The story focused on a typographical error — Paul Stanley, better known as Starchild, told me the two S’s in the logo weren’t perfectly parallel because he drew them by eye. What the piece didn’t mention, however, is an increasingly popular theory that these iconic two S’s are an homage to World War II Nazi troop Schutzstaffel or “The SS.”
Incredibly, the repeating S’s in The SS logo is similar to KISS’s as they appear as two lightning bolts side by side. Between 1979 and 1980, German authorities became so incensed with these similarities that they confiscated albums and banned the KISS logo altogether (the band eventually created a separate Germany-specific logo with two backward Z’s).
In the United States, less attention has been paid to logos’ likenesses. A quick Google search yields little additional information on this topic. Even famed music journalist Chuck Klosterman wrote an extensive feature for ESPN’s Grantland about Kiss called “The Definitive, One-Size Fits All, Accept No Substitutes Massively Comprehensive Guide To The Life And Times Of Kiss,” without once using the term “Nazi.”
Though their similarities could easily be disregarded as mere coincidence, the band’s complex relationship with Nazism makes them worth exploring further.
Stanley and fellow lead vocalist Gene Simmons are both Jewish, with Simmons’ mother being a Holocaust survivor. Stanley has stated outright that other original members such as guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss — who were later dismissed from the group — displayed anti-Semitic tendencies during their early days together.
Frehley in particular has had a murky past. Stanley and Simmons have both claimed that Frehley not only owned Nazi memorabilia during that early period but used it to perpetrate cruel jokes on others as well.
“Ace had an affinity for Nazi memorabilia,” Simmons revealed in his 2002 autobiography Kiss and Make-up. He and his best friend would make videotapes of themselves dressed up as Nazis during drunken stupors.
In his autobiography, Simmons recounted a particularly dark prank Frehley pulled on him: He burst into his hotel room dressed as Hitler and saluted Simmons with “Heil Hitler!”.
According to Frehley’s account, both Criss and Stanley donned Nazi uniforms alongside him and joined in on the joke; photographic evidence seems to support this assertion (The Huffington Post has reached out to Gene Simmons for comment).
Frehley’s apparent past interest in Nazism, according to his bandmates’ accounts, is relevant because he created the original idea for the KISS logo. As Frehley told Guitar World back in 2014 when Stanley tried to claim credit for it, “I designed it.” All Stanley did was draw straighter lines,” added Frehley with pride.
Later this year, in conversation with Stanley, he confirmed this account, saying, “The initial concept of the logo was Ace’s.”
Over the years, Frehley has said little to nothing about any potential Nazi connections. In 2011, however, Eric Spitznagel of MTV managed to inquire about it and received a response from Frehley that any connection was “absolutely false.”
Frehley insisted the logo was not inspired by Hitler or Nazis, noting, “I want to be clear: I do not believe in Hitler or his ideology or anything he stood for.”
Later in the interview, Frehley commented, “Whether or not you agree with Hitler’s ideology, his costumes were always fascinating to look at – they had some of the coolest outfits.” She went on to describe Hitler’s fashion sense as being “very fashionable.”
At the time, this interview received scant attention. When I had the chance to interview Frehley personally, I sought clarification regarding his inspiration for creating the logo and whether it was an allusion to the Schutzstaffel.
Frehley insisted upon using lightning bolts in his logo design because, like Spitznagel before him, he liked them and nothing more.
“Well, if you look at my early costume, everything was lightning bolts – even [the S’s]. It’s just coincidental that The SS also features two lightning bolts,” Frehley explained. “My entire career and every costume have had lightning bolts on them since day one.”
Regarding the ban in Germany, Frehley replied, “The law is what it is – what are you going to do?”
“They took it very seriously, but in the U.S. everyone realized it was just an aesthetic design.”
Here’s what we know: the S’s in KISS and The SS logos are so close together that Germany effectively forced the band to make a change; most of its founding members likely donned Nazi insignia at least once; Frehley himself had an adept Nazi impersonation style, plus he greatly admired Nazi fashion.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know what Frehley was thinking when he drew those Ss.
As I started our conversation with Frehley, I brought up our earlier exchange about the logo. Stanley and Frehley had had many disagreements since KISS’ farewell tour in 2001; Stanley even called him an anti-Semite in 2014. Yet just this past spring, they collaborated again on Frehley’s album “Origins Vol. 1,” suggesting that things may be improving between them again.
“KISS used my felt tip pen for their ads,” Frehley revealed. “And then when it came time for our record, Paul, being artistically trained, took my design and refined it with a rapidograph pen.”
The musician took a moment and then asked, with a laugh: “Why?” What had he said?”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that KISS’ farewell tour concluded in 2011 rather than in 2001.