BJ Lisko | Cantonrep
“I started off a comic book geek, and I’m still a comic book geek,” Gene Simmons said. Take our KISS poll.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers Kiss are tailor-made for the world of comic books. The iconic rock group with its own superhero-like quality first appeared on comic pages in 1977 in the 12th issue of “Howard the Duck.” Later that year, Marvel Comics published a magazine-format, full-color comic book titled “A Marvel Comics Super Special!: Kiss,” marking the first time since The Beatles that a band had been depicted as superheroes on Marvel’s pages. To promote the special, in what was perhaps one of the greatest marketing stunts of all time, the band had blood drawn from a registered nurse to be poured into the vats of red ink used for printing.
Kiss bassist, and the blood-spitting demon himself, Gene Simmons, readily admits he’s had a love affair with comic books his entire life.
“I’m still a geek,” Simmons said recently by phone. “I started off a comic book geek, and I’m still a comic book geek. Our first Kiss comics came out through Marvel in 1978, and at that time were Marvel’s biggest selling comic books.”
Since then, Kiss stories and adventures have been published by not only Marvel, but by the Image, Dark Horse, Platinum Studios, Archie Comics, IDW and Dynamite Comics imprints, and the Kiss legend heads his own Simmons Comics Group.
“This is gonna be a first for me,” Simmons said. “Outside of Kiss, I’ve never done a solo tour. I never did anything like that. Every once in a while I’ll jump up on stage and do a song with somebody. Johnny Depp and I did a few songs together, a few other knuckleheads, but that’s about it. When Wizard World and I agreed to do five events together, the idea of jumping up onstage and gulping it on for an hour or so came up. And I got a great bunch of guys, real rocking guys who are gonna get up with me, and we’ll play all the hits and have ourselves a good old time.”
Q. The Agora was one of the first venues Kiss played outside of New York, correct?
A. “We started (in Cleveland) 43 years ago at the Agora, and it brings back a lot of memories. It’s really funny, when you’re a kid, the world seems like a big place. And when we started touring, we were in the back of a station wagon, and everything was big. We’d only played clubs before we went off on our first tour. When we saw the Agora, we thought, ‘Wow, what a big place!’ Of course, in a few months after that when we started playing 10,000-seaters, all of the sudden the world got much bigger, and the places we thought were big got much smaller. But, we have very fond memories of the area, the people and the gig. I’ve never been high or drunk in my life, so I remember it all.”
Q. Of course another Cleveland connection is that a few years ago Kiss was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What did the honor mean to you?
A. “It’s appreciated, but I never thought much about it. Like most entities, they’re political. Some people in a back room decide who gets in and who does not. There are people from different genres that I don’t believe belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There’s disco and rap and all kinds of stuff. And I highly respect rap, but on the day Led Zeppelin gets put into the hip hop Hall of Fame, is the day I will personally accept rap artists as being brought into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It just ain’t the same thing. You go to Apple Music, and you go to different genres and you type in ‘rock,’ you’re not gonna find a single rap band in that category. Likewise, if you look at hip hop or rap, you’re not gonna see AC/DC or Kiss in the list in there.”
Q. It seems like you’re always pushing forward with new ventures, and you’ve been so successful in a number of them, but are you able to sit back and enjoy it?
A. “Sure, of course. Mother Nature created night. And you get a chance to lie back and make notes before you doze off. But during the daytime, if your heart is beating, for God’s sake do something — seven days a week.”
Q. A lot was made out of your recent comments about rock ‘n’ roll being dead, but do you think it might be perhaps taking on a different form or evolving into something else? The idea being that this generation’s rock isn’t the same as their parents, just like their parents’ generation of rock wasn’t the same as their grandparents?
A. “No. It’s not evolving at all, and that’s because there’s not really any record companies. That’s why it’s not evolving, because musicians can’t really spend full time working on their art. They have to go work for a living and live in their mother’s basement and give away their music for free. It’s very sad. It doesn’t affect us, but to be a new band today has got to be horrible. Because they will never have the chance we did. So from 1958 to 1988 we had Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix, and a thousand others that stand the test of time. Then you had Metallica, Madonna, Prince and U2 and all of that. But from 1988 to today, who is the new Beatles? Where’s Elvis? Where are the Stones? Who is taking their place?”
Q. I thought Kiss put out a really strong record a few years back with “Monster.” Is there any possibility the band might do new music in the future?
A. “We’re so busy touring around the world, and people in America might not know it, but we just came back from Japan, and we’re going to Europe in May. We start in Moscow May 1. It’s just tough to find the time to sit down for six months and do nothing but a record. I’m not inclined to go out there and work your ass off making something you’re proud of and then to have everybody steal it and download it and file share it. That’s not for me.”
Q. But is there a satisfaction at all in writing and recording and putting something out for yourself, though?
A. “Well, I can tell you I’m working on a box set that is gonna put together 150 songs that have never been released. That news is gonna be released soon.”
A. “Well, AC/DC has had 21 different members. But it’s more than music. It’s a vibe. You can’t just get a jazz musician to step up there with a rock band, I don’t care who it is, and make it convincing. Not just in how you play, but how you stand on stage. People are listening with their eyes. They’re bringing their eyes, and you better make that work. It’s not just your ears. When you stayed at home in the old days, you could turn on the radio, and you didn’t know what anybody looked like. That’s different. But once Elvis started shaking his hips, image was very important. But I don’t want to torture people with my soliloquies and pontification on the state of music as it exists. The simple idea is, March 18, I’ll be at the Agora, and I’ll be at Wizard World, and people can go to wizardworld.com to find out all about it, and it’s going to be a great time.”