Readers! Enjoy our special presentation of the entire Gene Simmons Q&A before his Hoosier Park Racing and Casino show this weekend. Read our profile of Gene Simmons here. He's always entertaining.
Jonathan Sanders: Has it been difficult to transition from the full KISS lineup to doing these solo shows, since it's been your first time doing them?
Gene Simmons: You know, life is strange. Despite what people might think, I haven't really planned a lot of these things that have happened to me. It's just that when opportunity knocks I take advantage of it. Having said that … the overview is I like to stay busy. I don't like days off, I've never taken a vacation, you know, I don't want to wimp out. Life is short enough as it is, and so for 43 years I've obviously been in the band. We've reached the pinnacle, we're America's #1 Gold Record award winning group of all-time in all categories, by the way, which is really weird because we never really played the singles game. [Goes on to name dozens of KISS products.] But when we're not going around the world, which sometimes seems like a KISS world – and by the way, we also own that trademark – I like to stay busy, so I have a film company and real estate holdings, and I'm launching another magazine and I have another book coming out, and just a lot of stuff.
Jonathan: Speaking of your book, I read your book Kiss and Make Up before I talked to you because I wanted the full overview of your KISS experience. But you had talked in an interview about, with this tour, getting the chance to play some songs that people might not expect to hear.
Gene Simmons, the fire-breathing, legendary leader of Kiss, is one of the easiest and best interviews in the music business. Part artist, part salesman, part preacher, all you have to do to get him going is to say hello. So instead of the typical rock-star interview, here are the thoughts of Chairman Gene, taken from his recent phone chat with NUVO.
Gene: You got it, see, you cut to the chase. I was just being all flowery and all about me. But you're exactly right. For the first time in 43 years of touring, some folks asked me if I'd like to jump up on stage and put together some crackerjack rockers and go through some nuggets that KISS will never play, or has never played. And I thought 'gee, that sounds like a lot of fun!' Because there are always songs that I think are kind of neat and we will never get a chance to play, because our blessing is also our curse. You know, we have at least 40 releases out there, and something like 25 studio albums, so it's just a lot of stuff. And you can't really play all the stuff, clearly, because you're there for two hours and if you just sat down and listened to all the songs you'd be there for two days straight without pausing for a drink of water.
So this is an opportunity, with the Gene Simmons Band, we've got great players and it's really like a guitar symphony. I've got three guitar players, bass (myself) and drums. So when I'm telling you it's like a guitar army, and it sounds great, you can go online by the way and verify. Google “Gene Simmons Band” and you can put in, I don't know, “Deuce” and you'll see the band live.
Jonathan: I know, I saw your Chuck Berry tribute.
Gene: That was unplanned. We just tried to do whatever came up, because we'd learned Berry had just passed away. And the day after that I was asked to do a eulogy at Chuck Berry's funeral. The saddest thing of all is that there were no other notables in rock there. It was shocking, actually. It was an open casket, which was difficult for me to take in.
But look, so the fine folks in Anderson at Hoosier [Park Racing & Casino] called, 'do you want to come up and do whatever it is you want to do? And we're not gonna dictate to you what to do, just make our folks happy. Make our people happy and we'll be happy.' And I felt that was really the right vibe. Instead of cookie-cutter, having someone fit into something, just be yourself. So that opportunity presents itself, and we promise everybody a great time. We're gonna bring our band, and instead of the regular concerts where the people just get up on stage and show you what they're all about, we do it a little different. You've got your cellphone, which has got video on it, so you want to come up on stage and video the audience and video us on stage? I'm gonna pull you up. You think you can sing? I'm gonna pull you up on stage. Have you got a kid who you think is a rockstar? Send your videos and your stuff to Hoosier and they'll look through it and if somebody looks cool I don't care how young they are, they're gonna get up on stage and play with us.
When I was a kid and I saw the Beatles and the Stones, I couldn't imagine that opportunity. So I want to break down those barriers, and you know, everybody plays air guitar, everybody sings in their shower, why not with us on stage?
It was KISS as Branson, Missouri dinner theatre, complete with the
“Pledge of Allegiance” before the show-ending fireworks — and lots of Dr. Pepper Cherry ads.
Jonathan Sanders: Well, if they play air guitar they better have KISS Air Guitar Strings.
Gene: We actually sell those! And I don't wanna tell you what's next, we actually have a guitar case that's being planned because we're actually gonna be selling Air Guitars.
Jonathan Sanders: I was going though stuff about you and Indianapolis and I was impressed with the song you wrote for the IRL, “I Am Indy.” Did you wish that song had more staying power?
Gene: The Indy Racing League, the beloved American sport of them all, faster than the speed of sound and all that. And when they brought me on, I don't think they knew what to expect, but Tony George who was CEO then actually had a very progressive approach, which was 'instead of preaching to people who already believe in the IRL, why not try to get folks who don't think about Indy and all that stuff?' And I said 'that's what I'm about.' Instead of going salmon fishing, why not throw a wide net and catch all kinds of fish you never thought you were gonna catch? So I was brought on as the marketing guy, Simmons Abramson Marketing, and I'm the guy who came up with the “I Am Indy” campaign and co-wrote that song. 'Cause I love the way I feel / when I get behind the wheel / I am Indy. And I came up with the campaign which lasted as long as Tony was in charge, which now different family members then took over and there was a different regime change and they didn't believe in what I believed in. And life's too short!
One of the first things I told the folks at Indy was, 'first of all your name sounds like a communicable disease.' [They're like] 'What do you mean?' 'IRL? I hope I don't catch it!' [Laughs.] 'Hey, you can't say that, we've been around 92 years and the Brickyard and stuff,' but I told them they had it all wrong. There [were] millions of people who had no idea what they were talking about, why not try to appeal to them? So I thought about it and I came back and told them they shouldn't call themselves the IRL, that should be a private corporate branding, but not for the masses. The masses understand Indy 500 which sounds cool. If you don't know Indy stands for Indianapolis, it's still a cool word like 'individual' or 'independent.' You know, like indie music. That's great! So I thought why not IndyCar? Duh! So you've gotta hand it to everybody because of Tony George who was in charge then, they changed the entire campaign.
And I wanted to do other stuff that the new regime did not wanna do. I got Hef to agree to do the “Girls of Indy” cover of Playboy, which then had six million subscribers. They'd have had their clothes on, but it would show the attractive side of IndyCar, Because there's a real difference between IndyCar and NasCar. And by the way, historically, IndyCar when Kart was part of it, was the predominant racing entity. NasCar was coming up when you take a look at IndyCar compared to NasCar. Are you kidding me? You've got jet engines, and the wings in the front are face-down because IndyCars go so fast, they go faster in fact than jets taking off at airports. If those wings weren't there at the front of the cars facing down, they'd take off! It's really quite a phenomenon. And the masses don't know any of this stuff. They just see cool-looking space-age cars and they wanna watch the race. But I think you've got to make it more interesting. Like when I go to the Kentucky Derby, it's not just about the horses! It's about the beautiful women with the big hats and the spectacle, the glamor of it. And that's what I wanted to do with IndyCar. It can't just be about the cars, even though the cars are the coolest thing on earth. It's gotta be about the people, about the spectacle and about the big party of it all.
Jonathan Sanders: I wanted to ask you, I really respect the way you came to America as a child and you worked your way up to everything you've gotten.
Gene: There's actually a phrase for that, 'the American Dream.' I didn't make that up, and don't kid yourself, it's alive and well, and I'm living proof!
Jonathan Sanders: Do you think there's a lack of work ethic in rock that's brought on the decline you've talked so much about?
Gene: The decline in the work ethic in America is what's happened. We've become fat and bloated and take a lot of things for granted. And I wanna tell you, as someone who came from a country that – you know, I came from Israel. And when I was born, six months after the country, in 1949, became independent, there was nothing there! Dirt roads, no TV, [growing up] I'd never heard of television! I'd never heard of Kleenex or toilet paper, we didn't have that. We had rags. And when I came to America I was shocked that everybody had cars, everybody had refrigerators with food in them, we didn't have any of that!
We're isolated and insulated, we assume all kinds of things but the truth is the rest of the world doesn't have the things that America does. But I will tell you, I believe strongly that America has lost its way. People don't salute the flag … shameful. People keep talking when the pledge of allegiance goes on … shameful! They get real patriotic when jets fly into the World Trade Center, oh yeah. People get real patriotic then. But when life is calm and simple, people sneer at you if you have a flag in front of your home. And that's shameful. I think there should be a law: if you enjoy all the freedoms of America, you goddamn better at least shut your pie-hole when the stars and stripes are raised. Maybe we can't force you to say “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” but at least while it's up there and everybody else there is saying it, you can keep your mouth shut
Jonathan: You've spoken a lot about the value of life-long education and a willingness to always learn. What would you say is the most valuable thing you've learned during your time with KISS?
Gene: My most valuable lesson was coming to America. I was born in what people in all relgions, cultures, call the Promised Land, but I don't know how to tell you this in case you don't realize, but America is the Promised Land. There's no other country on the planet that will allow legal immigrants – and I am one, and there is a difference – equal access to all the power and privilege that native-born sons and daughters have had for centuries. I would even understand and would agree with the idea that, as a first-generation legal immigrant, I'd have to go to the back of the line and wouldn't get the privileges and the opportunities that native-born sons and daughters have … after all, they've been here hundreds of years and maybe they should be first in line. But no! I was treated not only equally but more than equally, even with my accent and my kinky hair and the way I looked like an outsider, I was allowed to climb the ladder. As long as you have the work ethic you'll get the respect you demand. What's the phrase … the harder I work the luckier I get? It's called the land of opportunity and the land of plenty but the shocking thing is that even immigrants, legal immigrants who come here, are given the exact same privileges and protections and infrastructure that's the envy of the world. As soon as you become a legal citizen of these United States, it's shocking … native-born Americans, I believe, don't understand what a blessed country this is.
But don't get me started. Come on down to Hoosier [Park Racing & Casino], those are good folks, they're gonna treat you well, we actually get along great. A good time is guaranteed for all.