Inside the head of Gene Simmons

By York Membery for The Mail on Sunday

Since he changed his name and slapped on the face paint after a war-torn Israeli childhood the Kiss frontman hasn’t had a bad day in his life. Bad hair days? That’s a different matter…

What is your earliest memory?

Growing up in Israel, where I lived until I was eight. I remember the constant fighting – the country was founded in 1948, the year before I was born. Every now and then there would be a rocket attack, and every weekend my father would put on his army uniform, pick up his Kalashnikov and hitchhike to the frontline.

What sort of child were you?

I was an only child and left alone a lot as a kid in Israel. I’d go up Mount Carmel, pick the cactus fruit and get stung by the needles. I had one friend, a Moroccan Jew, and we’d hang out together. We had no TV, no radio, but I did have a rock and a stick and my imagination – and that was enough.

When did you last feel happy?

I wake up happy every day. I’ve never had a bad day in my life. Probably because my mother barely survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany – as a result, whenever I have a bad hair day, I kick myself and say: ‘What the f*** are you complaining about?’

What has been your biggest achievement?

My band, Kiss. Not only have we sold 100 million records, but I have my very own Gene Simmons postage stamp. When I go to Las Vegas, I go to the Kiss golf course, then there’s the Kiss limo service. However, seeing my two children being born was a wake-up call that life didn’t just revolve around me.

And your biggest disappointment?

The fact that half the band I started out with in Kiss [Ace Frehley and Peter Criss] are not part of it any more to enjoy the fruits of their labour. And all because of the cliché of clichés: drugs and alcohol. But not everyone has the DNA to run a marathon: some people are just shooting stars.

What are you best at?

I’m best at being a case study. I invented Gene Simmons. I wasn’t born him, I was born Chaim Witz. And English wasn’t even my first language – I couldn’t speak it until my teens. But I’m jealous of anyone who can do anything better than me – it makes me want to roll up my sleeves and find out how I can do it better.

What is your best character trait?

I’m not sure if I have one, or if I’d even like me if I met me – because I walk into a room supremely confident. You’re supposed to be a bit humble, but I’ve just got that kick-your-ass confidence that I think comes from being an outsider and only child.

… and your worst?

I was a bit of a bad boy when I was younger. No drugs or physical or verbal abuse. But I was arrogant and selfish, and I didn’t marry my long-time girlfriend Shannon Tweed until I was 62. But I’ve changed – men do change, but only when they get closer to death.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

Jesus. I’d have a lot of questions for him – and we could talk about philosophy and a host of other issues. But if I think he is who he is, we’d both have a good laugh. Would he turn out to be a Kiss fan? Oh, sure!

Do you have any phobias?

Other people’s eating habits. Whoever said ‘Let’s just eat the legs of the frogs?’ Why eat just the goddam legs? And how can people eat things that look like they came from another planet, like crabs? And don’t even get me started on blood [black] pudding.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

I’ve never been fond of my ears – I always thought they were a little too large.

Who do you most admire?

My Hungarian-born mother, Flora, who’s 90, is the wisest person I’ve ever met. She survived a Nazi death camp, unlike her mother and grandmother, and her philosophy is this: that every day above ground is a good day.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

I may have bedded the female of the species a fair few times over the years – but it was always consensual, and if a girl ever showed up after a concert drunk or high on drugs, I’d ask her to leave. I’ve got no illegitimate children running around or anything like that.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Cake, in all its infinite varieties. Cake can be very seductive, and if I see a cake, I’ve just got to take a bite. Particularly if it’s a chocolate cake. I’m not so keen on French cakes though: they all taste like sweet shaving foam.

What’s the worst job you’ve done?

Working at a butcher’s in my early teens. My job was to chop the heads off chickens. At the end of the day, I had to clean the butcher’s block and scratch off the dried blood and fat. But the worst bit was going down to the rat-infested basement and having to haul up hunks of meat on my shoulder.

What one law would you change if you could?

I’d like to introduce a ‘I’m going to think and do what I goddam want, and don’t want anyone telling me what to do’ law in those countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia ruled by despots or dictators.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don’t want anyone mourning my death, and when I’m gone, why should I care how I’m remembered? When I die, I want my family and friends to celebrate my life with the party to end all parties and go, ‘Whoopee!’

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