Music

Gene Simmons interview: "My mother saw her mother walk into the gas chambers"

Gene Simmons from KISS on his family history, why he doesn't need friends - and his violent plans as Earth's benevolent dictator

I’m an only child, so all my life I’ve been delusional. When I first came to America with my mother [from his native Israel] I heard about Superman flying through the air and having super strength. I remember being on a beach when I was eight, putting a towel round my neck and standing there with my hands on my hips, and as the wind blew my cape fluttered behind me. In my mind I had an image of millions of people grovelling at my feet and paying homage to me, Superman.

I wouldn’t say I was a good looking guy, but I could walk up to the best looking guy’s girl and walk away with her. I knew I wasn’t the best looking or smartest guy in the room but I also knew that, as Shakespeare says, the world’s a stage and we’re all actors. I had the people skills and the language skills. This idea of looking people in the eyes works very well with the female of the species. Was I doing the Lord’s work and spreading my seed at 16? The answer is yes.

I’ve always been happy. I’ve never had the need to have friends. The thing about friends is, while it’s a nice sugar coating and a cushion, you really can’t do what you want to do. There’s just too much I want to do – I don’t want to have to make excuses why I can’t hang out or go shopping. Taylor Swift is a wonderful girl – I’ve met her, she’s sweet, charming and kind – but this idea of going in a group of people to events, it’s not in my DNA. Friends demand time, watering – why did you say that, you hurt my feelings… I don’t want to worry about people’s feelings. You’re a grown-up, take care of your own feelings. I’m busy building my empire.

When we started with fan clubs and licensing and merchandise, it was considered not to be credible

When I was young, my main ambition was to become rich and famous. As soon as I saw girls screaming at the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I thought, that looks like a good job. You get to travel the world and women want to have your children. Not much later, I realised it wasn’t just about music – it was then, and it is now, the music business. And I took care of that. As I sit here speaking to you now, I’m proudly aware that KISS is the number one American gold-record champion of all time. Which is bizarre, because we only ever had about two hit singles.

With KISS merchandising, it’s like the world eventually caught up with me. When we started with fan clubs and licensing and merchandise, it was considered not to be credible. But I questioned who had the authority to define what was credible. All the biggest iconic artists of all time couldn’t read or write a word of music. We learn by ear. We don’t have qualifications. Rock ’n’ roll has no credibility. Classical musicians, jazz musicians – they have credibility. The idea of rock ’n’ roll has always been, forget the rules and do whatever you want.

My younger self wouldn’t be surprised by my success. Can I be honest? When I was 16 I imagined myself as president. But when I learned what the job involved… you really don’t get much power for yourself. So I guess what I really meant was, I wanted to be the benevolent dictator of Earth. If I was the benevolent dictator I would cure the ills of humanity but in a very violent way. I would put paedophiles to death. Especially the priests. And if you’re a drug addict, you have six months to get clean and if you don’t, you get sent to a gulag. You see, I’m making the world a better place, but it’s violent. I’m not like Neville Chamberlain. That guy was a fucking moron. You cannot reason with evil people.

My mother was 14 when she was in the concentration camp in Nazi Germany. My father left us when I was about six. She, bless her – and she continues to be a force – she never spoke about it. I did my own research and found out just now terrible it was. I’ve tried to talk about it but she just won’t do it. She saw her mother walk into the gas chambers. Her whole family was destroyed. My mother was the only one left alive. And she was 14. I’ve been to the Holocaust museum in Israel. The Nazis kept detailed records of every name and I saw my mother’s name at 14, listed as one of the passengers on the train.

Look at KISS’ songs – Rock and Roll All Nite, I Love it Loud… You have a choice in life – enjoy it or not. While you’re alive. You read Anne Frank’s diary – what a happy, joyous girl. The saddest thing of that book is how happy she was and how much she enjoyed life. And look how many rich, miserable people there are. Rock ’n’ roll is the great unifier. The great seductive tool. If you wave a flag in someone’s face they’ll wave their flag in yours. But people all over the world are rocking out and connecting, which means the next generation will be freer thinkers.

Look how many rich, miserable people there are. Rock ’n’ roll is the great unifier

If I could change anything, I regret not kicking out two of our original members earlier than I did. [Guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss] suffered from the cancer that destroys bands: drugs and alcohol. For decades we allowed them to succumb to the cliché of clichés. I would have maybe understood if it was something fresh – say, mounting farm animals: “Oh, that hasn’t been done before.” But really – drugs and alcohol? By letting them stay in the band we were enabling them.

I was completely unprepared for becoming a father. As all men are, because we’re not designed for birth. Women are waiting all their lives to give birth. That’s what boobs are for, other than attracting men. I had to tour a lot when my kids were small, but when I was there we did lots of things together – go to the zoo, go to the beach, have the talk of life. I didn’t want to be like my father, who just got up and walked out.

I didn’t know it at the time, but arriving in America when I was eight was probably the best time of my life. The size of things. Television, tall buildings, the people were bigger, everybody had their own cars. I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never seen a television before. Then I learned about America. Flight was invented in America – two brothers who were bicycle engineers. Darkness turned to light in America. We invented the light bulb. It boggles your mind. I’m amazed by America. A racist country which elects an African American president twice by popular vote. The Royals didn’t invent jeans or blues or rock ’n’ roll. Neither did Mozart. It was America.

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