Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup by C.K. Lendt

Chris "C.K." Lendt was hired fresh out of business school by Glickman-Marks Management to be the on-hand liaison with the group, similar to an ad agency account executive. (Mad Men fans: think Ken Cosgrove.) He went out with the band on the Destroyer tour and each subsequent one until Crazy Nights.

The author with Paul's girlfriend from the 1983 Brazil tour. There are more than a few pictures of the author, cigar in hand, with some leggy blonde, outside, in, or on the way to the world's finest restaurants.
Lendt's job was created by Glickman and Marks after Kiss hired them in 1976. Alive broke the band huge, and while Bill Aucoin (manager) and Neal Bogart (Casablanca Records owner, soon to be immortalized by Justin Timberlake on the silver screen) were masters of hype and spectacle, their talents did not extend to financial management. Enter the nerds.

Kiss and Sell is exactly the Kiss book I was looking for. I imagine this is ten thousand times worse to Gene and Paul than any airing of dirty laundry. I learned details that Gene and Paul omit or completely misrepresent elsewhere. I'm sure they'd be happy if this book didn't exist. On the other hand, it helped me better understand where they were coming from with the reunion tour and actually convinced me the deal they gave Ace and Peter was probably more than fair.

Another reason Kiss and Sell is an essential field manual for the budding Kiss archaeologist is the insider/outsider status of its author. Of the Kiss books out there, you've got Paul and Gene's Gredo-fires-first-esque official biography of the band, which while not exactly inaccurate seems about as unbiased as a North Korean Encyclopedia. Gene's, Ace's and Peter's books, which are all fantastic but unavoidedly biased towards their own points of view - and in the case of Ace's, as-told-to-its-author, who barely remembers most of the 70s or 80s. Or 90s. - and preoccupied with rebutting the claims of others.

Primarily claims Gene has made - and continues to make.
Paul's is still to come, of course, so we'll see how that fits into the mix. Sean Delaney (the Neil Aspinall of Kiss lore) did write an autobiography, which I haven't read and given its price tag likely never will. And the ghost of Bill Aucoin can be found on YouTube telling some of Kiss's more well-known antics from the glory days, but he never wrote a book. There is an overpriced memoir from Lydia Criss and some salacious "tell-alls" from a few of Ace's buddies/ groupies. (Haven't read any of those and don't plan to.)

It's possible to triangulate some version of events from all the above, but I personally would rather piece together the story from just the financials. And when it comes to Kiss, a book like this one (Lendt's), told from the perspective of someone accountable to both the band members and to the people who managed their money and who clearly has a perfectly reasonable affection for not just the band but his time spent with them, is unique. 

That separates Kiss and Sell from something like Peter Brown (with Steven Gaines)'s The Love You Make, the notorious Beatles biography that serves up generous helpings of "Here's Paul and John being dicks" along with all the financial minutiae.

That sort of thing ("hey! What a dick!") is fun to read, too, of course, but let me give two examples of what most of the book looks like.

Example One: (accounting) "Selling 7600 seats at $7.50 a ticket grossed after taxes $55,000. And then came the deductions for expenses - hall rentals, stagehands, box office services, staffing, catering, limos, advertising, insurance, production supplies, (which added up to) $17,000. (...) That left Kiss with $32,000 since their deal was 85 percent of the show's profits (with the remainder going to the promoter.) A slightly larger building with a 10,000 capacity could easily bring in over $50,000 to Kiss for one show."

Example Two: (lists) "The VIP hospitality area was decorated with Kiss posters, streamers, and black and silver bunting. It was a carnival atmosphere. Food stands featuring Ferrara's pastries from Little Italy, clams from Umberto's, sausages, calzones, zeppole, German draft beer, chianti in wicker-wrapped bottles, anisette and sambuca, Perugina candies, were all available in prodigious quantities. Brightly lit neon and electric signs had been erected above the food stands, standing out in sharp relief against the darkness. An arcade of pinball, video, and electronic games had been set up in an adjacent stand under a separate circus tent. (...) There were girls in striped T-shirts, girls in culottes, and girls in hot pants. Many wore lace-up boots, and a few were decked out in platform shoes painted with glittery colors. A couple wore maxicoat-style shirtdresses with their heads wrapped in paisley scarves."

This sort of thing goes on for paragraphs at a time. Particularly when girls are involved:

"Girls in skintight Lycra outfits and fishnet stockings, girls wearing so much purplish mascara that it seemed to be leaking from the corners of their eyes, girls with breasts bulging out of low-neckline mini-dresses that were practically hiked to the hips. Jewelery in heaps - necklaces, pendants, chains, trinkets, turquoise pieces, gold charms, Indian artifacts, silver amulets - all dangling around people's neck, onto their limbs, and on their wrists and fingers. Long hair was the common denominator - straight, kinky, fluffy, wavy, curly, layered, swept back, braided, blow-dried, and dried-out."

If neither of these examples is your cup of tea, then skip Kiss and Sell. As for me, when it comes to recreating a scene in my own mental holodeck from the written word, few things are more useful than a laundry list of details with no ax-to-grind getting in the way.

Not that there aren't some wonderful anecdotes of and insights into the original line-up. Let's start with some of those and then go chronologically through the tours. (I'll try to let the quotations speak for themselves with minimal remarks from me.)


"What Peter thrived on was the challenge of making you deal with him and having you succumb to his irrational rantings and ravings."


"He would stretch the limits of his imagination to cover up his drug use. On more than one occasion - with a completely straight face - he'd tell us his allergies always acted up when he was in L.A. despite being holed up in his hotel room, staying up for days and nights and never going outdoors."

Neither of these attributes are unique in the history of rock and roll, of course. And Lendt and Peter appear to have developed a genuine friendship, going on vacation to Thailand together and palling around. One of the author's first jobs upon joining the Kiss organization was arranging for a proper headstone for Peter's deceased grandmother.


"Gene was very egalitarian about who came into his room for (sexual) encounters. They were young and old, mothers and daughters, short and tall, fat and thin, beasts and beauties. All were welcome. It was more of a mechanical, assembly-line operation than a hedonistic oasis."

"He told me that his biggest regret in life was 'not having two dicks.'"

Glickman-Marks Management briefly handled Diana Ross, Gene's then-girlfriend (post-Cher.) Both she and Cher get plenty of space in this book. Which is interesting. If you've read Gene's memoir, this gives some insight into this period of Gene's 70s Kiss experience.

"His penchant for making shocking remarks, like walking through a crowded room and bellowing, "Kill all living things!" was also toned down." (I think I'd prefer that Gene to the one who showed up on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.)


"I asked Paul why no one in the original foursome listened to all the advice about reining in the spending when they were earning the big money. He didn't flinch when he shot back 'We were all out of our minds.' Kiss thought they would always be able to top themselves and keep one step ahead of the public and that the money would always be there."

When the author tried to persuade Paul to cancel or at least mitigate the overhead, he said: "There's a certain emotional level to this, too." He didn't want to go tour and perform if it meant that their show to be skimpy and second-class. He was right, of course. (...) He was the one doing the performing every night and opening his viscera to the public." That's an interesting insight. During the 80s, Paul was unquestionably carrying the band. But he saw very little money after the late 70s until the reunion tour. (Very little being relative here, of course: he never had to leave his luxury penthouse apartment, but the lights were turned off at intervals.) His stewardship of the Kiss brand in this period is almost a charitable endeavor. "For the fans."


Lendt devotes a good amount of time to the folly of Ace's home studio. I was more interested in the mechanics of his champagne supply. "Ace had his own custom-made steel traveling case to carry a supply of Dom Perignon, charged to the tour at roughly $1000 a week. The case was loaded onto one of 8 45-foot trucks to get to the next city, then off-loaded and put in a van to be driven to the local hotel. "

It's easy to get lost in the insane details of Ace Frehley's life. I do it all the time. But it's worthwhile to consider the physical cost of the Kiss experience on Ace's brain. Peter, too; all of them, really. But Ace is the one with holes in his brain as a result of keeping Kiss on tour constantly through the 70s.

Sure, he did it to himself and admits as much. But hey: Muhammad Ali / insert-NFL-linebacker-here "did it to themselves," too, and maybe the hundreds of people who enriched themselves on the aforementioned putting themselves in the ring bear a little of the blame. Like John Lennon said, there's a lot of money to be made by keeping Elvis fat and inebriated while others run (and have the run of) the palace.


"Five of these shows a week at an average of $40K could generate $200K in income to Kiss. There was a ton of money to be made from touring and staying on the road for 20 weeks. (...) This wasn't just some piddling fee for a show in the boondocks but a down payment on a much larger treasure that steadily accumulated."

And accumulate it did. Most of it went to Bill Aucoin.

Bill was the guy who bankrolled the band for the first three years, of course, and his deal with Kiss was by no means underhanded or consciously exploitative. He just got the lion's share of the cash: 20% commission on income from records, concerts, and merchandising; 40% on some of the earlier song copyrights; best of all, "as the owner of the principal company (Boutwell/Niocua) handling all the merchandising, he got paid twice. First, he collected all the income and charged his merchandising-related costs against those monies, splitting the remaining profits with Kiss 60-40 (in Kiss's favor.) Second, he took a management commission on Kiss's share at his customary 20%."


"Between 1977 and 1979, Kiss's peak years, worldwide retail sales for merchandise sold in stores and on tour grossed an estimated $100m. (...) Kiss's take from the merchandising was pathetic. They would earn well under $300K apiece for every 100 shows. The huge advances received for licenses to retail manufacturers (controlled by Boutwell/Niocua were largely chewed up in overhead costs. "

Bill Aucoin didn't hold on to much of it himself. He leased the most expensive real estate in Manhattan to house his company, which rested entirely on the earnings of Kiss. He took on more clients but no one made it. It was a pyramid resting on a pea, albeit what was in the late 70s a substantial-sized pea. (One tidbit from this era: Bill's Christmas cards in 1978 were designed by Milton Glaser for $10k.)

Around this time, on the advice of G-M-M, Kiss invested a few million in a coal-mining tax shelter. This would come back to haunt them - bigtime - in the years to come.

This is arguably where Kiss really went off the rails. Or at least so far up their own asses that they had difficulty finding their way out.

The solo albums which preceded Dynasty were financial disasters. Collectively, they sold what one Kiss album might have sold, 2 or 3 million copies. But they were shipped platinum, which was unprecedented. (And ludicrous. But hey: 70s.) This means that 4,000,000 records were shipped to stores, and half of those were returned. Casablanca Records had to lease an entire warehouse to deal with the returns. Which is an interesting contrast to the primarily-digital music world we live in now.

How did they deal with the setback? Easy: pretend it didn't happen and quadruple-down on the madness. Kiss could no longer just release albums and tour; now they had to be Super Kiss, at all times. The Dynasty tour ("the Show of Shows") had start-up costs of $2.2 million before a single note was played.

The tour was initially conceived to travel with its own circus: Kiss-world. "There would be rides, generators, motors, fencing, tents, power lifts, heaters, air conditioning units, vacuum pumps, scaffolding, tarpaulins, refreshment stands, power cables, air compressors, turnstiles, ticket gates, collapsible walkways, midways, trailers, lighting, banners, booths, film production units, a movable domed theater (projecting 360-degree 3D movies of Kiss, yet to be filmed with all attendant costs of production,) wax models, and a portable diorama.

"Kiss would come to life in a world built around their fantasy personas using Madame Tussaud-like figures - Gene in a dark grotto with stalactites dripping from the ceiling; Paul in the drawing room of a medieval castle surrounded by wenches; Ace cruising at warp-speed in a starship; and Peter in a jungle lair protected by a ring of lions and tigers."

The list goes on, involving carnies and animals, etc.

Lendt shows some writerly flair in describing the scene:

"Strobe lights flashed like lightning across the darkened stage as four conelike auras appeared from one end to the other. Silhouetted by streaks of bright arc lamps that swiveled wildly, Kiss could be seen rising from beneath the stage as they were lifted to a point just underneath the massive lighting rig. 

"Kiss was illuminated in their aura colors - red, blue, violet, and green - as the four stood frozen in power poses with instruments at the ready. Clouds of smoke swirled over the front of the stage. (...) The band emerged from their auras and came to life, caught in a crossfire of high-intensity beams that cut through a curtain of fog dry ice."
After a dozen or so shows, it became obvious that despite selling out wherever they played, the tour was hemorrhaging money. (And the laser-light show never seemed to work, despite millions of dollars invested in it.) An emergency meeting was called, and Glickman-Marks read off a list of expenses.

"The trucks were filled to the gills and were so tightly packed that loading and unloading every night were taking hours longer than projected. The Kiss members had changed the specs for the stage, the set pieces, and the props so many times that the carpenters couldn't figure out what they were supposed to be doing anymore. (...) The costumes were so extravagant and with so many separate pieces that two wardrobe people weren't enough. The sound system was peaking almost nightly, the monitors were too intricately designed, the drum riser was so big it required a separate team to place it on stage, and worst of all, Gene's flying contraption was a nightmare to make work."

"(The list continues) The cost of suites for the band members; the cost of bodyguards; the cost of round-the-clock limo service; the extra people on tour including a team of 'observer roadies' who were learning their jobs as stage technicians in an on-the-job training program; the cost of Ace's champagne bill each week; the cost of room damages at the hotels; the cost of flying in high-priced consultants and office staff from New York, not to mention girlfriends and creative gurus, and on and on."

Unfortunately, Bill Aucoin (and Kiss's) response was "You've got to let Kiss be Kiss, man."
Lendt continues: "We had committed the mortal sin of suggesting to Kiss that they be a little less Kiss. It had become strictly an emotional issue. Facts and figures were irrelevant. (...) 'Well, it's cheaper than not touring,' Paul said." (!!)

Adding to these costs: Paul would frequently get back to the hotel after a gig, not like the curtains in his room, and demand the entire touring army pack up and leave for the next town. Eccentricities like this are conspicuously absent from the version of events Gene and Paul give about these days.

"Ace agreed to pay his own champagne bill. Peter, for his part, agreed not to charge his Dunhill cigarettes to the tour. (...) These few items would save a few thousand dollars a week. (...) We had done our duty, but we were still bean counters, well-intentioned but myopic. And what did we know about rock and roll, anyway? Kiss would now go back to the business of being Kiss. (...) We were moving inexorably towards a day of reckoning somewhere down the line and all of us bean counters knew it."

Sound familiar? It should to any student (or passive observer) of congressional spending. Not to mention congressional hype:

"Publicly, a false aura of opulence was maintained at all times. Inflated sales figures were always a key element of the Kiss hype." 

From this
to this. Ahh, rock and roll.

Peter was fired from the band following the Tour of Tours. Eric Carr replaced him and - capitalizing on their newfound fame down under - Kiss brought Super Kiss to Australia.

The tour was a massive success, and Kiss had by all accounts a grand old time. Casablanca was on the verge of oblivion, but Glickman-Marks were able to negotiate a lucrative deal with Polygram, who acquired them. The deal was predicated on the idea of Kiss being Paul, Gene, and Ace, though (with Eric as just an employee.) This, too, would have grave repercussions down the road.


As I mentioned in my album-to-album overview, I actually think The Elder is a pretty good album. But it was an expensive failure, to say the least.

Further, it completely fractured the already tenuous relationship between Ace, Paul, and Gene. The latter (by now the dominant voting bloc in the group) were convinced this would be their The Wall, and they even got that album's producer (Bob Ezrin) to return to the Kiss fold and produce it. Ace thought it was a terrible idea and mailed in his solos and his contributions. It was a project conceived in hubris and delivered with delusion.

The album didn't sell well enough to tour in support of it, so they returned to the studio to deliver something closer to what Polygram desired.


Ace was gone, and Vinnie Vincent took over as lead guitarist. This didn't go unnoticed by Polygram, who re-negotiated their deal with the band, significantly reducing their advances on albums provided to the label. Ace reportedly walked away from $15M rather than having to keep working with Gene and Paul, and the same amount of money essentially walked away from Gene and Paul as a result of his departure.

Lendt goes into considerable detail about the Brazil tour, which was the final stretch of the original make-up years. It's all fascinating reading, involving then-third-world promoters, corruption, and lots of payola.


The final stretch of the book is almost better than everything leading up to it. Paul and Gene pursued dubious legal advice (based on their belief that Polygram had Nazi connections during WW2) and brought their new label to court, expecting millions, which were desperately needed to plug the holes in their financial hull. Instead, they got only thousands, and they earned the animosity of their label. They took off the make-up, which revitalized interest in the band, but not for long.

Guitarists came and went.

I always thought Bruce was a pretty good guitar player, for what it's worth. He's in Grand Funk Railroad now.
 Fashions took a turn for the worse.

And, as Gene even admits in his memoir, Kiss became followers instead of leaders.

"When presented with a marketing proposal for Kiss's records, Gene and Paul would ask if Bon Jovi had used a similar strategy. Bon Jovi's strategy became the litmus test. (...) Whatever trends were emerging among heavy metal bands, a genre Kiss had helped invent, they now emulated. Meetings took place at our office with stacks of rock magazines strewn over the conference table, full of photos of what other groups were wearing, how they were photographed, what kind of lighting they used, and how their album covers looked. Everything was evaluated to see what would 'work for Kiss.'"

The effect on their songwriting was / is very apparent. "The Kiss concept had mutated into a leering sort of sexist rock with Paul spouting a lot of profanity on stage to excite their largely male audience. He told me that he often felt uncomfortable about this (and) even worse at concerts in the NY area where his parents showed up. Paul thought the 'rough talk' gave Kiss a hard edge and made them more credible as raucous rockers with their young fans."

From the same issue: "(Kiss) revels in sexism that would floor even David Lee Roth."
Kiss's label-mates (Def Leppard and Bon Jovi) sold tens of millions of records in the same period, playing to the same sold-out arenas Kiss had played to ten years earlier. Kiss made do with diminishing returns and scaled down their shows.

Well, scaled-down for them.
"The brand name remained, but what it meant to the public had become blurry and barely recognizable."

Worst of all, the tax shelter chickens finally came home to roost. "The write-offs that had been possible under the Carter administration, which could amount to three or four times the value of the original investment, would no longer be allowed. The change in rules would trigger additional taxes due retroactively plus interest. (...) The taxes they'd saved over the 80s had been used in part to pay for their fabulous homes, Super Kiss, their crushing overhead, and lifestyles. Everything was spent as fast as it was earned."

Crazy Nights had been planned as the comeback album to end all comeback albums, and while it was mildly successful, it was only enough to keep things from crashing down. Gene and Paul both signed million-dollar checks to the IRS, and they parted ways with Glickman-Marks. (And the author, by extension.) Kiss would be managed from that point on by Paul's therapist. But that's a saga for another day.

"No one really knows how much money was lost running Kiss's merchandising from the late '70s until 1980. Hundreds of millions coursed through the pipeline but after so much was siphoned off to pay for the operation, and with costs escalating out of sight, Kiss's total take for their three biggest years, came to less than $2M. (Split 4 ways, remember.)"

In other words, less than the start-up costs for the Super Kiss Dynasty tour alone.
The author ends with a somewhat prescient note: "Kiss may one day be permanently enshrined as a theme park thrill ride, a Las Vegas casino attraction, or some other modern era mass entertainment spectacle -which is what Kiss was all about in the first place."

Amen. And ain't nothing wrong with that. Really, getting back to one of the first things I said about the band, this story is as Americana as it gets.

They made it back to Super Kiss, of course, under the management of Doc McGhee. Gene ended up in reality TV, and he and Paul continue to tour with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer in the Spaceman and Cat make-up. (More power to them all, but it's really not my thing.) They also run the Kiss Kruises and have bought an arena football team. (Amusingly enough, this is also a page from Bon Jovi's playbook.) Peter and Ace seem happy enough these days doing their own things, clean and sober.

And Chris Lendt, according to the author's bio, is a "much sought-after rock and roll consultant." I'm not exactly sure what that is, but it'd make a helluva business card.


  1. Hoo-buddy . . . I'm a-gonna have to get me a copy of this book.

    *moments later*...: Just ordered this, plus the books by Gene, Ace, and Peter, from B&N. I'm just too damned intrigued.

    Awesome post, Bryan!

    1. It's good to have a fellow traveler with this madness! Happy you enjoyed. Yeah, this book was pretty much exactly what I wanted to read.

    2. I think I'd be interested in that stuff even if the music held no appeal to me whatsoever. An interesting story is an interesting story. But, since the music -- or, as some critics might insist, "music" -- does still hold some interest for me, info like that tidbit about Ace's champagne budget kind of fascinates me.

    3. Me, too, me too. I bet you'll love the memoirs. I've got to start blogging those up. I've got tons of notes and dog-eared pages - time to start transcribing.