No Regrets by Ace Frehley with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky 320 pp., $26, Gallery Books
Even by standards of '70s hard rock excess, original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley was out of this world. In this breezy, buzzy, and debauched memoir, The Spaceman takes readers on a rocket ride through his ups and downs with his bandmates, musical career, private life, and booze-and-drug binges that would make the guys in Mötley Crüe beg for a day to recover.
Born Paul Frehley -- the nickname "Ace" stemmed from his success in finding girls for he and his buddies -- the teen was the classic stereotype of the long-haired, drinking-and-drugging-and-fucking musical aspirant, and flitted through a series of bands while attending as many shows -- and sometimes sneaking backstage -- as he could.
But when he answered a 1972 ad for an ax man with "flash and ability" (not, as KISS legend has it, "flash and balls") and auditioned for future bandmates Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss -- a gig to which his mom had to drive him -- even the overly ambitious Simmons couldn't predict how huge KISS would become. And with releasing their first four records in just 18 months, the ride to the top was a fast one, aided by manager Bill Aucoin and Casablanca Record head Neil Bogart's flair for publicity and pushing the envelope already shoved along by the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper.
And while the makeup, smoking guitars, fire and blood were all part of the show from the git-go, Frehley claims he was uncomfortable when the emphasis became selling products and commerce over music. And he points the finger on Simmons for his insatiable drive for both a buck and pussy.
"I guess I could be diplomatic and say he was wise beyond his years, or some bullshit like that," Frehley writes of the Demon. "But mainly, I just felt like he had a stick up his ass. He was a fifty-year-old accountant in the body of a twenty-three year old kid."
Still, Frehley doesn't blame Simmons and Stanley for being fed up with his out of control behavior, and even credits the current reality-TV star with saving his life from drowning during binges -- twice.
Ace Frehley today
"There were so many close calls, so many disasters averted. I have no idea how or why I'm still around," Frehley sums up. And indeed, No Regrets sometimes reads like an endless recitation of Frehley's drug-and-booze binges, near-death dalliances, and interactions with law enforcement officers. A little more about the music of KISS and recording dates would have been welcome. (Though a certain beloved octogenarian actress might be amused to know that her name was the code word for cocaine, as in "Will Betty White be at the party?")
"Alcohol and drugs were my constant companion, my best friend -- and worst enemy. Sometimes, they were a deterrent to my career and personal life," he writes in the Classic Rock Understatement of the Year. "Overall, I guess, you'd have to argue they were mainly a bad thing insomuch as they nearly killed me."
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The four original members of KISS did reunite the mid-'90s for several hugely successful tours and another studio album, but again, Frehley's demons and his own ambivalence led to his departure. A solo career resumed -- with his last record in 2009 -- and he notes at the book's end that he's now been completely sober for five years.
And his opinion of KISS today, especially with former guitar tech Tommy Thayer (who Frehley says he once punched out for insulting a girlfriend) suiting up every night in Ace's Spaceman costume and trademark makeup?
"I think they're just a bunch of dirty rotten whores."
No regrets -- and no punches pulled -- indeed.