OUTRAGEOUS ROCKERS STILL GOING STRONG
April 30, 2010
Rock and roll, credit cards and pinball machines - Gene Simmons gives Rachael Clegg a glimpse behind the scenes of the Kiss Empire.

"LOOK at this," says Gene Simmons, frontman in rock and roll's most eccentric, outrageous rock band, Kiss.

He takes a card from his black leather wallet and puts it on the table.

Gene's plastic doesn't bear the name of his bank. It's a Kiss credit card, embossed with the famous logo that represents America's fire-breathing, face-paint-wearing rockers.

The credit card is just one fragment of the Kiss Empire, a riff-driven industry powered by Simmons' ever-savvy brain.

There are Kiss dolls, Kiss pinball machines, Kiss masks, Kiss condoms and even Kiss caskets. And, the band have just announced, live recordings on USB sticks of the band's concerts throughout their UK tour.

Simmons is not ashamed of Kiss's shameless marketing bandwagon.

"We were lambasted when we first started doing branding 35 years ago. Bands didn't do that - they just sold T-shirts. But branding wouldn't work as well with other bands - Radiohead action figures don't work."

Simmons' insatiable drive towards monetary success is not unjustified. Born Chaim Witz, in Israel, Gene Simmons moved to New York when he was eight. He grew up in a poor family for whom televisions and refrigerators were the kind of luxuries they could never afford. But it was those emblems of a prosperous post-war America, which would become the mechanisms of Kiss's success.

Simmons still remembers the hardship of his childhood: "You remember the empty feeling in your gut.

"If you live in the Western world instead of somewhere like Iran, you're free - you have every opportunity to do everything you can imagine.

"I learned more from my mother than anyone else. She is a survivor from the German Nazi concentration camps. When she was 14, she saw her whole family killed. Her philosophy of appreciating every day above ground is worth taking note of."

These hard times, Simmons says, have served as his reference point throughout life. "It's like a thermometer, without a zero; the ones in the middle up to 100 don't mean anything. Zero is your starting point."

Despite being firmly ensconced in a world of excess, Simmons has never dabbled in drugs. He is vehemently anti-drink and an ardent non-smoker.

"It's because I am smart. Let's see if everyone knows this - does it have minerals? Does it have vitamins? Do cigarettes give you cancer? Does having a drink make men smarter? Drugs, do they make you walk the tight-rope better - it doesn't work, does it?

"A man who drinks too much because he wants to get laid is going to wind up throwing up on the shoes the woman has just bought.

"He's not going to say anything witty and he's going to wake up with a headache the next day."

Simmons does not idolise his trade, either: "Rock and roll contains no secret - it's a moron's job. If it wasn't for a guitar round their neck, most would be asking, 'Do you want fries with that?' - they're idiots. They're lucky enough to do what they do."

Kiss's latest foray into rock and roll is Sonic Boom, the band's 19th album, and one that remains loyal to Kiss's most prominent lyrical theme - women.

"Rock and roll literally means 'to sleep with'," he explains. "'Let me rock and roll you all night long' is a blues term - which means rocking and rolling in the sack. A lot of our songs are about women."

He likens Kiss's make-up and costume to women wearing make-up and high-heeled shoes.

"When you want attention, when you want power, what do you wear? You put on your high heels, your make-up, you make your hair big,
put on your little black dress and you're ready to go.

"That's what Kiss does, except we wear a lot more make-up and higher heels than you do."

It's not easy wearing seven-inch heels, however. "If you're wearing 14lb boots, it doesn't look much, but lifting your leg is hard work," he says.

"Come here and try this. Raise your knee high above your belly button and then put your weight on it and soon you'll be out of breath," he says, demonstrating one of his Kiss moves.

On stage, Simmons is referred to as "The Demon", with his dark face-paint, pyrotechnic tricks and on-stage tongue wagging. Yet at home, he enjoys a stable, albeit unconventional family life, as shown in the recent reality TV show.

"It's my structure. Everything's mine. I allow you to live in my world. I am the provider and I am the reason you have a home and have food. And I think men have done themselves a disservice. Men have become passive, so women are allowed to say, 'It's our home', but no - it's not 'our' home, not unless you've paid for half of it." The Kiss make-up seems to mark a barrier between Simmons the father, the businessman, "the provider" and Simmons the wild, rock and roll "demon". Life, he admits, is good. In 2005, Simmons estimated that he was worth $250m.

"It's been 35 years (of Kiss] and still counting. I love being Gene Simmons. It's so much fun. I am not the best-looking guy in the world. I'm not the worst-looking guy in the world, but I will walk in and steal your girlfriend."

Never knowingly understated, it seems the the Kiss bandwagon will roll on...and on.

Kiss play Sheffield Arena on May 1, the opening date of the band's UK-wide Sonic Boom tour. A live recording of the two-and-a-half hour concert will be available to buy on a USB stick at the merchandise desk after the show.