By Paul Freeman -1996 Interview

[Sixteen years after this interview, Gene Simmons and KISS are going stronger than ever. The reality series “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” is a worldwide TV hit. And KISS, a massive merchandising monster, will soon be embarking on a 2012 summer tour with Motley Crue. For the latest on the rocking bassist/singer/songwriter, perhaps history’s sexiest sexagenarian, visit]

"We are your worst nightmare," declares KISS leader Gene Simmons. "We not only refuse to go away; we get bigger."

For the first time in 17 years, the band is touring with the original lineup: Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. For the first time since 1983, KISS is performing in its original makeup.

"It's no different than a knight putting on his armor," says Simmons. “It's Indians who put on war paint. It empowers you. How powerful would you feel going off to war wearing a tutu?"

For Simmons, getting dressed up means two 15-pound boots with 8-inch platforms, 12-pound guitar and body armor, all covered with studs. In this garb, he flies 50 feet in the air. To maximize fitness, the 46-year-old rock star and his bandmates worked with personal trainers, lifting weights and practicing martial arts.

"The physical strains are gi-normous on this tour. It's no different from being on a football team. Even if you're in shape, if you have something running through your veins besides blood, it's just not going to work."

That's a reference to the problem that helped delay the KISS reunion for so many years. Criss, who was jettisoned in 1980, and Frehley, who left the band in 1983, had to overcome substance-abuse problems.

"Two of our members were ill for a long time, self-inflicted," Simmons says. "When they had the dignity to get themselves straight, they were reborn. I have a real sense of pride sharing the stage with Ace and Peter. They decided to have self-discipline.

"For them, it's a spiritual awakening," Simmons continues. "How many people get a chance to be gods? How many get a second chance?"

KISS has been worshiped by countless young musicians. Among those who have admitted the band to be such a profound personal influence are members of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, as well as country boy Garth Brooks.

Simmons remarks, "All the bands that critics love are KISS fans. Critics are writhing in agony, scratching their heads, going, `Why don't I get it?' "

Simmons is not a fan of music critics. "They're the most worthless forms of life on the face of the planet," he says, to put it mildly. "To be a critic, you don't have to go to school, have credentials or ethics. They're failed human beings who never made it in rock 'n' roll. ...

"The critics didn't put us here. Our power comes from the people, the KISS army. We're of the people, by the people, for the people."

In the past, critics condemned KISS as style over content. "Who cares if the intelligentsia gets it? The intelligentsia tells me that caviar is the finest thing to eat. I don't want to put salty fish eggs in my mouth, let alone chew and swallow them. I want a Double Whopper with cheese."

Even critics concede that the current KISS tour is a delicious extravaganza, complete with blood-spewing, fire-breathing, levitating choreography and myriad state-of-the-art special effects.

"I didn't want to do this half-assed," Simmons says of the reunion. "KISS is in competition with no band that ever existed. KISS is in competition with the legend of KISS. The story grows as people tell it. So we don't have to be as good as we were. We have to be as good as people say we were. That's a far greater expectation."

Brimming with bravado, Simmons claims the band exceeds all expectations. "We're the greatest show on Earth, a combination of the circus come to town, Fourth of July fireworks and `Star Wars.' "

But the musician is not thrilled about the average rock show these days. "There are clever songwriters out there. But live? Everybody sucks, and I mean that in the most sincere way. It's a cosmic joke being foisted on suckers. No bang for the buck.

"So, yet again," he continues, "KISS is here when you need us most, like religious figures. We see the stage as a holy place."

Simmons says he enjoys modern rock, though he doesn't see it as being alternative. "It's cookie-cutter bands. Every band looks the same. The first alternative bands wore lumberjack shirts because the place where they played was cold. Anybody in a warm climate wearing lumberjack outfits is wearing a costume every bit as silly as ours. The only difference is, we're honest about it.

"Alternative?" he muses, "KISS is alternative. We're the only band that looks like us. We've always been completely out of fashion. We've always been the black sheep of rock 'n' roll. But that's ultimately what rock 'n' roll's about."

KISS has never aspired to be more than entertainment ... and merchandising.

Causing a sensation not long after its 1972 debut, KISS wound up on lunch boxes, toys, toothpaste and an NBC TV-movie. Simmons points out that the band soon will tie the Beatles, his idols, for most gold albums.

Simmons and Stanley, who have kept KISS going over the years, sans the makeup and the other two original members, reportedly are taking 80 percent of the tour profits. "Yeah, I've read that," Simmons deadpans. "I've also read that I've had a cow's tongue attached, that KISS stands for Knights in Satan's Service, that Gene Simmons is a cannibal ... all of which is true.

"Let's just say that everybody is well paid and life isn't always equal," he finally admits. "We're not doing this for the money. We're filthy rich and proud of it. We earned every goddamned penny!"

Simmons does not have to worry about spending his money on alimony. He has never married. "Marriage is a beautiful institution," he says, "but I was taught you have to be nuts to be in an institution. I don't think monogamy is possible. Pretty girls always get a rise out of me."

He is a father. "I have two kids that I know of. My 7-year-old son says, `My Dad's the god of Thunder. What does your dad do?' "

How long can Simmons go on being a rock god? "You'll have to drag me kicking and screaming off that stage."