With his intergalactic face-paint and rocket-launching Les Paul, Ace Frehley’s ‘Spaceman’ stage persona of the 70s suggested a man who had fallen to earth. The truth was more prosaic. Paul Daniel Frehley was born in April 1951 in the notorious Bronx district of New York, but escaped a life of crime and menial labour when, in 1972, he spotted a small-ad in the Village Voice – ‘Lead guitarist wanted with flash and ability’– and joined Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss in Kiss. By 1982 he’d left the Kiss line-up in a narcotic haze. Today he’s sober, promoting a new Gibson Les Paul signature model, and has, as the title of his recent autobiography says, no regrets.
This interview originally appeared in Classic Rock 170.
Do you think you’re ageing well?
Yeah. I think the fact I don’t drink any more helps a lot. After a while, in your 50s and 60s, drinking really ages you. I miss the insanity of it, and some of the crazy situations, but I still have fun today, it’s just controlled mayhem. The more I abused alcohol and drugs, the more blackouts I had. So those areas of my book were hardest to write. Probably the biggest black spot was after I left Kiss, so my friends, family and the people who were around at the time had to jog my memory.
What regrets do you have?
None, really. I probably wasn’t a good role model, because my career got in the way of my family life and it’s hard to do both well. That’s not a regret, though, because if I hadn’t chosen my career I wouldn’t be where I am today. You can’t change the past.
Wasn’t it a bit harsh to reveal in your book that Gene had pubic lice?
Well, we all had them, but it originated with Gene. Actually, most people who know Gene have said I went pretty easy on him. I sent him a copy for Christmas but I haven’t gotten any feedback yet. Gene’s heart is in the right place a lot of times, and on a personal level we get along fine, but he makes business decisions I don’t agree with and that’s when we run into problems. We had lunch a few months back and just reminisced about old times. But Gene likes to hear himself talk, y’know? He talks about three people: me, myself and I. You have an IQ of 163. How come you’ve done so many stupid things? That’s where addiction comes in. Kiss once took an IQ test, and I was on top. I guess my brain was working good that morning – thank God for good genes. I think Paul got the lowest score. No, that didn’t surprise me. A frontman doesn’t have to be a genius, he just has to have the right moves. But with an IQ test, there are people who are brilliant that would probably do real shitty on them. I mean, Gene has the best business brain, absolutely. I don’t consider myself a very good businessman. When I start doing numbers I get a headache. I’m ruled by the creative side of my brain, not the analytical side.
What were you like as a schoolboy?
I was kind of a prankster. I’d get into trouble. But I also excelled in sports. I was a really popular kid. I was a man’s man and a ladies’ man. I was always interested in art, and for a while I thought I was gonna be a commercial graphic artist, but music kinda stole that away from me.
How rough did things get in your street gangs in the 60s?
It was crazy. I got arrested several times. I had guns put to my head. I got into some crazy fights. I got into some predicaments where I wasn’t sure I was gonna get out of them. ButI was lucky. The worst thing that ever happened was when I was stabbed in the stomach on my thirteenth birthday. Luckily it wasn’t a deep wound.
What happened to your wrist last year that forced you to cancel your appearance at Hard Rock Hell?
I fell on the marble floor of my bathroom and hit it pretty hard. I couldn’t play guitar for a while because I had a cast on.
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How did you react when you heard about your death hoax in 2007?
I laughed. I thought it was kinda ridiculous. We never found out exactly where that rumour started. You have to take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt.
Do you agree with Mayan predictions that the world will end in 2012?
It’s possible. There’s all sorts of things going on. The sun has an 11-year cycle and it’s coming towards an end, so they’re expecting more sun-spot activity, solar winds and solar flares that could affect computers and power grids. Some planets are aligning, from what I understand, so that could cause an earthquake and severe weather. So a lot of crazy of things could happen. It doesn’t scare me. If I died tomorrow I’d die happy, because I’ve lived 10 lifetimes over what a regular person might have experienced. I’d probably spend my last few minutes thinking about where I’m headed next – up or down. I think I’m a good guy, so I think I’m gonna go to a better place.
What do you think is the most laughable item of Kiss merchandise?
I guess maybe the Kiss toilet paper. Or the Kiss Kasket I thought was pretty ridiculous. No, I wouldn’t be buried in one!