Saturday, July 23, 2011

KISS And Tell: Gene Simmons Cranks It Up For Montreal’s Heavy MTL Festival July 23-24

Rock’n’roll has always been about haircuts and shoes. And with KISS, throw in a little kabuki make-up and pyrotechnics, and you’ve got a genuine rock’n’roll circus.

The last time KISS headlined in Montreal, Gene Simmons told me, “There hasn’t been an important rock band to emerge in the last 25 years that will still mean something in 100 years. But from the end of the 1950s to 1980, there was Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zep, ABBA – say what you will but they wrote great songs – KISS, there’s a hundred bands from that period. All the music from Elvis to KISS was born before MTV, cellphones and the Internet. KISS still trains hard and every emo band at 19 can shine our boot heels! They’re gonna get a lesson [from us]: You blow the god—- place up!”

There are few folks in show biz who give good quote like Gene. Say what you will about him, but the man is never boring. The critics may still hate Kiss (read my Gazette colleague Mark Lepage’s terrific essay about KISS versus the establishment here), but the kids – even the 45-year-old ones – are still proud card-carrying members of the KISS Army. Says Gene about unrepentant rock critics, “You know, I discovered a band [over 30 years ago] called Van Halen, I signed them [to my record label] and produced their demo. Critics hated them. When singer David Lee Roth was asked why the critics hated Van Halen and loved Elvis Costello, Roth said, ‘Because they look like Costello.’ It’s still true.”

When KISS were the new kids on the block – they formed in NYC in January 1973 – they decided to out-do vaudevillain Alice Cooper, who told me himself many years ago, “We told Kiss where to buy their makeup. We were friends with those guys. We knew they were comic book characters and Alice was the Phantom of the Opera.”

Nearly four decades later, KISS still hasn’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That probably bothers Simmons. But if it does, he’s not saying. After all, it’s still true that rock’n’roll is still just about haircuts and shoes.

And as anybody who has seen Simmons star in his slick reality TV show Gene Simmons Family Jewels, there is more to the man than the KISS machine and assembly line: Simmons is also a loving father. He’d do anything for his family. In fact, when I asked him about Chaz Bono, the trangendered son of his ex-girlfriend Cher who spent many difficult years transitioning from a woman to a man, Simmons replied without missing a beat, “I love Chaz. I was living with Cher when Chaz and [his brother] Elijah were kids and I was a substitute dad for a while. Life is short and we should all make up and be happy. And everybody else be damned if Chaz isn’t happy today, God bless. If Chaz is happy, then [he] will have found the secret of life.”

KISS headline the two-day Heavy MTL Festival at Parc Jean Drapeau, July 23-24