Kissing Stardom

For Detroit Rock City, a movie describing the pains four teenage boys will go through just to attend a KISS concert in the '70s, Gene Simmons performs as well as becomes a first-time producer. It's all a part of his master plan to control the way KISS is portrayed. But to listen to the power of his beliefs is a stark contrast to his onstage persona. Simmons eschews religion and drugs, details the importance of the power of choice, hates everybody equally and urges more bands to get hooked on drugs.'s Andy Jones: How did you get involved in Detroit Rock City, besides the obvious connection?

Gene Simmons: Well, it's either that or working for a living. KISS is always accused of being manipulative in its intent, as opposed to just going out there and doing whatever it feels. And I will grant you that that is exactly what we are. We actually sit around thinking, "How can we do this better? How can we make this bigger? How can we do a better show?" But it doesn't end there, because KISS is -- should be -- all things to all people. I'd like to think that religion doesn't have one on us and I prefer to have KISStianity as a matter of fact. Has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

What's your function in KISStianity?

I would be god.

Coming from a nice Jewish background?

Why should the world worship that other guy? He's Jewish, too. What's he got? So, in terms of manipulation, never leave home without it. (Holds up a KISS Visa card.)

In time for the movie?

No, that came out about six months ago. So far, the most exciting thing about it is that every single time one of the people who buys it, uses it, I get pennies from heaven. Isn't that the best? So, if you had a choice about being in a band, I mean, if it's just about music and getting up there and strumming your guitar, I'm snoring. You know, to me, KISS is all things because almost anything I can imagine doing, KISS is a perfect vehicle for it. For instance, I wanted to do a comic book, so -- Presto! -- we're superheroes. That was in the '70s. We fought Captain America, Spiderman, all those guys. And we flew through the air -- spit fire -- did all that. And then in the new versions of the comic books that I set up with Todd McFarlane's Image Comics, KISS Psycho Circus Comics, was sort of an elemental force -- earth, wind, fire, water kind of forces. And we sort of appear. We're magic. We can do that, too. Onstage, we're a rock 'n' roll band. That's fine. On any toy, on credit cards, you don't see guitars on the Visa card -- the KISS Visa card -- we're a Visa card. We can be anything we want to be and other bands can't.

What do you think you represent to people now? People who didn't grow up with you guys?

[I] don't care. Never got into that. And I'll tell you why. Because there's such a thing as being subjected to and believing your own press and becoming that much more delusional. I mean, I have enough. I look in the mirror and I actually think I'm better looking than I am. I'm much bigger than I really am. You know, in my mind. I'm it. It helps when you get up onstage, because there are a lot of artists who get up on stage who throw up, get jitters. I can't wait to get out there, because that's my solace.

When I get up on stage, I'm god, I am the king, because I can burp, fart, do anything you want and they go, "Yeah." Offstage, you got a nose hair sticking out of there, and it's that sort of subatomic gaze that everybody looks at you offstage with, that makes you aware that this is serious. When it's onstage, there's the comfort of having... it might as well be your mother's arms around you. Anything you do is fine. It's perfect. And so instead of lying down on a psychiatrist's couch, I can be up on stage and get paid for it. Do the show, and then go back to the hotel and do as many encores as I think I can physically bear.

Ace Frehley said earlier this year that he was going to quit on New Year's Eve, after the gig.

Somebody else will take his place.

That's what's going to happen?

No. There's always been Ace, from Day One. A loose cannon. And that's part of what makes him great -- a unique personality. Ace was the same guy who in the early '80s, wanted to have his own solo career. And we said, "Have your own solo career. Don't leave the band." "No, no, I've got to find happiness. I'm leaving the band." So, he left the band; had a solo career. See ya at bankruptcy court. And then later on, came back to the band. [He] said, "I'm straight, I'm ready to go back to work." And every once in a while, the old demons sort of raise their heads. But Ace never, ever does anything malicious to anybody else. I'll have to say that he's a pure soul and I'm the same guy who said during the off years, when we weren't talking to each other, that he was a knucklehead. Anybody who gets high or drinks or smokes is an idiot. Whether it's your mom, dad, or somebody you never met. If you decide to smoke, "Oh, but I can't stop," you're a moron. Because it says so right there, you, jackass, you are going to die. Right there on the side. And so style or anything else, notwithstanding, you're a moron. And I said that to him. If you can't love yourself enough to control yourself, how can we, the band, expect you to love us and respect us? And, of course, how can the fans expect you to give anything? It really starts with yourself.

In the movie kids smoke pot. Are you worried about the message it might send?

No. I prefer to lead my own lifestyle, practice what I preach. Preachers tell us, "Don't do this, don't do that," and then molest our children in the basement....

You taught kids once.

Sixth grade.

KISS seems like an odd path to end up on.

No. Not really. It's the way women are with and without makeup. I mean, when you're without your makeup, you feel a certain way. We all have our sort of Emperor's clothes moments where we think, "Gee, without this other thing, I can't get by." But when you put your makeup on, all of a sudden, you have more power and you can look somebody right in the face. Paint has always been a powerful weapon, used by shamans -- first by men, incidentally. Women were not allowed to wear makeup until Cleopatra because it was a power and men used it for going to war, for theatrical displays, for religious rites and so on. And all these magic people who had touch with either spirits, ghosts, gods, you name it, all put on makeup.

Why did the blood and fire become part of the act?

It's been said before, better than I -- that the whole world's a stage. And so, when we get up there, it's our job to make a complete spectacle out of ourselves. What it all means is sort of beside the point. I mean, you can be looking at a Fourth of July fireworks display and everybody can look up and say, "Wow! Look at that." One person, of course, taking notes will say, "Yes. But what does it all mean?" We could sort of be academic about it but that's like contemplating your navel. It's never going to go anywhere.

Director Adam Rifkin has said a lot of the memorabilia for the movie came from your personal collection.

All of it. I collect everything.


I'm delusional. I am my own biggest fan. I'm sure if I lay down on somebody's couch at a high price -- it sounds like the boudoir all of a sudden, but I'm thinking about a shrink -- they could tell me that it means this, it means that. I was an only child, still am. So, I'm sure a lot of it has to do with wanting attention and sort of getting everything you ever dreamed of. I've always been aware [of history]. As a matter of fact, my mother has, too. She's got every report card, every piece of paper, any test I've ever taken, any toilet paper I've ever wiped with. It's all still there.

You have two children.

Two children that I know of, [they're] 10 and 7. One of each.

I suspect you don't put too many limits on what they see or hear.

You are responsible for yourself. The world is out there, closing your eyes and ears to things is not going to work. I'm not going to push them to see horrific murders and so on, but I'm more concerned about [real] violence than about imaginary sort of visual or auditory imagery.

Music and movies have been blamed for kids going bad.

I think religion is much more to blame. I'm clearly aware that anything, any political religious system that espouses a difference between people -- we're the right ones; they're the wrong ones -- immediately brings something to mind, whether it's neighborhoods living in little clannish areas where people start to look and act the same way or whether it's a religious order that says we're the right way; they're the wrong way. It's still the might-is-right principle. Whereas Star Wars and Marilyn Manson and anything else is freeing, because you don't think of prototypes or types of people. It's just sort of imagination. It's no more, no less valued than the Brothers Grimm.

Could KISS have happened in the '90s?

I would have welcomed the opportunity to come out in the '90s to show all the little boys how the big boys do it. 'Cause all these pizza delivery guys running around on stage with guitars thinking that they can charge full price for what they do by jumping up and down. I mean, looking like a garage band is the height of insult -- not necessarily musically, I grant you. A lot of the music is very valid and powerful stuff. But I'm of the opinion that when you pay full price for a concert ticket, you want to use your eyes as well. That doesn't mean you have to spit fire and fly through the air -- which I do at shows -- but, I think the audience deserves more. And if you're going to go out there and do sort of a garage band show, charge garage band prices. That's fair.

But what are you, religiously?

I was born Jewish. I suppose whether I define myself as a Jew or not is beside the point because the world does. It's like whether or not you define yourself as black or not. It's not the point. You are black. I am Jewish. And you are whatever you are. The difference, though, is that the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority has a choice, there's a lot of leeway. The minorities have less of a choice of how they define themselves. The powers that be just say, you're that, that's all there is. In fact, if you have one-sixteenth or whatever it is... so I'm a Jew because I'm a Jew. That's what society tells me, because you're an accident of birth. Where you're born, who you are and what you are is an accident of birth. And I contend that that's still not who you are. There are males who are born male, who feel like females and vice versa. And there are racist families who have children who don't feel that way. And I don't believe that just because you come out of your mother's womb that you are then, of course, simply a carbon copy of that. I don't espouse that philosophy. I believe that we are all complete individuals.

To get back to your acting a bit...

I'm acting right now.

I know. Are you thinking of doing some more film work?

Yeah. I have a short moment. This summer I'll be acting in a movie called, Wish You Were Dead with Cary Elwes and other people. I play an Italian hairdresser.

How much of a role did you have in the movie?

Unfortunately, it's pretty much my ball, my court, so I sort of set the rules. And I have the most to lose. And so does KISS, because if the sense of it and the vibe of it is wrong, it hurts KISS. And like Disney, I try and protect all things KISS. So, it was very important that the feeling of the movie was that KISS were sort of heroic, sort of figures, as opposed to heroin-induced losers. Sid & Nancy would not be a movie I would want to make about KISS, because it tears down the ideal of The Sex Pistols and makes you think, "What a bunch of losers."

Would you ever do a more documentary-based history of the band?

That's being planned right now.

Would you play yourselves?

Probably not. Not today.

Who would you want to play you in the movie?

Oh, Tom Cruise.

On a realistic level.

On a realistic level? Bette Midler as Gene Simmons.

Did you like Velvet Goldmine?

No. I'm always aware that these people are actors. At the very least I'd say, '"What a good job of acting." But I'm always aware they're not a band. Bands don't walk, talk, smell or look like that. They're closer to hobos. What I mean by that is that there's a sense of a kind of aimlessness -- there's a lost quality. When you see Willie Nelson talking, you know that the road is forever. So, when I see these guys, they seem very grounded, secure in themselves and so on. I don't know if you've ever seen interviews with nomads or gypsies, it's an entirely different sense of self. You know, you have a connection to a place. Bands don't have a connection to a place. So, they usually don't carry watches, for one thing. If you see a guy on the road, and he's looking at his watch... What are you looking at your watch for? You don't know what day it is, you don't know what time it is. You don't know where you are and you don't know where you're going.

Is that why so many bands get into drugs?

I love that bands get into drugs. I wish every band was on heroin. I want them all to die and get out of my way. Get out of my way. I want more. I love that Jerry Garcia was on heroin and died; it's great. Kurt Cobain wants to shoot himself in the head, God bless. Get the f--k out of my way. And I'll tell you why. I have no sympathy for anybody who is privileged and decides to off themselves. That's not tragic. That's a choice. You have a choice. If you are being tortured someplace or you get run over by a car, that's tragic, because you don't have a choice in life. If you are a privileged person, you're rich, usually white, which means that you have the advantages of the white power structure... How come it's always white guys on top of skyscrapers, "The world is terrible. I've got two cars. I'm going to kill myself?" You never see a black guy on top of a ghetto neighborhood saying, "It's a racist world, I'm going to kill myself." You never see that. How come? And it's just merely an observation. I'm not condemning anybody. I hate everybody equally, incidentally.

Why did you choose to change your name?

That's not my name. I want choices. We're all given religions, names, nationalities, stuff.... When you get to choose, I mean, the few things you get to choose are your lip color and your hair color and how high your shoes are going to be. That's not enough for me. I want to choose my name, where I live, who I socialize with. I want to have my own life, my own identity. So, this idea that women give up their last names and become somebody else's last name or that you go through life with your names -- that's not yours. Before you were even born, "What do you think we should call him? Hiram. Let's call him Hiram." And this poor guy has to go defend himself for the rest of his life because his name's Hiram. Now I'm going to get in trouble with Hirams.