Happy Birthday, Paul Stanley!
He began life as Stanley Harvey Eisen but became famous under the alias Paul Stanley as a founding member of Kiss, easily one of the most successful if somewhat eccentric bands of all time. Certainly, no group has ever mixed comic-book fantasy with hard-rock intent as competently and completely. Born January 20, 1952, Stanley turns the big 6-0 today, and he can claim a remarkable career as the band's vocalist, guitarist, co-songwriter, and self-proclaimed "Starchild," an image as indelible as any in rock 'n' roll.
Stanley met his future bandmate and co-conspirator Gene Simmons after playing in the otherwise obscure New York outfits Rainbow, Uncle Joe, and Post War Baby Boom. Their first collaboration was under the auspices of Wicked Lester, which eventually gelled into Kiss after they recruited Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.
In the years since the release of their self-titled debut album in 1974, makeup and music have become intrinsically intertwined for Kiss. That's led to a profitable mega-enterprise that includes platinum-selling albums, sold-out tours, specialty cruises, and enough branded merchandise -- from calendars to coffins and lots of swag that falls in between -- to fill a Sam's Club warehouse.
While his trademark Starchild guise (as identified by the star that's stamped on his right eye) has become his signature persona, in the beginning, Stanley toyed with being a bandit by adopting mask-like makeup. According to Simmons' autobiography, Sex Money Kiss, Stanley also pushed to discard the band's trademark makeup during the '80s, an ill-fated idea that coincided, not surprisingly, with the least successful period of their entire history.
In fact, Stanley has done little on his own outside the Kiss kulture. He's released two solo albums, the first of which was part of a simultaneous release of all four members' individual efforts. He's also done the occasional solo tour, has briefly appeared in a Toronto production of Phantom of the Opera, and has served as producer on a project by the otherwise-obscure late '70s band New England.
Most of his extracurricular energies have been devoted to art, and in recent years, his exhibitions have graced various South Florida galleries.
Given the fact that Stanley helped found one of the most visual bands of all time, it's worth a look back at some other acts that also capitalized on an unusual image. Some were Kiss kontemporaries; others were clearly born of the band's influence.
David Bowie: Bowie's first real success was found in the guise of Ziggy Stardust, an extraterrestrial, fatalistic rocker whose sci-fi stance and alien appearance galvanized a new cult of fan followers. While Bowie's chameleon-like persona has evolved over the years, this early phase of his career still boasts some of his best efforts.
Insane Clown Posse: These misfits take the Kiss creativity to a disturbing extreme, combining an outrageous guise with pure shock-rock attitude. In adopting the crude personas that do justice to their individual monikers -- Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope -- they boast a rowdy, raucous MO that teeters between hard-core hip-hop and overt insurgence.
Blue Man Group: More a showbiz brand than a legitimate musical entity, this revolving cast of bald, blue-skinned oddballs is famous for spectacular sendups via Vegas-style percussive performances. Frenzied fun for the entire family.
Alice Cooper: A Kiss contemporary, Alice proved ghouls just wanna have fun through simulated beheadings, boa constrictors, and the persona of a wild, wicked madman. Yet despite it all, he actually left us with several great Alice anthems in the process.
Peter Gabriel: During his stint with Genesis, Gabriel garbed himself in weird and wacky ways to emulate the sci-fi setups of the band's earliest and best works. They dropped their imaginative output when Gabriel left and was replaced by the bland and balding Phil Collins, but fortunately, Gabriel integrated the experimental aspects of those early efforts into a startling and spectacular solo career.
Ozzie Osbourne: The self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness took the goth rock route and made nightmarish scenarios and a devil-may-care attitude his stock in trade, both with Black Sabbath and later on his own. Biting the heads off various winged creatures and acting (?) the role of a bumbling space case made Ozzie a curious character of his own invention.
Marilyn Manson: A South Florida expatriate, Manson and his first band, the Spooky Kids, used outrage to their advantage -- a trick that would later prove profitable when Marilyn went solo. Still, despite his stupidly scary persona, he managed to seduce some of Hollywood's most bedazzling babes. That's maybe the strangest scenario of all.
Arthur Brown: Calling himself the God of Hellfire, England's Arthur Brown enjoyed fleeting fame in the late '60s, courtesy of a demonic hit titled "Fire" that was produced by pal Pete Townshend. He never achieved any comparable measure of fame thereafter, though his later efforts with his band Kingdom Come maintained that over-the-top imagery. At last check, Brown had turned to carpentry in Austin, Texas. Scary-sad indeed.
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