|by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith|
Offensive, ear-splitting and rich as hell, KISS is the monster rock act that just won't fade away.
And Gene Simmons--the bass-playing, blood-spitting, fire-breathing, tongue-wagging heart of the band--is the main reason why.
The six-foot-five Simmons is a rock 'n' roll icon who blends kabuki makeup with P.T. Barnum chutzpah. He helped mastermind the band's rise in the '70s and has guided its remarkable comeback today.
Simmons, guitarist Paul Stanley, drummer Peter Criss and guitarist Ace Frehley--the band's original lineup--have just released Psycho Circus (their first album in 17 years) and unleashed a massive, special-effects-laden tour that could run into the next millennium.
As always with KISS, there's more than just music. Detroit Rock City, a movie starring the band and Edward Furlong, is due next year. And, of course, there's a vast array of merchandising and marketing deals to keep the KISS army girded for battle.
Offstage, motormouth Simmons operates as the mouthpiece for the near-fiftysomething rockers. And what a mouthpiece he is! If you're not intimidated by outrageous statements and decidedly un-PC views, read on. If you have delicate sensibilities, however, turn back now.
A massive new tour...a big new album...huge crowds...You must be feeling pretty energized these days.
I'm like that most of the time. I believe in the philosophy that every day above ground is a good day. The idea that anyone wants to talk to me and find out what's on my mind is still astonishing to me. I mean, it's been 80 million records and almost 30 years later, and the public doesn't seem to be fickle with us.
Why is that?
Well, I can't look into the mirror and say, "That's what it's about." I'm not the best-looking guy in the world and I'm not the worst-looking guy in the world--but I will walk into a room, and I will steal your girlfriend. I don't care how good-looking you are. She will walk out with me, without question. And somewhere in there, perhaps, is what it is about.
Tell me about the tour.
We decided to debut the first 3-D live concert event in history. People are used to seeing 3-D in theme park rides and IMAX, but we put millions of dollars into the technology of bringing the 3-D imaging live. It's gi-normous--that's one of my favorite self-coined words, gi-normous...
You mean like giant and enormous combined?
Yes. And besides the 3-D, the gi-normous task of putting on KISS shows involves enough firepower to decimate any small Third World country, enough sound to knock five pounds off any fat girl within a thousand yards of that stage and enough lights to tan any white-skinned fair maiden from northern Canada.
So, the recharged KISS is bigger and badder than ever?
The idea behind KISS has always been to punish you because you've been very bad all year, and it's our job to completely overkill, in lights, sound, effects--everything's over the top.
There are also times on this tour when you're over the top, literally...
We all fly at different times. The drum platform--that's 3,500 pounds--takes off like a lunar module and literally flies into the audience. I fly to the top of the light system 55 feet above the ground and throw up blood over everybody's head underneath me, which is why those particular seats are called "the blood seats." Paul Stanley flies way from the back of the hall. We have the psycho circus--who are lunatics basically--set themselves on fire and do death-defying stunts.
You opened this tour with a live broadcast on Fox on Halloween. Is there more TV in your future?
Well, we did the KISS Millennium episode and Mad TV that night--and now we're basically saying no to all kinds of very cool people, because it's very difficult to get KISS into a television set. It crushes everything down. Everything KISS does is larger than life, and the idea of TV doesn't really work with our agenda. Also, TV just completely spits you out. Once people see you on TV too much, it's over. You could name a million people who were all over TV and then, that was it--like the public saying, "That's enough."
The name Flip Wilson comes to mind. So, always leave 'em wanting.
How extensive is the tour?
Could be as long as two years. And in January we play the Super Bowl, right before the kickoff.
How's everybody getting along?
Great, especially since now everybody's straight. The original lineup broke up in the '70s because two of the members were not healthy. We have the same point of view as the Olympics--if we catch anything in your bloodstream, you're outta here.
When did you make the no-drugs dictum?
Dictum? Can you write that? It sounds like a question: Dictum? Sure I do!
Um, okay. You've always avoided drugs, personally, right?
I decided when I was a kid that smoking, drinking, getting high were just never going to be a part of my life. I've never been drunk, never gotten high except in the dentist's chair. And smoking, you know--you say, "Mind if I smoke?" I say, "Mind if I fart?" I don't get any of it. I like the taste of food and the smell of women--or, the smell of food and the taste of women, depending on your choice. Anything that dulls my senses is my enemy. And all those things dull your senses.
Let's talk about your movie, Detroit Rock City. Most of it focuses on kids trying to get to a KISS concert in the '70s, right?
It's very much a story about KISS fans, because the reality is, we wanted to make sure the first KISS movie is more about the fans, because without them we wouldn't be here. One of them loses his virginity in a confessional, that's the kind of movie it is. It will endear us to the Bible Belt.
And don't you have something in the works with Playboy?
In February, we're on the cover, with a fold-out. It's going to be "The Girls of KISS." It's about all the girls who lift and separate 'em and point 'em in my general direction--thank you, Jesus.
KISS has been accused of taking the low road, being cheesy, whatever you want to call it...
Whether somebody gets it or not, or thinks we're great musicians or not, or likes our songs or not--it doesn't matter. We're gonna win. It's like food critics who talk about how wonderful caviar is, while the rest of us want hamburgers. Give me a Whopper.
You must have gone through times where you thought, I want to do something else.
I have done something else. I used to have a record company. I used to manage other artists--among them, Liza Minnelli. I've acted in movies. The first one was Michael Crichton's Runaway. I've done five or six of those. Yet, to get up on the stage--well, everything pales before KISS.
The band's new album got off to a fast start.
Psycho Circus debuted at number one around the world. It came in at two or three in America. But we don't really pay attention to the weekly charts. To me, it's like a marathon. When the gun goes off, and you look at the person who's ahead in the race, it doesn't really mean anything. The champion is the one who crosses the finish line first, and it's usually not the guy who's ahead at the beginning of the race. So, for us, it's always the long-range view. There's always one band who does better than us, for a short period of time--New Kids on the Block, Duran Duran, a million bands. But we are like cockroaches. We will outlive you all. Our constituency is in the millions.
Don't you get tired of it sometimes?
I may not feel like playing "Rock 'n' Roll All Night" for the millionth time, but that's beside the point. I work for you. The fans are the bosses, we're the employees.
You must have fans by now who are children of fans.
Yes, and new generations of kids, between the dolls and the comic books and all the toys we've got. We even have KISS-my-ass toilet paper.
Of course you do.
I'm very serious. We have condoms. We have everything for all ages. And I love all of it. I love being in KISS, because if I was in a respectable band, I couldn't have all the toys.
You've been with a lot of gorgeous women--Cher, Diana Ross--and you have a long relationship with former Playmate Shannon Tweed, with whom you have two children. But you say you'll never get married.
You gotta be nuts to be in a committed relationship. You wanna be free--[sings] 'cause there's too many fish in the sea-eee. I mean, you women try to impress us with smells, sights and colors. You prance around and you wiggle, and what are we supposed to do--ignore you? The least I can do is make nice, because what an insult if I don't, when you work so hard to be attractive. It's like a big meal being put before you. Looks good, smells good--dammit, I think I'm gonna eat some of that!
Finally, we just have to ask--how long is your tongue?
Long enough to make you forget any man you've ever known. You will forget your name. You will become religious. You will say, "Oh, my God." And I will say, "I could be." It's also got a spin and dry cycle. Available for bar mitzvahs, weddings, you name it.