KISS’ GENE SIMMONS DISCUSSES PRINCE’S DEATH, THE DEMISE OF ROCK AND HIP HOP, AND POLITICS
Tufayel Ahmed of Newsweek spoke with KISS’ Gene Simmons. Portions of the interview appear below.
On the tragic passing of musicians David Bowie and Prince:
“Bowie was the most tragic of all because it was real sickness…All the other ones were a choice.”
“His drugs killed him. What do you think, he died from a cold?” (Prince’s body was found with prescription painkillers in his possession; however, his longtime lawyer denied he was “drugged up,” calling allegations of addiction “foolish.”) He continues, “I think Prince was heads, hands and feet above all the rest of them. I thought he left [Michael] Jackson in the dust. Prince was way beyond that. But how pathetic that he killed himself. Don’t kid yourself, that’s what he did. Slowly, I’ll grant you… but that’s what drugs and alcohol is: a slow death.”
Newsweek: Did you ever meet Prince?
Gene Simmons: I took Diana [Ross, his girlfriend at the time] to see him when he was first starting out. He was playing a club and we’d never seen anything like that. Backstage when we came up to say “you were great,” we were expecting this huge personality and he was a very small, slight human being. He might have been five-foot-four, very shy, with his eyes to the ground, very self-effacing. He just couldn’t take a compliment. “Thank you, thank you.” He spoke in a whisper. It was shocking actually. He couldn’t look Diana Ross in the face—he kept his eyes to the ground.
The one question I have is: When we all start out and we have these big dreams and you finally get your wish—you have more money than God and fame—what is that insane gene in us, well, a lot of us, that makes us want to succumb to the cliché of clichés: drugs and alcohol?
Newsweek: Are you saying you’ve never dabbled yourself?
Gene Simmons: I’ve never been high or drunk in my life. I have to validate that: Except in a dentist’s chair where they knock you out. I’ve never been high or drunk. I don’t care if anybody believes it or not. It’s just a personal life choice. I can almost understand drinking or getting high if it made my schmeckel bigger, or made me smarter, but nothing happens.
Newsweek: Do the purported circumstances around Prince’s death hurt his legacy?
Gene Simmons: No. Your legacy becomes even bigger, you become more iconic, if you die before your time—Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and all that. They capture the youth…But I’m not willing to do that—sorry. I really enjoy getting up every day. If it means at the end I become a pathetic version of what I am, so be it. My gravestone will not say: ‘I wish I woulda, shoulda, coulda.’
Newsweek: You caught some flak recently for saying you “look forward to the day rap dies.” Did you mean that?
Gene Simmons: I didn’t mean that mean-spirited. I’ve got to watch my words. Of course I don’t want it to die. But it will. Rock dies, rap dies—doo-wop died. Remember this? [He sings in the style of doo-wop.] That’s dead. That Chuck Berry stuff is gone. Folk rock went. All things will pass. This idea that music will last forever is delusional.
I’ve been criticized for saying rock is dead but I stand by my words. From 1958 to 1988 we had Elvis, the Beatles, The [Rolling] Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Queen. From 1988 until today, give me the new Beatles? It doesn’t work, does it? Pretty f–king pathetic. The boy band is alive and well—One Direction is a very big band. The pop stuff is good—you’ve got Bieber and Beyoncé. But I don’t know how to tell anybody this, but it ain’t the Beatles. It doesn’t have the gravitas.
Newsweek: You also went back-and-forth with N.W.A., particularly Ice Cube, for saying they don’t belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…
Gene Simmons: N.W.A. is a legendary hip-hop act, perhaps the preeminent one—but it ain’t rock. The day N.W.A. goes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I want KISS in the hip-hop hall of fame…
Newsweek: So rock is dead, hip-hop will die—is music in dire straits?
Gene Simmons: Everything has to evolve or become extinct…J.Lo, Beyoncé and all that stuff, when there’s 50 percent or more of backing track, it’s dishonest. When you buy food it tells you if it’s got 50 percent sugar, 10 percent this. At least, have the honesty to respect your fans, “You’re buying a $150 ticket, at least 50 percent of the music you’re going to hear is not live.” Say it. At least then you’ll have the integrity.
That’s why I love EDM—electronic dance music doesn’t pretend to be live. It’s just a guy who presses a button. There’s a big light show and everyone has a great time. Fantastic. I find EDM honest. I find pop music…patently dishonest—lipsyncing, disco boys and all that, it’s just dishonest.
Newsweek: Tell us about your new concert film, KISS Rocks Vegas. Why has it taken so long for KISS to make one?
Gene Simmons: We never like to do anything small. We don’t like to sit in one place that long but we did eight or nine shows [in Las Vegas in 2014]. We were planning a stage show and wanted to try out these huge modern digital screens and so we were going to initially rent the facility and then said, ‘Why don’t we just rehearse live and blow some shit up?’ The great challenge was to make sure we didn’t set the place on fire.
Newsweek: You also previously backed Mitt Romney in 2012 saying America “should be run by a businessman.” Does that extend to Donald Trump in the 2016 election?
Gene Simmons: I do abide by the idea that politicians are not the best thing for countries. I believe business people are. Intrinsically, unless you know how capitalism works and how to create jobs, you’re going to get chaos. America had a balanced budget when [Bill] Clinton was president and now we’re approaching $19 trillion in debt. That’s because politicians don’t have the balls to say, “OK, America’s fat, it’s time to go on a diet.” A leader has to do some stuff that’s not popular. You can vote them in, you can vote them out, but once you’re in charge, don’t ask everybody what you should or shouldn’t do—they are not qualified to know how economics and foreign policy works.
Newsweek: You were a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice with Trump. Are voters seeing the real Donald?
Gene Simmons: The Donald Trump that was on The Apprentice is the same one you see in front of everybody. He doesn’t read cue cards, nobody writes his speeches for him… if you see the animal and see the stripes on the animal, it’s a true description of the animal. If you like it you’ll vote for it, if you don’t you won’t.
Hillary Clinton is a humanist, she cares about people, but don’t kid yourself—she’s a politician. Politicians will lie to their mothers about anything. Trump, good, bad or otherwise, will tell anybody to f–k off because he uses his own money and doesn’t need your money to run. I think more business people are needed in government. The better off they are, the less you can buy them off. How many politicians have been bought off with cash?
Read more at Newsweek.
KISS Rocks Vegas is in select cinemas around the world on May 25. For more details, visit kissmycinema.com.