Gene Simmons is obnoxious,
annoying, sexist, racist, homophobic and one of rock's most notorious
cartoon characters. However, like Howard Stern, he is also hugely popular
and occasionally very entertaining.
I spoke with the tongue-wagging Kiss bassist as his costumed band (once
again minus guitarist Ace Frehley) made its way across the U.S. opening for
Aerosmith as part of a tour that stops at the Tweeter Center tonight.
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During the course of our conversation, Simmons paused to put two female
"friends" on the line, told several offensive and very un-P.C. jokes that
can't be reprinted in the Sun-Times, and of course plugged his latest
endeavors, from his new book, Sex Money Kiss (Simmons Books/New
Millennium), to Kiss' latest album, "Symphony: Alive IV" (Kiss
Q. You had to reschedule your Chicago show because of the big
blackout a few weeks ago. What happened in Detroit?
A. Well, of all days, we had a stadium full of people -- 50,000 or
something like that -- waiting to get royally beaten and kicked in the
teeth. And not only does the North East decide to go on a power blackout,
but Detroit gets hits the worst.
Q. You've always had a special relationship with "Detroit Rock
City." What's so great about the Motor City?
A. If you study American history, geography dictates an awful lot.
Port cities tend to be influenced much more by what comes from overseas. For
instance, Liverpool, because it was a port city, got the blues records right
away, and it spawned an entire sound -- I think you're talking about 40 or
50 bands that hit the charts out of one small place. You've got New York and
L.A., which have always been much more media towns, because they're port
cities. Detroit is meat and potatoes. Think about it: no fashion, no
politics, the U.N. is not there. What you do have is cars, and politically
they've always been a little right of center, and then you've got Motown.
The black underclass got a chance to rise, and the blue-collar working man
got a chance to get a job. Detroit has never been swayed either way by
miniskirts or discotheques or disco, for that matter. It was never about
fashion; it was always about if they recognize a quality, a value, then they
take it in their hearts, and it's forever.
Hold on one second -- I want you to say hello to someone.
Female voice No. 1: Hello.
Q. Um, hi. Are you having a fun morning with Gene?
A. Yeah. We're about to get breakfast. He feeds us well. Here,
hold on for Holly.
Female voice No. 2: Hi. We're gonna get French toast and fruit.
And a whole pot of coffee.
Q. Um, good for you. Enjoy. Can I talk to Gene again?
A. I’m back. I really love girls, women. It’s just a lot easier
than waking up with somebody going [affects a Brooklyn accent], “Yo, how ya
Q. I hear you. Better than the road manager banging on the door.
A. Or having him sleep in your bed! [Simmons tells two off-color
gay jokes that can’t be reprinted in the newspaper.]
Q. You realize, Gene, that you had an alternate career in the
A. Oh, I love going to comedy clubs! I love laughing. Because when
you really think about it, when you hear a joke that rings true, you laugh
to your core.
Q. You’re a regular Shecky Greene. Was it difficult when you were
writing your book?
A. Which book?
Q. The one that just came out, Sex Money Kiss, which followed Kiss
and Make-Up. Was it difficult to remember and collect all of the stories
through the years and put them down on paper?
A. You mean my second New York Times best seller? No. I’ll tell
you what, I really am no different than Santa Claus: I always make a list, I
always check it twice, I always find out who’s naughty and nice. [Sings:]
“Santa Claus is coming to town.”
I guess I’m an oxymoron, which means I’m not a dumb cow. Ox, cow, get it?
These are semantics, but I’m not anti-semantic. I really won’t give myself
the opportunity to take the lazy way out, because I refuse to lose. It’s
just a terrible feeling, and so I prefer to make lists about everything. I
am one of those guys who does not go into a supermarket without a list,
because jackass ears grow out of you and you start going [brays like a
donkey]. “You know what? I forgot the milk.” That doesn’t happen if you have
Q. It’s just that I’ve interviewed so many rock legends from your
generation who use that cliche, “If you can remember the ’60s or the ’70s,
you weren’t really there.”
A.More so now than ever, rock ’n’ roll and rap even more are
populated by morons. Let’s call it what it is. The truth is that in rock ’n’
roll, if somebody didn’t have a guitar hanging around their neck, he might
be asking you if you want fries with that. [Simmons proceeds to make a joke
stereotyping rappers that can’t be reprinted in the newspaper.]
I have to say this in the interview: Talking about Simmons Books or
Simmons Records or Gene Simmons’ tongue or a horde of other Gene Simmons
endeavors wouldn’t do what’s happening now justice. The most exciting thing
now is Kiss and Aerosmith. We’ve soft-pedaled it; there hasn’t been any
major press conference, and we haven’t even taken a picture together. But we
don’t want to hide this amazing idea: Two bands, perhaps the only two bands
that have survived for 30 years and are the preeminent American bands of
their time. Nobody does Aerosmith better than Aerosmith, and there isn’t
another American band in all of musical history that has more gold records
than Kiss, which is astonishing. In the vernacular, in the patois of the
street, it blows me away.
Q. I’ve seen some of the reviews, and the consensus seems to be
that Kiss is blowing Aerosmith away every night.
A. You know, that’s not what it’s about. What it’s really about is
that both bands get up there and love being up there together. It’s a mutual
admiration society. This is not the Holyfield-Tyson fight, nobody’s biting
body parts off. In fact, if anything, backstage before we go on, the ’smiths
come out and we start tossing jokes, and when there’s time, we lunch and
Q. But you haven’t played together yet onstage.
A. No, not yet. And I have to say that neither Steven [Tyler] nor
I have [cuckolded] each other. Yet.
Q. There’s still time.
A. Yes. [Laughs] He’s a powerful and attractive man!
But it’s a monumental event, and slowly, in the near future, we’re going
to get up there together. And in case you haven’t noticed, this tour, by
industry accounts, is on its way to becoming the No. 1 or No. 2 tour of the
Q. It’s one of the only success stories of a dire summer in the
A. You can make an assessment of an industry that’s changed
because it has to change. And whether that’s good or not, and it’s because
of ticket pricing and parking or I forgot to tie my shoelaces — there’s
always an excuse — at the end of the day, if you want to go see somebody,
you will. People don’t like going to stadiums by and large, but people will
go to see Bruce [Springsteen] in a stadium. Aside from Bruce and one or two
others, the rest of the concerts are dying for a very important reason.
Can you guess what it is? People don’t want to go! That’s it. It’s not,
“It’s rainy and the power black-outs and Iraq and this and that.” They don’t
want to go, and the reason people are coming out for us is they want to go.
They’re sick and tired of seeing bands who are looking at their shoes and
saying, “Here’s the second song from our new record.” They could give a
[crap]. They’re paying enormous prices, and god damn it, they want value —
bang for the buck. And they’re right.
Q. In many ways, it seems like the early ’70s again, when bands
with imagination are rewriting the rules. For example, you’ve started your
own record company rather than going with one of the major labels. And going
out on tour with Aerosmith, you’re able to set the terms rather than being
A. Correct. Good assessment. If you have enough firepower, you can
basically dictate the terms, that’s true. Which brings me to the Kiss
Symphony, “Alive IV,” the debut release on Kiss Records.
Q. Generally when a band records its old songs with an orchestra
it’s seen as a bid for high-art affirmation: “Listen, we write real songs,
we can add cellos!”
A. No, no. What Kiss did is we did it without a net, one time
only, in a stadium packed with Kiss crazies, in Australia much less, with
the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which by all accounts is one of the top
symphonies in the world.
Q. There has always been this Wagnerian quality in your music.
A. We did it of course preposterously, and that’s a big word, like
“gymnasium.” We made sure that all 70 members of the symphony were in full
Kiss makeup, and we added a 20-piece Australian children’s choir and stuck
them in Kiss war paint as well. If you would have come in unannounced from
someplace, you may have thought you’d landed on another planet packed with
Q. You must have used an awful lot of grease paint that night.
A. The album, as far as I’m concerned, should have been called,
“The Roar of the Crowd, The Smell of the Grease Paint.” And you know what?
It was a glorious time, and the magnitude and the scale of it was beyond
anything I’ve seen. There was more firepower on that stage than most third
world countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few new people who are going
to populate the earth were conceived that night. A lot of activity was going
But speaking of the Kiss Symphony, Kiss is not all that far off from
symphonic music. Ironically, Beethoven is the most oft-used reference point
to rock ’n’ roll and symphony music; “Roll over Beethoven and tell
Tchaikovsky the news.” Thank you, Chuck Berry. Let’s take a look at
Beethoven: Well, he was deaf, and so are a lot of rock musicians. He played
something called “long-hair music,” because he always had unruly long hair.
If you study music history, the royalty of Europe would gather in the spring
and summer and have big feasts in the middle of the day; that’s where brunch
Q. Just like the girls are ordering right now.
A. Yes! God, they sure are pretty; especially when they’re
kissing. Beethoven would be told like all the other classical writers,
“Write this or write that.” But he noticed that after a meal, the royals
would gather on the lawn, and on a nice warm comfortable day, the Mozart
music — the chamber music — would put them to sleep. He didn’t like that. So
with “The War [sic] of 1812 Overture,” he brought in cannon. [A factual
note: The “1812 Overture” was written by Tchaikovsky, not Beethoven.] He
wanted to wake them the [heck] up. He brought in horse races, a military
brigade — he made a complete spectacle out of himself, and he was roundly
trounced by the other classical musicians saying, “This is not music! You
don’t put military hardware into the middle of songs.” But why not?
Q. Sounds like a familiar criticism.
A. Criticism, schmiticism. You look at the Beatles and Elvis and
the number of gold records we’ve earned, and we’re doing just fine, thank
you. My mother thanks you for all her houses, and if that’s criticism, I’d
like some more, please!