“I do know the difference between fantasy and reality,” swears Kiss frontman Paul Stanley’s local clone, Bill, a 30-something Weaverville man of singular vision who doesn’t care to disclose his identity in the lackluster offstage world. This performer’s favored place is behind the scary makeup and inside the seven-inch platform boots of Kiss’ flamboyant singer.
“This is my life, and I’m happy,” he states simply. “I love to entertain people, and Kiss was the most entertaining band there ever was. If you don’t like [us], go and see someone you do like. No one that shows up to one of our shows will be disappointed.”
He’s renamed his Kiss-tribute band (don’t call it a cover band without expecting a rebuke) Gods of Thunder, a solemn departure from their first incarnation — the jauntily apt Nothin’ To Lose.
This band is not a joke, insists the performer.
“I’m a musician [who] wants to make it in the music world, and I figure, monkey see, monkey do,” he says, without a speck of self-mockery. “If [Kiss’] promoter was a lunatic and did crazy things, I’ll do crazy things. If their shows were entertaining because of special effects, I’ll make sure I have special effects at my shows. I want to make a living at this.”
His fellow first-names-only-please pretenders — Christian (Gene Simmons), David (Ace Frehley) and Floyd (Peter Criss) — are all in their 20s. But it doesn’t really matter to Bill/Paul that Kiss’ heyday played out well before his bandmates made the scene. The overwhelming showmanship of the self-invented ’70s superstars transcends generations, he maintains. (Maybe that explains the current Kiss renaissance — with look-alike cover bands springing up all across America.)
“Kiss is not age-apparent,” Bill asserts. “It’s apart from the rest of the musical world. It’s musical theater. My daughter knew who all four members were, and I didn’t push her into it.” (Perhaps that’s because Dad’s musical roots run deep and wide. He attended the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music and has been involved in myriad forms of music, dance and theater for many years.)
“Live, we sound just like [Kiss] records, and it makes people feel younger,” he enthuses. “It’s more fun for the older people who [were familiar with Kiss] to begin with, but it’s also for the young people to be able to see a Kiss show without the capitalistic edge. We make it accessible to everyone.”
Bill is referring to the original Kiss’ recent reunion tour, which saw ticket prices creep into the neighborhood of $100. He admits, though, that he himself succumbed to the outrageous price commanded by the now-50-ish rock relics.
“They were better than they ever were. Their musical ability has improved,” is his enthusiastic review. Diminished, um, elasticity, he concedes, was the sole detraction in an otherwise seamless performance: “They moved around less, but not so little that it wasn’t Kiss.
“I have an edge, because I can still do splits,” he can’t resist adding.
Bill further hones the band’s edge by minutely recreating their image, from the bottom up. “What we are is an exact copy of Kiss between 1975 and 1976,” he explains. “I made our boots myself. There are 20 hours of work in each boot. They’re the real s••t — seven-inch platforms, nothing to toy around with.”
Makeup, he says, takes a full hour to apply. “When I have my makeup on, if you say ‘Hey, Bill,’ I won’t even hear you,” he explains. “Once my gear is on, I don’t let anybody know who I am.”
Bill claims that his life was changed forever by seeing a Kiss concert when he was 6. And over the years, he’s developed an insight into the band’s lavish psyche that would go unnoticed by a less-sensitive aficionado. “They had a dark side, [which they nurtured] mainly to detach themselves from who they were,” he explains.
Luckily for this naturally buoyant musician/actor/acrobat, this somber strain didn’t surface regularly in the music. In fact, he despairs of young people who cling to more “negative” types of music.
“The world is only as mean and nasty as you want it to be,” he allows (or, as the original Kiss would say, “I wanta rock and roll all night, and party every day.”)
The Gods of Thunder creator’s painstaking insistence on authenticity is further reflected in his rock-star attitude. “Prior to a show, I’m so serious,” he reveals. “The tension gets really high, because I want us to be better than they were.”
Kiss had its own share of struggles before hitting pay dirt, the performer relates with the intimate knowledge of a rabid fan. “We saw reruns of them on the Mike Douglas Show; people thought they were out of their minds,” he says with a chuckle.
But lest you think Gods of Thunder members are similarly demented, be assured that there is a practical purpose in the glittery madness. “We [use] Gods of Thunder shows to finance our original stuff,” he confesses. (All Gods of Thunder members also play in other local bands.)
Not that impersonation comes without its perks. “We’ve never gotten a negative response,” Bill insists. “There have been a few hecklers, but it’s usually from the guy that wishes like hell that it was him up there.”