Gene Simmons gives my Svengoolie shirt a KISS Make-over!

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(Gene Simmons at Fright Night Continues)

The door opened and we were escorted into a large ballroom full of empty chairs facing an almost equally vacant stage. There stood Gene Simmons in front of a long table, arms folded. He was clad in a dark blazer, button down shirt and jeans while wearing sun glasses. With his head tilted up, it almost looked like he was trying to recreate the Sphinx cover from the KISS Hot in the Shade album.

Making the journey towards him in silence was nerve wracking enough before Simmons started  snapping at the crew member accompanying us. “You DO realize that at the rate you’re moving we’ll be getting through about sixteen people per hour, don’t you? You HAVE done this before, correct?”

Yes, Sir…” the flustered staff guy responded, his eyes on the floor. The poor man reminded me of the Cowardly Lion on his way to meet Oz. Seconds later, he broke out of his submissive stance (which was just shy of urinating on the carpet) before turning his frustration onto us, “C’mon, let’s go!”

I definitely saw a trickle down effect in terms of how we were treated. Simmons would snap at a crew member and they, in turn, would get impatient with us. It reminded me of when I was a kid and my dad would come home in a bad mood and start an argument with my mother who’d then get pissy with us.  The crew member’s “C’mon let’s go!” sounded a lot like, “Shut up and eat your damn broccoli! Your father’s had a lousy day!!!”

We made it onto the stage and Simmons began greeting his fans. The other non-VIP folks started lining up behind us and I turned and saw Russ about twenty feet down. We gave each other a good luck wave as if preparing to jump out of an airplane.

Despite Gene Simmons acting as if he were in a hurry moments earlier,  he was the ONLY big celebrity at this event that actually took the time to talk with his fans.  And, with the Fright Night/Fandomfest handlers hiding in the corner and unable to badger you into moving your ass, the encounter would last as long as HE wanted to.

Simmons never sat at the table and chose to stand toe-to-toe with his fans instead. Most of the items he’d sign mid-air but, on occasion, would lean over and use the table when necessary. Each autograph was $100 and the man in front of me had several items. This prompted another reaction from Simmons. “Um…how many items am I signing here?”

“Six,” the man responded.

They told you that you could have six items signed?” asked Simmons.

“Yes, Sir,” he replied. “I paid for these.”

Simmons stopped. “Oh, I see…you PAID for each of these!” He turned and looked out to the ballroom. “I want to speak to the organizer of this event immediately!!!”

Suddenly I figured out why Simmons had been so difficult. He’d been paid a standard fee for attending the event and was unaware of what fans were paying for specifically. Rumors had been going around that his appearance cost the convention anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 (never verified) with Fandomfest, in turn, trying to make back the money with the Simmons VIP passes (which clearly weren’t a big hit due to the price) and autograph fees…the guitar ones Simmons had already snatched from them earlier.

Many reading this may be put off by Simmons and his behavior at this event but I, for one, liked him even more. After a weekend of being rushed around and bilked for cash, I began to see him as something of an avenger.

Seconds later…it was my turn and, thankfully, I’d brought just ONE item to sign; Famous Monsters of Filmland #226 with Simmons on the cover. He said hello before pointing to the picture and saying, “Look at that handsome guy, there.” I laughed.
Picture 078
I told him I was less a KISS fan as I was a Gene Simmons fan. I told him that I thought he was brilliant and that he knows who he is…a rare quality in this world. “Thank you,” he responded. “Some people call that being an asshole but its nice to see that you know the difference.” He then looked down at the Svengoolie shirt I was wearing.
“Hmmm…your shirt seems a little unfinished there.” He then grabbed a black Sharpie from the table and proceeded to draw a bat wing over one of Sven’s eyes. “There,” he said while admiring his work. “That’s much better.”
22
Later, when I recounted this story to Eric Austin in the dealer’s room, he told me I missed a golden opportunity. “You should have gotten all upset, stomped your feet, and told him he’d just ruined your favorite shirt,” he laughed. Clearly Eric has no idea how intimidating it is being in the presence of Gene Simmons. The man could have taken that Sharpie and drawn a mustache on my face and I STILL would have stood there smiling.
“What exactly is that shirt your wearing anyway?” Simmons asked.
“It’s national horror host, Svengoolie,” I replied.
“Oh, I know Svengoolie,” he said. “I know Svengoolie.”
I told him that Sven is currently showing the Universal classics and he said he was happy to hear that. “I love those movies,” he said. “I’m glad that they’re still getting the play they deserve.”
I told him that he and Svengoolie were my “two favorite men in make-up” and he laughed before I moved on.
Fright Night/Fandomfest wanted Simmons to take the fan photos back where the other photo ops were but he’d have none of it. Simmons insisted that they be done right there and that he had no intention of leaving the area. Again, we couldn’t be happier as we didn’t want to have to make the journey either.
By the time I’d made it back to the ballroom to await the photos, there was a new rule issued that Simmons would only sign two items at a time. So, if you had brought and paid for eight items that meant you had to get in line four different times. I sat down and Russ soon joined me having met Simmons himself. He’d had him sign a painting he did of him just days before the event. Simmons asked who painted it and, after Russ told him that it was him, he responded, “great job!”
24Russ with the painting he did of Simmons (before it was signed)
By this time, I’d bonded with a couple of the other Gene Simmons’ VIP people (the few and the proud), a guy and his female friend who sat with us. The guy was determined to take a picture with the guard standing outside of the Simmons bathroom…which he did.
“We should try and sneak in there after Simmons uses it and snag some DNA,” he later joked.
“Awesome!” said Russ. “Then all we’ll need is an ovum and we can make our OWN Gene Simmons!”
We then discussed the guitars Simmons had brought along. The regular ones were $2,500-$3,000 while the chrome ones went for $6,000. In addition to your purchase, he’d take a photo with you after signing it. If you think this sounds outrageous, I should probably mention that ALL of them sold at this event!
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To be honest, I wished I’d had the money to buy one myself. Not because I feel the need to own a guitar nor get a second autograph/picture with Simmons but because those instruments represented Fright Night finally getting a taste of its own bitter medicine. While Paul Stanley may be known for breaking his guitar on stage, Simmons had effectively cracked his over the heads of the organizers. They learned the hard way what many of us had already known; in the game of profiteering, NOBODY was going to out fox Gene Simmons.
About 30 minutes passed before us Simmons VIP’s were called up to get ready for our photos; once again reminded to hide our badges. I was happy with the Sven shirt situation but suddenly regretted not having my official Fandomfest Expo shirt to change into. With Gene’s face on it I wondered what his reaction would have been. My guess is that he’d forgo his policy of staying in that hotel, march over to the convention center, and tip the vendor upside down while shaking all the money out of his pockets.
The door to Simmons opened again and we VIP’s were asked to stand just inside. As we assembled, Gene walked right past us on his way to use the bathroom (HIS bathroom) but, before exiting, issued another demand.
Can we get some music playing, people?! It’s like a Wake in here!”
By the time he’d returned from the washroom, KISSFirehouse was echoing the room.
We lined up for pictures by a make-shift studio they’d set up to the left of the stage. Although the brown walls weren’t all that attractive, I was thrilled not to have been stuck with another gray, marbled one. After a shot was taken, you had to get your voucher back with a number written on it so you could reclaim your photo. This didn’t sit well with Simmons who demanded they conduct their business away from him and let people just get their pictures taken uninterrupted.
A female crew member responded firmly (with her back to Gene), “NO, they need to get their numbers here so they know what picture is theirs for pick up!” Simmons fumed but didn’t respond. Incidentally, that woman was the ONLY person I witnessed stand up to him…even if she refused to look at him as she did it.
The picture was taken quickly…
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I had some time before the Simmons VIP “Meet and Greet” so Russ and I had a late lunch in the hotel lounge. While waiting we saw Stan Lee walk by and were later told that he was en route to say hello to his old friend, Gene Simmons. It never dawned on me until then that I should have brought my Marvel KISS comic (signed by all four original members) for Stan to sign. Doh!!!
IMG_1679Stan Lee strolls past us to see Simmons
We went back to the area Simmons was in and waited outside the ballroom for instructions on where the “Meet and Greet” would take place. I was half expecting Simmons to put the kibosh on that too and started doing my Gene impersonation for the other VIP’s. “Did we not face each other? Did I not say ‘hello? Well there you have it…that’s “meet” and that’s “greet.” Have a nice day!”
“Oh my God, he would TOTALLY say something like that!” one of them laughed.
All of sudden our attention was drawn to an attractive woman dressed in a cape…and little else. It was “Thong Girl” whom I’d partied with the night before. Poor little Thong Girl was devastated and all the men in the group felt it our duty to console her.
Apparently, Thong Girl (who had a booth downstairs) had been lingering nearby hoping that Simmons would see her and take a picture (and I’m assuming that’s it now that he’s married) with her. The events organizers would have none of it. They told poor Ms Thong that if she didn’t get her G-string back downstairs where it belonged, she’d not only get kicked out of this event but banned from all future ones. “Gene Simmons will want a photo with you and he’s not getting any more freebies from US!” they told her.
We all completely sympathized with her…in between asking if she’d pose with us.
25Feeling “Thong Girl’s” pain
Gene Simmons had apparently brought along his own police force which lead to another humorous moment as one of them, a younger blond guy, kept getting stopped by my fellow geeks for photos. Apparently they didn’t realize that he was a REAL cop and thought he was dressed as Patrick Stewart’s T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Not long after we gathered over to a door located down a short hallway. This time we VIP’s were joined by other people making the total of people Gene would be talking to fifteen. I can’t say if they were Simmons VIP’s like us since none of us were allowed to wear our badges.
A crew member showed up and took our special tickets before laying down the ground rules. There would be no additional autographs nor photos, this was just to be a nice conversation with us and Gene Simmons. After we all agreed, we entered the room.
Coming up…The Redemption of Gene Simmons.
Dave Fuentes
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