WITH a heavy heart, Gene Simmons is washing off his Demon alter-ego warpaint, hanging up his knee-high metal boots and, er, putting away his cow-sized tongue.
As the Kiss bassist and co-lead singer prepares to bring the band’s farewell tour to Britain, he’s in reflective mood.
“For 50 years, I’ve had the privilege of wearing more makeup and higher heels than your mommy ever did,” says the hard-rock colossus with a talent for hilarious turns of phrase.
“It’s the end of the touring band because we have enough self-respect,” he continues. “We don’t want to be like boxers who stay in the ring too long.
“If I was in the Rolling Stones, who are great by the way, I could strum a guitar wearing sneakers and T-shirt and it would be fine.
“I admire Mick Jagger for pushing the limits but I can’t keep doing it with 40lb of studs and armour and eight-inch heels.”
READ MORE ON GENE SIMMONS
Gene Simmons says he is fittest wrinkly rocker ahead of Mick Jagger
Gene Simmons: I’ve slept with 4,800 groupies but my wife made me burn the pics
Having said that, Simmons is hellbent on Kiss bowing out while they’re still on top and fighting fit.
“I’m in great shape, we’re sounding great — and we introduce ourselves as the hottest band in the world!” he exclaims.
Talking from his home in what he calls “the hills of Beverly” in between dates, Simmons proves himself to be an intriguing combination of raconteur, rock historian with just a little bit of Spinal Tap.
In fact, he’s just what you’d expect from someone who loves to sing: “I want to rock and roll all nite and party every day.”
Most read in Music
The View apologise to fans and cancel gig after explosive onstage brawl
Noughties band shock fans as singer PUNCHES bandmate in brutal onstage brawl
Mae Muller’s Eurovision performance under threat as she's banned from speaking
90s girl band star Cleopatra unrecognisable as she reunites with Peter Andre
The rocker, born in Israel 73 years ago to Hungarian Jewish parents, also has the rare distinction of being a teetotal wildman.
“I never drink or smoke or get high. That’s just my preference,” he says.
“I’m not here to shake my finger at anybody. Go to the pub all you want but it doesn’t appeal to me in the least.”
In the Kiss man’s world, “party means girls”.
Though he’s long been faithful to his wife, actress and former Playboy model Shannon Tweed, legendary lover Simmons is thought to have slept with nearly 5,000 women.
“I’ve heard all about those numbers,” he laughs when I broach the subject.
To what extent are they true? I venture. “Confirmed,” he replies in a low comedy rumble.
Simmons says: “For me, an insane heterosexual male, party means girls. I was like a vulture, waiting on the sidelines until all the guys got drunk.
“But the prettiest girls didn’t get drunk so I’d walk in and choose whichever — as you Brits say — birds I liked.”
Now it’s time for a Simmons Kisstory lesson. It is 50 years since “four knuckleheads from New York City”, including fellow remaining founder member Paul Stanley, formed the band.
“We wanted to be The Beatles on steroids,” says Simmons. “We couldn’t shine their boots, not in our wildest dreams, but we were completely inspired by them.
“We loved the idea of four guys in a band where everybody is a star and everybody sings. Only The Beatles had done that.”
He first saw John, Paul, George and Ringo as one of the 75million Americans who watched The Ed Sullivan Show in the Sixties.
“That show made The Beatles in the States,” says Simmons. “You were immediately struck by the sound of girls screaming. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s a good job!’ ”
Unlike the Fab Four, however, Kiss decided to play fast, loud and heavy, wear outlandish costumes and daub their faces with the iconic makeup.
Simmons remembers how he transformed into the Demon in the Seventies: “We were in a loft, a fire trap with no windows — one way in and out.
“One of the guys suggested we go to a coffee shop where they sold all sorts of things including clown gear. We bought some black and white makeup and two $15 mirrors — and created a look that has stayed on our faces for half a century.”
‘My imagination soared’
Simmons can’t fully explain where his Demon design came from but says: “I’ve always been fascinated by horror movies, Godzilla and comic books so maybe I’m a result of that.”
His love of stories about monsters and superheroes goes back to his childhood.
“I was born in Israel in 1949, my mother being a survivor of Nazi Germany,” he says.
“When we landed in New York in 1958, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Buildings that went off into the sky, thousands of cars everywhere and not a blade of grass.
“I’d never heard of television and had never been to a movie theatre so when I saw Superman and King Kong, my imagination soared.
“As a nine-year-old boy on the beach, I tied a towel round my neck, knowing in my heart that if I jumped high enough, I could fly through the air like Superman.”
Wind forward to 1973 and Simmons is dressed as the Demon for the first time.
He recalls catching sight of himself in that cheap mirror: “It was bizarre. I was aware I was inside there somewhere. I felt like one of those knights in shining armour.”
As for stepping on stage in full battle regalia for a Kiss show, he compares himself to a boxer slugging it out.
“When you get in that ring, you want to knock the s**t out of your opponent. Your chest expands and adrenaline courses through your veins.
“You’re very much Jekyll and Hyde, the same person in a different body with a different mindset.”
Over the years, Simmons has nursed a few wounds from his Demon antics.
“I’ve stepped off stage black and blue,” he says. “A few hours later, I’m hurting like hell and I’m thinking, ‘Where did I get that? Don’t you remember, you smashed into the amp!’ ”
But it’s the face paint, which Kiss controversially dropped in the Eighties, which sets them apart.
“I love U2 and Radiohead but our imagery supersedes all that,” says Simmons.
“We’ve become part of pop culture for good or bad. People might hate us but, when Halloween comes by, you’ll see all the Kiss costumes at parties. There are huge Kiss floats at carnivals in Brazil — but nobody is dressed up like Thom Yorke!”
So how much time does Simmons need to get ready for a show these days?
“It takes me the longest, because my makeup is the most intricate,” he answers.
Once in full Demon attire, he has to stay in character for at least another seven hours.
Allowing for pauses between the various duties, he explains: “We do soundcheck for about an hour before greeting the fans for another hour. Then we’re on stage for two hours.
“After our shows, it takes us another hour to get settled down, take off the makeup and shower. I’m a real working man!
“Most bands just turn up, get out of the limo, go on stage for 90mins/two hours and go home.”
At the beating heart of Kiss are the two stalwarts — Simmons and Stanley.
Like all bands that last 50 years, the pair have had their ups and downs but it’s a relationship which commands respect on both sides.
“You’ve got to understand that you’re not God’s gift and that you don’t know every-thing,” says Simmons.
“I’m pretty good at all sorts of stuff but Paul is better at other things. If you have the right combination, then one plus one equals three.”
Here, Simmons gives a fascinating insight into how they work together.
He talks about the creation of his signature anthem, God Of Thunder, which was actually written by Stanley.
“Paul told me I only ever wrote about monsters. Then I said to him, ‘All you ever write about is silly girl stuff and falling in love’.
“So we woke from our stupors. He came up with God Of Thunder and I went home right away and did Christine Sixteen — and both were hits.”
Now, in 2023, the live Kiss journey is nearing its end but there are numerous other projects for Simmons and Co to still look forward to.
He says: “We continue in ways that nobody would ever have imagined.
“There’s a Kiss museum in Las Vegas. Still to come is a Kiss movie, Kiss theme parks and a Kiss stage show going round the world, all kinds of stuff.”
So how does he feel about hanging up his boots?
“The saddest part is that original members Ace [Frehley] and Peter [Criss] aren’t going to be with us at the finish line,” he replies.
“Perhaps they were shooting stars. Not everybody is designed to run a marathon.
“I personally asked Ace and Peter, ‘Do you want to come out for our encores and celebrate this thing you helped build in the beginning?’ and the answer was No.”
The End Of The Road tour is due to wind up this December at Madison Square Garden in the band’s hometown of New York.
There won’t be a dry eye in the house and, for Simmons, it’s a mixture of “intense, deeply felt feelings”.
“Pride is foremost,” he decides. “Few bands last half a century on their own terms.
“At the final ever show, I know I’ll be crying like a 12-year-old girl whose foot is being stepped on.”
Even as he thinks about it, Simmons wells up but he signs off by quoting one of his Beatles heroes.
“All things must pass, as George Harrison said many years ago.”
KISS TOUR UK DATES
- Plymouth June 3
- Birmingham June 5
- Newcastle June 6
- London July 5
- Manchester July 7
- Glasgow July 8
Source: Read Full Article