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'We Wanted To Be Larger Than Life': Paul Stanley Of KISS On Almost 50 Years Of Rock

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Members of KISS perform in Vancouver, Canada, for the band's "One Last Kiss: End of the Road World Tour" in Jan. 2019.
Keith Leroux, Courtesy of the artists

Members of KISS perform in Vancouver, Canada, for the band's "One Last Kiss: End of the Road World Tour" in Jan. 2019.

After nearly 50 years, KISS is saying goodbye to touring. The over-the-top purveyors of heavy metal have embarked on a year-long finale tour titled "One Last KISS: End of the Road World Tour." The 105-stop tour spans North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and will encapsulate KISS' larger-than-life show for the last time.

Before his storied rock rise, KISS' lead singer Paul Stanley recalls being a New York cab driver and driving people to Madison Square Garden to see Elvis. He remembers telling himself that night, "One of these days, people are going to be driving here to see me."

Stanley formed KISS in 1973 along with bassist and back-up vocalist Gene Simmons. Inspired by glam rock, the band was determined to make its performances into an all-encompassing experience.

"As a rock fan I had gone to see bands who oftentimes made you think they were doing you a favor by showing up when I just paid them," Stanley says. "I think there was a lot of apathy onstage in a sense of complacency."

Even if you're not an avid fan of KISS, you can probably conjure up a mental picture of the group: Black and white face paint, performative alter-egos, space suits and platform boots performing on spectacular sets. "We wanted to create iconic images. We wanted to be larger than life." Stanley says.

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As a withdrawn child who grew up with an ear condition called microtia, Stanley liked the idea of figures like Zorro or the Lone Ranger, who could be heroic but still keep a sense of anonymity by wearing masks. That idea, paired with his love of music helped transport Stanley to another place. "If you take a shy, chubby kid who is not very popular and put him behind makeup and give him a strong enough persona, that can get you pretty far," he says.

After decades of making music, breaking up, reuniting and yes, touring, at 67, Stanley says the guys are ready to say farewell to touring after this year. "There is a finite quality to life. The physical wear and tear of what we do is enormous," he explains. "If I was out there in a T-shirt and jeans I could do this into my 90s but I'm carrying around 30, 40 pounds of gear and making it look easy."

Stanley and his bandmates have celebrated more highs and lows than they could've imagined as kids when they were just starting out in their parents' apartments. "It's been a long road, and at times it hasn't been fun, but we've always understood the value of each other," he says.

Stanley spoke with NPR's David Greene about his childhood, gaining confidence as a performer and deciding to stop touring. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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