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When Rivals KISS and Aerosmith Had to Kiss and Make Up for a Coheadlining Tour: Book Excerpt From ‘They Just Seem a Little Weird’

Aerosmith and KISS Rivalry
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Editor’s note: For anyone who lived through the ascent of flamboyant guitar music in the 1970s or has a residual fondness for these monsters of rock that continued to thrive into the ’80s beyond, there could be no more entertaining read than “They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll.” The absorbing new book by former Spin magazine editor Doug Brod is like four complete rock biographies in one, detailing how the ongoing intersections of the four bands of the title influenced rock for a lifetime to come, with a deep level of reporting that results in one hilarious or trenchant detail after another.

The book takes place not just in the 1970s but continues to the present day, where three out of the four interlinked groups continue to be viable bands making good on their outsized imprint on rock. In this exclusive excerpt from the Hachette book, out Dec 1, Aerosmith and KISS finally agree to do a coheadlining tour in 2003 after decades of well-established rivalry, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. Steven Tyler had long looked askance at his costumed competitors, while Joe Perry had taken a more convivial attitude. These relations were less strained than some that came to the fore when it became apparent that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley would be forced to allow at least one estranged original member back into the fold.

Find out more about the book here. We join the saga of Aerosmith’s and KISS’ detente already in progress…

 

ON APRIL 18, 2003, 29 years after Aerosmith and KISS last shared a stage at the Michigan Palace in Detroit, where Steven Tyler said sayonara to a band he never wanted anything more to do with, pigs finally grew wings, little devils skated figure eights, and monolithic promoter Clear Channel Entertainment announced that the two groups would be embarking on a 32-date co-headlining tour across America, starting August 2 in Hartford, Connecticut.

KISS’s manager, Doc McGhee, took credit for the pairing — dubbed, by KISS, the World Domination tour and, by Aerosmith, the Rocksimus Maximus tour — telling Billboard that he’d tried to put the bands together two years earlier, but Aerosmith instead went out with Kid Rock. According to Paul Stanley, it was an idea that had been brewing for decades. “We had wanted to tour with them in the ’70s,” he says. “We wanted to do dates with them, but they wouldn’t do them. Finally, somebody made enough sense to them that they realized in this case two and two would equal ten. I know we were all for it. I know Joe was all for it. It made a lot of sense.”

Indeed, for Joe Perry the matchup seemed like a natural fit. “We have a lot of fans in common from the ’70s,” he said. “There’s a lot of synergy.” He hadn’t always been complimentary, however. Not long after the release of the KISS solo albums in 1978, Perry told Ira Robbins, “Not to put them down, because their show is pretty amazing, but they’d like to think they’re a rock band. But take the makeup off, put them in a small club with no flames and no costumes, and do you have a rock band as good as an Aerosmith or Cheap Trick?”

As for Tyler . . . well, he mostly kept his mouth shut. “Because he wasn’t a KISS fan, he was unhappy about the pairing,” Perry later wrote. “He refused to do any press or promotion for the tour.” One event he did deign to sit in on was a 90-minute live radio special that also featured Perry and Hamilton (in Boston) and Simmons and Stanley (in Los Angeles), set up to promote the shows. Lots of clumsy banter, a few listener questions, and some very smooth sales patter from the KISS duo ensued. At one point, Simmons reminded Perry that the Aerosmith guitarist had played on his solo track “Mongoloid” back in the day and promised to bring the demo on the tour so Perry could finally hear it. At another, when asked what their favorite song by the other band was, Simmons replied “Janie’s Got a Gun” and Perry offered “Strutter.” Producer Jack Douglas, who was in the studio with Aerosmith, cameoed at the beginning of the conversation, attempting to inject a bit of topical humor that instead came off as an unkind non sequitur: “I produced a band called SARS” — referring to the respiratory virus that at the time had been threatening China — “or was it Starz? I can’t remember.” Later in the interview, after all of the assembled agreed that this would be a great double bill to take to Japan and China, Simmons added, “I know the opening band — this new band that Jack Douglas is producing, the SARS band: Starz.” As if to clarify to a baffled radio audience who the hell Starz were, one of the moderators explained they were a Bill Aucoin band, a remark that was followed by guffaws and exaggerated coughing. The musicians also managed to work Cheap Trick into the discussion, specifically a mention of their version of the Move’s “California Man.”

What they didn’t tell the radio audience was that Aerosmith had a few demands that needed to be met before they agreed to the tour. For one, the band insisted KISS go out with at least three original members. Since Frehley decided at the end of their Farewell tour in 2001 that he’d had enough, he declined to participate, preferring instead to focus on his solo career. “I wasn’t available emotionally or mentally, and, economically, I didn’t need the tour,” he has said. “I had gotten to the state of mind of not repeating old things and going on.”

As Stanley explained at the time, a year and a half earlier Frehley passive-aggressively had rendered his return impossible. “When you have people in the band who are ambivalent about being there, then they shouldn’t be there,” he said. “There were certain things that he was requesting that were not to be. Maybe it was his way of putting us in a position where we would reach the end of the relationship.” Tommy Thayer, who had been playing the odd show with the band since March 2002, would replace Frehley on the tour, going out in full Spaceman regalia. (Thayer had already gigged with Aerosmith 19 years before, as a member of Black ’N Blue.)

All of this meant Criss would need to rejoin the band after having refused to take part in the Japan and Australia leg of the Farewell tour over a contract dispute. In his absence, Simmons and Stanley reenlisted Eric Singer to assume the Catman character. Stanley, for one, wasn’t looking forward to his old drummer returning, writing in his memoir, “By this point, Ace had already made it clear he was done. Which left Peter as the third member. Ugh.”

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“They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll” by Doug Brod Hatchette Books

Still, in the run-up to the tour with Aerosmith, Stanley and Simmons put a good face on Criss’s participation, going so far as to praise the drummer’s renewed passion and ability. “There have been nights when the humidity has been up to 85 percent and you might as well be in a steam room,” Stanley said. “I can barely hold the guitar some nights, and I think to myself: ‘Wow, that guy is out there pounding those drums.’ ” Simmons hailed what he deemed the drummer’s new, refreshing attitude: “I’m the same guy that said Peter was a fuck-up for decades. But Peter has had an epiphany, has been born again. At this late stage in his life, he has matured. We used to joke that his name should be the Ayatollah Criscuola — the moaner. But now Peter is great to be around.” That is, until he wasn’t.

Criss claimed later that he had been duped into taking part. During initial talks, he wrote, McGhee told Criss’s wife Gigi that KISS had been unsuccessful in getting Aerosmith to commit to a joint tour, so the band would be forced to cut back for the next run of shows. The 57-year-old drummer, assured by his lawyer that he could retire with the money earned from these dates but pissed off that Frehley wouldn’t be there at stage left, reluctantly agreed to return. But upon learning KISS would be going out with Aerosmith after all — on a huge tour for which he’d pocket just ten grand a night — he got pissed off all over again.

According to Criss, Joe Perry called him at his New Jersey home. Upset that Frehley had bowed out, Perry asked if the drummer could talk his missing KISS bandmate into reconsidering. “Aerosmith decided that we were going to open every show,” Criss wrote. “If Ace wasn’t there, Aerosmith didn’t feel that they deserved to open for an imitation of KISS.”

Nu-metallers Saliva, hard rockers Automatic Black, or Joe Perry discoveries Porch Ghouls would technically start the show, but this tour marked the first time KISS wouldn’t be closing since playing with Iron Maiden in 1988. Simmons has said that KISS and Aerosmith had long talks concerning who would open: “We took all the ego out of the discussions and just said: ‘Who cares? It doesn’t matter. We’ll do it.’ If at this late date in our lives we are still concerned about what people say about Aerosmith going on after us, then we’re wearing a hollow crown.” Perry intimated in one interview that Aerosmith would close the show because of his band’s “more recent presence” before adding, “Uh, I don’t even know why.” Stanley later admitted that despite the tour’s otherwise 50/50 split, it was Tyler who insisted that Aerosmith play last. “I really don’t care,” Stanley said in 2012, “because as far as I am concerned, one way or another, you’re going to have to come up on the stage, so you can go on before us or after us.”

Upon reflection, 16 years after the tour, Stanley attributes Tyler’s antipathy toward his band to KISS’s unwavering ambition. Of all the Aerosmith members, Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, thanks to their self-confidence, seemed to have more honest reactions to KISS and appreciated the band for what they were, he says, “as opposed perhaps to Steven, who had to wrestle with his own insecurities.”

Joe Perry’s friendship with the coheadliner ran so deep that audiences at a tour stop in Oklahoma and later in Los Angeles were treated to the sight of the Aerosmith guitarist lumbering onstage in Paul Stanley’s massive boots to join KISS for “Strutter,” the first time an outside musician jammed onstage with KISS. (Rick Nielsen would turn up, in a Beatles T-shirt and his own footwear, for “Rock and Roll All Nite” when KISS played Rockford in 2016.) The tour even brought out Bruce Kulick, as a spectator, who admits, “I was more excited to see Aerosmith.”

Without Frehley, his erstwhile partner in mischief making, around, Criss wasn’t going to miss any opportunity to bust Thayer’s balls. “You think you’re a rock star. You’re a piece of shit,” he’d taunt the guitarist like a trick-or-treating Tommy DeVito who’s been told to go home and get his shine box. “You used to order my breakfast.” In time, Criss grew bored with what he deemed the monotony of the show: The new guitarist’s playing was too perfect, he thought, and lacked Frehley’s gawky charm. The technical issues that plagued some of the performances — microphone failures and the like — didn’t help lighten his mood. He felt neglected by his own team. Aerosmith’s crew members, who’d supply him with extra fans to blow pyro smoke out of his face, took far better care of him than his own band did.

Criss wrote that he observed imperious behavior by Thayer as well as static between Simmons and Stanley, adding, “It was so obvious on the tour that Paul was jealous of Tyler.” Since KISS weren’t allowed to use the ramp that jutted out from the stage and into the audience, Criss saw Stanley’s exaggerated stage antics — rapping ad nauseum to the crowd, constantly smacking his own ass, fondling his guitar as if it were a six-string erection — as a form of overcompensation. As far as Stanley was concerned, Criss just lived to bitch, complaining about his accommodations, the length of shows, and his hands hurting. The drummer admitted to perking up during the final performances, though, when he felt he played and sang better than ever. The tour ended at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, on December 20, Criss’s 58th birthday.

It was the last concert he’d play as a member of KISS.

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THE TOUR GROSSED $64 million, after nearly doubling the initial number of dates, and kept relevant two bands that hadn’t released studio albums in two years in Aerosmith’s case (“Just Push Play” in 2001) and five in KISS’s (1998’s “Psycho Circus”), but that didn’t stop their members from getting on the radio nine years later to air their grievances like a bunch of WWE heels on Festivus Eve. Steven Tyler fired the first potshot during a 2012 interview by stating that seeing KISS on the coheadlining tour was “like watching a different level of concert.”

After calling them “a comic-book rock band,” he continued: “They’ve got a couple of hits, but they’re more, they’re comic book—you see them in their spackled faces. But it is different — a KISS lick, a Joe Perry lick — two different worlds, and sometimes depending on the time of day I get offended [by comparisons].”

“It’s two different animals,” Perry chimed in. “They went the theatrical way and used rock and roll kind of as their soundtrack. And for Aerosmith, the music is our show. And from that point of view, it’s apples and oranges.”

In response, Stanley told the syndicated Rockline that Tyler had a chip on his shoulder throughout the tour. “There is some sort of ambivalence or looking down his nose a bit towards KISS,” he said. “I have to say that seeing him go on after us and play to an underwhelmed audience, and see people walking out, didn’t feel too bad to me.”

Despite calling Joey Kramer an asshole and Tyler an even bigger attention hog than Stanley, Criss in his autobiography wrote that he was honored to share the stage with their band. Still, Tyler’s comments were disappointing. “It kind of hurt my feelings, ’cause I really like the guys,” he said in a New York radio interview. “He didn’t give me that impression when we toured together.”

Reflecting on the war of words seven years later, Stanley says, “I don’t want to insult or attack anybody in the band. They’re great guys, for the most part.

“There’s no better Aerosmith than Aerosmith,” he continues. “As in many bands, there are personalities and flaws in personalities that everyone has to deal with. There’s clearly someone in that band who has their own issues that have more to do with them than with us. From the beginning, although we didn’t socialize because our schedules kept us apart, I always thought highly of Aerosmith. You don’t last 50 years unless you’ve got something timeless and something that grows parallel to your audience.”

In 2004, after enduring a complicated tour with a band for whom they would forever harbor mixed feelings, Aerosmith, to support their 14th studio album, “Honkin’ on Bobo,” decided to take out a group they absolutely adored: Cheap Trick.

 

Excerpted from “They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll” by Doug Brod. Copyright © 2020. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.