Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ, has some intriguing thoughts to share for the rocker’s 64th birthday on August 25th.
Gene Simmons wants you to know he’s a businessman.
I don’t think anyone reading this is surprised by that statement. Even back in the 1970′s Gene was talking to reporters about his needs to be involved in the business side of the KISS world, inspecting the merchandise, going into hard-sells on the latest albums, pushing (possibly a bit too hard) in hyping the band’s latest antics. As the years gone by, that attitude has simply grown, to the point where it seems that the only words that leave Gene’s lips is a variation of “I have this product, so give me your money!”
But, as we arrive at Gene’s 64th birthday, I have come here to praise the Demon, not to bury him.
You see, there’s the other side of Mr. Simmons that he really doesn’t want you – the general public – to know about. Gene has always stated variations of the line that “bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.” Thus, when he goes into overdrive in pushing the KISS Kasket or selling us on some burger and wine joint he had placed himself as a stakeholder, and everyone just groans, he enjoys that response, because it at least means he had crawled his way into your head so you can’t help but talk about him. Doesn’t mean you have to like what he’s selling or even buy it, and if you come away thinking, “He’s found another sucker to work with him,” it still means that you think he’s a good businessman, and that’s more of what he wants in the end. Even more than the money, your respect is what he is after. I’m not suggesting that he wants you to love him, just respect him. That’s a major goal for Gene these days.
It all comes down to the fact that the child is the father of the man. In other words, whatever we were dealing with when we were kids is exactly the type of mental makeup we employ through life – sometimes to the deterrence of our lives; sometimes to the better. As for Gene, we have to remember who that man was when he was a boy – not only an immigrant (Gene was born in Israel and arrived in America as a boy), but Jewish and the son of a divorced mother. That’s a lot of heavy baggage in the 1950s and 1960s to carry around for a kid. He was also chubby, geeky (as a comic book and movie fanatic, he did his own fan-magazines while a teenager), and awkward with girls. As such, everything was working against him in a society that is built on the idea of the good-looking, naturally-born athletic kids getting ahead. Even if we want to promote that anyone can make it, we assume those types are the ones that will. Meanwhile, if you want to know what an outcast is, Gene is it.
And from that type of “outcast” background, people have two choices available to them in life: They can either withdraw or they can blossom. Gene took the latter route, pushing himself to be “in your face” because he wasn’t about to wither away. He never said it, but the thrust of his personality is this, “If you’re going to stare at me for being different than you, then I’m going to make you pay for the privilege. In fact, I’m going to make it so you’ll wait in line and give me all the money in your wallet to do so.” Essentially, it is a philosophy born out of frustration, pride, and anger – people tend to tell us in life that you can only be so-and-so, can only go so far, can only do “these things” and nothing else. Gene took that attitude and promptly stomped it into the dirt. “I’ll be a musician. Oh, I can’t know about the business if I’m a musician? Then I’ll learn that as well. And I’ll be a manager because I want to. And a movie star as well. And I’ll produce records. Tell me something you don’t want me to me and I’ll prove you wrong.”
Which really isn’t that bad of a philosophy to have. What better way to tell the world your life is your own than showing them that there are no walls that can contain them? Again, respect is the key.
But there’s something else that seems to drag Gene down at times and that’s the career of his biggest success, KISS. A band started decades ago, with the 40th anniversary of their first signing with a major record company just around the corner, KISS has done pretty well for itself in the “stare if you want, but you’ll have to buy a ticket first” category of show-business. Yet, in the past few years there have been some criticisms of the band for what they do. Back in the late 1990s, the original band members had gotten back together to do a reunion tour that seemed to be on a trajectory that made some kind of sense to the general public – the band will tour, do an album, tour for that album and then do a final push before retiring. In fact, that last tour was the Farwell Tour, which lasted until 2001.
Then something strange happened. The band didn’t go away. Oh, two of the members – Ace Frehley and Peter Criss – eventually did, but Paul Stanley and Gene didn’t. They just hired two other guys and kept touring. Then they recorded a couple of new albums. And kept touring. And kept touring.
And to a public that thought, “Didn’t they do a farewell tour twelve years ago?” it set the band – and in particular Gene – up for ridicule. The feeling was the guys can’t stop because they need or want the money. That it is all that matters. After all, Gene wants to sell you on the idea that it is all about the money, so why would anyone think differently of how KISS continues on these days?
Yet, there’s something else going on here. KISS has been doing well with the touring, but the returns on that investment hasn’t been growing these past few years. The merchandise is still coming out, but it seems to turn up in the bargain bins so much faster. The albums are being released, but are soon forgotten with barely a blip on the radar from the critics. Worse yet, from the fans.
In business-terms, Gene would be better off packing up and going home. Let loose the age-old concept of KISS II (four new musicians taking over as a touring band), get out the other videos and audios of the band’s past, and sit back and relax. The money will be better that way. Do a few more of those other projects he keeps talking about after freeing up his time with no more touring. It just makes sense.
But that isn’t going to happen. And the reason why is because in the end Gene is not in it for the money. Money is good, and if things go financially bad, he’ll wind things up, but money doesn’t seem to be the motivator anymore. Watch Gene on the latest tour – the guy who seems to be having the most fun on stage out of the band, goofing around and basking in the limelight as he goes with the same stunts of fire-spitting and flying up above the crowd as he has done for years. This is a guy who isn’t in it for artistic merit or for the money, he’s in it for the fun and for the fans.
Fly up into the air? Spit blood all over yourself? Risk your health with spitting fire? Is that a responsible 64-year-old? A businessman? No , that’s the kid in Gene coming out, and when he hits that stage, or when he gets to talk to fans who idolize him, then it all comes back to the fulfillment of those dreams of the 10-year-old. He wants to do all those things because they’re fun. And knowing that people enjoy watching him do it makes even more fun. He’s enjoyed that feeling since the 1970s, so why stop now? It’s the same with the books about the zenith of the band’s career back in the 1970s and Gene’s continuing fascination with KISS fandom at large – he loved those days and this is a way to relive them, even if some would say he should be thinking of retirement.
He wouldn’t want you to know that, though. That’s not being businessman-like if you admit you’re probably not doing the smartest financial moves because you want to play like a kid.
Gene isn’t a businessman. He’s a sentimentalist.
But don’t let him find out we know.
Since 1973, KISS has recorded over 20 studio albums; been recognized as an innovator in rock presentations; witnessed a firestorm of rumors and controversies; remained a thorn in critics’ sides; and continues to surprise its massive fan-following, the KISS Army, with various career twists and turns. Moreover, many television shows, movies, toys and even comics have kept KISS a bigger-than-life name in entertainment for decades.
Yet with all that has been written over the years, there are subjects that fans have never put to rest when it comes to the “hottest band in the land”: What were the most significant concerts? Why did Phantom of the Park turn out that way? What were the best – and worst – album covers? How did the comics come about? And what the heck is a deuce?
These subjects and more appear in KISS FAQ – showcasing the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.