By Metal Dave
Much to my giddy delight, the following interview with my childhood hero, Gene Simmons, was published in three of the four biggest Texas newspapers (San Antonio, Houston and Austin) in December of 2009 as KISS was touring to promote the “Sonic Boom” album.
By Dave Glessner
Special to the America-Statesman
Ask a rock star to confess an addiction and you’re likely to start feeling dirty. Or not.
“I worship cake and cookies,” KISS bassist Gene Simmons says when pressed for a guilty pleasure. “If women were made of cake, it would solve all my problems. I don’t care about pasta and steaks. I don’t eat lobsters or crabs; to me they’re cockroaches. I tolerate food, but I dream about cake.”
Not to be confused with the Cookie Monster, 60-year-old Simmons is the larger-than-life, blood-smeared, fire-breathing demon of kabuki rock gods KISS. Celebrating 35 years as the self-proclaimed hottest band in the world, KISS brings its dynasty of spectacle Friday to Austin’s Erwin Center. Los Angeles bad boys Buckcherry open.
Among KISS’ caboodle of famous tricks and treats, of course, is Simmons’ serpentine lollipop licker.
“When I was a kid in seventh grade, the girls all used to say, ‘Hey Gene, show us that trick you do,’ ” he says, calling en route to a concert in Canada. “So, I’d stick my tongue out and start wiggling it, and they’d all start giggling like turkeys to the slaughter. I never imagined for a second what they were thinking, but when I figured out, I’d go to parties and stick it out for effect in much the same way girls with big (breasts) make sure they wear the right bra so they can show off their cleavage.”
Forever paired with co-founding KISS guitarist Paul Stanley, the Hugh Hefner of heavy metal, along with first-rate boot-fillers Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer on guitar and drums, respectively, is touring to promote the new album, “Sonic Boom.” KISS also is revisiting the unlikely 1975 career-launching concert album, “Alive!”
Financed on their manager’s credit card and released as a last-ditch gamble following three failed studio albums, “Alive!” blasted Simmons, Stanley and original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss into future decades of Beatles-like fame and fortune.
“All we knew was we were making anywhere from $85 to $150 a week and never had to go flip burgers,” Simmons says of the lean years. “We were having the time of our lives, and groupies were raining down like cats and dogs. In hindsight, it was just really a case of throwing caution to the wind.”
As with all things KISS, “Alive!” offered as much for the eyes as the ears. Besides such sonic staples as “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Deuce,” “Strutter,” “Firehouse” and “Black Diamond,” the Detroit rock city in-concert album cover captured the dressed-to-kill fearsome foursome in all their action-figure glory. And it was staged.
“If you look at it, you’ll see Ace is holding his guitar upside down,” Simmons says. “It was shot at Michigan Palace, although we were playing three nights (and recording ‘Alive!’) at Cobo Hall.”
The flip side of “Alive!” features another now-classic snapshot of two long-haired, teenage fan-dudes holding a homemade KISS banner in the front rows of a hazy arena. Today, the grown guys still march in the KISS Army, as the band’s fans are known.
“They showed up at Cobo Hall when we opened this (current) tour,” Simmons says. “One guy is in real estate and the other guy is a doctor. The photographer who took that shot said, ‘There’s a weird sense of belonging that all these fans have.’ He looked through the crowd and these two guys stood up and said, ‘Look at the banner we made.’ That was not staged.”
Neither were countless trip-ups that come with KISS’ fiery stage show.
“The first time we played Anaheim Stadium in ’76, we had huge stairs that went up 20 feet high above our amplifiers,” Simmons says. “The show would start with the stage covered in fog and we’d run down the stairs in our platform heels. I promptly fell down the stairs dressed in full armor. We have it on video, and you see me disappearing in the fog and then jumping back up like some kind of jet that goes through the clouds. I’ve gotten hurt in the flying rigs and caught my hair on fire.”
In the latest chapter of KISStory, “Sonic Boom” finds Thayer and Singer each taking their first turns at lead vocals. Did the newcomers approach Simmons and Stanley or did the bosses hand down marching orders?
“We told them (to sing) in the same way we made sure Ace and Peter weren’t just side guys,” Simmons says. “We had a point of view of KISS being a four-wheel-drive vehicle like the Beatles on steroids. Ringo may not have sung every Beatles song, but he sang. When you hear Eric singing on ‘Sonic Boom,’ that’s a legitimate lead vocalist. And Tommy is a legitimate lead singer and songwriter all on his own.”
Asked why KISS’ pop-culture appeal persists, Simmons explains by contrast.
“Are you going to line up for the next Jennifer Aniston movie?” he asks. “Does he love me? Does he not? Shut up! Where’s the monster, and how are we gonna survive? Give me the end-of-the-world story.”