Many people wear masks. They hide what they fear and interact with the outside world through a cover, always worried about exposing their weaknesses. People that are broke pretend to be successful. They enter a relationship even though they are lonely inside and are afraid to bond. They talk in phrases without saying what is really on their mind.
In “Face the Music”, Paul Stanley, lead guitarist of KISS, talks about his own fear and the mask he chose to cover up that perceived flaw. He was born with only one functional ear; the other ear was deformed, and children used to tease him mercilessly.
He chose the make-up of KISS as a way to cover up his insecurity, only to realize later on that he can not run away from himself. He managed to heal himself by first confronting his fear and then helping others to accept themselves.
“This lonely kid wanted to do that, and this lonely kid ended up doing that. I made my own reality. The character I created— the Starchild— would go up on stage and be that guy, the superhero, as opposed to the person I really was.”
“We are all pretty bizarre, some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.” – Emilio Estevez ‘The Breakfast Club’
This biography gets you hooked. You grow with Stanley as he tells his story – and you realize him as one of the most profound human people, who overcomes the hardship his early disability gives him.
Instead of giving in to drug use and becoming crazy like his sister, he refuses to be a victim and digs himself out of his hole with dedication.
Only later on, you realize he has to make a second transformation – when he realizes that he has really only run away from the problem and he now must face his fears.”
You can buy his book here.
Paul Stanley was mercilessly teased because of his missing ear
“Most searing early memories I have are of other kids calling me “Stanley the one-eared monster.” It was often kids I didn’t even know. (…) But they knew me.”
“My way of dealing with other kids became to preemptively push them away.”
On the one hand, he felt ostracized because he looked different from others. On the other hand, he had problems fitting in with others even when he tried, because he would not understand what they said.
“I had nothing more than a stump on the right side of my head. And my ear canal was also closed, so I was deaf. That left me unable to tell the direction of sound, and more importantly, made it incredibly difficult for me to understand people when there was any kind of background noise or conversation. These problems would lead me to instinctively avoid social situations.”
“Once I got lost, I surrendered. I gave up because I’d lost the thread.”
He felt alone, with a situation beyond his control:
“I also had two recurring nightmares. In one, it was pitch black and I was on a floating dock in a huge body of water, far from any shore. I was stranded and alone. I started yelling for help. (…) In the other nightmare I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car barreling down a dark, empty highway. The car had no steering wheel. I had to try to maneuver it by leaning from side to side, but there was no way to control it. Night after night these nightmares left me suddenly awake, screaming, confused, deathly afraid.”
Music was a way to hide his flaw by becoming as popular as possible
In the 1960’s, the Beatles played in the Ed Sullivan show.
This clip shows the great contrast between the conservative, restrained Ed Sullivan and the raw, sexual power of the Beatles performance, leaving audiences completely enthralled:
Watching this performance, Paul Stanley realizes that there is a way to become popular despite his missing ear – playing in a band:
“And in February 1964, a few weeks after my twelfth birthday, I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. As I watched them singing, it hit me: This is my ticket out. Here was the vehicle I could use to rise out of misery, to become famous, to be looked up to, to be liked, to be admired, to be envied.”
He thinks that being famous is his escape from his facial anomaly.
“I thought the fix was being famous. I thought the fix was being rich. I thought the fix was being desirable.”
His desire to escape is so big that he wanted this life even before he could play the guitar.
“I had never played a guitar in my life, and I certainly had never written a song. And yet . . . this was my ticket out.”
He also feels that singing provides relief form his pain.
“When I sang, it momentarily tempered some of my doubt and pain. Everything just felt right.”
He is persistent and never gives up on his dream:
“For the next eleven months (…) I pestered my parents for an electric guitar for my thirteenth birthday.
He travels from Queens to Manhattan as often as he can to soak in the atmosphere:
“Those trips into town became pilgrimages for me. So those trips to 48th Street were not about playing but about soaking in the trappings of rock and roll: drum kits, guitars, basses. And once in a while I spotted a musician I recognized from TV or from the music magazines I was starting to collect. I was in heaven.”
After he gets his electric guitar, he immerses himself fully into the music:
“With every new song I wrote, my sense of purpose grew stronger. I may not have had a social life, but I had music and a dream.”
He believes in himself:
“One day at high school a teacher pulled me aside. “Why aren’t you showing up for class? Why aren’t you applying yourself?” he asked me. “Because I’m going to be a rock star,” I said. As the guy looked at me, his face betrayed his thoughts: You poor fool. Then he forced a half-smile and said, “A lot of people want to be rock stars.” “Yeah,” I told him, “but I will be one.”
He wants to create something ‘bigger than life’.
“The British bands became part of the template for what I wanted to do moving forward. And that template became more and more complete in the coming year or so as I saw Humble Pie, Slade, and Grand Funk Railroad, who all created a church like atmosphere, a religious connection to their audience. A frontman like Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott was leading a congregation, evangelizing for rock and roll.”
You can see examples for these bands here, here and here.
And he knows that he has to put in the work.
“One thing I had figured out by then was that talent, like everything else, was just a starting point. What counted was what you did with it. I knew I wasn’t the most talented guitar player or the best singer or the best writer, but I could do all of those things, and I had a complete vision of what it was going to take to succeed— a vision that included working, working, working.”
You can find another example for dedication and hard work in this video.
He abandoned college to work full-time on the band.
“To leave yourself no Plan B is a dangerous thing to do. But going to college was taking away from my focus. For a band, focus was success.”
He always gave everything, even when the crowd was small:
“Fewer than ten people showed up for our first gig. The place probably held five hundred. We still tried to blow the roof off the place— we knew we’d always remember this show.”
He knows that perception is reality:
I almost felt as if the other guys had jeopardized the band— they acted small-time. Ace had babbled into the mic during one of the shows. Peter had said, “I want to thank my friends from Canarsie for coming out tonight.” That did not sound big league. It detracted from the image I wanted to project.
You want to be small-time? Give a shout out to Tony and Guido. You want to be huge? Make the right impression, no matter how many people are there. Interact with the audience as if you’re all at Madison Square Garden.
He wants his band to create a church-like atmosphere:
“The reason I loved Humble Pie was Steve Marriott, the lead singer, who always seemed to be leading a church revival. He never spoke— when he communicated with the audience, he testified and sang, bringing everything to a fever pitch. Say hallelujah! That was exactly what I was going to do. Say hallelujah, people! I wanted KISS to be church. That’s right! Rock and roll church. Can I get an amen!?“
“Of course, no show, no matter how big, could mask a crappy band. And KISS started with the four of us bringing it. (…) But our attitude as a band was always the same: We will annihilate you. (…) We were missionaries for KISS’s brand of rock and roll , and we would not stop until we converted everyone.”
Sex was another way of escaping the pain without really confronting it
Sex allows Paul Stanley to connect to women; yet, because of the anonymity, he never has to let his guard down and show himself.
“It was like a drug. And what a great drug. I now had access to something magical, without having to let down my guard and deal with a meaningful relationship or any kind of real intimacy. I never had to worry about anyone wanting more from me emotionally.”
He is not restrained at all.
“Boundaries as far as what was appropriate simply did not exist to me. Where I had been alone with my music not long before, now I had sex. Sex! The beast had awakened in me. Another time a girlfriend of my sister’s slept over at our house, and I tried to crawl into bed with her. She pushed me out of the bed. The next day my sister told my mom. I thought it was hilarious.”
“Almost as soon as we landed in Canada, I realized that girls wanted to sleep with me— though the sleeping part was not a priority and was definitely secondary to more strenuous bedroom activity— based on only one criterion: I was in a band. I was desirable, and I could hardly believe it.”
I had a few girlfriends during those years, but for the most part, relationships were still just about companionship and sex. I didn’t want exclusivity and didn’t expect it from women. I just wanted to have a good time.
There are times when he doubts himself
“I spent countless scary nights sitting up thinking, What the hell am I doing? No matter how sure you are of yourself, you’re going to have some dark moments of doubt. Your self-belief gets questioned, even if it doesn’t disappear.”
“But in truth, I would be the Wizard of Oz: the awkward little man behind the curtain operating this huge persona.“ Here is a link to the “man behind the curtain”.
The Starchild, his on-stage character, melt with his off-stage persona:
“With time, the line between the character and the man blurred. I began to take part of that guy offstage with me. Girls wanted that guy. People just assumed I was that guy. Still, I knew I really wasn’t that guy.”
He is honest enough to admit that he did not take jokes against himself well:
“When the other guys joked around with each other, I chimed in. When they made fun of me, however, I didn’t take it well.”
He suffers from anxiety:
I spent a lot of time dissatisfied because I didn’t have friends to talk to about things that might be stimulating, educational, or enlightening. (…) Who am I? Where do I belong? I was supposed to be a big rock star, and there I was paralyzed in my car outside a restaurant, afraid to go inside. The contrast between how I was perceived and the reality of my situation could not have been more stark.
But on the other hand, there I was having soup in a deli by myself.
After playing three nights in a row at the Garden, I knew one thing: what I had thought would fix me, had not. If all these people look up to me and see me as special and a star, shouldn’t I feel that way?
He looks forward to his high school reunion and is shocked as to how old and tired they look:
I still pictured them all as young people, full of vitality and dreams and aspirations, and here they were looking like they were at a Halloween party dressed as old people. They looked old and broken.
Sometimes what we expect is very different from the reality. Because our thoughts center around ourselves.
He spends a lot of time in recording studios all by himself and feels isolated. After several years, he realizes that he himself choses his isolation:
“It’s not that you need to be here. It’s that you have no place to go.”
Playing the lead character in Phantom of the Opera lets Stanley drop his mask
From 1998 – 1999, he played the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera” in Toronto. This confronts Stanley with the “Starchild” mask he is wearing all the time – with the vulnerability he refuses to acknowledge.
“I had been looking for external factors to pull me out of the abyss when all along the problem was inside me.
You can’t hold someone else’s hand when your own hand is balled in a fist.
You can’t find beauty around you when you don’t find it inside.
You can’t appreciate others when you are immersed in your own misery.
I realized it wasn’t people who showed their emotions who were weak, but the ones who hid their emotions who were weak. I needed to redefine what it meant to be strong. Being a “real man” meant being strong, yes: strong enough to cry, strong enough to be kind and compassionate, strong enough to put others first, strong enough to be afraid and still find your way, strong enough to forgive, and strong enough to ask for forgiveness.”
The “Phantom” hides his disfigured face with a mask. Then the woman he loves, Christine, tells him that his face holds no horror for her, but that she fears his tormented soul.
“Something about his being unmasked and her touching him in that moment of intimacy struck a deep chord inside me.”
“Was it possible that the Phantom was . . . in a way . . . me? The mask. The hidden facial disfigurement. Why had I never confronted the birth defect I had covered for my entire life? Why had I cowered in fear of it? Why had I let it keep me from sharing myself with people, from embracing people— from embracing the fullness of life?”
In contrast to KISS concerts, where the point is to perform, he treats the “Phantom” diametrically opposite and immerses himself completely into the role:
For me it came down to abandoning the audience and abandoning any sense of performance and just being that character and finding the truth in that moment.
This is the first step of healing for him.
His performance is a big success, not least because he plays the “Phantom” very believable. A woman writes:
““You seemed to identify with the character in a way I haven’t seen in other actors,” the woman wrote. She went on to say that she worked for an organization called AboutFace, which was devoted to helping children with facial differences. “Would you possibly have any interest in getting involved?” she asked. Wow. How did she pick up on that?”
Stanley joins her organisation.
“Soon I started working with her organization, talking with children and their parents about my birth defect and my own experiences, sharing in their experiences. The effect it had on me was amazing.”
“As soon as I started publicly talking about my ear, I felt a huge weight lift off of me. I realized that you couldn’t appreciate others when you were immersed in your own misery. Perhaps that was what Christine meant about the distortion of the Phantom’s soul.”
“Suddenly the world looked different to me. Helping others helped me heal myself. I felt freed from something that had been so painful and all-encompassing my whole life. Simply putting the truth out there in front of these kids and their parents had set me free.”
“In a video presentation, I told kids to imagine wearing what they thought was a special shirt and then realizing everyone was snickering and laughing at their shirt. “You can go home and change your shirt,” I explained. “But kids with facial differences can’t change their faces.””
Teaching others about facial disfigurations and helping affected children is the second step of healing.
“This is the life I was searching for. This is the payoff. This is what it feels like to be . . . whole. It was a quest, an unending push for what I thought I should have —not only materially, but in terms of who I should be— that enabled me to reach that point. It was a quest that began with the aim of becoming a rock star, but that ended with something else entirely.”
“I find myself beaming from ear to ear, content to celebrate together with the Starchild, who has now become a dear old friend rather than an alter ego to cower behind.”
Finding himself and finding home
By confronting his childhood flaw and conquering his fears, he has arrived at the place where he wants to be. Home.
“There are people who don’t want to go home— who never want to go home. And once upon a time, I didn’t , either. But these days, I love going home. Because somewhere along this long road, I finally figured out how to create a home, a real home, the kind of home where your heart is.”
“It’s not about how good your heart is, it’s about what you do with it during your life.”
Running away from your fear will not help you.
“If you can’t stop running, you aren’t really free. You remain a slave if you don’t figure out something internal to make you happy.”
You can buy the book here.
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