Those who go all weak-kneed for raunchy riffs, stage pyrotechnics, and leather-lunged singers belting out arena-sized heavy rockers about lurid liaisons with loose women were given a reason to get up in the morning when the news broke about KISS sharing a 2012 summer tour with Mötley Crüe. Of course, both the fifty-something hair-metal heroes and the kabuki-faced hard rockers who put the “sex” in sexagenarian have histories that would make Caligula blush, full of onstage, backstage, and offstage incidents of unbridled hedonism, hard drugs, unsavory sex, and general excess. So with the heavy metal match of the century in the offing, we couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when both bands faced off retroactively, going toe to toe with some of their most unmentionable moments.
1. Reality show throwdown
The biggest publicity magnets from both bands, Gene Simmons and Tommy Lee, are both naturals for reality TV, and each man has found himself featured in that arena more than once. The charismatic Crüe drummer was a judge on Rock Star: Supernova, a show where the winner became the singer for Tommy’s new supergroup, and he was the central focus for the ill-fated, self-explanatory Tommy Lee Goes to College. The intimidating KISS bassist basically usurped Ozzy’s place as TV’s favorite rock & roll patriarch, with Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels, and got fired by Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice.
Advantage: KISS. Because the world needed another opportunistic supergroup like it needed another musical variation on Survivor, and anybody who gets canned by The Donald has got to be doing something right.
2. Them’s fightin’ words
Right behind Gene and Tommy in the tabloid-terror department are Paul Stanley and Nikki Sixx. Loose cannon Nikki has been known to interrupt Crüe concerts with everything from leaping into the crowd to pull a camera from a fan’s hands to challenging an audience member to a fight for throwing a glass on the stage. Stanley, the O.G. of rock & roll showmen usually only blows his cool when something slows his flow — he’s been seen shaming a fan for directing a laser pointer at the band and calling out a lighting tech for screwing up his spotlight.
Advantage: Crüe. While anyone who’s been storming the stage for as long as Stanley has a right to be a little cranky from time to time, his hissy fits reek of rock-star petulance, while one gets the impression that Sixx is an authentic troublemaker, who’d be pulling the same kind of crap in sleazy bars if he wasn’t in a band.
3. (What’s so funny ‘bout) peace, love & understanding?
Both Kiss and Crüe have had their controversies concerning what one might diplomatically describe as politically incorrect behavior. At a 1997 show in Greensboro, NC, Nikki Sixx called out a security guard for allegedly beating on a fan. Fair enough, but in the midst of exhorting the rest of the audience to beat down the guard in question, Sixx vehemently directed the N-word towards him over the microphone. On the KISS side of the tracks, Gene Simmons has publicly and exhaustively cataloged the Nazi-fetishizing tendencies of guitarist Ace Frehley, who Simmons described as having “a fascination with Nazi memorabilia” and making Holocaust-referencing “joke” threats to then-Mayor of New York City Ed Koch.
Advantage: draw. Nobody wins here, though Sixx’s grievous misconduct was much more public and more definitively verifiable.
4. Can’t stand up for falling down
Rock & roll is a dangerous game, especially if you lose your footing onstage and your posterior hits the planks. Gene Simmons once fell flat on his demonic derriere after trading tongue licks with a female fan decked out in Simmons-style makeup at the front of the stage. Tommy Lee, meanwhile, once hit the deck in the midst of pumping up a crowd by leading them in successive chants of each Crüe member’s name.
Advantage: KISS. It’s a lot more rock & roll to take a spill while locking tongues with a lady in the audience than to tumble while charging up your fans to chant your own name.
5. Extracurricular activities
When they come together in their respective bands, the members of KISS and the Crüe become larger-than-life, world-beating rock & roll machines. But it may be a bit more revealing to take a look at what the guys get up to when they’re away from their day jobs, expressing their individual musical personalities. For instance, in 1999 Tommy Lee quit Mötley Crüe to play rap-metal with Methods of Mayhem, subsequently embarking on a techno side-side-project with that band’s DJ Aero under the moniker Electro Mayhem. Paul Stanley indulged his inner Broadway belter by teaming with Sarah Brightman in 1998 on her romantic ballad “I Will Be With You.”
Advantage: KISS. As strange as it may be to hear Paul Stanley emoting passionately alongside Brightman, it still trumps second-string rap-metal.
Winner: Kiss. Maybe it’s the extra years of experience; maybe it’s the makeup; or maybe they really do possess superpowers like they had in their notorious 1978 rock sci-fi/horror/superhero TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, but in the end, KISS comes out on top. Speaking of which, any band that could bounce right back from that cinematic debacle with nary a scratch on their leather trousers has got to have some kind of mojo.