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.
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.
Simmons: 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...
Simmons: Fifty pounds.
Songfacts: Why do you keep doing this?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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.
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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."
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.
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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.
Simmons: Kiss condoms, Kiss Kaskets: We get you coming and we get you going.
Simmons: 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.
Simmons: 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.
Simmons: 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.
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Simmons: 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?
Songfacts: That's what I'm thinking. Why is that?
Simmons: 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
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.
More Songwriter Interviews