Gene Simmons Wanst Kiss To Invade People’s Senses


March 5, 2008

‘People have five senses. I want Kiss to invade them all.’ Grant Smithies enters the mad bad world of Kiss frontman Gene Simmons.

When he’s not breathing fire, spitting fake blood or flicking his long red tongue about like a horny snake, Kiss band-leader Gene Simmons likes nothing better than to tell jokes.

Unsurprisingly, given Simmons’ legendary ego, today’s joke is about himself.

“You ready?” he asks from his home in Beverly Hills. “Okay. God is sitting on his throne, and there’s a knock on the door. He says `Who is it?’ The door opens and there’s Gandhi. God asks him what he believes in. Gandhi says `World peace.’ God says `OK, fine, c’mon over here and sit on my left hand side.’

“There’s another knock at the door. This time it’s Mother Teresa. God asks her what she believes in and she says `Feeding the poor.’ God says `OK, fine, whatever, come over here and sit on my right hand side.’ There’s a third knock on the door. Again, God asks who it is and what they believe, to which I reply `I’m Gene Simmons, and I believe you’re sitting in my goddam chair’!”.

Simmons cracks up at his own punchline but the joke is intended to make a serious point. “Yes, it is. My point is that when it comes to riches and power, I’m jealous of God. I want it all!”

Simmons’ voice is deep and oily and his accent a languid New York drawl. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever talked to and perhaps the most obnoxious. He doesn’t care who he offends.

“Hell, no. I’m too rich to care,” he chuckles. “People give me a hard time for being a ruthless businessman but these are the kinds of people who cut my grass and take out my trash. I, meanwhile, am deliriously happy.

“Why? Because I get to be me. People say money can’t buy you happiness but I have no time for such loser notions. I am happy and I’m hungrier for money now than I’ve ever been.”

Simmons is smart, witty, driven, articulate and a jerk. He says what he thinks at all times and his pronouncements are unencumbered by wisdom or doubt. He’s all for women’s rights, so long as he retains the right to shag as many of them as possible.

He grew up poor, the son of a Hungarian concentration camp survivor, but is low on compassion for those less fortunate. He has made millions playing thunderously loud rock’n’roll, an occupation loaded with counter-cultural cache, yet he supports the war in Iraq and voted for George W Bush.

“I’ll tell you where I stand politically. In terms of social issues, I’m very liberal. I support gay marriages and I think women should rule the world and get paid as much money as men. But in terms of fiscal issues, I’m very conservative. I’m against the welfare state and I support giving people jobs, not charity. In my view, if you’re too lazy to work, you need a bitch slap from God.

“In terms of foreign policy, I’m conservative too. I don’t buy the idea that if our troops leave the Middle East, the Taliban and al Qaeda would wake up the next day and say `You know what? I think we should turn over a new leaf and stop trying to blow up the world. Let’s just stay here in the desert and read books.’ If you think that’s gonna happen, you’re on crack. These people are nut jobs.”

Now 58, Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, and moved to New York with his Hungarian mother, Florence Klein, when he was eight. His father had abandoned the family several years earlier and his mother worked two jobs to support herself and her only child. Simmons was “emotionally scarred” by childhood poverty, he says, and this gave him a burning desire to be rich.

In his late teens, while studying for a Bachelor of Education degree, Simmons played bass in a string of bands, ending up in Wicked Lester with Kiss co-founder Paul Stanley in the early 70s. The pair drafted in drummer Peter Criss and lead guitarist “Ace” Frehley soon after, and gave their first performance as Kiss in 1973.

They took to the stage wearing their trademark make-up: Demon (Simmons), Starchild (Stanley), Spaceman (Frehley), and Catman (Criss). In a splendid Spinal Tap moment, Simmons onceset fire to his own hair while attempting to breathe fire.

Over the next 18 months the band kept getting louder, flashier, more visually outrageous and eventually their unique mix of anthemic glam rock, comic book superhero outfits and schlock-horror theatrics paid off. By 1977, a Gallup poll proclaimed them the most popular band in America.

“It felt like we’d waded out into calm water then suddenly a tsunami had hit us,” recalls Simmons. “We could kid ourselves that success came because we were so talented and attractive but there’s such a thing as being in the right place at the right time, too.”

The late 70s was a golden time for Kiss. Their live tours broke attendance records around the world, their Kiss Army fan-base became huge and their merchandising operation netted $US100 million between 1977 and 1979 alone.

But as the 70s faded into the 80s, the novelty began to wear off. Live tour attendances fell, album sales plummeted and tensions within the band became unbearable. Peter Criss left in 1979 and Frehley followed him a few years later. A second wave of popularity followed during the 80s and the band has now sold more than 100 million albums worldwide.

There have been sporadic reunions of the original members over the years, but Simmons and Stanley “own” the band, so other members have been regularly replaced. In 2000, Kiss announced the first in a seemingly endless series of “farewell” tours, yet they’re still with us, taking the old jalopy for one more spin around the block.

“Well, you know, people still want to see us, so who are we to disappoint them?” Simmons says. After 35 years together, we’re still having the time of our lives, so why stop? I love playing live! When I get up on stage, I feel like the god that I am. Not only powerful but also deeply attractive.

“You know, if you’re a rock star, you can wake up each morning next to a girl whose name you never bothered to learn! If you’re not a rock star, it’s all `what sign are you, let’s have dinner, I won’t put out on the first date’ and other such torture that girls will put you through. But if you’re in a big band, you cut to the chase.”

Simmons has never been married, but had long-term relationships with Cher and Diana Ross before taking up with his current partner, former Playboy model Shannon Tweed, 25 years ago. They have two children, Nicholas (18) and Sophie (15).

“Yes, I’ve been with Shannon for 25 years but I refuse to get married because I think it’s a sham. For one thing, men are poorly designed for monogamy. We tend to be promiscuous. It’s biological. Women manufacture one or two eggs a month, during which time the male of the species manufactures 10 billion sperm!

“This tells you that the Bible is correct and a man was designed to `spread thy seed’. So if I sleep with a lot of woman, just think of me as doing the Lord’s work.”

In which case, the Lord should be paying Simmons overtime. In his 2001 book Kiss and Make-up, Simmons claims to have had sex with 4600 women and just last week, a secretly filmed Simmons “sex tape” was posted on the net. In it, the long-tongued lothario gets busy with an Austrian model called Elsa while Foreigner’s “I Wanna Know What Love Is” plays in the background.

Stifling a strong urge to ask the obvious question (why Foreigner?), I ask if Simmons’ partner is happy about him sleeping with other women.

“No. But Shannon and I are not married and I do not answer to her. We care for each other, but I don’t ask her permission to do anything. I am my own man, and I’m also delusional enough to think I’m right about everything. In fact, if I was a benevolent dictator, I think I could eradicate most of the world’s problems very quickly. For instance, in my world, drug dealers would be put to death on the spot.”

Simmons is anti-drugs and says he has never been drunk or high in his life not even smoked a cigarette.

“Murderers would be put to death, too. I’m sick of all this permissive society bullshit! If someone kills somebody, I don’t want to hear how that person’s father molested him or whatever. I want to hear that he’s been shot.

“Death is a wonderful cure for violent lunatics. Please! I don’t want to find out what made you violent; I want to kill you! If a mad dog starts biting people, shoot him, for God’s sake. Don’t waste my time telling me why he’s mean.”

We should perhaps feel grateful that Simmons is too busy to go into politics. Besides playing music, he’s an actor, a publisher, a writer, a TV producer. His projects have included a short-lived men’s mag called Gene Simmons’ Tongue, a cartoon series, a cable TV dating show and the reality shows Rock School and Gene Simmons Family Jewels. He has made guest appearances in Miami Vice, Third Watch, Ugly Betty and Family Guy.

He is also a merchandising tycoon. Visit his website and you can buy Kiss belt buckles, Kiss coffee tables, Kiss baby bibs, even a Kiss rubber duck for your bath.

“Our licensing and merchandising is a complete juggernaut and secretly the envy of every band. I mean, it’s all very well being Radiohead or REM, but we have more imagination. How about 13m Kiss toothbrushes that sing “Rock’n’Roll All Night” inside your mouth when you brush your teeth? People have five senses, and I want Kiss to invade them all. Sure, I want you to come to a Kiss concert and see us and hear us, but then I want you to go home and eat Kiss cereal.

“Ideally, I want the air you breathe to be Kiss air, because then I can charge you for every gulp you take of that air.”

Perhaps the most notorious piece of Kiss merchandising was a garish limited-edition coffin called the Kiss Kasket, so popular it has now sold out.

“Well, I think everything in life should be branded, including your coffin. Even so, I have no desire to be buried in a Kiss Kasket myself. Being under the ground has no appeal.

“I prefer flames. I’m a pyro kinda guy. I’d prefer to go up in smoke and afterwards they can put a tombstone somewhere saying `Gene Simmons: Thank You and Good Night’.”

*Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison, Alice Cooper and many more perform at the two-day Rock2WGTN even over Easter weekend at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

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