Q&A: Gene Simmons on Miley’s Tongue and His New KISS Book
There’ve been more than enough KISS biographies to satiate even the most die-hard fan. Gene Simmons wrote his memoir, KISS and Make-Up, back in 2002. KISS: Behind the Mask, the band’s official biography, came out not long after. Former members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss put out their respective memoirs last year. There’s also been KISStory (1995), Kisstory II: Toys, Games and Girls (2000), Kiss: The Early Years (2002), Kiss Kompendium (2009), and Monster (2012), which cost just $4200. The latest tell-all, Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS, co-written by Simmons, Ken Sharp and Paul Stanley, is a not-so-slim 560 pages chronicling the band’s genesis between 1972 and 1975.
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It’s been a busy few years for the KISS franchise. But then again, it’s always a busy year for the KISS franchise. Simmons and his KISS bandmates still churn out original music, like last year’s Monster, and go on pyrotechnic-heavy tours – they have five upcoming live shows planned in Japan. But Simmons is most newsworthy these days for his increasingly weird side projects. Like recording a song with Engelbert Humperdinck for the crooner’s upcoming Duets album. Or executive-producing an animated TV show about Hello Kitty characters based on KISS. Or that Arena Football League team he co-owns, the Los Angeles KISS, which offered quarterback Tim Tebow a three-year contract which nobody, even Simmons, seemed to take seriously. “It doesn’t matter,” he said about the Tebow offer. “As long as the media takes notice.”
Rolling Stone spoke with Simmons earlier this week about his new book, Miley Cyrus’ tongue, working with Lou Reed, and more.
Why write another book? Are there any KISS stories we haven’t heard yet?
Imagine yourself on a boat and we’re always on top. We’re on stage, so we can see it all. I can see the iceberg miles away. But I only see 10% of it, cause I can only see the top. Everyone else sees 90% of it because they’re on the bottom. You really don’t want to just talk about 10% of the iceberg. You want to see how big it actually is.
This metaphor is getting a little confusing.
This book doesn’t just have our stories. There are stories and anecdotes from other rock stars and journalists, talking about their experiences with KISS. They write about what they saw, what they heard, and what it was like.
Ace Frehley and Peter Criss recently published memoirs, and they both made you out to be the bad guy. Do you feel like the bad guy?
I am the bad guy. I won’t stand for drunks and alcoholics, who get up on stage and consider it their birthright. I consider it a privilege to get up there and arrive on time and be sober, and I’ll be an asshole to anybody who thinks otherwise. You know who else is an asshole? Your teacher was an asshole. Your parents are assholes. Your drill sergeant was an asshole. Because they wouldn’t let you get away with shit. Ace and Peter have had a lifetime of being losers. And not just with drugs and alcohol. They’re losers because of wrong decisions. You sleep in the bed you make. How many chances in life do you get? They were in and out of the band three different times. Why should they get another chance?
They also both claimed in their books that you never shower.
Okay, so what? What’s your point?
Were they telling the truth?
What does showering have to do with being a responsible human being? What else? That’s what makes you an asshole, because you don’t shower? Okay. You win. You win.
Did you see Miley Cyrus perform at the VMAs?
Oh sure, of course.
She got widely criticized for sticking out her tongue, among other things. Are you surprised by the backlash?
I don’t understand why people got so upset. Whether you stick out your tongue or shake your tushy, all the other girls are doing the same thing. Any girl whose name ends with an A—Madonna, Shakira, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, all these girls who sing pop songs through backing tracks like it’s karaoke and gyrate all over the stage—if they can do it, why can’t Miley? Either condemn the whole lot of them or leave her alone.
As somebody who built a career around sticking out his tongue, how would you rate her tongue-wagging performance?
It was okay. But that’s a girl’s version. It’s like girls basketball. It’s as good as girls can get at basketball. But you can’t play with the guys.
You’ve collaborated with Lou Reed, right? On the Music from “The Elder” album?
That’s right. He helped out on “World Without Heroes” and “Mr. Blackwell.”
You’re both artists with a reputation for strong egos, and you’ve both been accused of being pricks.
When two famous pricks are in the same recording studio, trying to collaborate, does it cancel out their individual prickishness?
When you have a shared passion about something, and it’s something you both care about deeply, egos don’t get in the way. It’s sort of a meeting of the minds.
You really don’t care if people think you’re a prick?
It’s like screaming up at Godzilla who’s 50 stories tall. I don’t think it will care. “What’s that you say? You think I’m arrogant? Sorry, don’t have time to discuss it, I’m busy destroying Tokyo. See ya!”
Does any criticism bother you?
Anybody who’s got something to say to you, the response shouldn’t be “I agree, I disagree.” It should be “And what have you done with your life?” Everybody’s got an opinion, but there’s such a thing as qualified opinion. If Richard Branson’s got something to say to me, I’m going to listen. He’s accomplished something. If somebody farts through their mouth, you have to consider the source.
When you were coming up with your Demon character, did you have a plan B? Was there a second choice?
I reject the word “character,” because that implies acting. There’s a Jekyll and Hyde personality switch that happens. I wear more makeup and high heels than your mommy, but she’s in control of who she is. When I get up on stage, it’s a different headspace.
Are there ever moments when you’re not in the mood? When you’re a sad Demon, or an introspective Demon, or a middle-aged Demon who just wants to stay in his boxers all day?
Sure. Before a show, you might have aches or pains, or it’s a bad rainy day, or it’s too humid. We all complain about stuff. But … how do I put this poetically? Once it’s the roar of the crowd and the smell of the greasepaint, forget it. Once the adrenaline kicks in and your chest expands, you forget about all that. You just go onstage and kick some royal ass. That’s our job description.
How much longer can you keep doing this?
As long as it takes. I have miles to go before we sleep. We’re approaching our 40th year. We’ve completely ignored the critics, and in fact we’ve buried them in our back yard. We are the kings of the nighttime world. We outsell the Beatles and Elvis. We have literally 5000 licensed and merchandized products. We have a co-brand with Hello Kitty, which has resulted in 1500 new licenses. I don’t care that some of my favorite bands, U2 or Radiohead or whatever, wouldn’t do that. The truth is, they couldn’t do that. We will do anything we damn well please, whether it makes sense to somebody or not. In essence, that’s the real rock n’ roll spirit.
Doesn’t it get exhausting to always be selling some new product with your face on it?
Never. We want to be our own culture. KISS Kulture, spelled with a K. We’re taking over football next. Go to lakissfootball.com and learn about the only football team in Los Angeles of any kind. You can buy season tickets for $99, and you get a free KISS concert. What’s wrong with that? Your choices are mortgaging your home to get a ticket for the NFL, or you can come to our air-conditioned arena facilities and you’ll have the time of your life.
You’re like one of those salesman from Glengarry Glen Ross. You always have to be closing.
Well, I think Shakespeare said it first, and then I guess Alec Baldwin. “The world’s a stage. Either close or go home.” Anybody who gets angry at us are just small people with small dreams who never achieved anything and will always be angry. But they’re mostly angry with themselves for being losers.
Have you ever turned down a merchandizing idea?
Not all ideas work. KISS crack is probably not a good idea. But we’ll try anything else.
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How much KISS merchandize do you personally own? Is there a KISS condom in your wallet right now?
No, no, no. I don’t have any of it. What chef eats everything that’s on his menu?
Will you be buried in a KISS Kaskat?
I might. But I would rather do it KISS style and go up in a pyre.