Gene Simmons isn’t interested in what KISS means. In fact, he’s not interested in what most things mean anymore.
Ahead of their End of the Road World Tour, concluding a near 50-year career as the face of stadium rock behemoth KISS, any question attempting to dig out meaning is met with a blunt response.
“Journalists have a bizarre perspective which the rest of us don’t give a fuck about,” Simmons offers.
The armour-clad onstage demon, now aged 70, is in high spirits with retirement impending. Our first call is postponed due to an unspecified surgical procedure (“to take care of my insides”), which also resulted in the recent cancellation of a show in Salt Lake City.
When his gruff New York accent comes down the line the very next week, Simmons is enjoying “leisurely walks” in his downtime. We’re also speaking just hours after Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump, something a reflective Simmons isn’t fazed by (“[Impeachment] means nothing. People don’t understand what that means”).
KISS, to many, is the ultimate rock’n’roll fantasy outside of all this real-life drudgery. Kabuki makeup, an overactive tongue and fire breathing paired with meat and potatoes rock’n’roll have enchanted a league of fans so large, they qualify as an army.
As an eight-year-old Israeli immigrant to the United States, Simmons partly learnt to read English through fantasy, in the form of television and comic books. The KISS personas weren’t the construction of Simmons’ own fantasy, however.
“It was sort of like what kids do when you put them in a wet puddle of mud. They just start playing around and wiping the stuff all over their faces. It’s the grown-ups who think, ‘Ah, what does it all mean? Do I have my mother’s hips? Where can I get that design?’ It’s very Pollock,” Simmons says.
The artifice of KISS’ performance, through their extravagant macho isms and a dizzying range of merchandise, has always seemed to be crucial to the bands’ seemingly permanent success. To Simmons, it’s a lot simpler.
“We are the hardest working band in the history of rock’n’roll, period. You can put that in the headline,” he deadpans.
“I don’t care if you’re Mick Jagger, who is fantastic, or Bono. Put them in my eight-inch dragon boots that weigh as much as a bowling ball on each leg, plus another 35 pounds of studs and armour, plus a 12-pound guitar and try doing that for two hours. And by the way, you’ve got to spit fire, fly through the air and sing about half the songs. They wouldn’t last a half hour.”
KISS’ farewell tour might feel oddly familiar to many older fans; that’s because they already did say goodbye, 19 years ago on the Kiss Farewell tour. Originally set to dissolve because of internal strife with founding members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, the band were inundated with so many requests to play on that they simply opted for a lineup change.
“If you’re on a soccer team and your goalie is on crack, you think, ‘That’s it, we should retire the team’. But the truth is, you don’t have to throw the car away just cause you get a flat tire,” Simmons says.
“The two original guys [Frehley and Criss] were not happy, which was making everybody else not happy and I’m using politically correct language ‘cause nowadays everybody gets upset about anything you say. So fuck ‘em all, I say – and I mean that in a very nice way – but equally, nobody left out. Fuck everybody.”
Asked if he was sad that the original quartet would not be the ones to end it all, Simmons is withering.
“Of course! But doesn’t it make you sad that your mother and father divorced?”
When KISS land on Australian shores later this year with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer in place of Criss and Frehley, security will be noticeably lower key than their first working trip to the country. When they toured Unmasked in 1980, their welcome was ironically fit with presidential-tier security to ensure nobody saw their real faces. They took over the top two floors of the Sebel Townhouse Hotel, a famous Kings Cross establishment known for meeting any and every request of touring rock bands.
“The curtains were drawn because there were helicopters outside the hotels with telescopic lenses from TV cameras and newspapers trying to get us without our makeup. If we wanted to go out, we would put on Ned Kelly masks,” Simmons says.
But Simmons insists the scale of the End of the Road is bigger than ever.
“We are bringing the full Godzilla-sized show to show all the little bands out there how the big boys do it. It’s a bit of chest beating, but it’s about fucking time. I’m sick and tired of politically correct, ‘We hope to play some of the more obscure shit’. Shut the fuck up! Get up there and kick me in the nuts.”
It’s a promise that feels in line with anything KISS has ever done; unsubtle, unhinged and uncomplicated rock’n’roll fun. It began at the top, and Simmons wants it to end that way.
“It’s always more interesting being at the top of Mount Olympus and looking down. Your perspective is better.”
KISS hit Rod Laver Arena for their End of the Road World Tour on Thursday November 21, Friday November 22 (sold out) and for their final-ever Australian show on Saturday November 30. Tix via Ticketek.
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