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June 14th, 2011
07:16 AM ET

Human Factor: KISS frontman Paul Stanley hears music differently

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week KISS singer Paul Stanley explains how he became the frontman for one of the most successful rock bands in America, despite being born deaf in his right ear.

I was born with a Level 3 Microtia, which is a congenital deformity of the cartilage of the outer ear, and occurs in approximately 1 out of every 8,000 to 10,000 births. There is no ear canal and no direct path to the inner-workings of the ear. Except for bone conduction, I’m virtually deaf on my right side, as there is no access for sound to enter.

I’ve had an implanted hearing aid for about two years now. This is a device that is usually given to children at an early age or to adults who have lost their hearing due to a medical condition. This has been an ongoing adjustment for me as my brain has never processed sound coming in from my right side. In the beginning, it was incredibly taxing and extremely confusing. It would be like you are suddenly developing an eye in the back of your head. That said, it has settled in quite a bit and I have to say, it has enhanced my day-to-day activities.

People often ask if my hearing problem has had any impact on my career. It’s sometimes hard for people to understand that you don’t miss what you’ve never had. When blind people speak about seeing or colors, it’s very personal to them.

In the same way, I may not hear music the way other people hear it, but I have nothing else to compare it to, or didn’t for most of my life. I haven’t felt at a loss for anything. I have no sense of the direction of sound, yet I have no trouble mixing a stereo album. I hear the expanse or width of sound but I can’t necessarily tell you where it’s coming from.

Times have changed greatly since I was a child. Medicine, particularly advancements in hearing health, has greatly evolved. If there is a way to improve your hearing, then by all means, take the initiative and do something about it.

To young and old alike, take care of your hearing because once you lose it, you can’t get it back. Use earplugs if you’re exposed to loud noise for prolonged periods of time including concerts. Keep personal listening devices to safe, acceptable levels. There are better ways to listen without sacrificing your enjoyment or your hearing health.

To those of you that suffer from some form of hearing loss, take comfort in the fact that many, many great people have succeeded in monumental ways without normal hearing, or any hearing for that matter.

Hearing loss may be a small pothole in the road, but that doesn’t mean it should stop you from getting where you want to go. I’m living proof!


soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Josh

    If all he was missing, was the opening or ear canal, could that not have been repaired surgically ?

    June 14, 2011 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark F

      Just a guess but he's probably missing the tiny hairs/etc that allow the vibrations to be turned into 'sound'.

      June 14, 2011 at 08:39 | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      In rare cases, the inner ear is fully formed, but in most cases, the conductive hearing loss is fairly complete due to underdeveloped inner ear components, such as the small bones (stirrup, hammer, anvil), and the ear canal and/or ear drum are missing or also severely underdeveloped.

      June 14, 2011 at 08:52 | Report abuse |
    • cwood.md

      Based on his description, it sounds like he has aural atresia rather than microtia. Microtia causes a deformity of the shape of the external ear, ranging from a mild deformity to a "peanut ear." It is often accompanied by aural atresia which is under-development of the external auditory canal. There is also malformation of the middle ear structures that conduct sound to the inner ear (cochlea). The inner ear is usually totally normal, which makes these patients candidates for bone conduction hearing amplification. For more info, there are surgical experts in treating these specialized patients (Bradley Kesser, MD: atresia repair, University of Virginia and Burt Brent, MD: microtia repair, Private Practice, Woodside, CA)

      June 14, 2011 at 14:36 | Report abuse |
    • JustObvious

      Since he has had to deal with this for umteen years and and having serious bucket of money, why would it be necessary for the peanut gallery to provide unsolicited medical advise. Any real medical doctor knows better than to make a diagnosis without direct consultation.

      June 14, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse |
  2. Maverick2591b

    It's a shame that it takes a celebrity or someone famous to have, contract, or develop something before it gets recognition, but at least it GETS recognition. Hopefully people with microtia will see this, see it is possible to not only overcome but rise above it, and persue dreams that before seemed unobtainable.

    June 14, 2011 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Barbara

    Great article.I am only 41 and I just got a hearing aid for my left ear. I was depressed because I wondered if this is the end of hearing in my left ear.It helps with my tinnitus and I can hear much better, but he is right. It doesn't sound like the hearing in my right ear, but since I have had hearing loss in my left ear, I am not sure if this is what "sounds" should sound like. This article gives me confidence in knowing, perhaps in the future better medicine will help me.

    June 14, 2011 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle Green

      I have hearing loss in both ears (90% loss in my right ear). I am 46 and did not get my hearing aids until last year. I couldn't tell which direction a sound was coming from either. I have learned to read lips also. I also have tinnitus. The hearing aids are wonderful but also very expensive and not covered by my health insurance. I got in touch with my state's (MI) department of labor and found out they have a program that helps working age people who are employed get hearing aids. The program helps keep the handicapped employed. The state paid for 75% of the cost of my hearing aids.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I have been legally deaf for about 10 years. I am 40 years old. I have 90% loss in my right ear and 60% in my left. My hearing has been in steady decline since my teens and I have been a "hearing aid" candidate since my early 20s. But teh problem is, even with insurance, who can afford these things? $1800 for the cheap ones, each. Maybe some day they will consider ears and teeth to be more than just "cosmetic" needs. I can get a prosthetic arm for free from the insurance company, but not a hearing aid. I can get a gender-change operation for next to nothing, but not a hearing aid???? Ridiculous. (and the fact is, I have fantastic insurance compared to most people.)

      June 14, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
  4. Terri

    My 8 year old son was born with Microtia...we are in the process of looking at options for him. Possibly a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) and eventually, plastic surgery on the outer ear. The surgery for the ear canal can be done but it is not always successful...because that ear canal was born closed, when you try to open it, the body tries to close it again (as if healing itself). They have to place a stent in there...there are risks of infection,etc and depending on the inner ear, it doesn't always work.

    We live in Missouri and are seeing a doctor(s) at the University of MO-Columbia. My son knows his ear is different but we've never let him feel different. He can do all the same sports and activities as his older brothers. The new doctor at the University was trained in Los Angeles at a world renowned hospital for this disorder.

    My son also has ADHD/ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and has to be on medication. Part of me wonders what effect the hearing loss has had on his behavior. Does it contribute to his frustration? I don't know. There are studies that go both ways on that issue.

    I am so glad to know that Paul Stanley has the same thing and it makes me feel better as a parent that my child can still succeed and be a productive member of society despite his physical disability.

    June 14, 2011 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie K

      I know this is a bit "off topic", but, seriously, "oppositional defiant disorder"???? Wasn't that called "being a brat" not so long ago? Just asking...

      June 14, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
  5. Vrie

    My son has a BAHA, the implanted hearing device probably mentioned here, but does not have microtia. As the only child in our area with this, I am bookmarking this article for him! I would show it to him now, but he is off to summer music camp!

    June 14, 2011 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Susan

    My daughter, Emilie, was diagnosed with hearing loss in kindergarten and wore hearing aids. The children at school made fun of her because of the sounds the aids would sometimes make. Em's hearing continued to decline and she had a cochlear implant in 2010. She worked harder and longer than the others in her class, and made it into Cooper Union for college. Hearing loss to the point of deafness never stopped her. Now, due to an accident she is totally blind. Again, hard work and a spirit that is unwilling to give up is pushing her back to recovery and independence. I wish someone like Paul Stanley was there for my daughter as a child to ease her suffering. Thank you, Mr. Stanley!!!!! Thank you cnn for helping other children to know they can do anything with work and belief in themselves.

    June 14, 2011 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      Susan, your daughter is a very strong person. Those are dual disabilities that would cripple your average adult. I don't know how I would even be able to deal with it if my daughter went though similar trials. You are both inspirations.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
    • M

      Susan, your daughter is an inspiration to all of us! What a girl!!

      June 14, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • dasboot

      you're the bomb susan!

      June 17, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      I heard your daughters story on RadioLab. Such an amazing story of strength and perceptiveness. I had me in tears (it has me in tears now thinking about it). I wish her all the best in her continued recovery.

      June 21, 2011 at 17:26 | Report abuse |
  7. JeffD

    Great article. I'm very impressed with Mr. Stanley's writing. I would not have thought that a lead singer of a rock band could be so eloquent.

    June 14, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MSBJC

      JeffD, your comment shows that you should not stereotype people.

      June 14, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Most geniuses DON'T flaunt it. That wouldn't be smart.

      June 14, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
    • Fan

      Paul and Gene are BOTH very intelligent and eloquent speakers, as are Eric & Tommy. Not your typical brainless rockers.

      June 14, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
  8. Janet

    Cochlear implants have been around for some time now. Unless you have such hearing problems, you probably don't know about them. As with most things, they are not for everyone with hearing deficits. Find a doctor (try Otolaryngology or Audiologist) to see if they might help you. The implants aren't a 'magic wand' to fix all the problems, but a good tool that can be used.

    Celebrities are a good way to get info out to a wide range of people. This is a very nice, positive article and a good way of giving back to the public. Nice job, Paul Stanley!

    June 14, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vrie

      Having a working Cochlea, Paul Stanley probably does not have a cochlear implant. There are other implants and options than just a CI. I am constantly educating people on that, because of my son.

      June 14, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse |
  9. erich2112x

    Get up
    Everybody's gonna' move their feet
    Get down
    Everybody's gonna' leave their seat
    You gotta' lose your mind in Detroit Rock City.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Dee Dela

    There are only a few surgeons who are world renowned in microtia reconstruction. One of the best resources dealing with microtia was shown in this story:

    www. microtia.net

    Kudos to Paul Stanley for sharing his story.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dario

    I had perfect hearing until I was injured in the military and lost a significant amount. This wasn't as bad as the ringing caused by tinnitus. It was hard to get used to that. Then after 15 years I received my first pair of hearing aids and now have to retrain my brain. Its not hard, you don't do anything but you have to deal with the changes and confusion. So I know what you are going through Paul, it will get better.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Jen

    I am been deaf since birth-my parents had me on CI...I grew up improving my speech but it doesn't help me to understand people's talking.CI r design for hearing people who lost their hearing...I can do ANYTHING expect hear that it.I am currently trying to get impossible job as x-ray technologist. I just want let people know that we deaf people can do it...AND Don't call us "Deaf-mute" ever... it getting really old and annoying....

    June 14, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ginny D

      You are right. You can do anything. Your results with the CI can be due to a lot of different factors including the age when you actually received your implant. I'm sure you have worked very hard to get where you are. I hope you can get an x-ray tech job, no doubt you will work hard to keep it.

      June 14, 2011 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      My son was born deaf, Jen. You're right, deaf people can do anything, but my son had his implant when he was 14 months old and has grown up with it, so it's not just for people who were born hearing and lost their hearing. He hears and speaks just fine and most people are surprised to find out he is deaf. (His hair is long and covers his processors).

      June 14, 2011 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
  13. kissfan

    Funny coming from the band which once proclaimed "If it's too loud, you're too old." Guess Paul is too old now

    June 14, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. alan

    What? well this explains some of his musical ability then.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sheryl Ann Lewis

    Thank you for doing this segment! I have ( tinnus) check spelling...alot of my musician friends suffer from this as a result of not wearing ear protection. It's a normal thing to do now...not 30 + years ago. I love that Paul is giving his time and support to people (kids especially) that suffer from this condition!
    Thank you again Sanjay
    Sher.

    June 14, 2011 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. A. Crowley

    What did he say?

    June 14, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Joe in Colorado

    Paul Stanley is by far one of the most talented musicians around. Listen to his solo release, which didn't sell well three decades ago... but when you listen to it now, you see it was far ahead of its time. I was also guilty of not liking it at the time.

    He was on George Lopez recently, which made actually a great show.

    June 14, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dave

    Paul Stanley's story reminds me of a story my uncle once told me.

    My uncle was blinded at the age of 20 in a motorcycle accident and later went to a blind school.
    He went to school with children and young adults who were blind at birth. He had a harder time at first because he spent the first 19+ years of his life being able to see, whereas the others had it much easier getting around and they were there mainly to learn how to read braille.

    One may think that those born blind or deaf are "helpless" when they really aren't. They have spent their lifetimes learning how to relate to the world without sight or sound. It's something they have never had, therfore they do not feel any real type of loss.
    It's analogous to saying that I am helpless because I am not telepathic.

    On a side note. People used to believe that deaf people cannot think because they cannot "hear" thoughts.

    June 14, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Mikey B

    Gotta love Paul.

    June 14, 2011 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. rob

    Paul's bank account just called and had this to say, "go to blazes all you haters".

    June 14, 2011 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Paul

    Couldn't they just drill a hole in his head?

    June 14, 2011 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Don

    Wouldn't it be great if this story about hearing loss was captioned for the hearing impaired?

    June 14, 2011 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dan

    Ironic that I got permanent tinnitus at a KISS concert . . . after having made fun of the people who were wearing ear plugs. Ironic on many levels.

    June 14, 2011 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Gordon

    When I was around 3 years old I lost the hearing in my left ear due to childhood disease. I'm told that the disease killed the hairs in the inner ear the translate the sound waves. My right ear to quite a degree has compensated for this loss, but I can't hear sound in stereo. However, I bought a line adapter for my headphones that brings both channels into my right ear, so to a degree that provides me with the full range of the sounds being generated. Is it like stereo? I have no idea, but it is what it is, and my life goes on. Not knowing what it would be like to hear with both ears, I have no sense of loss.

    June 14, 2011 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Heliocracy

    I think a lot of people that heard KISS back in the day assumed that all of them were half-deaf.

    June 14, 2011 at 21:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Chris

    I am glad that Stanley has warned against the hazards of loud noise and the lack of people using proper ear protection. I cannot believe the number of people who play their iPods or MP3 players so loud you can hear them from the back of the bus. People tend to take their hearing for granted just like their eyesight. Hearing aids can help but they can be very expensive and have their drawbacks. Nothing is worse than having the sounds of the world limited to you.

    June 14, 2011 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Shanks

    Now I know why he always says "I can't hear you" at the shows :)

    June 15, 2011 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Greg

    I suffer from Tinitus as a result of my first concert in 1979. Of course it was KISS. My ears have been ringing ever since that concert. Paul Stanley took my hearing, then he stole my love!

    June 15, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Lisa

    I am a local newspaper reporter whose son was born with the same condition. He is now 5. So far kids are just curious and not old enough yet to be cruel. We are very thankful that his hearing issue is operable (not everyone is a candidate for that surgery as I imagine Mr. Stanley may not have been or he probably would have had it.) We are having surgery with Dr. Burt Brent and Dr. Bradley Kesser, the top two in the nation for this but we must wait until my son is a year older. I just want to thank Dr. Gupta for doing this story and raising awareness of a condition most people are ignorant of (including us, who learned of it at delivery.) I also tip my hat to Mr. Stanley. Thanks for being so classy and for sharing your story so that it can help kids like my son. He loves music and knows every Beatles song. We will make sure he knows your work, too.

    June 15, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Ken

    This is interesting to know, I have a bilateral microtia-atresia and I currently wear a BAHA on both ears and love it. I got the implants two years ago and I don't regret it. However, the article doesn't say which hearing implant Paul is wearing. There is Vibrant® Soundbridge® and BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) so we do not know which one he is talking about. Thanks for the article on your awareness. Two thumbs up!

    June 17, 2011 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Michael

    Dear mr Stanley, thank you for explaining about your ear problem in sharing your story. I have the same problem; I am now 18 years old dealing with my problem. I've felt embaressed which is why I kept my hair long for a long time because i was so embarresed of people kept asking me what happened to my ear. Sometimes i feel bad about my problem but when I get busy doing things i forget all about it but i will always remember that i have the feeling of my right ear. I hears that u helped alot of kids. Is there anyway u can help me?? Btw I've been keeping my hair really short during the spring and summer and i try to forget all those bad kids that just laugh i just ignore it. Please respond

    June 17, 2011 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Dawnmarie

    Thank you for opening up to the public about your hearing loss. My son has a profound bilateral sencerial neral hearing loss and is a HUGE KISS FAN!...He as been wearing a cochlear implant since the age of two, and his dream is to play the drums in a rock band...and you are a huge insperation on his life. Not one day goes bythat he does not wear his KISS t-shirts or fills the house with your music......thank you thank you for beeing a part of his music filled life..

    June 18, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. DiamondInTheRuff

    I never knew this about one of my favorite rock groups...thank you for coming out and speaking of the topic of hearing loss...I am relieved and glad to hear someone became successful who has hearing loss....I appreciate this story...ROCK ON!!! ALSO....HAPPY FATHER'S DAY.

    June 19, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Eric Normand

    As a fellow musician myself, I can empathize with others who have had to overcome hearing impairments. I have tinnitus, a permanent ringing in my ears that, in my case, was the result of too many years of over exposure to loud music. My hearing is just fine, but the tinnitus adds a high-pitched "whine" that is always there, and especially noticeable in very quiet moments. Many Americans who aren't even musicians suffer from tinnitus – such as factory workers, construction workers, TV and radio announcers, etc., and once you have it, it will never go away. I wish I had been warned about this reality a long time ago, it is entirely avoidable with the use of ear production. Help spread the word so others may not have to suffer what can be a very difficult lifetime of "nonstop whining." If you would like to learn more about the reality of tinnitus, including what kind of volume your ears can handle for how long, read my article "Do you ever hear the sound of true silence?" http://nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com/Blog/?p=858

    June 20, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Eric Normand

    Tinitus blog http://nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com/Blog/?p=858

    June 20, 2011 at 09:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Courtney

    My son was born with left sided microtia/atresia. He just finished up his 4th and final surgery to create his new beautiful ear! Such brave little kids that undergo this. :) He totally wanted to have a "normal" ear and so we thankfully were able to go to one of THE best plastic surgeons (in ATL). The next stage of creating the ear canal is recommened before 1st grade actually. Depending on if he qualifies (scan to see air space around hearing bones and facial nerve position) we will see when he would want to have this last surgery. We are so blessed to have the medical technology now to help our children!! It's so cool to see such successful people out there and living out their dreams!! It's an inspiration to us as parents who only want the best for our babies. :)

    June 30, 2011 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Tammy Bryant

    Hi Paul I used to have people ask me if I was related to you because I could practically be your younger twin but I am female I also.love to sing and my birthday is Jan 25 sincerely best regards Tami B

    September 17, 2011 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Laura

    Hi Paul , I slowly lost my hearing over the years. I started out with hearing aids and now I have two cochlear implants. It is the first time that I have heard the birds sing in the morning.
    I loved to dance and I still feel the vibrations to do this. You have a gift to be an excellent musician. You are a mentor for many people who have hearing problems who can succeed as a professional singer, musician or dancer.
    I loved the Kiss Band.... and I love also Gene Simmons. I wish you and the band the very best. Kiss is a legend Laura

    September 29, 2011 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Laura

    This way I feel about being hard of hearing. I tell people that I am hearing impaired and they need to look at me so I can read their lips so I can hear them... I have been called a snob,mentally impaired ( because I have a hard time to express myself in writing....Have them repeat so many times and they don't understand why are you doing this.
    Some people are more than generous to communicate with me and others are extremely to repeat a couple of times. Sometimes I feel like saying close your ears and see what it is like....

    September 30, 2011 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. S Gonzo

    I'm a little late chiming in, but I never would have thought Paul and I would have something in common. I was also born with microtia on my right ear. I've been lucky that through all my life I've never had issues with people teasing or harrassing me about it. I was always given support by my family, teachers and friends. It's great to see how much success he has had and he has now has had a bone conduction inplant. I myself, a 37 year old, mother of two and a wife, am finally looking at getting this inplant too. Lucky for me my hearing in my left ear is great but having this now be an option for me is exciting and at time overwhelming. For those of you who know someone with this condition just remember to be kind and supportive. I've also been asked several times if I wanted reconstuction surgery for my right ear and I've always declined. God made me this way and I'm not embarassed or ashamed of what it looks like. People ask me what happen to my ear...my reponse is always the same. Nothing, I was born this way. Most people ask more questions and that's a good thing. I always remember that no one is perfect and everyone wishes there was something they could fix about themselves. ROCK ON, PAUL!

    December 16, 2011 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Gustavo

    Susan, you made me cry so much! I wish for Emily and for all your family all the best!!
    great story of strength and will to live, from Stanley and from Emily! =)

    February 17, 2012 at 07:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. I too have microtia level 3

    Can you people posting theories about what microtia is please stop. I is basically a congenital defect, your ear does not work and may be completely in some cases. In others it may work to some degree. The bones in the ear drum and ear canal are usually improperly formed as well.

    March 24, 2012 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Silvia

    My 6 month old daughter was born with level 3 microtia. Thank you Paul for this article, it gave me a lot of hope!!!

    April 14, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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  47. Dan

    Thanks for the great article!
    I'm 15 years old with microtia and playing guitar, this post really made my day and gave me hope.
    I truly understand everything written here, being a musician with microtia.. you can create and play music just like everyone else, you just can't tell where the sound is coming from, it's still pretty ironic.

    August 26, 2012 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. ryan

    i have microtia and im 13 and i usually feel depressed about my ear and i always hide it under my long hair because im worried that if a girl that i like sees it she will think im ugly

    March 6, 2013 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Barbara Stanley

    I have the EXACT deformity - aural atresia - no hole in my left ear!!! I am 52 years old and have never known anyone to have this! When he talked about "brain shadow," I thought, that's it man, that's exactly what I have. My family was afraid to get the operation for me when I was a kid - now at 52 I am considering BAHA as soon as I get Obama Care! LOL!!!

    Don't I feel special - I have the same deformity as Paul Stanley does! As a lover of all Rock n Roll, this makes me very proud for some reason! Rock on!

    March 25, 2014 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply

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