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A KISS farewell: Gene Simmons talks the Gorge, KISS 2.0 and COVID-19: ‘Wear a mask’

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 18, 2021

There is no rocker quite like Gene Simmons. The KISS vocalist-bassist is refreshingly candid, often amusing and perhaps the most business-minded musician ever. When Simmons, 72, isn’t coming up with concepts like the KISS coffin, he’s on tour and planning the future of his iconic band, which changed the face of live performance.

“If you see Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, you get pyro,” Simmons said. “Where do you think that came from? Air Supply? We started doing that stuff, and they, the arbiters of taste, hated it. We didn’t care.”

KISS, which also includes vocalist-guitarist Paul Stanley, guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer, never worried about the lack of critical acclaim. The influential hard rockers are sated by scoring the popular vote, having sold more than 75 million albums. KISS, who perform Saturday at the Gorge Amphitheatre as part of their “End of the Road World Tour,” aka “the final tour ever,” has been delivering anthemic cuts and pyrotechnics since 1974.

Simmons called from his Los Angeles home insisting that KISS is on its final tour. The star of the reality-TV show “Family Jewels” details why the band loves playing the Gorge and reveals that there could be a KISS 2.0 after the current members retire.

You’re compelled to tell it like it is. You recently called out David Lee Roth for not being in the best vocal shape.

I’m sorry if I hurt David’s feelings. Regarding Van Halen, there was no band like them. When David was at his peak, his physicality was unmatched. Mick Jagger and Robert Plant couldn’t touch him.

Larger than life bands went the way of the dinosaurs. Can you imagine how huge a band like Van Halen would be today?

They would rule the planet. It’s not surprising that people go back and embrace rock from a generation ago.

My teenage children have immersed themselves in classic rock and love it since many of those songs are still relevant and just hit you in the gut.

The proof of your point is that our kids, Nick and Sophie’s favorite bands, when they were in their teens were AC/DC and Queen. You just don’t get any better than those bands.

AC/DC with Bon Scott was the first band I ever saw since I caught the Aussie band opening for KISS when I was 11.

You can’t beat that. I wish I could say that I was there. I never saw AC/DC perform during that tour since I was backstage getting ready to perform. I will say that we pride ourselves on the opening bands we went out with – AC/DC, Rush, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Cheap Trick were just some of the bands we had out with us.

Is this really the final KISS tour?

Yes, and I’ll tell you why. I’m 72. I’m looking great. I still have hair on my head and some on my back. But we have too much pride in what we do. We don’t want to be on a downward slide. We want to quit at the top of our game. We can’t continue to do what we do due to the sheer physicality of it.

Mick Jagger couldn’t do what he does if he put on my dragon boots. Those shoes are the weight of bowling balls. And then I’m wearing about 40 pounds (of gear) when I’m onstage. It’s demanding. It’s tough getting through a tour.

Especially now with COVID-19. Paul was stricken with COVID. How is he doing?

Paul is well, and I want to thank all of the fans who wish him well. It’s difficult. Paul is completely vaccinated, and he still got COVID even though he was completely responsible. I have a message for all of those who are not vaccinated: COVID is not a hoax. Don’t listen to those politicians in Florida and Texas. They’re evil.

They’re also vaccinated.

Great point! They are vaccinated. So is Donald Trump. He was booed by his own people recently for telling them to get vaccinated. The only way you will avoid dying or being in the hospital with a tube stuck down your throat is to get vaccinated. The world is not flat. Wear a mask.

I hate hearing people say that they have the right not to get a shot. This is like a red light. We all have to stop at a red light. We don’t live forever, but why not live as long as you can?

Speaking of not living forever, Charlie Watts recently passed away. I thought the members of the Rolling Stones were supposed to live forever.

I’m sure (Rolling Stones guitarist) Keith (Richards) will outlive all of us. I’m sure Keith made some sort of pact with the devil for eternal life. I’m kidding, fans. It’s just a joke.

But regarding Charlie, talk about a guy who was loyal and such an amazing drummer and from all accounts one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet.

Will there ever be another KISS album or even a new song?

No. KISS isn’t a charity even though we do a lot of philanthropy. All musicians should be compensated. This disaster with musicians not being paid started with Napster. The record companies were asleep.

I once wrote how GWAR, the metal band who sports costumes, could exist after the band members retire. The same could be so for KISS. Can you envision KISS continuing after you and Paul retire?

Yes. Another version of KISS can exist. We’ve talked to Mark Burnett, who produced “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” about developing “KISS: The Next Generation.”

How would that work?

We would see who is worthy to wear the crown. You have to be multifaceted and write, play well and have the physicality to pull it off. KISS is not a band that just stands around like say the Lovin’ Spoonful, who are one of my favorite bands. Those guys just stood there. Moving around onstage is part of the fun of being in a band.

What inspired you to form a band?

It’s always about the girls, isn’t it? That’s why anyone, including (Bruce) Springsteen gets into a band. If you meet a girl and say, “I’m a plumber,” it’s then, “Nice to meet you.” Then that’s it. It’s about the chicks.

Who had a bigger impact on you, the Beatles or the Stones?

The Beatles. Their songwriting is undeniable. One of the Stones’ first hits was “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which was written by the Beatles.

KISS made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after being ignored for years. However, you’ve stated that some acts, such as those in hip-hop, shouldn’t be enshrined.

The idea of Run-DMC and other rap acts being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the height of ridiculousness. If KISS was inducted into the Rap Hall of Fame, people would say, “Man, that’s crazy.” Exactly. KISS ain’t hip-hop, and Run-DMC ain’t rock. They don’t belong in the rock hall.

Aren’t rock and hip-hop just labels? Isn’t it just about music?

No. If you’re a politician and you’re any good, they call you a rock star. Rock is a verb and a noun. If you want to wish somebody well, you say, “Rock on.” You can’t say “country and western on.” You can’t say “hip-hop on.” That means nothing. Only rock crosses lines. Even rappers call themselves rock stars.

You’re returning to the Gorge for the final time. What do you like about playing the Gorge?

I love the Gorge since it’s outdoors, and you can really shake the heavens with pyro. We can play there and really go for it since we don’t have to worry about setting the ceiling on fire. It’s going to be a very memorable show when we play the Gorge.

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