Ace Frehley – No Regrets (book review)

No Regrets – A Rock n’ Roll Memoir – Ace Frehley (VH-1 Classic) book review

No band has taken more liberties with their history quite like Kiss.  The “Kiss-speak,” almost entirely controlled by leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, is full of legends and myths, so it’s always been hard to get at the real truth.  Other books by outsiders have been written, but usually those guys have axes to grind – again, you question how much of it is fact.  That’s what sets No Regrets – A Rock n’ Roll Memoir apart from all other books on Kiss; Ace Frehley doesn’t pull any punches in his honest account of his tumultuous history as the lead guitarist for one of the biggest, most influential bands in the world.

First of all, the book is written in a very conversational manner.  Although two other authors are credited (Joe Layden and John Ostrosky), you can imagine Frehley himself narrating this in his Brooklyn accent, making it not only fun, but a quick read as well.  The first few chapters deal with his early life.  Although many rock stars came from broken homes, Frehley’s was somewhat normal – with his family stressing both education and religion.  In fact, it might surprise you that Ace has the highest IQ of any member of Kiss.  But, like so many people bitten by the rock n’ roll bug, once exposed to guitar playing, school didn’t matter anymore.  He tells some great stories, even in his formative years, where he was constantly able to sneak backstage at concerts to meet his idols (like Mitch Mitchell, the legendary drummer for Jimi Hendrix), just because he “looked” like a rock star.

His tale of auditioning for Kiss is worth the price of the book alone – I’m not going to spoil it, but I will tell you that his mom dropped him off at the rehearsal (unbelievably, he was still living at home at the time).  Those early days were tough – it’s easy to forget that Kiss was not always a household name, and it took awhile for them to build a following, and more importantly, for people to take them seriously.  He also talks of the fortuitous meetings of both Bill Aucoin and Neil Bogart (who became Kiss’ manager and head of their record label, respectively) and how both men bought into the Kiss mystique and helped shaped their career.  Another great story comes from their legendary appearance on the typically white-bread Mike Douglas TV show.  The reaction of the host, accustomed to dealing with sleepy guests for housewives, is priceless.

Not surprising, many of the more lurid tales involve band member Peter Criss, who shared Frehley’s love of partying.  The near-fatal scrapes they get into are too many to count.  He’s not so kind, however, in his portrayal of Simmons, claiming that despite his fame, the bassist had (and still has) no friends.  He also insists that when it came to Gene, it was always about the money, even in the early days (although, he also admits being indebted to Simmons for saving his life on several occasions).

He’s very frank about his alcohol and drug use, and how it ruined his life.  A penchant for partying mixed with the boredom of life on the road resulted in Frehley becoming disillusioned with the band fairly quickly (he admits not playing everything on the Destroyer album).  Yet, when he was challenged, as in when all four members of Kiss released solo albums simultaneously, he delivered (Frehley’s was the only one of the four to have a hit single, “New York Groove”).

He touches on everything – the ill-fated made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, the even more ill-fated concept album, Music From the Elder, and the legendary Tom Snyder appearance (where Ace is obviously inebriated).  He chronicles his exiting the band in 1982, forming Frehley’s Comet, then the eventual appearance on MTV’s Unplugged, which resulted in the Reunion Tour, and him leaving the band again a few years later.  There’s a tremendous story of a heated confrontation between him and Tommy Thayer, a guitar tech who would eventually replace Frehley in the band (and currently wears his classic “Spaceman” makeup on stage).

If you take one thing away from the book, it’s that Frehley is one hell of a lucky guy – his multiple near-fatal auto accidents, numerous near-misses with the law, and rampant drug intake should’ve killed him long ago.  Yet, Frehley has prevailed, and is now (finally) clean and sober.  No Regrets offers a unique, insider’s look into one of the biggest bands in the world.  For a Kiss fan, it’s a must-read.  –Tony Peters