Pity the poor pop star. Not only must he or she contend with hangers-on, fluctuating popularity, and concerns about whether that groupie’s had a blood test, but the star also never knows when a former insider — a financial manager, say, or a member of his or her first band — will decide to cash in with a spill-the-beans memoir. Such is the case with C.K. Lendt’s Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup.
M.B.A. in hand, Lendt joined Kiss’ financial management company in 1976, just as the gods of face paint and power chords were reaching phenomenon status, and he eventually became their tour business manager. There was plenty of business to attend to. In the ’70s, rock became an industry, and Kiss were one of the first acts to reap major bonuses. According to Lendt, Kiss sold $100 million worth of merchandise between 1977 and 1979, and they were only too eager to spend it. Lendt recalls watching perpetually bored guitarist Ace Frehley blow $30,000 in a casino and seeing a $60,000 recording-studio deposit go down the drain when singer-guitarist Paul Stanley decided he didn’t feel comfortable there.
If Kiss are worried about Lendt’s showing us the money, though, they needn’t be. For a book that begins as if it could have been subtitled Accountant Dearest, Kiss and Sell isn’t as detailed as one might expect. Whether because he doesn’t remember or isn’t allowed to say, Lendt can be frustratingly vague: Kiss’ investments in oil drilling, for instance, ”reaped huge profits.” How huge, exactly? Lendt’s style — smooth but lacking dramatic tension — could also stand a little more wattage.
But what the book lacks in gory financial details, it makes up for in gory details of other sorts. Stanley and Gene Simmons spend fortunes renovating apartments to impress fleeting girlfriends Donna Dixon and Cher, respectively. Women of all shapes and sizes pass through Simmons’ hotel rooms, although Lendt claims the blood spewer was so afraid of real blood that he once dismissed a groupie because it was that time of her month. The cost of Frehley’s home studio mushrooms due to factors like an extra bathroom: ”The one already in the lower portion of the house would require a 20-second walk, a major inconvenience.”
Beneath the backstage tales lies Lendt’s sobering thesis that Kiss were ”a case of reaching too far too soon.” He relates the crash-and-burn sagas of Frehley (who partied himself to oblivion) and drummer Peter Criss, particularly Criss’ decline into an unstable, gun-toting drug user. Lendt’s recollections of the makeup-free Kiss of the ’80s are fascinatingly bleak. Oblivious to plummeting record and ticket sales, Kiss kept spending, with dire results. After one tour, Stanley returned home to find his apartment dark, because his office had forgotten to pay the electric bill. (Meanwhile, Simmons bought wigs to compensate for a receding hairline.) By the time Kiss dismissed Lendt’s company in 1988, the multiplatinum band was almost broke — which puts its top-grossing reunion tour into very real, dollars-and-sense perspective. B+