to be. The long and short of it:
I can sum up the Kiss situation in five words: What goes around comes around. No matter what happens, I’ll be fine. 

That being said, in reality, I think they’re just a bunch of dirty rotten whores. Awk!

SHOT FULL OF ROCK

As aforementioned, those looking for some insight into how all those great Ace tunes came to be will get very little. There's an extended sequence on the writing of "Rocket Ride" with Sean Delaney (SPOILER ALERT: lots of coke was involved,) as well as a lot of (fun) technical details on the making of the 1978 solo album. 

He does mention how miserable a time he had during the making of Destroyer on account of Bob Ezrin, who by all accounts was a drill sergeant in the studio. Whereas Paul and Gene accepted Bob's aggressiveness as necessary to take Kiss to the next level - and perhaps it was - his attitude had the opposite effect on Ace. I can relate to this one. 

Whenever I read about a Bob Ezrin type and hear how "effective" his methods are, all I see is a bullying asshole who'd be even more effective with a shovel to the face. (Same goes for Bill Parcells.)
Bob's drug use never seemed to bother Paul and Gene funnily enough. “This was one of the things that bothered me most about Paul and Gene – they were very selective in their moral indignation.” This still appears to be the case. Despite his miserable time making the record, "if I take a step back and try to judge it objectively, I’d say it’s one of Kiss’s best studio efforts." I disagree, but what do I know? I think "Torpedo Girl" is the best song Kiss ever recorded. 

Ace adds little to the public record about Attack of the Phantoms (“I thought it was a natural step in the devolution of Kiss. We got exactly what we deserved.”) But he does write about how they had the entire amusement park to themselves and how he'd ride around at night on his motorcycle, all by himself, not a soul around, just him and the statues and the rides and the shuddered stands.

Unsurprisingly, he crashed it.
After Peter was fired, Ace found himself outvoted on everything and retreated even further into isolated drinking and drugging. The final straw was Music from... The Elder.

I knew it was a collosal mistake in judgment. Paul, Gene, and Bob didn’t get it. They went forward with the whole ridiculous concept. As anyone who knows rock and roll can tell you, concept records can be career killers for the most talented bands. The problem is instead of ending up with a masterpiece like Tommy, you could end up with Saucy Jack, Spinal Tap’s unproduced rock opera about Jack the Ripper. (…) Didn’t matter, though, I was outvoted. 

Ezrin has willingly taken considerable heat for that album over the years and admitted he was doing a lot of drugs at the time, which clouded his judgment. Dammit! I was doing a lot of drugs, too, but I could still see the project was going to be a flop. At one meeting after another, I went on record against it, but the other guys insisted on moving forward.

Ace walked away from the $15 million dollar deal Kiss's management had arranged with Polygram just to get away from having to deal with Gene and Paul. It's difficult to tell how much he made from the reunion tours, but it's probably somewhere around there. So, I guess he got it back in the end. 

I Live Five Days To Your ONE...

While No Regrets was not my favorite expose on rock star living nor a particularly revealing look at one of my all-time favorite guitarists or Kiss as a band, it's definitely fun reading. And his friendships with the other members aside, it all ends happily enough. Ace is by all accounts clean and sober these days, engaged, touring, giving interviews, and recording. I sometimes worry all of these reports are bullshit, as so many of them have turned out to be over the years. (The 20 year gap between Trouble Walkin' and Anomaly featured semiannual assurances that Ace was clean and that the new album was coming out "next spring.")

Regardless, Ace's place in the rock and roll history books is well-earned and will always be attended to with great affection by yours truly.


AWK!

6 comments:

  1. Jesus, this sounds like "The Wolf of Wall Street," except without the FBI!

    It really would be pretty righteous if someone wrote "biographies" of the various Kiss characters; that'd be a good project, there.

    This one sounds scattershot, but, like you say, the entertainment value is important; sounds like this book has it.

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    1. If only his co-author had been Bret Easton Ellis...!

      I haven't seen "Wolf" yet, but I cross my fingers Scorsese will get around to making a movie about Jendell.

      By the way, I re-watched enough of "Detroit Rock City" to determine I didn't really want to spend the time blogging it up, BUT... "Runaway" (with Gene Simmons) is next in queue. So, we have that one coming down the pike, sooner or later.

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    2. Read the book KISS & Tell by Gebert and McAdams. Amzon has the book and kindle version.

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  2. I agree with your comment that they should have worked out the internal tensions. Despite what Gene or Paul may say, KISS was never as good as it was with the original lineup.

    Three other bands about which I've read a great deal are Queen, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. Queen members used to have horrible fights where members would leave for days, only to come back and figure it all out. The Who occasionally came to blows over their material. That internal tension made them better. The fights and arguments produced better music because everybody had input. In KISS, it was always Gene's way or Paul's way. I'm sure Ace (and maybe Peter) had more to contribute than they did.

    Oddly, the members of Led Zeppelin got along well in the studio except for John Paul Jones who felt it necessary to assert his independence by occasionally taking unannounced days off. I think this lack of tension in one of the greatest bands in history stems from the fact that all four members shared similar musical tastes and liked playing the same kind of music.

    Excellent review!

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    1. Thanks, Brian. I definitely agree that properly channeled inner tension can really propel a band. Improperly channeled and it tends to metastasize into something else. Which is, unfortunately, the case with Kiss. I love plenty of their later material, but it's the original line-up that continues to define the band's appeal for me.

      Brian, for the benefit of other readers who may not know, wrote a great review of Peter Criss's book - go and read it and enjoy yourselves, folks:

      http://brianbookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/01/from-makeup-to-breakup-my-life-in-and.html

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    2. Good one Bryan! FWIW, I kind of respect what Gene and Paul did to salvage the band. I like a lot of their post-classic work, and of course I wish the originals had stayed together ... but at the same time, it went down like it did, and therefore probably couldn't have gone much differently anyway.

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