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Gene Simmons of Kiss

The 40th year of Kiss has been spent getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after 15 years of eligibility, shepherding a new arena football team named after the band (the LA KISS), and producing a new reality show about that project called 4th and Loud, which starts August 12 on AMC.

Sitting at a table in a Beverly Hills hotel restaurant to help promote that show, a big red rose plucked from a lobby arrangement in his black suit, Simmons is asked by a publicist if he needs anything.

"I would love a back rub, a hot fudge sundae and a lap dance," he tells her, before settling on a Diet Coke. To his visitor he asks, "Do you want crack or something?"

Simmons' mix of charm and smarm has made him a figure to love or hate in rock, in or out of makeup. He's been a reality star, with seven seasons of Gene Simmons Family Jewels under his big, studded belt, and continues to tour with the band in the worst conditions.

He talked about the band, its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and whether rap is rock in a typically far-ranging discussion.

Roger Catlin (Songfacts): Now you have your own arena football team and a reality show about it. Are you a fan of football?

Gene Simmons: No, I'm a fan of America and all things American deserve to be done as spectacle.

We wanted to take the point of view with LA Kiss, first and foremost, let's not assume that they're football fans or even sports fans. Let's give them the best football possible - competitive and good-looking - all this kind of stuff, but when the ball's not in play, give 'em something.

Songfacts: You're doing this while being out on tour.

Gene: Tomorrow we're in Austin. Two days ago we were in Phoenix — 112 degree temperature, plus 85 percent humidity, plus another 10 to 20 degrees of stage lights. And fireballs going off.

Songfacts: Plus your costume of leather and metal...

Gene: Fifty pounds.

Songfacts: Why do you keep doing this?

Gene: It's not easy, but on the other hand, you know when you go to the gym there's a guy in the corner who's not looking over his shoulder, he's just really working it. You look with admiration at the commitment, because he's doing it for himself.

I have enough money and enough fame. If you have enough money why would you get on stage with over 100 degree temperatures and 100 degree humidity? Pride.

Songfacts: And that's why the band still tours?

Gene: Yeah, we always get paid handsomely and that's appreciated. More is a good word.

Songfacts: Hey, I went to your farewell about a decade ago.

Gene: There will be plenty of farewell tours to come. Every time a band goes off stage and says good night, they come back, don't they?

Songfacts: So was it always a ruse?

Gene: No. We got off stage thinking: "That's it!" And people keep saying, "How come you don't come back?" Well, we no longer have Ace [Frehley] and Peter [Criss], and we already did the farewell tour with them. And they're going, "We don't care, we just want to see Kiss."

While Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley remain the mainstays of Kiss, they've had a number of members in the band since the departure of the other two originals, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.

Former members of the band have included drummer Eric Carr and guitarists Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John and Bruce Kulick. Anton Fig played drums for the band in the studio in 1980; he's better known now as drummer in Paul Shaffer's CBS Orchestra band backing Late Show with David Letterman.

Current members of Kiss, drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer, have each been with the band for more than a decade.

Songfacts: Did being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame play into that pride, or did you even care?

Gene: Personally I did not care, because the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become a sham. Back room politics. There are disco artists and rap artists in that. So I will give the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credibility even though it's got Run-D.M.C. and Madonna and some other people on it, as soon as the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame allows Led Zeppelin inside. You'd say, that's ridiculous. Oh really? But Run-D.M.C. is in the Rock Hall? What brand of guitar do you play? What song have you ever sung?

Songfacts: There have been some acts inducted who didn't attend the event at all. Why did you?

Gene: Because of the fans. It was important to validate, for them. And we said we'd play if you honor all of our members as you honored the Grateful Dead — all 10 members and the lyricist who is not in the band — in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The E Street Band are in in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can't name you anybody who is in that; you know Bruce Springsteen.

And they wouldn't allow [current members] Tommy [Thayer] and Eric [Singer] to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who have been in the band longer than the originals.

So we said OK, we'll accept the award, but I'm not playing. So I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I have a hall of fame, and I'm going to honor you. You can bring your whole family and everything else. But just your first girlfriend that you went out with. Your wife and your kids, no, they can't come. How would you feel about that?
Born in Israel as Chaim Witz in 1949, Gene Simmons has also had some prominent celebrity relationships, dating Cher and Diana Ross before settling down with former Playboy Playmate turned actress Shannon Tweed. The couple cohabited for more than a quarter century before their marriage in 2011, which was televised, as was their family life, raising two kids on Gene Simmons Family Jewels from 2006 to 2012.

Songfacts: Do you still get along with the original guys?

Gene: No, I don't get along with anybody who's a drug addict and has a dark cloud over their head and sees themselves as a victim. Drug addicts and alcoholics are always: "The world is a harsh place." My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don't want to hear fuck all about "the world as a harsh place." She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life. And for a putz, 20-year-old kid to say, "I'm depressed, I live in Seattle." Fuck you, then kill yourself.

I never understand, because I always call them on their bluff. I'm the guy who says 'Jump!' when there's a guy on top of a building who says, "That's it, I can't take it anymore, I'm going to jump."

Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You've got the crowd.

By the way, you walk up to the same guy on a ledge who threatens to jump and put a gun to his head, "I'm going to blow your fuckin' head off!" He'll go, "Please don't!" It's true. He's not that insane.

Songfacts: Are you guys recording anything new?

Gene: We have new songs, but no plans to record right now. It's a long tour.

Songfacts: Is there any possibility of seeing yourself beyond Kiss, or retiring?

Gene: There are so many other ventures: film companies, TV, lots of stuff. Restaurant chains.

Songfacts: Does being the Demon ever get old for you? Putting on all that makeup? Spitting blood?

Gene: No. Ask Superman if he ever gets tired of the costume. No. Are you kidding?

Songfacts: The band is famous for all of its merchandising.

Gene: Kiss condoms, Kiss Kaskets: We get you coming and we get you going.
One failed venture was a 2002 men's lifestyle magazine called Gene Simmons' Tongue that lasted five issues.

Songfacts: Some bands say they'd never be that commercial.

Gene: They're liars and I'll prove it to you: The hippiest of hippie bands has T-shirts, and as soon as you sell a ticket, you're not really selling music. As soon as you sell anything, you're selling something other than music.

And by the way, I don't want to see a U2 comic book. I don't want to see The Edge with a cape flying through the air. But I want to see that with Kiss.

So maybe the great bands - Radiohead, and U2 and The Stones - maybe they don't want to do it. But the truth is, they can't. Other than the Stones' tongue logo, when was the last time you saw anybody wearing Mick Jagger on their T-shirt. How about never?

That doesn't mean they're not one of the best bands in the world, and they can't fill up a stadium. I'm talking about that iconic imagery: Things that stand the test of time across generations. I don't kid myself. It often sounds self-serving, delusional or in other ways arrogant. No. It's the truth.

Songfacts: It seems like you guys were fully formed from the beginning. There was no tinkering with your image.

Gene: No, it was all fully formed. And there were no managers in the beginning. It was an epiphany, a singularity: Four knuckleheads off the streets of New York got together and decided to form a band they never saw on stage. Once you throw the rulebook down on the floor, a lot of cool things are possible.

Rock and roll, but he way, started that. Take the rule books: You gotta learn to read and write music! I can't; nor can Lennon or McCartney, Hendrix or anybody else - throw that away. You need to understand music theory. I don't. No.

When you take a look at the vast majority of bands, especially the ones that came out of the '60s and '70s, it defies logic how many variations there are of this thing called rock, soul, pop; from Motown to Elvis to The Beatles to Yes to Kiss, to ZZ Top, all this stuff. And they seem to have their own personality as opposed to rap, which looks like everybody came from a rap mother and rap father. There's no difference. And for a long time, country was like that. If you were a country artist, you put on your cowboy hat. It was a costume. Interesting isn't it? But only rock continues to be the iconic reference point.

Bill Clinton is a rock star. Bill Clinton, if you said he was a hip-hop star or country western star, would mean nothing. If a fighter pilot is going to drop bombs, he says to his guys, "Let's rock!" or "Let's rock 'n' roll!" He doesn't say, "Let's hip-hop!" "Let's rap!"

Songfacts: You seem to have a thing about hip-hop.

Gene: I don't have a thing about it at all. Whatever people want. But there used to be something called spoken word records. That's what they are. People are talking. Which is fine.

Songfacts: A lot of major bands have opened for you over the years.

Gene: The biggest bands. AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Rush, Cheap Trick — the biggest bands all did their first tours opening for us because we picked them. 'Cause we're also fans.

Songfacts: You mentioned Radiohead earlier. Do you have other favorite contemporary bands?

Gene: I think Muse is the most interesting band to come out in 10 years.

I think Lady Gaga is the only new rock star, although she's not a rocker. I would like her to throw away all the disco stuff and get a band. Don't use tapes, come out with a real live band and guitars. She's a bona fide musical artist. She did a duet with Tony Bennett, real great pipes. She can sit at a piano all by herself. She's a legitimate artist. A lot of the other pop divas who are really talented are not artists.

Songfacts: How about a Gaga collaboration with Kiss?

Gene: We tried, on our last record. And we got close. She got busy, we got busy. We would have done it.

Songfacts: Has the band ever done any collaboration projects like that?

Gene: Never.

Songfacts: That's what I'm thinking. Why is that?

Gene: When I was a kid, you didn't have to be a Beatle fan to be in awe of them, but I was. I didn't want any other band to get near The Beatles. Too pure. They looked like they came from the same Beatle mother. They looked like brothers or something.

With The Stones it was easier. They had a blonde guy and things, so they often brought up people: Howlin' Wolf, somebody else.

I didn't want to see anybody with The Beatles, or with Led Zeppelin, I didn't want them to jam with anybody. Look, it's all personal taste. AC/DC is one of the great bands. I don't want to see anybody jam with them. I just want to see AC/DC.

July 31, 2014

After this interview was published, Simmons issued this statement:

I want to make this statement about my views on depression for the record and to clarify my prior remarks.

To the extent my comments reported by the media speak of depression, I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression. I sincerely apologize to those who were offended by my comments. I recognize that depression is very serious and very sad when it happens to anyone, especially loved ones. I deeply support and am empathetic to anyone suffering from any disease, especially depression.

I have never sugarcoated my feelings regarding drug use and alcoholics. Somewhere along the line, my intention of speaking in very directly and perhaps politically incorrectly about drug use and alcoholics has been misconstrued as vile commentary on depression. Unkind statements about depression was certainly never my intention. Fully, you will know that and I do not intend to defend myself here and now, by listing the myriad charities and self-help organizations I am involved with. Rather, I simply want to be clear that my heart goes out to anyone suffering from depression and I deeply regret any offhand remarks in the heat of an interview that might have suggested otherwise.

    About the Author:

    Roger CatlinBorn in Detroit, Roger covered rock as an entertainment writer for the Omaha World-Herald before becoming rock critic for the Hartford Courant for 12 years. In that time, he's gotten to interview Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, Keith Richards, Ray Charles and Brian Wilson. He is currently a freelance arts writer for the Washington Post, and writes largely about TV on his blog rogercatlin.com.More from Roger Catlin
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Comments: 34

he's an old sad gimmick who was popular for a nano second and now he feels the need to open his mouth and expel horrific gas, espousing on subjects he clearly has no knowledge of...sort of sad old gitBathsheba from Everywhere
The ironic part about Simmons' disregard for mental illness is that he has severe mental illness himself in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, he's a slam dunk case.Josh from Wisconsin
Wow I had to confirm this for myself that Gene Simmons (who I've admired since 1974) said those moronic words about suicide. I wish you could just remove that question and answer because some kids will get the wrong idea from that. No Gene is not responsible for the actions of others, he never has been, but he doesn't understand "Celebrity" "Fame" call it what you want.

Simmons apology I read about is too little to late, the damage is done and still over going for the fact that question and answer is still for any one to read.
James from Severna Park, Md
This--coming from a micro-talent, now 'expert social analyst and commentator', who made a load of money in a canned band dressing up like a clown and writing angst-stroking teen anthems in the seventies. But Chaim (*Gene*) is definitely right about one thing--the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame truly is a sham. If it wasn't, they wouldn't have let 'Kiss' post so much as a two-tone handbill anywhere near it, let alone place them alongside real rock bands.Steve from San Francisco
In all honesty it does annoy me that Gene would say this about people who are suicidal, but hey- I would love to meet the person that will tell Gene Simmons what he can and can't say to his face!!C. S from Scotland
Wow - I read the comments first and thought, good grief, Gene's really done it now. Then I actually read the article, and regarding 'depressed people' there's nothing really too different from what he's said before. He really is full of hot air, and loves to stir up a debate. There's a lot of his usual bluster here. For instance, I'm pretty sure the 'original Kiss' idea did not come about through a 'singularity'. Peter Criss's book describes the elaborate training their manager Bill Aucoin's right-hand man - Sean Delaney - put them through in the early days, in terms of stage presentation and whatnot. Sean was a an aficionado of New York's gay / fetish scene, and knew what would look edgy. So Gene claiming Kiss exploded from a bit of divine inspiration is one of many questionable comments here. But I certainly wouldn't chuck out my Kiss collection over it. Everyone else who's ever been in Kiss, has perfectly normal views. Even Paul, who seems to love raining on Gene's parade.Lexx from Birmingham, Uk
Oh you sad, sad man - It's been my experience that most people who don't recognize depression as a mental illness usually have their best friends with them, the evil twins IGNORANCE and INTOLERANCE. I do believe Gene may have in fact spawned them!!!! What I find so insulting is that not only do you think that way, you are actually willing to open that disgusting mouth of yours and flaunt your medieval attitude. I wonder just how many of your fans have known the heartbreak of having a family member or close friend who is ill, physically or mentally, and have gone to that dark place where they do truly believe the world would be a better place without them . . . and then I wonder how sick they will feel that they actually helped make you the rich, successful person you are, when it is so obvious now what a total and complete arsehole you are. Can you even spell compassion? I would love to write more, but I truly do not want to give you one more second of my time - other than to toss anything I have that has anything to do with KISS into the closest sewer . . . where it will probably meet up with some of your associates!!!Arlene from Vancouver, Canada
Gene should have just kept his mouth shut on the issue. Not that I disagree with his other views (and the fact this was posted BEFORE Robin Williams death), but it doesn't just make the Kiss name look bad, it makes YOU look bad. And don't get me wrong, Kiss does have some good hits, but I'm not going to support the future of the band, "4th & Loud", their concert tours, etc. The band's current sound isn't worth the price of admission, and Gene made himself look like an a$$S.k. from Anytown, Usa
Wow Gene, your grammy went through harsh times, so you know all about it second or third-hand right? What a hero.Elijah from Israel
Gene's comments reflects poorly on the rest of his family. I wonder what his son and daughter think about what a "douche" their father is and wonder if they share the same "Family values"?Azrael from Zillas
Right on! Let's all piss and moan! Our collective bitching will surely bankrupt him! Waaaahhhh!!!Sensitive And Offended from Sobtown
I read all these comments and see people getting irritated with Gene's comments about drug and alcohol addicts who get depressed but he was saying he doesn't understand it because of his mother's situation and how she handled it. Which comes from his own personal experience with hardship and tragic circumstances. I don't necessarily agree with Gene's view points, however, I respect the right that he can have his own opinion, and find his opinion interesting at times.... even though I don't agree with it.Phil K. from Nebraska
I can count of numerous times Gene Simmons inserting both feet in Mouth.!." I think Gene needs to spend a little more time on reading his bible. And think about what he says before he say's it. God Help you Sharon.Stephaniewilcox from Peoria Il.
You people are of the "too ignorant to know how ignorant you are" variety. He wasn't talking about people "with depression." He was talking about people whining that they "are depressed." Anyone who ACTUALLY knows clinical depression knows that clinically depressed people do NOT complain about it...usually people have no idea what's happening because they keep to themselves.

He also wasn't trying to "get people to jump" he was pointing out that they don't really WANT to jump. Big difference.

Seriously, learn to read.
Marcus Porcius from Orange County, Ca
Gene Simmons SucksSharon from Sudbury
Its funny how he can say the things he said about ppl w/ depression. And then tell one of his fan to kill himself cause he have the illness. You can tell that the ones that are not suffering from the illness of depression is not one of his own kids, cause if that was the case that one of his fam. Members are suffering from that illness the story would of been different. including hemself... Don't u think?!?.Yana from Tn.
Johny from Vic.B.C. i love ur comment. Aint it the truth...Mark E. from Port.or.
Gene Simmons can go f--k him self for being a Dick Head he should be the 1st and show everyone he has balls he should jump off the tallest building. f--k Him.Rs from Sa Tx
I think everybody should boycott this f--king moron!Then when all his money dries up and he slips into depression we can all laugh at this idiot. Hopefully none of his kids become depressed from being fat or unimportant or having a total idiot for a dad because you know he will be no help to them. I really hope something horrible happens to this moron and he has to regret ALL the stupid things he is constantly saying. f--k off you moron!!Eddie from Colorado
Gene I love you but not your statement on suicide bad boy!!!Barb Martin from Cincinnati Ohio
How dare Gene encourage anyone to kill themselves, even if he thinks they are bluffing. No longer a Kiss fan after that comment. The best Kiss music came from the original four and from Vinnie Vincent's input.Rob Robuck from Iowa
Charming.Kellyjdrummer from Usa
What a gas-bag. Dumb as a rock with no sense of the real world outside of his fantasy world. What can you expect from a tiny flea-like intellect. No wonder "KISS" is a talentless cartoon band. And, by the way Gene, Superman isn't real. Dumbass...Dave from Victoria
OK, big fake "Gene Simmons" with his name changed, Darth Vader helmet hair, and shallowness towards people apparently is perfect and comes from a perfect family. He should thank his lucky stars that mental illness such as depression & anxiety don't run in his family. If it did his comments wouldn't be so f__ken ignorant. Unfortunately it runs in my family and can be severe. There were a few suicides and they were not announced before it was done. Always wanted to see Kiss in concert but if they go on tour again Gene Simmons can "Kiss" my big ass right in the raisin, I'll never put money in his discriminatory pocket. You know what Gene? You are too old & fugly now and no one wants to hear what you have to say or look at your ugly mug so why don't you take your own advice and jump off the nearest skyscraper. Loser!Arlene P from North Dakota
Gene Simmons is good at nothing but making money. That is all. Total failure at being a human being.Clay from Real World
I've never liked KISS and this is another reason why they're not worth caring about. If anyone needs to do what he's telling people to do, it's him. He gives himself and his band a bad name.Observer from Internet
Ha! Gene Simmons comparing KISS to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin? Putting yourself on a pedestal Gene! when we look back in 100 years, The Beatles will still be seen to have changed music and the political landscape, Rolling Stones will probably still be touring, and Led Zeppelin remembered as Rock Gods...while KISS will be "those guys in the makeup that couldn't really sing, but sure could commercialize the hell out of anything!Joe from From Us Of A
What a complete moron. I feel sorry for your kids Simmons. They have a shallow prick for a dad. You're a complete dick Simmons. A complete looser, a coward and a looser. Face it, you're no longer relevant, and here's hoping you won't be around much longer, hopefully, you'll just go kill yourself you stupid f--k.Whosaid from Straya
I am an Aussie and i can tell you that on mental illness you suck.Juan Guerra from Melbourne
No longer a fan. Ignorance plus a lot of money gets you fame but you seem more devoid of soul than I thought. I thought family jewels was just an act but I see notWalter Mattingly from Florida
I love KISS... But Gene lacks integrity and class. I've never been depressed, so I can't possibly understand it. However, a public figure who no doubt has a 20 year old fan suffering from depression, should not be encouraging him to kill himself. Why does anyone listen to this guy?

KISS sucks live now. Fact. Paul cant sing anymore, Gene is a terrible bass player, and without all the explosions they are just some s--tty B-class musicians in make-up.

I know a person who's looked after Gene's affairs and was part of his personal management until this year. The stories of his wife on tour with him last year, sitting the ENTIRE band down and scolding them to make sure he doesn't f--k anyone while he sits quietly with his tail between his legs, are PRICELESS!!! He pretends to be the man, but really he's just another pussy whipped husband.

Sadly, I love KISS (as long as it's not live)... But Gene is just such a pretentious pompous ass that he makes it hard to enjoy the music.

PS. ACE ROCKS!!!
Nicole from Canada
Gene really needs to read Paul's book. If Paul would have taken Gene's advise on killing yourself if you're depressed Gene would cleaning toilets for a living. Also, for Gene to say the band was "fully formed" contradicts what Paul says. Paul gives their manager Bill Aucoin a great deal of credit for the KISS theatrics.Roland from The Beam
Oh Gene,,,, I was a fan in the 70's because Ace rocked my world,, still love Kiss Alive 2 (thanks). I saw your recent monster tour and without your MASSIVE stage crew you would have been boo'd off the stage of a b circuit bar. Rock isn't about how much confetti you can blast at the crowd or yelling at them to stand up!!! if you are doing it right you don't need to tell them. Your superman cape concept falls short when you take 2 minutes to have your stage crew harness you up for a boring haul to a safety line covered platform,, my ten year old could do that blindfolded with one hand. If you want to see a band kick ass check out Iron Maiden on the "back somewhere in time " tour. Holy s--t! Talk about tight!
I would think that all your years of dedication to MUSIC would make you one of the best bass players in the world but you squandered that time with unnecessary materialism instead of practice and a love of your instrument... the music was clearly never a priority for you,, just the almighty dollar. I do think you deserve to be wealthy,, you put in the time and at the beginning there was something captivating. I would say that you have twisted your mind into an inflated perspective of self... your opinions are no greater than others, your talent is less than many,, it is only your ability to be heard that is great and would best be served by practicing your bass (don't you secretly wish that you could be one of the best?).
I am also a musician.. multiple tours.. hardcore touring.. blood and guts touring.. all I ever wanted was to be a great guitar player (and I am... wink). You became a business man with delusions of grandeur. I thank you for my childhood infatuation but return my disappointment for how you turned a blind eye to what you could have been (with unrelenting practice,, the best bass player in rock).
One last note... and you will f--king hate it... don't use your mother's life experience to support any of your arguments,, YOU were NOT there!!! it shaped the strong woman that SHE is... My own family suffered horrific atrocities but those are their struggles and the survival stories that shaped THEM... I carve my own path and tell my own stories.. are you so wealthy that you need to surreptitiously attach others struggles to yourself for validation? If I hear a KISS album with amazing music, talented instruments and a hungry style that isn't trying to sell lunch boxes I will be a fan again... this is a tough love letter... the 12 year old in me feels like he's crossed a line... the musician in me is the line... let me know if you want to Jam :)
Johnny from Vic. B.c.
I know it was simply an oversight, and I am not trying to split hairs, but Eric Carr was not an original member. He was Peter Criss' replacement on drums. Ace Frehley was the original lead guitarist. Great interview...Jeff from Santa Clarita, Ca

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