EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview originally published in June 2017. We are reprising it now in advance of Kiss’ performance at the PP&L Center in Allentown tomorrow night, the second date on the End Of The Road farewell world tour, with David Lee Roth opening. We will be sending a writer and photographer, stay tuned for a complete report. In the meantime, enjoy.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA
In advance of his performance at the Trocadero tonight as part of the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con nerd jamboree at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (June 1-4), we got Gene Simmons, commander in chief of the Kiss Army, on the horn. DISCUSSED: Trump, Russia, comic books, codpieces, Beyonce, Nirvana, his $300 million net worth, Elvis, Schvetty Balls, Les Paul, Donna Summer, the Jesus Of Rock, Helsinki, The Beatles, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Kant, Wizard World, the death of rock, inspiring This Is Spinal Tap, why he got himself fired from The Apprentice, the mechanics of capitalism, how supermarkets work, and the prospect of making peace with Terry Gross (Hint: Don’t hold your breath).
PHAWKER: Before we get started, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know I’ve been a member of the Kiss army in good standing since 1976.
GENE SIMMONS: Wow.
PHAWKER: You’ve always been my favorite. I remember spending many hours looking at the cover of the Kiss Alive 2. You were legitimately scary, everybody else the band kind of just looked like weird clowns and transvestites from outer space. But you were intense, I just wanted to put that out there. Don’t tell the other guys I said that, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, what can the fans expect from your show at the Trocadero in Philadelphia?
GENE SIMMONS: What happened was Wizard World was aware that I’m a comic book geek and that Kiss in particular and I have had a long and proud relationship with comic books going back many decades. I mean the first comic book event that I went to was a sci-fi comic book convention called Luna Con in New York in 1968. This was before there was even a Comic Con. And through the 70’s, we had our Kiss comics, which became the biggest selling comic books of all time, at that point. And through various decades, we’ve had everybody from Image to IDW, and now finally Dynamic is putting out Kiss comics. And so every month, there were kiss comics coming out and including my own comic book company called “Simmons’ Comics Group” which puts out Dominatrix and Zipper as well as Gene Simmons’ House of Horrors. So, Wizard World asked me to do five of their conventions, and I said sure. Question and Answer, talk comic books, all of that stuff. And then they had asked me if I would play a few tunes. And I thought, well gee that’s interesting, I never done a solo tour anywhere but maybe I could put a band together of some rockers I know who love this thing and take over a concert hall someplace and do some obscure Kiss tunes that Kiss will never play, and have never played. And that was interesting to me. So that’s sort of what happened and we’ve done two out of them, I think I have three more to go and they’ve been an awful lot of fun. It gives me the chance to kind of step out of the Kiss boots and get up on stage and just have a lot of fun and some of the things that we do with the Gene Simmons band is bring people up on stage and if you think you can sing, you can hold your own against me on stage we pull you up, and if you think your kid, or child, is a rockstar, send your video of your child singing, performing, or doing whatever to WizardWorld.com and if they’ve got the goods, I’ll pull them up on stage. It’s a lot of fun, people just love it and so do I. it gives me a chance to kind of get much closer, because you know around Kiss, it’s tough to get close to us. There are bodyguards between the stage and the audience, there’s that moat, and with the Wizard World relationship, I get a lot closer to people and it’s actually a lot more fun for me to.
PHAWKER: Excellent, so you guys are on tour and Europe right now, I believe your last show was a couple of days ago in Moscow, or in somewhere in Russia? Yes?
GENE SIMMONS: Yes, we played in Moscow, the first show on May Day. Which is when the Russians bring out all of their missiles and stuff, and we played at the Olympic Stadium there in Moscow, a lot of fun. If you go to Kissonline.com you can see photos and stuff, and I’m sure you can go to Google or someplace and get photos. Packed house, everybody had a ball. Right now we are in Helsinki, Finland and you can actually Google this. The international railway station, in Helsinki there is this huge arc, and on either side of this arc are these fifty foot high statues made out of stone. And what the city of Helsinki has done is paint our face makeup on the statues, really quite something. I was just out there, we took some photos and it just, I’m dwarfed by these huge statues, and of course people immediately got that I was one of the guys. And so everybody crowded around and did photos, but when I first approached it I went ‘What the hell, you started a rock band and all of a sudden you’re on Mount Rushmore.’
PHAWKER: Nice. So tell me, what is a typical day in the life of Gene Simmons. Do you wake up at the crack of noon?
GENE SIMMONS: Well there are no typical days. Almost every day is different, because at the same time I am running two different film companies and I’ve got my real estate venture and a lot of other projects happening at the same time and Kiss has lots of projects. So sometimes — when my partners are overseas when I’m in America — I have to hop on the phone in the middle of the night because it’s noon of the next day for my European partners or in Japan. And so, every day is different. Today, we woke up, uh, I don’t know about 10 AM Helsinki time, and went out there at 11 AM to take photos of the big statues and then, you know, running the gauntlet between the fans. They know exactly which hotel we’re staying in so as I leave, you know, you got to do what you got to do. Be nice to the fans, sign this poster this photo and so on. But it’s a real tug of the heart when you are sitting in the restaurant, we sat outdoors because the weather was pretty good, and a few people came over. One guy in particular very young, he had to go back to school, he told me. And he started shaking and said, ‘You are the reason why I am playing music’ and you know all of this stuff. And it’s a real, it puts a lump in your throat when you realize that yeah you can put out a song or two here and there that people might like but it profoundly impacts people’s lives and that’s an amazing thing.
PHAWKER: So, Kiss turns 42 years-old by my calculations.
GENE SIMMONS: Forty-three.
PHAWKER: Forty-three, congratulations. Is it safe to say that you don’t agree with the premise that rock and roll is the young man’s game?
GENE SIMMONS: You know, well this thing called rock and roll isn’t all that old. You know there was blues and rockabilly and all that stuff before it, but really Elvis was kind of the Jesus of rock. Once Elvis started, it opened up the doors to white folks singing black music. White versions of blues if you get what I mean. Because that’s what rock and roll is. And when Les Paul is playing the Les Paul guitars and stuff he was playing a different kind of music and white kids picked up the Fenders and the Les Pauls and started turning up the volume, and that became rock and roll. But, when you really think about it, the Golden Age, were really the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when there was a music industry, when there were record companies that supported you and all that. And around the mid 80’s, when Napster and that stuff came in, new bands died. I mean you can make a point that rock is finally dead and I’ll show you what I mean: From 1958 until 1988, you’ve got 30 years, during that time you’ve got Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix and all that. In disco, you had Donna Summer and Madonna and all that. And in pop, you had The Jackson’s, Prince, maybe us, Bowie, you know all of that stuff. An awful lot of music. From 1988 until today, give me the new Beatles.
PHAWKER: The closest thing would probably be Nirvana I suppose.
GENE SIMMONS: You mean if you record two records then you become The Beatles.
GENE SIMMONS: But isn’t it true that Foo Fighters is ten times as popular?
PHAWKER: I don’t know. Is that the case?
GENE SIMMONS: Yes, Foo Fighters play stadiums, Nirvana never did.
PHAWKER: Well, I’ll grant you that, but then tell me this. If rock is dead, than where does that leave Kiss then?
GENE SIMMONS: Well, it doesn’t affect us. What I mean is the older bands do fine. The Stones, and U2 and us, and ACDC, you know we still play stadiums and arenas and all of that. But the new bands, will never get the chance that we did.
PHAWKER: Well I agree, the music business is changing fundamentally.
GENE SIMMONS: And there is only one reason for that, the fans killed the thing they loved by not paying for it. Imagine you are a supermarket right? You know what they sell in supermarkets, everything. Right? Fruit, meat, eggs, things, aspirin. Whatever you need, you can get it there. How long do you think a supermarket is going to stay In business if people just walk in and take what they want? That’s downloading and file sharing.
PHAWKER: You could be asking this question about any number of industries.
GENE SIMMONS: All industries, religion, rock bands, everything is based on the premise that to stay in business, you got to pay for it. As soon as people take your stuff for free, you’re out of business. Which means that the new bands simply can’t devote full time to doing their stuff. So, they will never have the chance that we did. Which means they’ll have to get day jobs, which means the songs won’t be as good, which means sooner than later, they won’t be in a band.
PHAWKER: Let’s discuss the economics for a second here, you famously said that you didn’t want to be in a band, you wanted to be in a brand. You are well known for your revenue generating entrepreneurship.
GENE SIMMONS: Well let’s call it for what it is. The hippiest of the hippy bands is exactly the same as Kiss. Everything costs money.
GENE SIMMONS: And somebody is either lying, or is a complete moron who thinks “oh no no no, we are just a peoples band.” Really? Don’t you sell tickets and t-shirt? Don’t you, what do you play for free? How do you pay the rent? How do you buy gas for your truck? No. Everything is based on a single premise that if you do something, you need to get paid for it.
PHAWKER: So, online reports put your net worth at $300 million dollars, is that remotely accurate?
GENE SIMMONS: No idea. I’m comfortable. I do have an idea actually. I’m comfortable, I do well, but the most important thing is to get up every day and work your butt off. The people that have a tough time getting to sleep at night don’t work during the day time, that’s the problem. Every day I’m exhausted and can’t wait to just drop in bed and shut my eyes. I have no problem sleeping at night, because I’m tired. I think it’s safe to say Kiss is the hardest working band in show business easily. I would love to be Mick Jagger and Stones, or better yet Bono and U2. Wear some sneakers and a t-shirt, comfortable pair of jeans and never break a sweat. Put any of those guys in my seven inch dragon boots, which weigh eleven pounds each, 12 pound guitar and another 20 pounds of studs and leather and stuff, oh that’s right don’t forget to shoot fire out of your mouth sometimes out of your ass, fly through the air and try to catch your breath during a two hour show. Oh and do that by the way in your late 60’s. They wouldn’t have a chance.
PHAWKER: You have been called the rock and roll Donald Trump, what do you make of that affiliation?
GENE SIMMONS: That’s fine.
PHAWKER: You’ve appeared on The Apprentice you’ve been fired by him, most people-
GENE SIMMONS: I’m sorry?
PHAWKER: You appeared on The Apprentice? Yes?
GENE SIMMONS: Yeah.
GENE SIMMONS: Well actually, plain fact I found out during the filming of the show that we were going to Australia for three weeks, so I had to figure out a way to get myself fired.
PHAWKER: I’m not following.
GENE SIMMONS: Well, I got fired earlier on, I was the captain of both the men’s team and the females team. I won the first project or whatever it was, even before we went back into the boardroom in the very first phone call I made. I beat the other team with the amount of money that I had made and that was with the first phone call and so when Donald Trump saw that happen he said ‘You can’t be in the guy’s teams maybe you can be the captain of the girl’s team because it was just lopsided. Look, celebrity is one thing, but understanding the nature and structure of business, the price of goods and how to make money and stuff it is completely different. As you know most people who are involved in business aren’t famous at all. And most famous people don’t do well in business. And everybody from Sting, to Billy Joel, to you name it, has had the rug pulled out from under them and wind up finding out that their wives are their business managers, or everybody else steals money from them. So, the short cut, the end all is that since Information Is free, and you can get it on the Internet, there is really no excuse for not knowing what is going on around you or how to make money, how to save money, how to minimize your estate tax, and your taxes, way to live, how to have the right things at the right place, and at the right time, and so on. So, I’ve got another book coming out called On Power, about a year or two ago I had another one called Me Inc.. And these were more business-oriented books, less about ‘Look at the new song that I wrote!’
PHAWKER: Okay, well to finish up my question, most people would assume that you voted for Donald Trump. But you’ve never really publicly spoken about who you voted for or what you support.
GENE SIMMONS: Well I think my opinion is that most celebrities are jokes umm, I’m as interested in, I mean I know President Clinton, and President Bush, President Trump, but I’m not interested in what they think about rock and roll. I couldn’t think of a reason why I’d want to ask Beyonce what she thinks of politics.
PHAWKER: I’m assuming you’ve seen This is Spinal Tap yes? The movie?
GENE SIMMONS: Sure.
PHAWKER: I’m just curious what you make of it, do you find this funny?
GENE SIMMONS: Oh yeah. That happened to us. The story about This is Spinal Tap guys getting caught in the elevator not finding the stage is actually a Kiss story, that was based on something that happened to us in Newcastle. We played at an old concert hall on our first tour and the concert hall held about, oh I don’t know, four to five thousand people. But it was in an old building and we were on the third floor putting on makeup and stuff. And you know, we heard the crowd going, “where are Kiss”, you know that stuff. So once we put our stuff on we went to the first floor and it was just a floor, we kept hearing the audience. And then we went to the basement and we just couldn’t find the concert hall, which was on the second floor. We walked underground and stuff and finally we found it on the second floor. And that was based on a Kiss story that actually happened to us.
PHAWKER: That’s hilarious. Um, last question, I wanted to ask you about your infamous Fresh Air interview on NPR. Fresh Air is based here in Philadelphia where I’m calling you from. I’m a long time listener, I remember when I first heard the interview, I frankly kind of thought you were being a dick to be honest, but last time I went through and read the transcript and I kind of revised my opinion. I think that both of you kind of got each other wrong from the get-go. I think you both went into the interview with sort of distorted preconceived notions about each other, she thought you were this insufferable vulgarian, misogynistic, cynical, greedhead who wears make up and high heels and makes music for hormonal 14 year boys adrift in a sea of retarded sexuality and…
GENE SIMMONS: Well, let’s say that’s all true. But as a guest in somebody’s home, the first thing you do is be gracious because you are holding all of the cards. You see it’s your radio station. And it was literally done in her home, and I have never done or heard of NPR and I didn’t know who she was and that’s okay. I was led into her living room and uh, she said ‘Please sit over there and stuff,’ and I immediately got the sense that there was a holier than thou’ at work. Kind of, I’m gonna put this in parenthesis because it was just my impression, ‘Oh look at this, he’s illiterate and so on.’ But, truthfully, if she and I sat down I could quote Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Kant and all of the Existential philosophers toe-to-toe with her but I didn’t wear that stuff on my sleeve. I was in a band and you know, I came to promote Kiss, and so when the first, and I got the stiff treatment right away, I didn’t not like her as a person, but I was willing to go through with the interview. But the first question, it sounded something like ‘Tell me about The Kiss.’ And I’m going “Oh The Kiss! Tell me about this thing called NPR which sounds like some sort of communicable disease.’ I said ‘Oh I hope I don’t catch NPR’ and she said ‘Well we’ve been around a long time.’ I said ‘I could give a fuck.’ To me it’s horrible branding and sounds you know, like people who read too many books and never go out and get laid. She played with fire, she got fire.
PHAWKER: Let me finish my question here — yes, agreed. She thought of you as being this caricature but you thought of her as being this caricature, too. You thought of her as being this dreary/sexless/bra-burning/man-hating/communist/lesbian folk singer – someone who stepped out of the Shvetty Balls sketch on SNL. She asked you some mildly passive-aggressive questions about your make-up and codpieces and you felt disrespected and got your back up and the two of you went at it like cats and dogs. Now I respect both you people, and I think you two have much more common ground than either of you realize — first of all you both grew up in Jewish households of very modest means on the wrong side of the tracks in New York in the ‘60s and you both worked your asses off to get to the top of the heap in your respective professions — and when you come to Philadelphia, I would like to broker a peace accord. I will be the Kissinger that ends this Vietnam.
GENE SIMMONS: Oh no, I don’t think she saw me as a caricature, I thought your first description of what she thought was probably more a sexist and vulgar and all that stuff — you bet. You know, she pressed the button, and I went for it. You know you waive the red flag and the bull charges. Don’t waive the red flag and you know, yes I’ve got horns but I won’t charge. I’m happy to sit and speak with anybody, but I stand by my words. If somebody is a guest in your home, it is incumbent upon you to put the tablecloth on the table and be a gracious host. And when you are not, you want fire, you get fire.
PHAWKER: Fair enough, my question for you is when you are in Philadelphia, would you be willing to go with me down to the station to shake hands and call it even?
GENE SIMMONS: Well, it’s better if she comes to me.
GENE SIMMONS: Well, we are doing Wizard World.
PHAWKER: Right, I’m aware.
GENE SIMMONS: Yes, and I don’t know what the schedule is but WizardWorld.com folks know where I’m going and I’m also doing a concert at the Troc with the Gene Simmons Band. That happens to be an off time, and I have a lot of fun doing this stuff, and she is certainly welcome to come there and go “oh you know, what’s happening?” and whatever. But the first thing I do when I meet a stranger, is I go “hello”, I don’t got “so.” As soon as you go “so”, you go “okay.” This is not going to be fun for you because I’ll make sure, you know you set the tone. I’m coming to your home, you’re the one setting the tone. You want to play, I’ll play. And by the way,
I listened back to that thing. I stand by every word I said. I thought she was, well wrong. And you know, there is a similar story, when David Letterman first started on The Tonight Show on NBC, he kept poking fun at people because you know some comedians do that. The sarcastic this, and the sarcastic that. So Cher, who I’d known and lived with for awhile, didn’t want to do his show because she didn’t like the way he treated guests. And you can actually Google this, uh YouTube it rather. He kept coming out in the beginning, ‘So we’ve been trying to get Cher, who does she think she is, she doesn’t want to come and do our show.’ You know it was a routine, you know ‘Oh boy, where’s Cher’ and all this stuff. So she finally appeared on his show and he goes ‘Hey, great to have you here. Hey I just want to ask you, how come you never did our show, we kept asking you?’ And she looked at him in his face and she said ‘Because you’re a fucking asshole.’ Just look it up on YouTube.
GENE SIMMONS: By the way, I had the same reaction. It took him a while to grow into this kind of you know, the sarcasm as a soft touch, but when he had guests on, you know, you try to set the table. But in the beginning, you know, he came from the live, he was a live standup comic, and he would try to press people’s buttons. And some people liked it and some people didn’t. But, it’s worth watching that Cher Interview.
PHAWKER: I will check it out. Listen, please consider what I just said to you about brokering a peace accord and if you are interested, you know how to get back in touch with me. I would be happy to do it, I think it would be good for everybody.
GENE SIMMONS: She is welcome to come down and join the fun. But the idea of packing up my suitcases and going to visit somebody, it doesn’t work like that.
PHAWKER: Fair enough my friend, but like I said, the offer stands and otherwise though, thank you again for taking the time to do all of this. Good luck with the rest of your tour.
GENE SIMMONS: My Pleasure.
*December 21st 1973, earliest known filmed performance footage