The Redemption of Gene Simmons…

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(The Conclusion of Gene Simmons at Fright Night Fandomfest)

“Just go in there and enjoy a nice a conversation with Gene Simmons,” the staff person told us before leading us into a small room with a table of snacks (cheese and crackers) and non alcoholic beverages. There was a line of chairs set up in a half circle with Gene Simmons standing in front of them…no sun glasses this time.

Simmons: Come on in and make yourselves comfortable, that’s what this is all about. Feel free to grab yourself a refreshment. Ah…nice to see we have some women in the group.

One of them offered Gene a bottle of Snapple which he happily accepted (though he never opened it during this discussion). “See? This is why it’s nice having women!” he said. “Men just grab what they want and sit down but a woman will make sure you’re needs are met first.”

We all took a seat as he continued on the subject of women. Initially he discussed how wonderful they are before delving into their uncanny ability to remember every mistake a man’s ever made along with the impossibility of winning arguments with them.

The small talk continued as the woman who’d offered him the drink (a school teacher) asked how his kids were. He happily discussed their current projects such as daughter, Sophie, opening a second “Sophie’s Place” (haven for abused girls) in British Columbia and his son, Nick, working with clothes designer, John Varvatos. Simmons asked if anyone had heard of Varvatos and another woman in the group said, “Yes, I heard about him on The Howard Stern Show.”

style-substance-nick-simmons-indexNick Simmons in John Varvatos suit

Simmons: Seriously? That’s how you’ve heard of him? That’s like learning about the circus through one of the clowns!

He passed around his cell phone (its case the cover of the KISS Rock and Roll Over album) so we could all look at their latest pictures – Nick looking dapper with short hair while sporting one of Varvatos’ suits and Sophie shining a smile. He talked about how she wasn’t married and all the pressure society puts on women to be wed at a certain age (though I could tell that, in her case, he was in no hurry to see it happen).  He also mentioned that Sophie and her mom, Shannon Tweed, are working on their own reality show spin-off of Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

3790781025_cc899e0c40Shannon and Sophie

Someone asked about upcoming KISS products (which must have been music to his ears) and he happily shared their latest merchandise plans including KISS Hello KittyFamily GuyAngry Birds, and a new KISSOLOGY collection. His AXE guitars came up and how he’s planning on having artist, Ken Kelly (who made the covers of both the Love Gun and Destroyer albums) create original, one-of-a-kind designs for some of them. He also mentioned plans to release KISS solo box sets featuring all kinds of rare tracks that nobody’s heard before (though I’m pretty sure that, thanks to Jason, I’d heard many of his). “I’m a regurgitator,” he said. If I have something I did that I liked I’ll use it again for something else.” He brought up other bands using The Beatles as a point of reference and sang the chorus of All you need is love (seriously).

At this point I started to get a little irked. It was Sunday evening, poor Russ was waiting for me outside and anxious to get home, and this whole “Meet and Greet” was starting to look more like a KISS Tupperware Party. I was about ready to ask if he’d brought along catalogs for us when that mild-mannered school teacher proved herself more than just a suck-up.

How’s Paul Stanley’s voice?” she asked.

This was the only instance in the discussion when Simmons would not provide eye contact and I understood why. I recently watched a show from their current Monster Tour on YouTube and the deterioration of Stanley’s voice border-lined on tragic.

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Simmons:  Sometimes it’s good…and sometimes it’s not so good. You know it’s like anything else when you use something a lot it’s gonna start to wear down. For some reason my voice has endured…and I’m not sure why that is.

With the members of KISS now officially on the table, a man in the group mentioned how he used to live near Peter Criss and had met him later at a signing where Criss actually pointed out that they were neighbors.
Simmons: Oh,  I’m so sorry to hear that…
Group: (Laughs)
Simmons: (Sits upright and holds up index finger) Well let me ask you something…which Peter Criss did you meet? There’s actually TWO of them. There’s the happy Peter Criss and the sad one. (turns to the rest of the group) How many people here have met Ace (Frehley)? (a few of us raised our hands). Which Ace did you meet, the happy or the sad one? These men walk around with dark clouds over their heads. They have all this talent but see the world as a dark place and use drugs and alcohol to get through it.  It’s very sad to see. Take a look at that man over there (points to a guy in our group using a wheelchair). Look at him smiling! You see, happiness is all up here (points to his head) and not something you can find in a bottle. It’s all how you look at life. I wish them the best and if you guys are seeing them at appearances then I’m happy to hear that they’re getting out more. (Three cheers for Days of the Dead which has featured both of the estranged members on separate occasions, Ace slated to appear again this November in Chicago).
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He then asked if we’d seen a movie called Searching for Sugar Man. The film is a biopic of Sixto Rodriguez, an American folk singer who lives in Detroit. Every time Rodriguez performs it’s to a sell out crowd (he’s considered a hero in South Africa) and he donates all of the proceeds to charity before returning to his menial job back in his poor, Michigan neighborhood. Simmons said that he considers him a friend and has tremendous respect for him.
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Simmons: He does it because he loves the music and feels no entitlement. You know, sometimes when I start to feel entitled my son, Nick, will play a game he calls “poor, white, rich, Beverly Hills guy.” I’ll be in a bad mood…and if he were here today he’d probably be giving me Holy Hell…and he’ll stomp his feet and imitate me going (starts yelling) “Oh, dammit! Somebody smoked a cigarette on my private jet and now it smells! Geez, can’t this thing go any faster!?!” and it instantly snaps me out of it. I have to remember that it’s not all about me. I flew into the country this morning at 5am after doing a show last night so I could be here with you and I’m happy to do it because YOU are what it’s all about. And let me tell you…if you ever see me walking down the street, I want you to come up to me because I will look you in the eye and say ‘THANK YOU.’ You are the reason we are what we are and never let me nor any other celebrity forget that! (at this point I wanted to ask him if he was sure he’d arrived at the right convention)
Guy in the group: I met Taylor Swift last week after her show. She was really nice and put on a great concert singing all of her songs without lip-syncing.
Simmons: (points to the guy) Okay, NOW you’re speaking my language! Good for Taylor SwiftMadonna, Shakira, Rihanna…if you’re a woman whose name ends with the letter “A” it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re lip-syncing! These people walk off the stage and have themselves sprayed with water so it looks like they’ve broken a sweat and how sad is that? I’m sorry folks, but I just don’t think that’s fair to you. If you’re going to do something like that then you should be forced to get up before the show starts and announce, ‘This concert was pre-recorded!’
39b82dd4-2ad9-3d00-8e59-e7730a555e70Taylor Swift
I decided to take the next question.
Dave: A big part of the success of KISS is based not just on the music but the image you guys created…particularly your Demon. I’ve heard that you’re a big fan of classic monsters and Fangoria Magazine editor, Chris Alexander, stated that the first monster he ever saw was you on the cover of the Love Gun album. Would you attribute a lot of the success of KISS to the merging of your love of monsters and music?
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Simmons: Oh absolutely, I love those movies. In fact, go ahead and ask me absolutely anything about any classic horror film and I’ll bet you I can answer it. Go ahead, name some movies. (I never asked him a specific question but threw out the names of a couple films and he not only quickly recited all of the main actors but the years they were released). When we first created our looks we sat down in front of a mirror with clown make-up, which is what we still use by the way, and wanted something that reflected our own personalities. I’m a huge fan of Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces…
Dave: …which you sang of on your solo album.
Simmons:..and made the name of my production company, the one I signed Van Halen on. Yes, I’m a big fan of classic horror. When I was a kid I would try to stay up as late as I could…and this was back when TV’s actually ‘signed off’ at a certain time…and watch horror movies, and I particularly loved silent films. While I was putting the make-up on for the first time I imagined that scene in Phantom of the Opera when she unmasks him and just before he looks at her. My look in KISS is Lon Chaney, “Black Bolt” from Marvel Comics, and Godzilla.
phantom opera chaney
Dave: You like Godzilla?
Simmons: Oh yeah, Godzilla was responsible for introducing Japanese culture to the United States. There’s going to be a new Godzilla film coming out next year and I believe it’s going to be huge. Did you see Pacific Rim?
Dave: Yes, I liked it a lot.
Simmons: So did I. It was a great film and really, in many ways, a Godzilla movie.
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Dave: Did you grow up with a horror host? Did that help cultivate your love of monsters?
Simmons: No, I’m friends with Zacherley and became aware of them later on but didn’t grow up with them. My love of monsters was from reading Famous Monsters of Filmland. That was my favorite magazine and there was a couple of others too that I just couldn’t get enough of. People who love cars don’t just see a car; they try to imagine that car on the assembly line and what it took to manufacture it. That’s the same way I was while reading Famous Monsters. I was fascinated with what it took to make those monsters and create those films. Yes, I loved monsters and I still do, I never outgrew that.
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Continuing on the subject of movies, the guy who was an old neighbor of Peter Criss, asked…
Guy: If they ever made a blu-ray version of Never too young to Die (a low budget 1986 film where Simmons plays a killer transvestite) would you participate in the commentary?
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Simmons: Um…I think you just made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. No, I would NOT. It was a terrible movie and I hated being a part of it. I had to get up early and put on fish net stockings and heels, they shaved my chest hair…did any of you guys ever have a wax job? It’s horrible and they actually tore one of my nipples (grabs the right side of his chest). I had to get out there at 7am everything morning and stand at a truck stop while all of the truckers were heckling me…it was a nightmare.
Guy: It’s getting a following though.
Simmons: Well sure, because it’s cheesy. Everything that’s cheesy eventually gets a following.
A different man in our group chimes in, “What about Kiss Meets the Phantom?”
Simmons: That one doesn’t bother me at all. It was meant to be campy and it is what it is.
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Guy: Will it ever get a digital release?
Simmons: That was a joint production between Hannah Barbera and KISS. They sold their rights and I honestly don’t think its worth the trouble of sorting all of that out for something that’s never going to bring back much in the way of a return. (Side note: the European release version, Kiss meets the Phantom of the Park, is available on DVD via KISSOLOGY Volume II).
Guy: What are your thoughts about Trick or Treat (1986 rock horror film)? I thought that was good.
Simmons: I’m glad you liked it but I really never saw it nor know much about it other than what I was doing at the time. I had three days between shows and they were willing to pay my standard fee. I just came in, read my lines, and left.
There were two men sitting next to me who were friends. One of them asked…
Guy: My friend and I are starting our own company and booking talent for shows. I wondered if you had any advice for us on how to make it successful.
Simmons: Well what kind of talent are you promoting?
Guy: Mostly R&B musicians.
Simmons: And where are you located?
Guy: Boise, Idaho.
Simmons: Um…why?
Guy: Well originally I’m from Virginia…
Simmons: (interrupts) Well I’m originally from Haifa, Israel. That doesn’t mean anything. Success is based on three things. It’s having the right thing, at the right place, at the right time. Look at Elvis Presley. He had the right thing, at the right place (The Ed Sullivan Show), at the right time (dawn of rock n roll). Now let’s pretend that Elvis was born in 1786 (Gene gets up and starts doing his impersonation of an 18th Century fox-trot). It never would have worked and we’d of never heard of him. As for you, I can’t say if you have the right thing or if it’s the right time, but I can absolutely tell you that you’re in the wrong place.
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Not sure how it came up, but Simmons discussed his views of America…
Simmons: Look folks, you don’t see millions of illegal immigrants trying to get into France. This is the land of opportunity and it kills me when I see people like him (points to a random guy in our group) telling me that they’re going on vacation to Tahiti. I always ask, “Why?” and they’ll tell me “Oh, well it’s got great beaches and sunshine” and I say, “Well we have all that right here.” If you want beaches go to Florida, if you want mountains go to Colorado, and if you want deserts go to Nevada. Everything you want is right here in the United States.
Simmons stated that he was coming out with a new book titled, “Me, inc.” which will be all about his perspectives on success and his personal viewpoints. He went on about how schools do not prepare people for the real world and that entitlement and unions are ruining the work force. “Who cares if you can name the fourth President?” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you know but how you think and figure things out.”
Simmons: When that book comes out I’d like to go on a tour where I do just what I’m doing here, talk to a group of people who can ask me whatever they want…sort of a town hall type of thing.
Someone asked about the new tour and Simmons talked about the new stage and how cool it was. He didn’t give details about the giant arachnid but, thanks to my friendship with  Jason, I knew what he was talking about.
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Dave: Was the spider stage your idea?
Simmons: No….well it was an idea we’d been kicking around for twenty years but, no, that was Paul’s idea. We brought a bunch of engineers into a room and told them what we wanted and they asked, “How are we going to do that?” To which I waved and said “Goodbye! That’s your job not mine” and left. In the end they did an amazing job.
Someone asked if KISS would be doing a full US tour anytime soon.
Simmons: No plans as of yet, it really comes down to who’s willing to negotiate what we’re asking for.
Dave: How about coming to Chicago?
Simmons: Are you making me an offer?
Dave: (laughs): No, but it would be nice to see you in my home town again.
Simmons: Not for a while if we do.
At this point the meeting had gone over an hour, Simmons reps and Fandomfest crew members (who’d begun entering and nervously standing around) finally announced it was time for Gene to leave and do his Q&A with the regular convention-goers. He said goodbye to us and left out a back door. Most of us decided to grab some of those free refreshments before exiting.
It was now well after 7pm and Russ and I were more than ready to drive back to Chicago. We didn’t stay for Simmons general Q&A as, let’s face it, it was never going to top this one. As soon as Russ and I got back to the car I told him everything while voice recording myself for this post. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything…nor that I’d somehow dreamt it. How ironic the same event that had driven me insane with its quickie, unsatisfying celebrity encounters had managed to provide me with the ultimate one in its final minutes.
Having a conversation with the great Gene Simmons was a true honor and a day I’ll never forget. It was something that  Jason would have killed for and, in truth, I wished he’d been there to share it with. During the car ride home I imagined telling him all about it and seeing his eyes light up along with his signature laugh…just as I used to make him laugh with our KISS parody songs all those years ago. Jason had brought KISS into my world and this day could never have been possible without him. In the end, however, I enjoyed every minute (including watching him go off on people) and it was better having gone it alone. I suppose if there’s one thing Simmons represents, it’s the beauty of being your own person.
Shortly before leaving, one of the Simmons VIP’s came up to me and said, “You’re going to write about this aren’t you? Isn’t your name, Dave?” Apparently he saw one of my past posts (I’m guessing the Frehley one) and remembered me which took me by surprise.
“Of course,” I said before reverting back to my Simmons impersonation. “I was at the right place at the right time.”
These Simmons blogs dedicated to Jason Lucas and all those “Crazy, Crazy Nights.”
Dave Fuentes
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7 thoughts on “The Redemption of Gene Simmons…

  1. Congrats on your first real moments with Gene in quite awhile! I knew he would not disappoint you. He is always so generous with his fans and especially those as knowledgeable as yourself. Reading this review of your Simmons experience in Louisville makes me appreciate people like Keith LeRoux, an old friend of mine who runs the official KISSONLINE.COM website as well as provides road manager support and runs several KISS expos in the Mid-west. There is a stark contrast between the experience in Kentucky and what we experienced at the Keith LeRoux-run Gene Simmons meet-and-greet at the KISS Expo in Indianapolis this past May. Well, first of all it was free – I’ve not had to pay a dime for any KISS event during the past 14 years, Keith is so generous to me and other close friends who have had the pleasure to join the inner sanctum. I’ve made that band a lot of money just from all the people I’ve convinced to join the KISS Army during the past 30+ years especially during the leaner 80s-90s years when being a KISS fan really meant something. We had a much more enjoyable, fan-friendly experience in Indy from what I can tell reading this and other reviews from KY. I can sense without someone from the KISS camp running things and knowing what Gene expects at such events, it was pretty frustrating for him and others who are used to better treatment and organization. He didn’t appear to have his usual entourage with him in KY. It helps when Keith or other familiar KISS staff are with him to cut thru the BS. One of my best friends Mike was Gene’s bodyguard the whole time he was in Indy in May so we all got special attention from Gene while we were there that weekend, it was very relaxed and Gene was in top form – he told me he feeds off of the fans’ energy, and we had lots for him that weekend. In Indy, Gene spoke for 2.5 hours and the questions he fielded (and the answers he provided) were just amazing, he almost missed his flight he was enjoying himself so much – unsolicited, Gene handed me his cell phone and insisted I view and give my opinion of a computer animation of the new KISS monster stage two weeks before its premiere, I was floored by his openness and interest in what we had to say about it. In addition to taking 9 photos with him, he kindly granted my request to allow Keith to film me and my girlfriend meeting him, he didn’t permit that with any other folks. Good KISS Karma! I hope Gene does another KISS Expo in the Mid-West so you can experience the difference – from all the reviews I’ve heard, he seemed underwhelmed in KY. But he looked good and I love your photo with him. Someday we’ll get to meet him together, that will be a photo for the ages! Cheers and congrats!

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