End of the Road: backstage with KISS on their final tour
On the road with Gene Simmons – made up, dressed up, and ready to rock.
“Are you more comfortable with that war paint on, or without it?” Sunday Night’s Angela Cox asks the KISS singer. “How would you like to turn to the camera and answer that question for yourself?” he quips back. “I certainly know under these lights, I’d rather the make-up,” Angela replies. Smugly Gene replies, “I win.”
“This is more war paint than it is a character or anything,” Gene explains. “I kid around about it, but when we get up onstage, the adrenaline kicks in and it’s like getting into the boxing ring. All of a sudden, the audience disappears and you’re just there and you don’t see anything else.”
“They ask if I’m nervous. No. They should be nervous. I know what they’re going to get. They’re going to get awesome.”
KISS have embarked on its End of the Road world tour. And they mean it – after 46 years, the guys are about to wipe away the face paint forever. But they’re not going quietly.
At the 69, Gene Simmons is the band’s most outrageous character. The other founding member, 67-year-old Paul Stanley, is more reserved – off stage, at least.
“I think there’s a time and place for everything,” Paul explains. “I prefer to live that time onstage when we’re performing. When we’re not, I don’t give it up.”
Gene admits the pair have their differences, and he can drive Paul crazy sometimes. “I’m peculiar,” he laughs. “I recognize that. I’m eccentric, I am all about myself, I love the sound of my own voice.”
But somehow this odd couple makes beautiful and very loud music together. The other two band members, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, reckon they know how this strange alchemy works.
“I’d say it’s like Ying and Yang,” says Eric. “A battery has a positive side, negative side, and together that creates the electrical energy that is needed for it to power something.”
Gene and Paul met almost half a century ago – two Jewish teenagers with little in common except a love of music and a lust for money and fame.
“I was a little unpopular chubby kid with a deformed ear and I’m not very socially skilled,” Paul recalls. “I wanted to create this persona that would make me sought after and make the people who I didn’t think were nice to me envious. ‘Oh, we should have been nice to him!'”
The persona that Paul and Gene dreamed up was a diabolic mix of heavy makeup and costumes straight out of hell. Add some flashy pyrotechnics and blood-spitting theatrics, and the members of KISS transformed into comic book superheroes on stage.
They were – and still are – gloriously over the top, from the tips of their big rock god hair to toes of their towering boots.
For all those hardcore rock pretensions, one of the band’s biggest hits – I Was Made for Lovin’ You – is essentially a pop song, inspired by the New York disco scene.
“When you’re at a death metal festival and you’ve got people there who are rather hardcore looking…” Paul starts. “With studs and things, razor blades in their eyeballs and all kinds of stuff,” Gene chips in. Paul continues, “They’re like this all day and suddenly they’re going ‘Du, du, du’ – it’s priceless. And it just speaks to the power of music and the universality of music.”
Nowadays KISS is made for making money – and the band has found an extraordinary number of very inventive ways to cash in on its image. “[There are] 5,000 licenced products here in Las Vegas,” reveals Gene. “You can go on the KISS limo service to the Rio Hotel and play KISS Golf Course. We have everything from KISS condoms to KISS caskets.”
They’re rich and ready to retire. There are now wrinkles beneath the makeup – and rocking those platform heels is more of a challenge than it used to be.
“Remember, we introduce ourselves with, ‘You wanted the best? You got the best! The hottest band of the world, KISS!’ I want those words to mean something even until the very last show.”
“I’m gonna be 70! You want to get into my outfit? You want to step into my shoes? 10 pounds each. There’ll be about 42 to 45 pounds of gear. Oh yes, you have to shoot fire out of your mouth. And you’re exhausted at the end of it. Could I be in a band until my late 70s? Sure, but I’d have to join U2 or the Stones. Put on a pair of sneakers and a T-shirt and just strum.”
“But in terms of physicality, we are the hardest working band on Earth,” Gene adds.
Still, Gene can’t deny he’ll miss the limelight. “I am going to cry like a 12 year old girl whose foot is being stepped on. I’m going to ball tears of happiness and gratitude.”
“I know what it will say on my tombstone… Thank you, and good night.”
Reporter: Angela Cox | Producer: Andrea Keir
For more information on KISS’ End of the Road Australian tour, click here.