In an nameless constructing someplace in North Hollywood, a handful of roadies stride about tuning guitars in entrance of an elaborate drum package bearing the legendary emblem: ‘KISS’. The devices fall silent in unison to announce the doorway of the band’s hulking 6ft 2in bassist Gene Simmons. The 72-year-old wears leather-based trousers, an embroidered denim shirt, darkish sun shades and a black baseball cap illustrated with a cartoon greenback bag. His most recognisable appendage, that well-known seven-inch reptilian tongue, is hidden fully behind a sq. of black cotton. Forget Frank Sinatra with a chilly: Gene Simmons is carrying a face masks.
Simmons is taking pandemic precautions severely, and with good purpose. Within per week of our assembly, Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, the band’s solely different unique member, will take a look at optimistic for Covid, and shortly afterwards Simmons will too. At least 4 stops on their farewell End of the Road tour should be postponed. Today, Simmons rejects a small again room because the venue for our interview on the grounds that we’ll be in too shut quarters. Instead we sit socially distanced proper in the midst of the rehearsal area, which brings its personal issues. We’ve barely began speaking when Simmons hears a murmur from the roadies now gathered in a far nook. “So you guys are going to talk while we’re doing an interview?” huffs Simmons earlier than including, to nobody specifically: “Can you get him out of the room, please?”
He turns again to me, muttering: “He knows I know where he lives.”
This kind of performative assholery is a part of the persona Simmons has cultivated within the nearly 5 many years he’s spent because the fire-breathing demon of Kiss, half rock star and half pantomime villain. He appears to consider it’s required of him. A couple of minutes later, one of many numerous digital units within the room makes the error of letting out an audible bleep. “That’s not irritating at all, that sound!” barks Simmons instantly, earlier than including to me, sotto voce: “See what I’m doing there? I’m torturing everybody. It’s my job.”
We’re right here to speak about Simmons’s different new job. Never content material with merely taking part in in considered one of America’s most profitable rock teams (Kiss have extra US gold information than some other band in historical past), Simmons is a serial entrepreneur who based a restaurant chain (Rock & Brews) and spearheaded the drive to licence greater than 5,000 items of Kiss-branded merchandise, together with motorbikes, pinball machines and even a brightly airbrushed coffin generally known as the Kiss Kasket. Now he’s introduced the primary ever exhibition of his personal art work, a gallery present in Las Vegas starting from sketches and drawings to bigger work, and and not using a protruding tongue in sight.
Are we severely to consider that beneath the boorish exterior, a delicate artist has been lurking this entire time? Simmons demurs. “No, I never claimed to be anything,” he says. “There are many, many more deserving people, but I do have the Midas touch. I’m so grateful that anybody throws accolades in my general direction.” His tone turns surprisingly combative. “Now, these are big words, like ‘gymnasium’. I don’t know if you’re following?”
I realise it’s now my flip to be tortured as Simmons slides into an absurd parody of a British accent. “’Ere I am working my fingers to the bone,” he makes an attempt, like a deflating Cockney. “It’s a bit of Dick Van Dyke, you know what I mean?” I inform him he’s misplaced me, and ask if he thinks that’s what my accent feels like. “You don’t have an accent – it’s your language,” he shoots again, nonsensically, nevertheless it’s sufficient to nudge his ideas again in the direction of his potted historical past as an artist. “I’m an only child to my mother,” he continues. “And I’ve had a lot of time to myself. I doodled all my life. I couldn’t keep my hands still.”
Gene Simmons reveals off his art work
Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, on 25 August 1949. His father, Ferenc Witz, deserted the household whereas he was nonetheless younger. His mom, Flóra Klein, was a Holocaust survivor who introduced her eight-year-old son along with her when she immigrated to New York in 1957. Simmons didn’t communicate English, so he taught himself utilizing comedian books and American tv. By the time he was an adolescent, he’d had a whole lot of illustrations revealed in science fiction and comedian fanzines below the identify Gene Klein. He takes out his cellphone to point out me one thing he drew when he was 14 or 15, the duvet artwork for a fanzine referred to as Fantasy News displaying the pinnacle of a T-rex erupting from some kind of lake. “Out of the wa-er,” suggests Simmons, again in his excruciating British accent.
Simmons left his ambitions as an illustrator behind when Kiss bought getting into 1973, however says he returned to the artform final yr to maintain him occupied after the pandemic derailed the band’s tour plans. He pulled many years’ value of his artwork out of storage, and determined to try larger-scale work for the primary time. “We all have those ‘What if?’ moments,” he says. “Mine was: ‘I’ve never painted. What if I get canvases and paint and see what happens?’ I was trying to stay safe with our family during the sad and tragic pandemic, where almost 700,000 Americans lost their lives, and many more worldwide. People think it was just a pain in the ass, but no, people died. There are still tens of millions of people who are in denial, not just the Egyptians.” He pauses to verify I’ve caught his dad-joke witticism. “‘In the Nile,’” he repeats, slowly. “You see what I did there?”
As a painter, Simmons says he attracts inspiration from Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, with whom he spent a day within the studio within the late Seventies. They had been launched at Warhol’s Studio 54 by Simmons’s then-partner, Cher, whom he dated earlier than beginning a relationship with considered one of her pals, Diana Ross. “Extraordinary ladies!” says Simmons. “You should be so lucky that they give you the time of day, much less anything else. These ladies clawed their way through a man’s world. Besides the talent and the beauty and everything else, they were self-made women and they were extraordinary.”
As for Warhol himself, Simmons remembers the artist as being “always curious, and the shyest person I’ve ever met”. He believes it was this innate inquisitiveness that made Warhol nice. “He was interested in people,” says Simmons. “You didn’t have to be anybody. He would ask everyone questions. His art, untrained though it was, came from that. When I found myself in the studio watching Andy work, it was not what I expected. He was more like a movie director. He’d tell the guy with the red stuff, ‘Put a little red over here.’ He saw it all in his mind, and his art was his choice. That was a thing I put in the back of my mind: ‘Oh, I’ve seen greatness at work, but greatness that he created.’”
By the time Simmons was hanging out at Studio 54 and courting musical icons, Kiss had loved probably the most curious rises to fame that any band has ever managed to tug off. Between 1974 and 1975, Kiss launched three albums (Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill) which constructed a cult following (the self-proclaimed “Kiss Army”) however failed to hassle the charts or, crucially, make any cash. Their fourth document, a reside album titled Alive!, launched in September 1975, was thought of a final ditch roll of the cube for the band and it paid off spectacularly. The album captured the sheer thrill of their spectacle-heavy reside present and went platinum 4 instances over, giving the band their first prime 40 hit with the reside model of earlier single “Rock and Roll All Nite”.
For Simmons, this was when the remainder of the world lastly caught up together with his personal stratospheric opinion of himself. His iron-clad perception in his specialness got here, he says, not from his musicianship or his stage presence however from his early experiences together with his dad and mom. “I understand that I have a big ego, and it has a lot to do with being abandoned by my father,” he says. “We were. It’s not unique. Men have a shameful history of just picking up and walking out of their families. My mother worked all the time, six days a week. She was my moral compass. From her point of view, to think of humanity in any way positively, after being in a German concentration camp at age 14? You have to be a superior human being. I would not think highly of humanity in that situation, the way my mother did. She used to tell me: ‘You’re going to do great things.’ You’re starting to smile because you see a joke coming, but my mother doesn’t lie to me. She said I was going to be great, and I am f***ing great.”
Simmons’s devotion to his late mom, who died in 2018 on the age of 93, is admirable – nevertheless it’s laborious to not surprise if she authorized of all of the conditions his ego landed him in. In 2017, Simmons was banned for all times from conservative speak present Fox & Friends for being too obnoxious, which certainly takes some doing. (It was mentioned he burst uninvited right into a employees assembly, unbuttoning his shirt and telling jokes, which doesn’t precisely sound out of character.) Before that, he had been concerned in a infamous NPR interview in 2002, throughout which he informed host Terry Gross, in response to a query in regards to the studded codpiece he wears onstage, that: “If you want to welcome me with open arms, I’m afraid you’re also going to have to welcome me with open legs.”
Simmons stays wholly unapologetic. “I was totally on point, because you should be able to get as good as you give,” he argues, nonetheless capable of get himself labored up over perceived slights from Gross. “She said: ‘Tell me about the Kiss.’ I said: ‘Tell you about the Kiss’? Tell me about the NPR. It sounds like a communicable disease.’ She goes: ‘Well, you can’t say that.’ I can say whatever I want! When you draw first blood, you can’t complain that the person sitting there doesn’t just sit idly by and not cast a stone. She was judge and jury. Not gonna work.”
In the current career-spanning documentary Biography: KISStory, Simmons manages somewhat extra self reflection. “I succumbed to fame,” he says within the movie. “Not with chemicals and alcohol, but with ego… It’s easy to look at someone who’s suffering with alcohol or drugs and say: ‘Hey, you got a problem, buddy.’ Mine was more hidden. Being full of myself, that’s what it was.”
Sadly there’s nonetheless no rehab facility for being too stuffed with your self, however Simmons leaps on the alternative to debate his lifelong sobriety. “I’ve never taken any drugs. Not marijuana, not coke, not crack, not heroin, nothing,” he says. “Never smoked cigarettes. Never been drunk in my life, not once. I don’t say this to try to convince anybody, because you should get a menu in life and pick what you want. You can eat desserts all the time, but you’re gonna f*** up your body.”
No prizes for guessing who impressed this abstinent mindset. “You’ve got to eat your vegetables,” he continues. “Your mother told you that, and your friends were assholes and idiots. You say: ‘Ah, what does she know?’ Actually a lot, and you don’t know anything. You were just born, connected by your umbilical cord to a wiser human being. You ignore that when you listen to the idiot who’s with you saying: ‘Let’s get high, let’s drive the car too fast.’”
His mom, he says, was his personal private Jesus. “And even Jesus is not loved by everybody,” he provides, as I sense one other detour coming. “You can’t do better than that. I hope not to be crucified, but I am Jewish. Do you know how we know Jesus was Jewish? He lived with his mother until he was 33, his mother thought he was God, he thought his mother was a virgin, and then he went into his father’s business. That’s a Jewish guy!” He’s not performed but. “Do you know why all the chicks love Jesus?” He stretches his arms out on both aspect. “Well, he’s hung like this…”
Simmons the gag machine evidently can’t be stopped, however his band can. Kiss first launched into a “farewell” tour again in 2000, with Simmons and Stanley joined by unique members guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss for a final outing. This time, nevertheless, Simmons is adamant that when the present End of the Road tour ultimately will get again on monitor, it actually would be the final we see of Kiss as a reside act. “It’s about dignity and self respect,” he says. “We’ve all seen boxers who stay in the ring too long, and bands that tour too long. There’s a physicality to what we do. You know, I could have picked a smarter band to be in…”
He wearily laments the truth that members of different bands are capable of tour in T-shirts and cozy sneakers. “Me? I’ve got to do two hours of make-up preparation, then wear 40 pounds – and I don’t mean English money – of armour and studs and all that stuff, and then seven-inch platform heels,” he says. “We’ve been flying through the air in all that for almost half a century, and it’s f***ing backbreaking work! We introduce ourselves with: ‘You wanted the best, you’ve got the best. The hottest band in the world: Kiss!’ I don’t want to be up on that stage a day longer than those words are true. Instead of: ‘You wanted the best. Well, they used to be pretty good. And now here they are today…’ While we’re at the top of our game, and while I still have a tooth left in my skull, get the f*** off the stage.”
Simmons likes to match himself to an awesome white shark, the apex predator that may die if it ever stops transferring ahead. I ponder, then, whether or not he worries about his personal destiny as soon as Kiss aren’t any extra. Does he ever contemplate his personal mortality? “Mortality?” He ponders the phrase. “It helps to be delusional. As long as I’m enjoying life, I don’t think about death. It’s gonna come. It could be the next bus coming around the corner, or it could be some kind of disease. Thank God, I’ve never had operations. I don’t get sick. I don’t have colds. My eyesight’s good. My schmeckle works. What else do you want?”
We’ve reached the ultimate kiss-off. It’s nearly time for the band’s rehearsal to start. Simmons gingerly eyes the staggering line-up of vertiginous armour-plated platform boots organized neatly beside him, ready. When the top does come, will Gene Simmons be buried in a Kiss Kasket? “Or a Kiss urn,” he says, bodily unable to withstand squeezing in a single final dad joke. “We make Kiss condoms. We make Kiss Kaskets. We’ll get you coming and we’ll get you going.”
‘Gene Simmons Artworks’ is at Animazing Gallery in Las Vegas from 14-16 October