After years of petitions, angry letters and actual protests outside the museum in Cleveland, Kiss are finally entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. The instant the news hit, many in the Kiss Army wondered whether Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley would perform with estranged bandmates Ace Frehley and Peter Criss on the big night.
We spoke to a surprisingly gracious Gene Simmons about the big honor, and the possibility of him burying the hatchet with Peter and Ace.
Tell me your first reaction to the big news.
Pride. For me, it's another tug of the shirt sleeve to remind me that the American dream is alive and well. I'm living proof of it. I came here as an immigrant, a legal one – that's a distinction – and getting the Hollywood Walk of Fame and getting the keys to the cities of God knows how many cities and the wax museums and the thousands of licensed products we have and on and on . . . Still, no matter how much much noise we make about how only the fans matter – and it's true they are the ones that put us here and without them we are nothing – there is something in the back of our collective consciousnesses that makes us want to be recognized by our peers.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame started out as a wonderful idea and ideal, and it's a pride and privilege. Now, we've had 10 different lineups. It's important to list that the honor is not just ours. It's Gene, Paul, Ace, Peter, Eric Carr, Mark St. John, Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, Vinnie Vincent, Tommy Thayer . . . There's been a lot of guys, and we continue to tour and fill up stadiums, and it is a testament to the idea of Kiss.
A long time ago, four knuckleheads off the streets of New York decided to put together the band they never saw onstage. We were ballsy enough to throw down our own gauntlet. "You wanted the best? You got the best! The hottest band in the world. Kiss." You're goddamn right.
Did you start to think you'd never be inducted?.
Yeah. I think it's political. As soon as the fans had their say, I'm told, we slaughtered everybody else. I think it's a crime that Deep Purple is not in and Patti Smith is. What the fuck? There are disco artists and all kind of credible and important kinds of music that have nothing to do with rock & roll. But, hey, it's not my thing. I think the best thing they did was to open it up to the fans. There is an American ideal: "By the people, for the people, of the people." Hey, that's a good idea.
You're definitely coming to the ceremony, right?
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We need to stand up there proudly for the fans.
It's nice to do it in Brooklyn since you guys started in New York.
Yeah. It's the coolest of the cool.
It's you guys, Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens. Are you fans of these people?
I respect all musicians who get up onstage. Whether that qualifies it as rock & roll is another issue. I'm of the opinion it's about guitars and drums. That's our meat and potatoes. For the record, no backing tracks, no pre-recorded anything. When you see us live and it says Kiss, that's it. We're live. When we play TV and there's a backing track, we'll say so.
People are very curious about what lineup of the band is going to play that night.
Well, Kiss is Tommy Thayer, Eric Singer, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons. It's like, if you introduced me to your wife and I go, "Wait, where are all the other wives?" It's like, "Yeah, I was married to them and now I'm here." You can argue that point and we'll figure everything out as time goes on. This one is for the fans. If the fans didn't care, we wouldn't be here. If it meant nothing to them, we wouldn't be here.
Bands often play with old members at the Hall of Fame. Are you open to the idea of playing with Peter Criss and Ace Frehley that night?
Sure, why not?
I've heard you say in the past you never wanted to play with them again.
That was for a tour. But they were equally important in the formation of the band. When you have kids with your first wife, you give kudos. The fact you got remarried doesn't delete or minimize the importance. Hey, "You have gave birth to this thing, Kiss, with Ace, Peter, Paul and Gene."
But there's been some very public feuding and bad blood in the past few years.
There's never been bad blood. I love them as people. I just hate drugs and alcohol. I don't care if you are Mötley [Crüe] or Springsteen. If you don't have the balls to get on the stage straight, it's an insult to the fans and the band members.
They say they are clean now, though.
I have no comment.
They usually end the night with a big all-star finale where all the inductees do a song together. I've heard it suggested this time it might be "Rock and Roll All Nite." Are you open to that?
Sure. What other song ends the night?
It would be a riot to watch you sing that song with Bruce Springsteen.
He's great. He doesn't use backing tapes, either. That's a good thing. What he does is unbelievable. You have to tip your hat.
Do you mind at all that the critics often ripped on you guys back in the day?
No. I'm too rich to care. I'm such a privileged bastard, are you kidding? I get paid more money than some Third World countries. What do I have to complain about? The fans love us. We love them. Not everyone loves Jesus, either. I remember when Rolling Stone called the first Led Zeppelin album a "limp blimp."
We also said they were a knock-off of the Jeff Beck Group.
Well, you can't say anything bad about about the Jeff Beck Group. Those first two records were fantastic. And Jimmy Page played on that stuff as well. I know Beck, Page and those guys. It's interesting how gracious the really big guys are about new talent. We've always gone out of our way to make every band we've ever taken out on their first tour feel like headliners. The list of bands we took out when they meant nothing is pretty remarkable, just because we liked them as fans: AC/DC, Rush, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. It just goes on and on.
The guys in Rush give you a lot of credit for bringing them to a big audience.
Well, to take a Canadian band on their first tour in America was like, "Who?" But as soon as I heard "Working Man" and heard Geddy [Lee] sing. I was like, "What the hell? This is like a Canadian Led Zeppelin!"
Back to the thing with the critics, it's like you're asking Godzilla why the people hate him while he's destroying Tokyo. "Sorry, he's 50 stories tall. He can't hear you."
People are curious to know why you don't get on VH1 Classic's That Metal Show with Eddie Trunk.
Respectfully, I'm not very interested.
[Chuckles] Before there was metal, there was Kiss. We don't really consider ourselves metal. It's just rock & roll, and all the hand gestures that everybody does on that show, I invented that. Oh, and let me add the word "bitch."
So, it's nothing personal against Eddie Trunk or anything?
Oh, I don't care. I wish everybody well. Everyone should have a happy life and succeed and stuff. Just because we don't want to do a show doesn't mean anything. I'm not really interested in Jon Stewart's show, either. That doesn't mean we don't wish him well. It's just not my cup of tea. I don't want to be a pinata while he's going to throw jokes. But if he wants to play mano a mano, you gotta take it as well as give it.
How are you going to dress on Hall of Fame night? Are you gonna wear the full make-up and the costumes?
I was thinking of wearing a polka dot dress . . . No, we really haven't thought about it.
If they tell you they just want the original four guys to play, will you be cool with that?
As long as they are willing to only bring their first girlfriend and their first wife . . . There's no rules. I really haven't thought about it.
To just totally clarify once again, you're willing to play with Ace and Peter that night?
That could be the last time ever then. When else could that happen?
In January we are celebrating our 40th anniversary, and boy do I look good! And every time I say, "I'm never going to do this, I'm never going to do that . . . " For God's sake, Ace and Peter were in the band three separate times. And they were let go three separate times. Every time it was about the same thing. How many times are you going to hear, "No, I'm healthy now. I'm fine." It's like the old, "I promise I'll pull out."
The only consideration has always been the military ideal: sound mind, sound body, respect for the fans. They are our bosses. We buckle our knees to the people who make our lives possible, and rightfully so. You and me and everyone else, we just work here. Everyone else that disrespects that maybe shouldn't have the opportunities it provides. The stage is holy ground. It is electric church. Not everyone belongs there.
So you think it's possible there might be a 40th anniversary tour that involves Ace and Peter?
I don't want to do that. Nah. I've been through it before. Too many scars and too much, "I promise, I promise, I promise." It's like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. How many times can you cry the same thing? After a while, sorry, Charley.
They both wrote books and didn't say very nice things about you. Did that bother you?
I stand by everything they said! [Big laugh] I'll tell you a wonderful story. Ace, God bless him . . . You know, when he's straight he's a wonderful guy. He took me to the Beverly Hills Hotel and he told me a story. He said, "Look, I just want to show you a chapter I wrote in the book and just check with you and make sure it's OK."
I said, "Look, write whatever you want. I'm a happy guy." He said, "I just want to check the accuracy of it." I said, "OK, what is it?" He goes, "Well, nineteen-seventy-whatever it is. There's a swimming pool and we're all out there. There are girls and we're lounging around, and I get up on the diving board in my swimsuit and I've got champagne in my hand and I'm drunk and I've got a scarf on. You then say to me, 'Ace, get off the diving board. You're drunk, you're going to drown.' I then say, 'Fuck you. Don't tell me what to do!'"
Then he jumps off the diving board and jumps in. Of course, he starts to drown. He says, "Of course, you dive in because you used to be a lifeguard. You fish me out, pump the water out of me, save my life." And at breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel he says to me, "I want to thank you for saving my life. But how accurate was it?"
I say to him, "It was 95 percent accurate. Yes, there was a diving board. Yes, champagne in hand. Yes, laughing in my face. Yes, drowning in the pool. Yes, I dove in and rescued someone. But it wasn't you. It was Peter Criss. You were flat-out unconscious – surprise – on the side of the pool.
He just shrugged his shoulder. You can catch him in a lie or a figment of his imagination and he'll just shrug his shoulders and go, "Oh well, what the fuck?" He's a happy-go-lucky, I'm sorry . . . When we first got together it was magic. We loved those guys. All for one and one for all. Look, not all marriages stay together. What can I tell you? Cain and Abel didn't get along very well, either.