Kiss considered from a Jewish point of view

Members of the band Kiss in 2010. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

The most popular rock act fronted by Jews, whose lightning-bolt Kiss logo has to be altered in countries that forbid Nazi symbols, announced its “End of the Road” farewell tour starting Jan. 31 in Vancouver, followed by multiple dates in Toronto and Montreal, among other cities. During their 46 years together the collaboration of Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz) and Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen) generated plenty of topical tales.

Victory was delayed in Toronto

For their first concert tour, which kicked off in Edmonton, Kiss was originally scheduled to make their Toronto debut in April 1974 at the Victory Burlesque, the Spadina Avenue theatre initially built to show movies in Yiddish – except the show was cancelled. When they played the city that June, it was at Massey Hall, opening for the New York Dolls. The band made it to the Victory that September, where they also guested on Citytv’s music show, Boogie.

This visit was also when Kiss met Toronto-based record producer Bob Ezrin, who already made his name on albums by Alice Cooper. Ezrin was hired for the 1976 album Destroyer, which proved to be the band’s most successful. And in 1981, he oversaw their least-successful album, Music from ‘The Elder’.

Anti-Semitism divides the tribe

Simmons and Stanley originally worked with drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley. But they split into two factions due to what Stanley claimed  in his 2014 memoir Face the Music was an attempt to sabotage a band they felt was “unfairly manipulated by money-hungry Jews.” Criss and Frehley refuted the accusations, pointing to their own Jewish family members. But both of them were out of Kiss by the early-‘80s. For the 1992 Erzrin-produced album Revenge, the band – with the addition of Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer – were an all-Jewish lineup.

Helping hand of guitarist’s dad

The original four members reunited for MTV Unplugged in 1995 and, after a dozen years out of costume, went back on tour with painted faces. But tensions with Criss and Frehley resurfaced. Following a so-called “Farewell Tour” in 2000-01, they called Singer back to fill in as drummer wearing Criss’s Catman costume.

Frehley also ended up on the outs again, and Kiss employee Tommy Thayer filled his Spaceman boots, a part that he might have been born to play. Simmons boasts that his mother, Florence Klein, was among the 15,000 liberated from a concentration camp in northern Austria by a U.S. platoon led by his bandmate’s father, Brig.-Gen. James B. Thayer, who died at age 96 in September. Florence died on Dec. 6 at age 93.

The long road to artistic redemption

Born in Haifa in 1949, Simmons emigrated with his mother to New York at age eight, and attended a Brooklyn yeshivah. Long estranged from his father, the reality show Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels gave the Demon bassist some motivation to meet his five half-brothers in Israel, and visit their  shared dad’s grave. Stanley, born in Manhattan in 1952, grew up in Queens in what was predominantly an Irish neighbourhood. But the Starchild of Kiss felt that his experiences of feeling like an outsider came in handy when he came to Toronto in 1999, to star onstage in The Phantom of the Opera.


Stuck together despite differences

Stanley was most recently outspoken about his heritage following the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, in a statement where he expressed bewilderment over the persistence of Holocaust denial. The two fixtures of Kiss have also supported Jewish charities: last year, Simmons performed at a Toronto gala for the Israeli university Technion. Both acknowledge that their relationship is more like one between siblings. “You don’t always agree with your brother,” said Stanley in a recent Facebook Q-and-A, “you don’t always want to do the same thing but, at the end of the day, you know that you can depend on them.”