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“I wake up and think, ‘F**k yeah, I get to be Gene Simmons another day’”: the world according to Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons in Kiss makeup
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Everybody knows Gene Simmons. Or at least, they think they know Gene Simmons. Kiss co-founder, blood-dribbler, tongue-waggler and possessor of one of rock’s biggest egos. But long before he became The Demon, he was Chaim Witz, a kid born in Israel and raised in America by a single mother, struggling to find his identity until he discovered rock’n’roll. Charming, witty and even a little self-deprecating, rock’s greatest self-promoter shares just what makes him tick.

Metal Hammer line break

MOM KNOWS BEST

“My father left us when I was about six or seven so I was raised by my mother, who was plenty. She taught me the most important lesson I ever learned, which is every day above ground is a good day. From her perspective, being a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps of World War II when she was 14, her words actually meant something. Good piece of advice for anybody out there: listen to your mom, she does know better than your friends who are amoebas and have no life experience.”

COMING TO THE UNITED STATES WAS ONE HELL OF A CULTURE SHOCK

“I was eight and a half years old when we first came to America. Everybody was fat and big and drove cars. And the buildings were huge. We came from a small town in Israel, there were no paved roads, there was nothing and we lived on rations of food. I went into the first supermarket, it was like a city of food, there were streets and avenues.”

I LEARNED TO SPEAK ENGLISH THROUGH WATCHING THE TV

“At eight and a half years of age I’d got clipped vowels and the like because Hebrew is like that. Although, I spoke other languages then and I still do now – fluent Hungarian and Hebrew and so on. And I have to say, English is a much easier language to speak, it doesn’t sound like a cat throwing up a hairball!”

I LOVE AMERICAN CULTURE, BUT IT HAS PROBLEMS

“Yes, it’s racist. Yes, it’s anti-Semitic. Yes, there’s all the kinds of problems that we seem to have around the world. Yet, here in America there are no limits. You can have an African American president, you can also have the alternate; a semi-racist, semi-extremist president, but anything’s possible. Which is why I still worship the idea of America, it can get better and it will get better.”

ROCK’N’ROLL WAS ITS OWN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

“We’ve got to get along and stop treating African Americans especially so horribly in America. Racism has got to stop. But before people verbalised that stuff, Chuck Berry and his guitar was doing that. White kids would never hang out with black kids or listen to anything they made, but there they were, dancing to his music. Even the most racist person listened to Chuck Berry.”

THE KISS MAKE-UP WAS MORE THAN JUST A GIMMICK – IT’S A COMMITMENT

“Respectfully, it would be easier to be Keith Richards because when he gets offstage, he’s got his sneakers and his t-shirt and can go do whatever it is that people do when they leave the stage. Not so easy for me; I’ve got to take off the make-up and I’m drenched with blood, so I’ve got to shower away the stench of the stage still. It takes a while for a snake to shed its skin, let’s say.”

THE ONLY GOOD WORK IS HARD WORK

“My work ethic comes from my mother. She worked six days a week from 7am till 7pm in a sweat factory. It was back-breaking work and she was making maybe $100 a week if she worked hard, and she worked hard all the time. ‘By the sweat of eyebrows’, the Good Book says. You’ll never appreciate a bite of food more than the one you have to work for.”


Kiss live

(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for A&E)

OUR SHOWS IN SOUTH AMERICA IN THE 80S REALLY WERE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS

“Kiss played the world’s largest stadium. We didn’t know, and we got onstage and there were so many people we couldn’t see the back. They used airplane landing lights as the spotlights because the spotlights couldn’t reach the stage – that’s how big this thing was. We had the army with armoured personnel carriers, like tanks, you know, and guys with machine-guns and all that stuff in front and back of us. We’ve never seen anything like that.”

BUT WE COULDN’T GET ARRESTED

“We were playing stadiums in South America, but when Kiss played the Superdome in New Orleans – which holds 100,000 people or something – there may have been 3,000 people there. You just get on a roller coaster and hold on. Our reference point was The Beatles, because we were delusional. We wanted to think of ourselves as The Beatles on steroids.”

CELEBRATE YOURSELF

“You’re not supposed to do your own tribute album, it’s just supposed to happen. Fuck you! If I want the best party, I’ll throw it for myself. Change the rules! So I called up Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder – all these wonderful guys – to do a Kiss tribute album [1994’s Kiss My Ass].”

NOTHING GOOD HAS EVER COME OF DRINK OR DRUGS

“I’ve never been drunk or high in my life, except in a dentist chair. Literally. Never smoked cigarettes. If it made your schmekel bigger, or you became a genius or became as rich as Gene Simmons, I’d maybe understand. But nothing happens. In fact, you wake up with a headache, you don’t know where you’ve been, and if you don’t play your cards right, you’re probably throwing up on your girlfriend’s brand new shoes. Nothing good comes from it.”

OUR BOSSES ARE THE FANS

“I just work here. Every one of these signposts on the highway of ‘Can you fucking believe it, Simmons?’ was astonishing. This tribute album comes out, [1990’s] Hard To Believe, featuring all these underground punk bands and there’s Nirvana doing Do You Love Me? – I was floored. I’ll learn more from Kiss fans about which our best songs are and how much our band means to them than I ever will from anywhere else.”

LIFE NEEDS PURPOSE

“The question is, once you’ve got enough money and fame and chicks, whatever else lifts your skirt or floats your boat, will you get up out of bed if you don’t have to? Or are you just going to lay there like a lump of shit and wait to die? Our purpose in life is to keep our heart pumping and our brain thinking and our schmekel working. That’s it.”

TO ME, ENGLAND IS HOLY GROUND

“And it’s because of The Beatles! Holy crud, this place in the middle of nowhere – Liverpool. Liver. Pool. My god, could you think of a more disgusting-sounding name for a city? In the middle of nowhere, you had these four young guys hovering around age 20, 21 years old, who, within a span of seven years wrote hundreds of classic forever songs. Michelle and Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby and I Am The Walrus, and just hundreds and hundreds of songs. At 20 years old I couldn’t even wipe my ass!”

IT’S SO AMAZING WHAT PEOPLE WILL DO FOR KISS

“There are generations of Kiss fans who get our faces tattooed on their bodies, who follow us all over the world, and that means the world to us. I remember meeting Liam Gallagher once as he was checking in to a hotel in Pittsburgh and I go over like, ‘Hey, I’m a big fan – I really love Wonderwall.’ So we start talking and he’s like, ‘We love you too – I named one of my children after you.’ I walked out of there like, ‘Am I in an alternative universe?’”

I BELIEVE IN KISS WITH MY HEART AND SOUL

“I say the words with everybody else: ‘You wanted the best, you GOT the best!’ I mouth the words when we’re up in the scaffold 50 feet above, as we’re being magically lowered onto the stage. Fuck, I wouldn’t be in any other band. It’s the best fun you can have with your pants on.”

I KNOW THAT I’M THE LUCKIEST MAN ALIVE

“Even though often I like to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes – ‘Can you believe what Gene said again?’ – I’m the luckiest son of a bitch who ever became a biped. When I first came to America with my mother, I couldn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t know what rock was or guitars, and this journey has been so beyond anything I ever imagined. Every day I wake up and I go through the process of, ‘Fuck yeah, I get to be Gene Simmons another day.’”

Kiss headline Download Festival on Friday June 10

 

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.