Fifteen years after they were first eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pioneering theatrical rock act Kiss were finally given the honor in one of the most controversial, acrimonious moments in the institution's 31-year history. Surprisingly, though, they played nice onstage, with barely-there tension between the four founding members – Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss. If anything, their anger was directed at the Hall and the critics who never respected their theatricality – the makeup, the fire, the giant boots, the armor, the blood, the shameless merchandising – and dismissed them as schlock.
Even Rock Hall and Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner announced them tepidly: "From New York, in platform shoes and tight pants, Kiss."
They got a standing ovation for that.
After all the sniping in the press, the decision not to perform, and the fuss about the Hall's exclusion of the other six members who've donned the famous makeup, things were much different than anticipated when Kiss finally took the stage at Brooklyn's Barclays Center: They acted reserved, humble, graceful, and downright cordial.
Tom Morello, who lobbied hard for Kiss' induction, introduced his all-time favorite band with a tremendous speech, saying it was never easy being a fan of theirs. "I recall as a 15 year old, telling one bully, 'You can kiss my Kiss-loving ass,' because Kiss was never a critic's band, Kiss was a people's band." He extolled their "impact, influence, and awesomeness," their hundreds of millions of albums sold, and made mention of the "fifth member," the devoted Kiss Army. He finished up by yelling, "Tonight, it's not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tonight it's the Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day Hall of Fame!"
The Fearsome Foursome then took the stage, looking at ease with each other. "I'm here to say a few kind words about the four knuckleheads, who 40 years ago, got together and decided to put together the band we never saw onstage, critics be damned," said Simmons, praising each bandmate individually, particular his "partner and brother" Stanley. He then name-checked all the other Kiss members, past and present, but finished with, "However, we wouldn't be here tonight without the fantastic four."
Criss then took the microphone, thanking everyone who's ever worked with the band and discussed how he's been been seven-years healthy after a battle with male breast cancer. He took the evening's only shot at the drama surrounding Kiss, referencing Eric Singer's use of Criss' famous cat makeup. "I want to say, in or out of makeup, I'll always be the Catman, so it really doesn't matter. I also want to say, you gotta forgive to live. It's really important."
Frehley cut the tension by admitting that he couldn't read his speech because his sunglasses weren't prescription, before discussing his seven years of sobriety and how the country needs more education about substance abuse.
Finally, Stanley wrapped it up, saying, "For us, this is a special night but it's really a special night for our fans because this is vindication. Peter, Ace, Gene, we are the original foursome. We couldn't have done this if we hadn't started together. Everything we've done is built on the past. We've got a great, great legacy." Then he took a dig at the Hall, and all the critics who've denounced them and voted against them. "The people pay for tickets, the people buy albums, the people who nominate [Hall inductees] do not."
Backstage, Morello spoke for all the fans . "Kiss didn't change for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame changed for Kiss, and it changed for the better," he said. "It was a conscious act of rebellion to be a fan of Kiss. You put yourself not only in opposition to authority figures and parents, you put yourself in opposition to the kids from your school who wanted to beat your ass when you wore a Kiss t-shirt. You had to stand up for what you believed in at a very young age, and that had a big effect on me."
We're sure millions of Kiss Army soldiers would agree.