1981 was a difficult year of transition for KISS, following the replacement of original drummer Peter Criss by Eric Carr, the hard rock titans therefore decided to take a bold new direction with an orchestral prog-rock opera, Music from “The Elder”. The Risky concept album was based on a fairy tale of good versus evil, light versus dark, initially scribbled on the stationery of the Beverly Hills hotel by the group’s Gene Simmons – a passing story adulthood about a star-eyed protagonist known as “The Boy,” who is recruited by the Council of Elders from a heroic troop of freedom fighters called the Order of the Rose, then mentored by a wise old guardian named Morpheus.
Gee, what could possibly be going on?
Well back then it looked like a parcel could go right. Wool reunited KISS with the legendary Destructive producer Bob Ezrin (a seemingly exciting development for old-school fans who had been put off by KISS’s previous two pop / disco albums, Dynasty and Unmasked), and it featured lyrics by none other than Lou Reed on “Mr. Blackwell”, “Dark Light” and “A World Without Heroes”. It was even intended to be a fantastic feature film starring the moment Meatballs/My bodyguard Teen actor Chris Makepeace as the boy and possibly Patrick Stewart as Morpheus, according to Simmons. But the album, KISS’s ninth, was not at all what fans had come to expect from the band, and it completely exploded when it was released on November 10, 1981.
KISS did not turn Music by “L’Ancien” – KISS’s first album not to go gold in the US – and they’ve rarely performed any of her tracks in years, other than a memorable “A World Without Heroes” on MTV unplugged in 1995. Original guitarist Ace Frehley, who allegedly released a The Elder against a wall after his solos were edited out of the final mix, left the lineup shortly after the record failed. And needless to say that Elder the movie never arrived. Make peace made recording spoken dialogue for the album, but his contributions also went unchecked, and all he got was a mysterious “thank you” in the cover credits.
While Music by “L’Ancien” was a disaster at the time, the group recovered, and the unmistakably ambitious company has since seen a slight critical appraisal, with Classic rock magazine even included the record in its list of the “20 Most Underrated Classic Rock Albums of All Time”. But judging by this new interview from Yahoo Entertainment, KISS’s Simmons and Paul Stanley haven’t liked this flop business much in the past 40 years. Here, they discuss what exactly happened in ’81, with their usual frankness and a surprising amount of self-awareness and self-mockery.
Yahoo Entertainment: Hope you let me go, because this year marks the 40th anniversary of a record that I think was not critically understood at the time, but somehow had a hit. Renaissance. And it’s Music by ‘The Elder.’ Classic rock the magazine named it one of the “20 most underrated classic rock albums of all time”. I know it was sort of in the middle of a transition phase for KISS. What was the state of mind for such an ambitious and risky project at the time?
Paul Stanley: We were lost. We were delusional. We had become complacent and a little ungrateful for the success we had and on which it was based. So we were lazy, and I think we had all become very comfortable with a rich lifestyle, so to speak, and became more concerned with how our contemporaries viewed us rather than our fans. And I think the fans have been abandoned. We couldn’t do a rock album. We had no teeth. We were scrub at the moment.
Simmons Gene: When you do something, you want authenticity and honesty. It was a dishonest record. … Wool was misdirected. We were very popular and we played in stadiums and stuff. And when we had a change in the lineup – [Peter Criss] had succumbed to certain clichés and rock ‘n’ roll, and all of us, Ace, Paul and I voted to have him kicked out of the band. So we got a new guy, Eric [Carr], God bless him, who sadly passed away. And we had some free time. And I was at the Beverly Hills hotel, of all the places, because I started having fun with movies and meeting those kinds of people – going to Paramount, all that. And eventually I ended up doing a few movies and producing some, but that wasn’t the real thing for me. And I started to write. And the first thing I wrote was on the stationery of the Beverly Hills hotel: “The old people, when the Earth was young, they were already old. It started with a treatment of the story that I wanted to turn into a movie – a Tolkien-style thing, with inspiration from The watcher from Marvel and so on. … We brought back Bob Ezrin, who may have produced our best record, Destructive, until there. … It was Bob Ezrin who said, “Let’s do a concept album. Gene, I love your story. Let’s create songs based on your story.
Stanley: When we got together with Bob Ezrin, I really hope he helps us save the ship, so to speak. We all jumped at this idea of ”Well, let’s show people!” We’ll show them how smart and musical we are! “It really came to say,” Well, we can not at the moment – we cannot rock. “… You can’t stray from Bob’s discography and his credits, that it really shaped Alice. [Cooper] and the group in what they were. I mean I saw this with my own eyes when we worked together on Destructive. … Bob was intrinsic and so important, certainly to Alice. And, The walltestifies to his talent and Destructive was a real training camp for us. Quite honestly, I think we were all hoping to do something big. And when you fall, and you fall off eight inch heels, you fall hard.
Yahoo Entertainment: I’ve always wondered about it, because around the same time Music of the Old the album was released, there had been The wall film, and Bob Ezrin had worked on The wall. So I always wondered if Pink Floyd’s The wall, was it any inspiration for you to have your own Wall?
Simmons: Well the real story behind Woolwas this kind of delusional idea: “Hey, the Who had Tommy! Let’s have ours Tommy! “And why do you need this? You know, it’s like Zeppelin doesn’t have Tommy. And they did well.
Stanley: It was madness.
Yahoo Entertainment: You worked with Lou Reed on Wool, however, which is pretty cool. I mean, a lot of rock bands would be very happy to say that.
Stanley: Well Lou came to some of the rehearsals, and Lou also lived across the street from me, and Bob lived across from them as well. So, you know, it was a neighborhood project.
Simmons: So, [Ezrin] I asked Lou Reed to come over for a day and we started to have fun with the lyrics, and it was written aside on one of Lou’s papers: “A World Without Heroes.” And immediately we all said, “That’s a cool title. It’s awesome. And a world without heroes? A world without heroes is not a place to be. Etc. So the song wrote itself, based on some of the things Paul had, namely “Every little piece of your heart…” Paul was writing more romantic things. … that’s what you [women] wants to hear.
Stanley: What came out was, I don’t think particularly, very good; sometimes it’s pounding. Most of my voices there. If you have seen the Little rascals, how Alfalfa would sing in a pseudo-operatic voice, or try to do it.
Yahoo Entertainment: So was Did he ever really consider being a stage production or a movie?
Simmons: Yes. We actually had Chris Makepeace. He was an actor at the time that had just come out My bodyguard. … And he actually got picked for the lead role and we started playing him. I don’t remember if Patrick Stewart was involved as Morpheus; maybe he was. But, he started to have legs. And we were going to make a movie, but like most movies now, over 95% is never made, even though there are scripts and everything. So we had treatment based on – I mean, my treatment – but it stopped there and we kind of gave up.
Stanley: It is how delusional we were. We might as well be talking about launching a rocket to Mars, you know. I mean you can speak about it, but in fact, there is so much in there. And quite frankly, if you were to send a rocket to Mars, you need a rocket and fuel. And to the extent that Wool, I don’t think we had either. … It was forced, and I think the songs weren’t great. And we were full of ourselves.
Simmons: There are a few songs that I like. I like the “I”, which was semi-autobiographical about my stance on anti-drugs: “I believe in myself”. Why would I hurt my body and my mind? I believe in me. There were some decent songs there. But what was lacking was honesty. It was a badly directed album.
Stanley: There were a lot of issues within the band, and Bob had his share of issues, and it was an album that to me was just a picture of a bunch of people who were lost. You had to be there to know how difficult it was to go through with it. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular. It was all of us. It was just symptomatic that we weren’t all in the right place.
Yahoo Entertainment: Well, I appreciate it for what it was.
Stanley: And that doesn’t mean your opinion isn’t as valid as mine! … So if Classic rock or someone wants to think it’s underrated, God bless him. This means that we have sold six copies.
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– Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by John Santo