Gene Simmons Sticks his Tongue out at the Fright Night Fandomfest!

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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.

1Jason and I with a member of the KISS tribute band “Strutter”

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).

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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.

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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.

1Composite Gene

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!

The chairs were divided into two groupings with a walkway between. The Gene Simmons VIP’s were told to sit on one side with the rest all on the other which ended up being far from an even distribution. I’d noticed throughout the weekend that I hadn’t encountered anybody else wearing the Simmons VIP lanyard I had on, and for good reason. It soon became evident that us Gene Simmons VIP’s were few and far between.
18Simmons VIP’s on the left…All others on the right.
Russ and I sat and talked while guzzling ice water which inevitably lead to a trip to the restroom. We soon discovered, however, that the mens room located on this floor had become closed to the public, with an armed guard sitting outside. This was our cue that this bathroom was meant for Gene Simmons alone and that he’d finally arrived.
A short time later, an attractive brunette entered via an adjoining room and began setting up special stands. She was joined later by a gentlemen who proceeded to display Gene Simmons‘ signature Axe guitars. These instruments each represented ones he’d played during recent shows (all European concerts) and were for sale. They looked beautiful so I went up to take pictures and, after nobody yelled at me, a mob of others soon followed.
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Later on, one of the Fright Night/Fandomfest crew members came out of the same adjoining room looking frazzled before asking all the people who’d purchased a special “guitar signing ticket” to raise their hands. Gene Simmons autographs were $100 each but, for guitars, were $500. This is actually a standard fee for rock stars as guitars are the number one item hucksters get signed before re-selling at a profit. In fact, Simmons himself had stated in his reality show, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, that he “hates” signing guitars for this very reason.
A group of guys raised their hands and were told to meet with the crew member on the other side of the room (i.e. right in front of me). Although speaking in hushed tones, I heard them being given the bad news…
“Gene Simmons will NOT sign your guitars,” he told them. The group looked as if they’d been shot. Apparently the guitars Simmons brought along (and were standing before us) were the ONLY ones he would sign (after you bought one) and no others…not even ones that were his if you’d purchased them prior to this event. Clearly since that episode of Family Jewels, Simmons had figured out a shrewd solution to people profiting off of his signature. He’d created his own company (appropriately called Axe) which sells those he’s played on stage…and from here on out that’s the ONLY way you’re gonna get a Gene Simmons signed guitar.
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21Harsh news for those with guitars
Obviously, the news went over like a lead balloon. One of the men had brought along six guitars (a.k.a. paid $3,000) and was now being told that Fright Night/Fandomfest would happily exchange those tickets for autograph vouchers. Not surprisingly, NOBODY went for that option leaving the organizers little choice but to give full refunds. A few took out their frustrations on the crew member who could do nothing but shake his head and say, “Look, we’re just as upset about this as you are.”
He wasn’t kidding…that guitar money had just effectively gone from the convention’s hands to Gene’s.
After the group was escorted out (presumably to get their cash), another crew member opened the door from that now infamous adjoining room. Like his predecessor, he also looked like he’d just been through a ringer (what the hell was going on back there anyway?). He called the Gene Simmons VIP carriers up to the door…of which there were only about FIVE of us present (including me).
After we all assembled he asked, “Okay, who here is carrying the Gene Simmons badge?” We all proudly held up our lanyards thinking our sparse numbers would surely garner us some real VIP treatment (which would have been another novelty at this event). Nothing could have prepared us for what followed.
“Put those away NOW!” he ordered.
We all stood frozen trying to process what we’d heard.
“Gene Simmons does not want to see his name on any badge so PLEASE, just keep those in your pockets!” he pleaded, before disappearing back behind the door. Now it was our turn to look shocked. Here we just showed off the most expensive badge Fright Night Fandomfest had to offer and the guy acted like it was a penis hanging out of our unzipped pants.
Picture 081Don’t show this to Gene!!!
“Why is Simmons DOING this!?” asked one of the guys in our group incredulously.
One of the two women VIP’s opted to be the voice of reason. “Well maybe Gene Simmons is one of those people that just doesn’t like to see his face in a mirror.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s an issue with him,” I said dryly.
The door opened again, this time for the crew member with the ponytail (the one that delivered the bad news to the guitar people). “He’s ready for you,” he said…and held the door open for us…
Coming Up…Gene Simmons gives Svengoolie a KISS make-over!
Dave Fuentes~
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