If you want Gene Simmons to come to your house, all you have to do is buy his new ten CD box set The Vault and he’ll bring it right to you. You can even invite over up to 25 friends. He’ll spend two hours at your place and maybe even play a few songs on the guitar. The only catch is that it costs $50,000. He swears it’s worth it. “It’s the largest box set of all time and it spans from 1966 to 2016,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It has 150 songs that have never been released, including a song I wrote with Bob Dylan. Joe Perry appears on one track and the Van Halen brothers appear on three others. A lot of it is stuff I was never able to release because we were preaching the mantra of Kiss and a lot of the stuff didn’t simply sound like Kiss.”
No rock star of Gene’s caliber has ever travelled around the country visiting fans at their houses, but the Kiss frontman has a long history of finding new ways to make money, whether it’s selling Kiss comic books, Kiss condoms or even Kiss caskets. He got on the phone with us not just to plug The Vault, but also to share the life lessons he’s picked up over the years – covering everything from infidelity to parenting to why he continues to believe that rock is dead.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
The wisest person I ever met continues to be my mother. She survived a Nazi concentration camp at fourteen when her whole family was killed. Her perspective on life is, “Every day above ground is a good day, so reach for the stars. As long as there’s nobody trying to kill you, what have you got to lose? You cannot fail.” And she’s right.
She’s also taught me that success is only temporary. She still doesn’t understand who pays me and why there’s so much money. She just can’t fathom it. When I showed her the first ten million dollar check I earned, she didn’t know what ten million dollars was, or whether it’s ten thousand or a hundred thousand. But she looked at it and it looked like a large number and she said, “That’s wonderful, now what are you gonna do?” She’s right. You knock somebody out, you’re the champion of the world, hey that’s great. OK, now what are you gonna do? Sit back? Or are you gonna get back in the ring and continue to pump your heart while you’re alive? Use it or lose it. I learned that work ethic from my mother.
How do you teach your kids to find that drive when they were born into such radically different circumstances than you?
For one thing, they’ve never had an allowance. I strongly don’t believe in giving your kids any money for nothing, because when they go off on their own, their hands are going to be outstretched, going “Where’s my money for doing nothing?” So it’s a good thing to keep your kids on a tight leash. Also, I don’t expect much from you, but what I do expect, you will deliver, or else. One is, you’re not allowed to get high or get drunk or smoke cigarettes – can’t do that. If you want to, I want to have a discussion. And tell me before, don’t tell me after. If you transgress, if you go against my commandments, you will find yourself in a desert camp digging holes, written out of the estate and the will.
Do you think if you were born to a wealthy family in America you wouldn’t have the drive you’ve had all your life?
I think I have an advantage because we came from nothing, and I wasn’t born in America. I became aware of the promise land that was America. I was supposedly born in the “Promised Land,” Israel, but there is no country that gives you so much as America.
You’ve been with your wife Shannon Tweed for over thirty years. What’s the secret to a long relationship?
Our DNA says we manufacture hundreds of millions of sperm every day. We can’t take Thursdays off. We have the eternal and primordial urge to merge. The problem that girls have is that just as they see a six foot two guy with a deep voice and think, “Now, that’s a mature man.” No he’s not, he’s a fourteen year old horny boy. He’s not going to mature until his hair grays, and he won’t ever fully mature. You’re going to have to keep him on a short leash because young guys never want to get married, they don’t want kids. It’s not in our DNA. Our DNA says, “Go hunt, do whatever the fuck you want.” The last thing our DNA wants to hear is, “Where are you going?”
“Where am I going?” “Who wants to ask?” It’s true for you, it’s true for me, it’s true for everybody. So my advice to women is to dump your boyfriends. Go for much more mature guys, maybe that made their fortune and who have gotten their wandering out of their system, most of it, anyway. It’ll never leave, by the way. Men are better later on than younger.
So what’s made you stay with Shannon for all this time?
She is better than I am. She stuck by my side for 29 years, raised two kids, Nick and Sophie, who are extraordinary, and, despite all the wanderings, she never left. And then I had a come-to-Jesus moment: Am I gonna die alone surrounded by strippers, which sounds fun and good and all that, but that’s not really what you want, or do I die surrounded by my loved ones, kids and Shannon? So I decided to marry her, first time I ever got married will be the last time that I got married. In fact, I re-married her a year or two later. That’s the right time. In my situation, that’s the right way to do it. Until you’re 60, sow your wild oats, and don’t ask anybody’s permission. Because women will always cock block you.
What are the most important rules you live by?
Again, every day above ground is a good day. Hypothetically, you’ve only got 24 hours to live, what would you do? Binge watch your favorite new Netflix show and then die? Or try to do something? Try to create jobs, give your money away, tell your loved ones you love them, do something positive. I think our job is to leave this place a little better than when we found it, and if everybody did that, it’d be pretty cool.
What do you do in your own time to relax?
I don’t have my own time. I have the Gene Simmons side band. We tour when Kiss doesn’t. Kiss tours. Kiss has five thousand licensed products. I’m busy all the time. Gene Simmons Vault, the restaurant chain…
So sitting on a beach for a few days doesn’t appeal to you?
No. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. Sexiest part of my body is my brain, and I like to play with it all the time.
Besides your mother, who is your hero?
Albert Einstein. Did badly in school, was a lothario, who kept being attracted to all women despite the fact that he had kids and family. And he’s a singularity. He just had this extraordinary facility to think thoughts human beings had never thought before. Without Einstein, the Japanese and the Germans would have won in World War II.
Thank God Hitler was been dumb enough to drive Einstein and people like him away from the country.
The interesting thing is that the birthplace of hatred in the twentieth century, twice, is Germany. And yet, the great minds of the world all came from Germany. They are all Jews. of course. Karl Marx, Freud, Einstein…you know, they all came from there. The irony of it isn’t lost on me.
What’s the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
Never really made one. I mean, I live in what most people consider a rich house, but it’s also an investment. You buy a 16,500 square foot home, it’s got swimming pools and…anything you want, blah, blah, blah, but frivolous means you throw the money away. I just don’t do that. I have one truck, that’s what I drive. I wear Jeans until they peel off me, so for me, it’s not about stuff, actually. Ironically enough, I don’t have a fleet of luxury cars or anything. It’s not about making a lot of money. I do have a fair amount, but when you’re an athlete, you compete against yourself, against everybody else to try to get the high scores. Money is just high scores that just hold up. That’s it.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
You know, wherever I am is my favorite place. I’ve been all over the world, Kiss has been around 40 years, but the God’s honest truth is that I’d rather be in no place but America – any city. I’d rather be in San Antonio than Paris.
There’s a certain freedom of thought here. When you think about it, when you want to fly through the air, sorry bitch, that was invented in America. If you don’t like night time and the fact that it’s dark, well, America invented light. It turns night into day. America did that. The internet, fast food, 24 hour light, rock & roll, jeans, I mean, the culture of the world is America. I know the culture in Africa is loin cloths, but I don’t carry around a bow and arrow and wear a loin cloth, and neither do you. I know Russians like borscht and stuff like that, but I fuckin’ hate borscht.
You’re one of the few rock stars that has never done drugs or alcohol. How have you resisted?
I may be lucky. I may have a chemical advantage. As soon as I smell alcohol I want to throw up. I don’t like the smell, the look, the culture, I find people who drink weak.
Are you curious to try alcohol? Does that interest you at all?
No, not at all. I like being able to do things. I mean, if somebody comes over and puts hands over your eyes, don’t you want to take the hands away? If somebody wants to give you, without you knowing about it, a pill that knocks you out and you don’t remember two days in a row, you’d say no. So why do people willingly do stuff that numbs themselves? I’m just asking, not judging. They say if you drink too much your shmeckle won’t work, you’ll probably throw up on the shoes of her girlfriend. You won’t be witty, there’s nothing you can say that’s gonna be wittier. Your shmeckle’s not going to get bigger, it’s not going to happen. You cannot run a race high. You’ll lose.
How do you feel looking at the TV and seeing neo-Nazis marching down American streets chanting, “Jew Will Not Be Replaced?”
It’s the height of stupidity. Listen, hatred shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, but in this country, you have the right to get up and even spout hatred. You know, in Skokie, Illinois, the Nazis want to hold a march, they were not allowed. The person who defended them was the son of a concentration camp survivor with the ACLU. The Nazis got a Jewish lawyer who defended them. Only in America.
How do you feel about President Trump saying there were some “fine people” marching in that Nazi parade?
I think there could be somebody who’s a neo-Nazi who is backwards, slow, uneducated. Group pressure is very high when you live in a racist town. How do you do espouse liberal thought – love one another, don’t judge lest you be judged, how do you do that? And all these guys that march with crosses but hate Jews don’t even understand that their God is a fuckin’ Jew and a Rabbi as well.
Part and parcel of this is ignorance, stupidity, but hatred shouldn’t be tolerated. If I was in government I would ban…and if I could get it through, I would ban the Nazi party in all its forms, and put people in jail. Better yet, put them up in Alaska where they could be with each other and hate each other away from society.
How would you rate Trump so far as president?
Whether somebody likes it or not, he’s the duly-elected president and I think you have to respect the presidency. The only thing I can say is that, next election cycle, if people like him he’ll be voted back in, and if people don’t want him, he’s not going to be voted back in. It’s so simple. Unless he breaks the law and gets impeached, this is what it is.
Do you think he’s doing a good job?
In what sense?
Well, I think you gotta get rid of all the ISIS guys, I mean you really have to hunt them down and take them out. They gotta be taken out. North Korea is a big problem. If he and Rex Tillerson can figure it out, that would be a feather in his cap. Russia and China is all bluster. Russia, China, and America are tied to the World Bank, neither are going to war, war is not good business, actually at some point it was…and they’re not going to go to war, they’re not going to let North Korea go there. But regime change is probably in the offering.
Describe your fitness regime.
I don’t really have one except that I’ve gone back to the strictly protein diet, that works. Not strictly because salads aren’t protein, and I just immediately dropped five pounds, I’m lucky that way. Kiss is the hardest working band in show business, I run around on seven-inch platform heals wearing forty pounds of armor, that’ll take the weight off you. When I’m not, and I have a day or two off, I go hiking. Five to ten miles up the hills of Santa Monica.
What music moves you the most?
My favorite kinds of tunes are the new pop tunes. I don’t know much of them, I mean Tame Impala is OK, but because there’s no such thing as the record industry anymore, because generations of fans have trained themselves to download and file-share and stream for free, the new guys of the world will never get a chance. So there will not be another Beatles. You can play the game, 1958 until 1988 is thirty years, Elvis, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Madonna, Prince, Jackson, U2, ACDC, maybe Kiss, and from 1988 until today, give me the new Beatles.
Do you stand by your statement a couple of years ago that rock is dead?
I’m going to ask you again, from 1988 until today, who’s the new Beatles?
I think groups like Pearl Jam and Radiohead…
Hold on, hold on hold on hold on. You’re talking to a big fan. If Thom Yorke walked down the street in Pasadena, what would happen?
I think a lot of people would be shocked and thrilled to see him.
I think you’re delusional. I’ve been with Dave Grohl when he was walking down the street and nobody knew, and he’s a big star. No, that’s not what a star is. Prince was a star. You could see him coming from a mile ahead. There are successful artists. Pearl Jam, by any standard, is very successful…how about this: more people would know Mötley Crüe walking down the street than Radiohead. Of course, I don’t mean they are better.
Look, the system is broken, and because the system is broken. New rock bands are very fragile. They’re like babies. You need to give them love and caring and give them a chance to come up with their better stuff so that they start with “Love Love Me Do” end up writing “A Day in the Life.” The same band. They had the time to mature and grow. But if they were living in their mother’s basement and had to work for a living, which is what’s going on today, it’s not going to happen. Yeah, rock is dead. Not that it can’t come back to life, but the business is dead. If the business is dead, rock is dead.
You know what’s not dead? Pop. Lots of pop divas, little girls buy the material. Black music, especially rap, their fans buy the music. Country, yup, their fans buy the music. Rock, no.
“Everybody gets fifteen minutes of fame? No, no, no, everybody’s famous much longer than that.”
Do you like Kanye West?
I like the idea of Kanye. I couldn’t name you a song. Kanye’s overshadowed by the Kardashians. What they’ve been able to do is to break the mold, become famous by doing nothing. That’s, by the way, a compliment not a criticism. Warhol was wrong. Andy Warhol, who I knew when he was alive, was wrong. Everybody gets fifteen minutes of fame? No, no, no, everybody’s famous much longer than that.
What do you think of Justin Bieber canceling his stadium tour?
Well, he’s young. It’s okay to make mistakes when you’re young. Just stay away from booze and drugs and the rest is just stupid behavior. There’s no denying he’s talented. As soon as he starts doing more serious music instead of little girl music, I think we’ll all be surprised. The kid can play instruments, he can sing, he looks good, he can dance. He can do better stuff, but look, his young, female fan base loves that, so there’s nothing wrong with it.
But if a stadium tour is sold out and he’s physically able to play the shows…
You’re talking to a band that’s never canceled anything. We show up on time.
How do you feel about turning 70 in two years?
I’m 68 now, feel great. I still have hair on my head and more on my back. Feels great.
Do you still want to be fronting Kiss at 75?
I do. I’ve also started the Gene Simmons Band. We’re doing 30 this this year. Go to genesimmons.com and see it on the front page. My comic book company is doing great. Everything is doing great.
How do you want to be remembered?
I honestly don’t care about that. I’ve had such a wonderful life and continue everyday to do amazing things. I don’t have a woulda, coulda, shoulda, I don’t have regrets. I know what it’ll say on my tombstone: “Thank You and Goodnight.”