Kiss ... and makeup
One of the world’s great rock overlords talks with Allison Stewart about meeting presidents, vomiting blood and life as a tabloid staple.
Gene Simmons is the cofrontman of fabled, fire-breathing rock overlords Kiss, and does a thriving side business as an entrepreneur.
Kiss made rock merchandising an art form, and Simmons (born Chaim Witz in Israel 68 years ago) is its finest brand extension. He has authored books, starred in a reality show, made it to week three of The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008, endorsed Mitt Romney and launched his own cola. He will patiently, eloquently answer any question, and is unfailingly serious, even when he’s probably kidding.
He has an easy command of Kiss-related statistics, from the number of Gene Simmons Family Jewels episodes that have aired (156) to the number of Kissaffiliated Rock & Brews restaurants set to open across the US (15).
‘‘Our reach is far and wide,’’ says Simmons, whose new book, On Power, arrives in November.
Your new book is partly a meditation on power, and partly a self-help book.
The book grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you and says, ‘‘OK, are you serious about life? Do you want to reach for the stars? Here’s some things you can do to make more money, and become more powerful’’.
What do you make of President Trump, how he uses power? Is he wielding it effectively?
Politically, you can make a good argument that it’s not the way people are used to politicians acting. I know President Trump well enough, I suppose. I’ve certainly met President Clinton and President Bush, and everyone’s different when they get in there.
Was running for president something you would have been interested in, if you’d been born here?
Democracy is very messy, although it’s the best system we have, so I wouldn’t be interested in that. I like the fact that the president is accepting no salary, he’s doing it for one dollar. I like that. I think it should be public service. ... I like captains of industry becoming politicians. I don’t recall your question, but I like my answer.
You strike me as being very practical and unsentimental, which are great qualities for a businessman, but not so much for an artist. Do those qualities come into conflict in your mind, ever?
How did you ever think anyone who plays electric guitar is an artist? They can’t even read or write music.
You don’t think of yourself as an artist?
No. An artist is somebody who went to school, who learned music theory, can read and write music, like classical musicians or jazz musicians. None of us – Madonna, I don’t care who you’re talking about – none of us learned to read and write music, we just sort of did it. It’s pretty much on the same level as cavemen who came out of the caves and started to beat on the drums, and howl at the moon.
I think of somebody like Bruce Springsteen as an artist. I don’t know if he can read music.
Yeah, but you’re buying into the culture. I don’t think he’d stand up and say, ‘I’m an artist’. And I’ve met Bruce. Remember, he wears torn jeans, because he wants to connect to the common man. We both know he can buy a fleet of Rolls Royces. ... Everybody puts on affectations, including myself. I wear shades in the dark, because the sun never sets on Planet Cool, does it? Are they prescription? Certainly not. You used to be in the tabloids without your makeup, and you always looked so unhappy to be seen. Could you walk around and have a normal life, before you unmasked yourself?
As soon as Kiss started, we had to hide our faces, because there was a reward: What did they look like without the makeup? So when I was going out with Cher and Diana Ross, we had to sneak around and cover our faces. Then,
‘ Everybody puts on affectations, including myself.’ GENE SIMMONS
eventually, you grow up and you don’t care.
Was that a fun time in the band’s history?
I have to say in all honesty, every day is fun. I’ve never had a bad day in my life. When you’re rich and famous and you have the life of Riley – I would understand if very poor people living in squalor or in the Third World are depressed and feel bad and grim. I get it. But when you’re rich and famous, unless you have a chemical imbalance, it’s all nonsense. It’s all an attentiongetting device.
Kiss does everything from condoms to caskets. Do you talk to a lot of people who bury loved ones in Kiss caskets, or is that a loss leader?
Well, it happens once in your life, right, but the marketplace is pretty large. There are bars that get them because they’re moisture-proof, and they use them for coolers.
Does performing in makeup and costumes give you more longevity? You could go out there at 80.
It’s fair to say Kiss is the hardest-working band in show business. Even just the weight of the stuff we carry around. We’re not going to do it anywhere as long as the Stones or McCartney, because we can’t. I mean, we don’t step onstage in jeans and a T-shirt, because that you can do into your late 70s. I’m on 7-inch platform heels, I spit fire and fly through the air. It’s exhausting.
Have you ever come close to packing it in – you, personally?
No. Why would you, when you’re having so much fun? I’ve never done drugs or alcohol, never smoked cigarettes, so my soul is intact.
When you would vomit blood, what was in it? Was it a squib?
There was eggs, yoghurt, rotten milk, food colouring. I mean, it was putrid, it smelled bad. If it looked like I was throwing up, sometimes I did.
So you would run to the side of the stage and put it into your mouth, then spit it out?
There would be a blackout, and someone would run onstage and put it in my mouth.
Whatever they were paying you, it wasn’t enough.
I like you. I like the way you put that. – TNS
Gene Simmons says every day is fun and he’s never had a bad day in his life.