Saturday, December 29, 2001 @ 9:32 AM
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“I have lived my life for myself.”
“Every time I would succeed, I would think, ‘See, I’m right.’”
“My story is a story about power and the pursuit of it.”
What, did you expect humility?
Gene Simmons has never accused of being meek. As the driving force behind KISS, the bass-wielding demon has almost single-handedly charted the course of one of the most successful and iconic bands in rock ‘n’ roll. Every move, every note, every make-up brushstroke has been carefully planned to achieve his ultimate goal – power, money and tail, in that order. His Machiavellian efforts and unwavering perseverance have placed him atop a mountain of money and made KISS into one of the biggest bands in history. And believe you me sucka, Gene makes sure you know that in his long-awaited tome, KISS and Make-Up.
Less a history of the band and more a story of the man, Gene barely lets a paragraph go by without extolling his own virtues. Simmons has created a paean to himself – page after page is devoted to praising his own business acumen, his intense strategizing, and his enormous success. Gene reminds you four times in the book that only the Beatles have sold more gold records than KISS. We get the picture, dude. Presidential memoirs have shown more modesty and restraint than Gene’s book, but you’d expect that.
The real surprise is that for a book about the hottest band in the world, KISS and Make-Up is…well…lukewarm. For a man who drooled blood, it seems odd that his kiss-and-tell book is so bloodless. KISS seemed to be the embodiment of smut and good-time party music; the tongue, makeup, and S&M-lite costumes all hinted at a Caligulian appetite for sex and debauchery. But although Gene has no problem mentioning a few of his more memorable “liaisons” (4,600 and counting, he says), his retelling of the events have as much erotic charge as an issue of People. Unlike Motley Crue’s salacious book, The Dirt, which reveled in its own manifest destiny of depravity and kink, Gene makes his three-ways with moms and daughters and handcuffed sex with uniformed policewomen sound like business transactions. Not exactly “hotter than hell.”
And because Gene emphatically denies any drug or alcohol use in his life, ya don’t get any Tommy Lee-like stories of fucking while shooting up. Clean Gene wouldn’t think of clouding his brain with narcotics and booze as it would dull his business-brain, which would mean less money. Good for him, but bad for anyone who wants a good ol’ dirty tale of rock ‘n’ roll excessiveness. However, Gene’s credibility stretches a bit thin when telling of an incident in the late ‘70s where he confused Sweet ‘n’ Low sweetener with cocaine. How someone so intelligent can be so ignorant to cocaine use – especially during the blow-crazed disco era – is beyond me.
Gene’s lack of focus on the creative aspects of writing and recording is also a bit disheartening for the KISS fan. Granted, the Kabuki-painted warlords were never accused of making earth-shattering records that changed the face of rock, and to their credit, never proclaimed their interest in pleasing the critics (he brags, “We wanted to stand guilty as charged by the poor, deluded critics who thought they were insulting us by charging that we made complete spectacles of ourselves.”) But Gene runs through his accounts of the recording process as if it was secondary.
But guess what? It is secondary. Gene runs KISS as a business and nothing more. His lack of artistic pretensions is refreshing, especially in an era of earnest rockers posing as rock ‘n’ roll messiahs (Creed, anyone?) when in fact they are nothing more than corporate drones with guitars. Simmons understands this and makes no bones about his monetary aspirations (“As a rock band, you are a business, and you have to seize every opportunity to promote your product.”). KISS is merely a means to his end – cash on the barrelhead.
As such, the book excels as a crash course in marketing. Gene’s genius lies in his uncanny ability to predict and exploit his fans’ slavish affections. From lunchboxes to comics to dolls to caskets, the Demon has served up an unprecedented array of merchandise that has filled his coffers and satisfied the fans. In fact, Simmons comes across as nothing less than a modern-day P.T. Barnum, the circus magnate and canny carny who understood the financial value of popular entertainment, and, fleecing the public. In the late 1800’s he famously put up a sign in one of his exhibits reading, "This Way to the Egress," a curious word meaning, “exit.” Spectators, expecting yet another sideshow, would walk through a door and find themselves outside. To get back in, they had to buy another admission. I’m sure Gene is planning this right now for his final round of KISS shows.
Gene is a man who puts equal weight on the words “show business.” KISS weren’t a rock ‘n’ roll band; they were a rock ‘n’ roll brand, no less corporate than McDonald’s or IBM. Simmons takes great delight in his business successes, even crowing about his managerial skills with overwrought and overweight Vegas crooner Liza Minelli. That’s hardly rock ‘n’ roll, but Simmons doesn’t care. He’ll gladly create the illusion of rock ‘n’ rollin’ all night and partying ever-y day, just as long as it pays the bills.
As expected, he doesn’t hold back when it comes to his former and current bandmates Peter and Ace. He revels in trashing their talents and unprofessional attitudes, throwing barb after barb. When discussing a particular stop on their neverending “Farewell” tour, he zings, “People were crying in the audience, but then again maybe it wasn’t because they were never going to see us again – maybe it was because Peter and Ace were playing so badly.” Touche!
Strangely, Paul is drawn as a peripheral character in Gene’s world, but one that he loves and respects nevertheless – possibly the only person that he does besides his current flame, ex-Playboy vixen Shannon Tweed. Aside from boasting of his business skills, the only other time Gene shows any true emotion in the book is when detailing his undying devotion to her and their children. Still, one might question his dedication as he describes showing her his collection of erotic photos of his past conquests (all 4,600, mind you). If you’ve got the love of your life by your side, ya might think that the lewd photos might have to go. But then again, I’m not Gene.
There are a few revelations that might pique the interest of the casual KISS fan, like the original costumes for pre-KISS outfit Wicked Lester (Gene as a caveman and Paul as a cowboy gambler), Andy Warhol’s intense admiration for Gene’s marketing wisdom or his musical collaborations with such varied artists as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Bryan Adams. But most likely, the rabid KISS fanatic knows all this.
Gene’s most revealing quote comes in the foreword: “Every personality has contradictions, and a large personality has large contradictions,” a perfectly placed mea culpa for a book chock-full o’ them. He states, “We wanted…to let our fans, the KISS Army, know that they were they only reason we were doing this,” yet continually insinuates that it’s the fans’ money he’s after. Trying to show a rebel’s heart, Gene boasts, “That’s what made [KISS] rock ‘n’ roll in some sense: scaring the suits,” but he himself is a suit, merely preferring demon drag over Armani. Still, you have to admire a man who knows his limitations, yet chooses to ignore them. He has the balls to admit, “I am one of those few guys who can look in a mirror and believe I am better looking than I actually am.” No shit, man. The make-up was a really good idea.
Ultimately, while KISS and Make-Up fails as a gritty rock ‘n’ roll tale, it succeeds as a textbook in supply-and-demand theory. Mean Gene set the standard for contract negotiations, concert spectacle, and promotional ingenuity. He’s a businessman that just happens to have a bass.
You wanted the best, you got…one helluva marketing course.