Gene Simmons Interview: Into the Belly Of The Beast

The future of music. Lions and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hens and foxes, tightrope walkers and football teams. Grocers and bankers, golden beds and “nurses with really big boobs.” Welcome to a never boring conversation with Gene Simmons, a man upon whom God bestowed the gift of the gab on the very same morning He put rock and roll in the soul of everyone – evidently, a busy day. Elmo Keep dodges the barbs as best she can, and locks horns with the blood spewing, television producing, bass playing Demon of rock.

“This is Gene Simmons,” says the voice on the phone. There I was, sitting – more correctly, innocently lounging – in the meeting room of my office, waiting for the call connect. “You were expecting someone else?” “Yes,” I replied. The usual, impersonal, serious-voiced connection service guy.

“I hate assistants,” says Gene Simmons, born Chaim Witz on August 25, 1949 in Haifa, Israel and seemingly forever of KISS – the mega selling, greasepaint wearing, pyrotechnic-loving, glam hardrock/occasional disco band he founded with Stanley Harvey Eisen (now Paul Stanley) in New York City in 1974.

“I haven’t had one for 34 years,” says the man in the Kabuki make-up. “If you see the world through minimum wage eyes, it’s gonna be warped, you know what I mean? Someone who’s not qualified to get me my coffee shouldn’t be the one who talks for me, do you know what I’m saying?”

And so it was, that my starting the interview with a casual “Who’s this?” turned out to be a harbinger of doom. As Romeo said to Juliet – and I’m paraphrasing here – “This can only end in tears.” From assuming the usual position (So, I guess that last farewell tour wasn’t really a, well, farewell tour? Onstage blood is enjoying a revival: discuss), I quickly find that I am woefully unprepared to interview Gene Simmons. I’d caught this interview the previous afternoon. A cakewalk, it is not going to be.

–  “Interview’, it turns out, is closer to –  “war of attrition’: an escalating verbal stoush. One which I have very little chance of scoring points in. There will be moments when I feel as though Gene Simmons’ glittery silver, Godzilla-booted foot has come down the phone line and into the side of my head. Undeterred for now, we plough on.

“In the same way the king of beasts, the lion, has no problem killing anything that moves in front of him, also has no problems when he goes back into his den to allow his little cubs to run around and bite his tail,” Gene Simmons says, when I ask if or not he’s concerned with having the mystique that rockstars – especially prototypical superhero, fright-face rockstars like KISS – go to such great lengths to construct, wrenched away by something exposing the goofy, soft side of his family life, such as we see in the Osbourne’s inspired Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

“And when you’re looking through your binoculars, it doesn’t look like a different animal, it’s the same one. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but,” Gene Simmons answers, busting out the first of many analogies, which are his favoured way of communicating his ideas. “However, when the king of all beasts gets up, the cubs stop fooling around and everybody in the jungle knows something’s gonna die. When the king of all beasts gets up, it is what it is, and that is the alpha male. Scientists have just found out in the last ten years that Tyrannosaurus Rex – the largest and most successful of all the predators – was actually a very loving parent. I don’t feel that there’s a dichotomy or a contradiction there in the least. In fact, the way I run my household is pretty much the way I run my life. And by the way it works – it works in business and it works in private.”

One of the several points strenuously reiterated to me by all I know who have interviewed Gene Simmons before (along with such sage advice as “do not ask about the length of his tongue”), is that he is not married to long time partner and mother of his two children, (the infinitely patient former Playboy playmate, and star of countless “erotic thriller” B-movies, Shannon Tweed) and should never be referred to as such. Still, 23 years of not-marriage is impressive by anyone’s book. In the rock world, it’s a hen’s tooth.

“Clearly,” I say. “Your union with your partner has been incredibly successful.”

“There’s no –  “partner’. There’s no –  “union’. Those are baaad words.”

Right. “Oh, I’m sorry. The mother of your children.”

“Men don’t want partners. Shannon is a modern woman, you see. She doesn’t define herself by any man. Women are still in the prehistoric past. Every women’s magazine is all “Where is this Going?”, “What Is He Thinking About?”, “Do I Have My Mother’s Hips?”, “Ten Things He’s Interested In”, “Ten Things To Do When You Make Love To Him.” By the way, there’s not a men’s magazine that has those ideas.

“The shortest article in history would be: –  “Woman are thinking: What are men trying to figure out about us?’ Nothing. We could give a squat. And that would be good advice for all women. Cut it out. Get a hobby. That’s my strong instruction to Sophie, my fifteen-year-old daughter. Who, by the way, is captain of her volleyball team, she’s close to straight As in her school, because you’re not allowed not to be. And she doesn’t read those magazines, she doesn’t play with Barbie dolls – although that’s ok too. She’s very feminine too. She has a boyfriend. She’s not somebody’s girlfriend. She just dumped him. She dumped him, not the other way around. Women need to figure out for themselves how to make themselves happy. If you look to a guy, you will always be disappointed.”

Many among us would agree that to pine for outmoded ideals of romantic love in the hope that it will make us complete, is a short and crappy path to unhappy camp. Sometimes in our conversation, Gene Simmons truly shoots goals on point. You just need to sift through the Gene Simmons hubris to get to the Gene Simmons gold. And boy, is there a lot of hubris.

And therein lies the Gene Simmons paradox: like just about everyone, no matter their reputation, he has some very admirable traits. Despite ruling like a dictator, viewers of Family Jewels will well know how deeply and openly he loves his family, and that he is endearingly proud of his children, Sophie, 15 and Nick, 18. He won’t blink at being made fun of by any of them. He’ll call his 89 year old mother to tell her he loves her. He piggy backs a squealing Shannon around the carpark, and in another episode gets royally chewed out by her for ordering in burgers while on a diet, sitting robe-clad on his bed and scoffing them like a naughty kid. It would be a cold, cold heart that didn’t find this incongruous vision – well, cute.

“So,” I ask. “What is one piece of advice you might give to your son, say, to try and impart what it is that’s made your partnership so successful?”

“As a woman?”

“Err, no. To your son.”

“But you’re asking as a woman.”

“Well, yes I am a woman.”

“You’re asking as a woman and you want long term because by your middle years you’ll stop being able to procreate and you’re only making one or two eggs per month. The man, is able to procreate his entire life until he dies, and until slightly after he’s dead too. And he makes hundreds of million of sperm in the time that it takes you to make one or two.”

“Which is why women are so much more powerful in this equation, because women choose,” I say. I figure here, that I’ll play some ball too. You know, to make the fight fair.

“What?” Gene Simmons demands.

“We’re more powerful when it comes to this equation of the continuation of the species.”

“Good luck with that,” Gene Simmons laughs derisively. “Men don’t think about the continuation of the species.”

“Yes they do,” I say. “It’s why they want to fuck everything that moves. It’s just their evolutionary drive.”

“I’m sorry. It sounded like I was finished, but I wasn’t,” Gene Simmons cuts it. “The phrase, –  “He’s a good catch’ or –  “I’m gonna get my claws in him’ doesn’t have a male equivalent. Biologically, she’s desperate. She wants to catch one, before she stops being able to make children. Women are desperate to find a mate before they are able to stop procreating.”

“Yes. And that’s our evolutionary drive.”

“That’s actually all I said. I said nothing else. Men don’t have that desperation. That’s my strong suggestion to my daughter.”

“Are you positing perhaps, that we have to be able to rise above our biological urges to be happy?”

“Yes! Get over it. Women – get a hobby. Stop defining yourself by men. The biggest insult a woman can give another woman is “you can’t even get a man.” So fucking what? Get ten men. You can’t make that insult to a guy – you can’t even get a girl. –  “Yeah, you’re right.’ So figure out how to overcome those nutty sorts of biological urges about, “what’s he doing, what’s he thinking, do I have my mother’s hips?” All that crap. And to become a strong human being, male or female.”

This is really great advice. Really. It was balled up in an insult, but still.

“That’s why Sophie does so well and the rest of her girlfriends are smoking and drinking and none of my kids do because they’re not allowed to. And Nick just finished his first semester in college and got straight As because he has to. That’s their job. There’s no other job they have. And if I catch them once, getting high or drunk just once, they know they’d find themselves in the middle of a desert work camp. And you think I’m kidding.”

“No, I don’t. I don’t think you’re kidding at all,” I say. Gene Simmons was, like Sting, a schoolteacher once you know. But that was only after he abandoned a degree in his now most hated profession: journalism.

Like most everyone who speaks to him, what I really wanted to know about Gene Simmons was if or not Gene Simmons is just a massive wind-up. A shit-stirring, walking soundbite. An amazingly practiced publicity machine. Or, does he actually believe the hyperbole he espouses on every topic imaginable? Maybe I’m way off base. Maybe Gene Simmons is someone more in the tradition of Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, constructing elaborate personas in order to keep their true selves private – and in so doing leaving the public unsure of when, if ever, they are telling the truth. Also, Gene Simmons once dated Cher, when he wasn’t managing the career of Liza Minelli in the 1970s. Gotta be a good story there.

“Tough love,” Gene Simmons continues on the topic of raising children. “If you’re soft and mushy and you talk a lot to your kids, and you negotiate, you’re FUCKED. They will suck you dry like a vampire.”

“How does that differ, or not, from how you were raised?”

“The same way. I come from a single parent family. My father ran out on us, which is not unique. It’s a sad commentary on the male of the species, but it seems to infer, no matter where you go around the world, that he doesn’t want to stick around. He doesn’t want the married state. He just doesn’t. And whether he has kids or not, he’s not gonna stay. He’s gonna run out. Because his freedom means more to him than anything. So that means, I didn’t want to become my father,” Gene Simmons says in a moment of uncharacteristic seriousness.

“You didn’t want to sign for something that you may or may not be able to hold to?”

“Yeah! You never, never know. I don’t want to take an oath I couldn’t live up to – maybe. I actually believe in the Catholic notion, that once you take that oath, you should be held liable and you cannot get a divorce. Though I am far from Catholic. I don’t believe you should be able to take that oath, because I actually believe in the sanctity of words.

“I believe in words, I believe that words are holy. I believe that if you get up there and introduce yourself, –  “you wanted the best you got the best – the hottest band in the world.’ That’s actually a vow you’re making to the people who are paying their hard earned money to come and see KISS. You have a responsibility to live up to your own hype. You’re laying down the gauntlet. You’re not just saying that and then going “and here’s my next song.” Words mean something. They mean something, or they don’t mean anything.”

“Did you ever really have a doubt that you’d succeed at this mission (the all conquering KISS behemoth)?”

“Never. Doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s doubt itself that will help you fail. You’re a tightrope walker – and you can try and answer this for me as honestly as you can – before you take that first step on the rope, you make this point in your head, –  “this is child’s play. I’m getting right over to other side.’ The other mind set is, –  “what happens if I fall?’ Which one helps you get to the other side?”

“Honestly I was just thinking about how I’d never walk a tightrope.”

“That’s not what I asked you! That’s because you’re a woman!”

“Aaah. Look – stop insulting me.”

“I think the world’s great!”

“Stop it. Please stop insulting me.”

“And what time is it? Which one will help you?”

“The blind, idiotic faith.”

“Correct! You can be delusional about it. It actually makes you stronger. It’s called will. Medicine will tell you –  “this guy should be dead’. Why is he alive? He had the will to live. Period. It defies logic, it’s will. Mindset.”

“Almost anyone I’ve asked at your level of success says that – ”

“There is no one at this level.”

“Oh right. How could I forget?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll point it out.”

” – they never doubted it. Even right from the start, which must sound like the most arrogant thing in the world at the time.”

“No, no, no! That’s when it’s the most natural to say it. That’s when you’re most blind to it. When you look back on it, you think –  “oh my god, I must have been out of my mind!’ And that’s the point. It’s this thing that makes jihadists so formidable – you believe it to the very core of your being. No matter what.”

“That’s a staggering analogy. But yes, I take your point.”

“It’s very true. Never get into a fight with somebody who’s protecting his family, because they don’t care if they get hurt. Or killed.”

Check out Part Two of Elmo’s interview with Gene Simmons HERE