Before delving into what would become the most interesting and substantive celebrity encounter I’ve had to date…Gene Simmons at the 2013 Fright Night/Fandomfest…let me share a little background regarding my fandom of KISS.
So far as my fervor of the band is concerned I’m something of a late bloomer. Although I’d grown up during their zenith in the ’70s, they’d never been a part of my childhood as they’d been with so many others of my generation. Obviously I was aware of them and remember seeing their image on the back of comic books and on lunch boxes but that was about it.
This would all change when I was 18 years old and befriended a guy named Jason Lucas (fellow Terror on Tequila pod-caster). Jason was not only a KISS fan but something of an expert and I’d soon find myself being tutored by one of the most knowledgeable soldiers in the KISS Army. In fact, I’ve met and talked to many KISS fans since that time and have yet to encounter anyone nearly as savvy on the subject as he is.
Along with being introduced to their music and performances (via his vast collection of concerts), we’d spend much of our friendship in the ’90s doing parodies of KISS songs for our own entertainment. Jason was a talented keyboardist and would lay down the tracks (all by “ear”) while I’d write the lyrics and do most of the singing. This made things even funnier since I can’t sing but did a pretty good job “growling” like Simmons. Looking back, I have no doubt this was the influence of horror host, Son of Svengoolie, (who’d enhanced my childhood with his own spin on popular hits) with Jason acting as my Doug Graves. At the time, however, it wasn’t conscious and just seemed like the natural thing to do.
The parodies revolved around a local grocery store we’d once worked at together named Walt’s and utilized a bevy of songs from the KISS library including: “I Love it Loud” (I Work at Walt’s), “Love ‘Em Leave ‘Em” (Check ‘Em Bag Em), and Hell or High Water (Go to Hell Old Walter). Eventually we’d start doing entire albums such as Hot in the Shade (Hot in the Break room), the Gene Simmons solo album, along with dreams of recording our own “greatest hits” ala’ Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits (Baggers, Checkers, and Twits).
So while I can’t claim any grade school memories of KISS, I can definitely say they’d given me some amazing times in my twenties. And I suppose our collaboration did somehow manage to capture the band’s spirit in its own goofy way. Jason was music and I was monsters…and Gene Simmons himself would tell me that KISS was the marriage of both.
You see despite Jason’s devotion to the band, Gene Simmons is a fan of classic horror and comic books and therefore, interest-wise, much more like me than he is of him. Purchasing the Simmons VIP pass was a celebration of KISS finally entering my own fan territory and without the company of my former master. It would not, however, mark the first time I’d met Gene Simmons…
In 1993 (when I was 22), the KISS ALIVE III album was released along with a promotional opportunity to meet the band via a chain of stores called Sam Goodie/Musicland. If you bought the CD at one of these franchises, you’d also receive (for just one penny more) a ticket to a “KISS Party” at your nearest metropolis. Though far from being a “party” in the classic sense, it did mean that you could meet the band (which at that time was Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer, and Bruce Kulick) and have them sign something (no photos).
The event took place downtown and we camped out that morning despite the band not slated to appear until evening. We were met by a mutual friend named Steve and one of his pals; an attractive female writer I’ll refer to as “Cassie.” All day long we chatted amongst ourselves and Cassie (who was covering the event for a magazine) wasted no time telling us that she was not a KISS fan nor could understand our devotion to a bunch of “gross old men.” Before the day was out, however, she’d experience something of an epiphany.
We eventually met the band and I had Simmons and Stanley sign my KISS comic (covered a bit in my Ace Frehley Days of the Dead piece HERE) and went home. The next morning I got a call from Steve who’d been unsuccessfully trying to get a hold of Jason. Apparently when Simmons met Cassie he liked what he saw and would end up spending the night with her. For male fans or those gals who don’t account for the 10,000 plus Simmons’ conquests, this is how it worked…
When Cassie walked up to the signing area, Simmons pointed at her and said, “You…over there (as he pointed to another area off to the side)!” The two went out for a late supper and Cassie was told up front that, while he did choose her for sex, he was fine with them just enjoying a nice dinner and a movie (the film they’d see was the Tina Turner bio What’s love got to do with it). Cassie stated that, despite his blunt request, he was a “perfect gentlemen” and, needless to say, called Steve the next morning to pick her up from his hotel room having granted him his wish (twice).
We finally reached Jason and the three of us drove up to the Chicago Hilton after making a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some oatmeal cookies. Jason knew that these were Simmons’ favorite so we thought we’d bring some along as a gift. Cassie told us the alias Simmons was staying under and we checked in at the main desk before being directed to his room. After standing outside the door a bit (while feeling a rush of adrenaline) we let Steve do the knocking as Jason and I stood a safe distance behind. Seconds later, Simmons answered in his hotel, white bathrobe. Without saying a word he took the cookies and waved before handing Cassie (who understandably was none to pleased that Steve brought along an entourage) over to us.
Steve took Cassie home while Jason and I hung out at The Hilton in the hopes of more KISS sightings. We did eventually see Paul Stanley (who saw our KISS shirts and waved) before getting booted from the hotel.
The next time I’d see Simmons was three years later on stage; this time with original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss via The Reunion Show. Jason and I would see the opening show at Tiger Stadium as well as twice in our home city of Chicago…the second being front row.
In preparation for that show, I grew a short goatee (to mimic Simmons’ Revenge look) and shaved half of it off. Jason then painted my clean shaven side with Gene’s familiar bat wing. The goal was to become a sort of composite Gene Simmons (sporting both looks at once) which must have made an impression as Simmons, while performing at the concert, looked at me and pointed. He stuck his famous tongue out at me before twirling his finger around his ear and mouthing “You’re crazy!”…which in the KISS universe, is actually a compliment.
And now it’s Sunday, July 28th 2013…
Simmons was only appearing on this day and at the building across from where Russ and I were staying. This was a huge relief as it didn’t require us having to make another damn pilgrimage to The Kentucky Convention Center down the street while also sparing us from any more lines. Instead we were directed to a small ballroom that had comfortable chairs and free ice water…a novelty at this event!