What can I say about Gene Simmons? The ubiquitous founder and frontman of the legendary rock band Kiss, and famously dogged entrepreneur has provided me with an interview experience unlike any journalistic encounter I have had thus far in my career. Luckily, I have been exploring my spiritual side lately and the need to be right was overshadowed by the understanding that my job is to let Simmons' true voice and points of view come across. My left brain admired Gene Simmons' accomplishments and ingenuity, while my right brain marveled at Simmons' extreme views on women, money, love, and human nature. Such profound insights as "No one has the right to argue with me," and "Men don't chat," were imparted to me. I learned so much.
Then I caught a recent episode of Gene Simmons: Family Jewels as I was editing this piece. I began to see the subtext of Simmons' existence. It seems his partner of almost twenty-four years, Shannon Tweed, wears the pants in many respects. His two children Sophie and Nick also appear to have him wrapped around their young fingers. A kinder and gentler family man emerges, one who is very much committed to Tweed and their two teenage kids.
Our interview covers Simmons' menagerie of projects including Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, Simmons' hit reality show on the A&E network and his latest venture, a foray into the celebrity branded fashion arena with the Moneybag clothing and accessories line. The Moneybag line incorporates Simmons' own registered trademark of the famous "moneybag" image, which Simmons says he has owned for the past twenty-five years.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I know where I want to go with the first part of the interview
Gene Simmons: I know, but I know where I want to go
PR.com: You tell me what you want to discuss first and foremost
Gene Simmons: But I'm trying. That's why I can't get married, because the male of the species could never finish a sentence. You guys won't let us. And I mean that in the very nicest way.
PR .com: (Laughs) I'm sorry to interrupt you after what you just said, but I have to ask you a question based on that. What is the difference between living with a woman and marrying a woman? Don't you still have the same problems communicating?
Gene Simmons: Oh, we don't care about communication. We just care about the fact that if we decide to break up, that you don't take half of our money.
(This is interesting, because Gene has been in a domestic relationship with model Shannon Tweed for over twenty-three years, and seems not to be ending this union any time soon.)
PR.com: Ok, what's a typical day like for you?
Gene Simmons: Well it starts early usually, because east coast gets up early. Sometimes its 5:00 AM [when I get up], so that I can catch Europe before they go to sleep.
PR.com: What kind of business dealings do you have in Europe? Or what kind of business dealings do you have in general with the Kiss brand and the licensing? I notice that you've licensed your trademark to many different companies.
Gene Simmons: Well Kiss has close to three thousand licensed products: everything from Kiss condoms to Kiss caskets. We'll get you coming and we'll get you going.
Gene Simmons: But Kiss is only one part of it. We have the Gene Simmons brand which has Simmons Books, The Simmons Comics Group, and of course the TV show, the Gene Simmons: Family Jewels. So, I basically do a kind of a Clark Kent/Superman parallel universe, where I'm proud to be a member of Kiss and I work on that, and also brand Gene Simmons outside of that. The two don't usually cross. They have their own sort of integrity.
PR.com: Since you seem to be the ultimate entrepreneur, when you started Kiss, when you co-founded Kiss I should say, was it simply a means to an end for you?
Gene Simmons: It always is and always will be, because rock n' roll is home to people who would otherwise be asking the next person if they'd like some fries with that.
PR.com: Well, that's if you're successful at it
Gene Simmons: What I meant was that if it wasn't for rock n' roll you'd be at McDonalds because the people who inhabit the world of popular music can't do anything. They have no skills, and we fall into this kind of business that reacts to charisma. We're not the best singers, and we're not the best dancers. Very few people I mean, Prince is an exception, but nobody can read or write music. We're all just self-taught and we do what we do, and that's sort of it.
PR.com: Did you have a passion for music?
Gene Simmons: No. I just wanted to get rich and famous in that order.
PR.com: That's another thing that I was going to ask you if you had a choice between rich or famous, which one do you think you would choose?
Gene Simmons: Rich every time! You can be famous and be poor. But if you're rich, who cares. And if money can't buy you happiness well if you're going to be a miserable son of a bitch, it's still better to be a rich miserable son of a bitch.
PR.com: Well, someone I interviewed said to me recently, "I don't understand why people always say "money can't buy you happiness." Money was never meant to buy you happiness. It was meant to make you comfortable."
Gene Simmons: None of that is correct because if you're a mother and you have a child, your child needs things. And love is not the first thing it needs. The first thing it needs is food and shelter. If it has a cough or is sick, you take it to the doctor. Actually, money is the expression of love, whether it's presents or buying your girlfriend clothing or jewelry, you express your love with money.
PR.com: I want to talk about your background because I know your mother is a Holocaust survivor.
Gene Simmons: It's too easy to say "Holocaust." It's more accurate to say German Nazi.
PR.com: Right. Well, I'm Jewish myself.
Gene Simmons: Well, German Nazi Holocaust is different than the Turkish Armenian Holocaust.
Gene Simmons: You see what I mean?
PR.com: She was in a Nazi concentration camp, correct?
Gene Simmons: Correct.
PR.com: When did she end up in Israel, and then how did the family eventually come to emigrate to the United States?
Gene Simmons: I was born in 1949. My mother and my father were Hungarian Jews and it was not an easy time, certainly to be Jewish, and not an easy time for the entire planet. I was oblivious to all that. I was born, and as long as I had a piece of bread and jam, because we did not have meat or milk or eggs or any of that stuff as long as I had a piece of bread and lots of jam on top of it I was deliriously happy. I didn't care about anything else. And to this day, that is my favorite dessert. Thick, thick corn bread or pumpernickel bread toasted with jam on it.
PR.com: You've said that what drives you is that, from when you were young, you have memories of being hungry.
Gene Simmons: Work is good. It's clear in your mind if you were once desperately poor. You appreciate [being rich] and you understand that nothing happens by itself, and that it is all hard work. What's interesting is that the richest guys in the world get up every day and go to work. Whether you're Arab Sheiks with your oil wells they continue to make deals all the time. Most people think it's about a job that's just nine to five. Work involves doing something all the time, the love of labor.
PR.com: What do you teach your kids about the value of a dollar and how to earn money, and how to keep money?
Gene Simmons: Well they have never had an allowance. If you need money for clothing you get that. If you want to buy a toy, you have to tell me why. They do certainly understand the nature of stuff. When I want to buy them something really nice, both of them will say, "No, you really don't need to [buy] that dad." Have you ever seen our show (A&E's "Gene Simmons: Family Jewels")?
PR.com: I have seen it. I did not see it this past season but I saw the first season. I remember one episode when you were trying to teach your son about money because he made a comment about twenty-thousand dollars not being that difficult to make, or it kind of being dispensable.
Gene Simmons: Yeah, try making twenty-thousand!
PR.com: I know, believe me (laughs)! I know it's difficult.
Gene Simmons: I mean, it's not a lot for me, but the idea is that a penny is a lot, 'cause if you don't have a penny, that's not good.
PR.com: Well, it's not easy to generate money and it takes innovation. It takes a lot of thought. It starts in the mind. So, it's well known and well documented that you're highly against marriage and you never want to get married.
Gene Simmons: For me.
PR.com: Right. You're against it for you.
Gene Simmons: I don't believe man is designed to be married.
PR.com: Do you believe women are designed to be married?
Gene Simmons: Yes, you're biologically designed that way. You nest. You lay your eggs I mean talking bird language you lay your eggs and you build your nest. You want the white picked fence. Neither is good or bad. It's just what you're designed for. During the month, during a thirty day period, you drop one or two eggs. That's it! Every day we make hundreds of millions of sperm in the same time it takes you to make two eggs. We're tens of billions of sperm. Either that's a great cosmic joke by God, or it has something to do with the blueprint of what we do.
PR.com: Then what has kept you in your relationship (with model Shannon Tweed) for over twenty years?
Gene Simmons: My decisions, my rules. No marriage. That's no one to ask me "Where you are going?" Because I would immediately respond by, "Who wants to know?"
PR.com: Do you believe in fidelity?
Gene Simmons: I believe in nobody else having anything to say about your lifestyle. If you want to be [faithful] that should be a personal decision, not up to your girlfriend or your boyfriend. That's the problem with marriage. Somebody else has a right to say how you lead your life. Not even your mother has that right, and she gave you life itself. Why would you ever give anybody else that right?
PR.com: It's a valid point. I'll give you that.
Gene Simmons: You meet somebody as a grown up, and all of a sudden you have to answer to them?? What?!
PR.com: Well, there's two sides to that coin.
Gene Simmons: No there isn't. There is only one side, and that is that you're desperately trying to protect your one or two eggs. It's biological.
PR.com: No, no, I understand that, but do you care if your partner is being faithful?
Gene Simmons: Well, I think that has to do with ego. It doesn't have to do with this kind of desperate biological urge. For women it's desperate and biological. For men it's just about ego. And ego, you know, you get over that.
PR.com: What do you explain to your daughter about what you want for her?
Gene Simmons: Simple idea, don't define yourself by men, which is what all women do. Every woman's magazine is, "Ten ways to keep him interested," or "Ten things he's thinking about." There isn't a men's magazine that has anything to do with trying to figure out what women are thinking about, because we actually don't care what you're thinking about. We are too busy thinking our own thoughts. You spend all that time because you are desperate, because you have one or two eggs a month, and by the time you're in your middle years you go nuts. "Gotta get a man, gotta get a man, gotta get a man!"
(But also, every issue of a men's magazine that I've picked up has articles like "How to Please Her in Bed," "How to Attract a Hot Girl," or "Is Your Penis the Right Size and Shape?")
Gene Simmons: So the idea for Sophie is not to define herself by a man. Forget what he wants. What do you want?
PR.com: Do you want to see her get married?
Gene Simmons: Only if she wants to. Marriage means nothing to me. Happiness means everything. All I see in marriage is a lot of desperately unhappy people. That's why there are marriage jokes. By the way, there are no "single" jokes. Try one. I don't know of any. "Why do men die younger than their wives? Because they want to." Then everybody laughs. Here is a "single" joke: "I got up and I did whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it, at any time, and without checking with anyone."
PR.com: But the rest of that sentence would be, " but I'm lonely."
Gene Simmons: Well you're not because being single means you can keep swinging your bat until you hit one.
PR.com: At least your argument is well thought out.
Gene Simmons: I think it is called man.
PR.com: Does Shannon agree with all of your philosophies?
Gene Simmons: Absolutely not.
PR.com: Do you ever argue about it?
Gene Simmons: Never. No one has the right to argue with me. I can open the discussion but nobody can sit there and there's no passing judgment. You accept the idea that you know people think in a certain way, because it's biology.
PR.com: But there was an episode in your show
Gene Simmons: You can't argue with a lion about why it wants to eat meat. It just does
PR.com: There was an episode in your show, where she was trying to coerce you into getting married.
Gene Simmons: Surprise! All women do that (laughs).
PR.com: Even twenty-three years into the relationship, she still wants to get married?
Gene Simmons: Women never give up.
PR.com: I am interested in your thoughts on the war in Iraq.
Gene Simmons: Well, I think everybody in America is on crack, and believes that you can go on your summer vacation, you fight a war and you come back. This war will continue for generations, and it has nothing to do with tanks and guns. It has to do with winning the minds and hearts of young Muslim people so that they don't choose 9/11 kind of behavior. It's the dark ages, this idea that you can go there for a few years and come home. We have been in Korea for decades and we should continue to be there until a new generation comes in and just finally gives up. You've got to fight the war like The Cold War; be there as long as it takes, and finally Russia lays down its arms.
PR.com: Do you think this all goes back to the United Nations giving the Jewish people the state of Israel?
Gene Simmons: Well, let's not go there. It's too political. The problem is not Israel or anything else. People hate each other and have for centuries. Actually, ever since we started walking the earth. One cave did not like the other cave. They were taller or shorter or fatter or darker or lighter. Human beings can barely get along.
PR.com: Why do you think?
Gene Simmons: I think it's survival and competition, whether its sports or jousting knights in shining armor, or beauty pageants for women or you look at animals. You see rams ramming each other, and there is always the pecking order. Who is going to be top dog?
PR.com: What do you think about celebrities speaking out about their opinions on the war?
Gene Simmons: Pathetic and they're not qualified to talk about it. I think everybody means well, but whether you are far left or far right, Al-Qaeda does not care what you are or what your beliefs are. They don't care if you want to withdraw and go home. They want you to die. There is no difference [to] an extremist Muslim. They're not interested if you are for the war or against the war. You're just all Americans to them.
PR.com: Let's talk about the Moneybag clothing line
Gene Simmons: You mind me asking how old you are?
PR.com: Thirty-two. Why do you ask?
Gene Simmons: You sound nineteen.
Gene Simmons: Yeah
PR.com: Well, I kind of take that as a compliment.
Gene Simmons: Well, with women you never know, you can't win.
PR.com: I'm proud of my age.
Gene Simmons: You're missing the point. You ignored what I said. What I said was if there's a twenty year old girl and she say's, "How old do you think I am?" and the guy says, "Nineteen," she says, "Oh, I look that young?" "Ok, twenty-one." "Oh, I look that old?" "Ok, that must mean you're twenty." "Oh, you mean I look my age?" You can't win.
PR.com: Well, you could win with me. I have no problem being my age and I have no problem sounding younger than my age.
Gene Simmons: We are just chatting away. Men don't chat. We just want to get to it.
PR.com: You went off on that tangent.
Gene Simmons: Ok.
PR.com: Ok, so we digress. Let's talk about the Moneybag clothing line.
Gene Simmons: A guy named Jason Dussault I was contacted by a guy named Terry Fitzgerald who does work with the McFarlane people (Todd McFarlane's Comics). They are the people I made a deal with for the Kiss Psycho Circus comics. One thing led to the other. I met Jason and he was fascinated to learn that I own the "moneybag" logo and have for over twenty-five years, and have used it sparingly in my record company, Simmons Records and my book imprint, Simmons Books. I tried the Moneybag clothing line a while back with another entity that didn't satisfy me, just in terms of the business structure. Jason was starting his own [company], Dussault Custom Ink. He wanted to license the "moneybag" logo, and I said, "Well here is a better idea. We can do a joint venture. I'll provide sweat equity and all this kind of stuff, and you manufacture and distribute." So we joined forces. It will officially debut in August at The Magic Show in Las Vegas, although there are already thousands of orders from stores all across the country.
PR.com: Is everything going to feature the "moneybag" logo on it?
Gene Simmons: Yes
PR.com: Is most of the merchandise going to be t-shirts?
Gene Simmons: And wallets, leather goods, carry-on cases in airports that kind of stuff. There is going to be jewelry and charm bracelets.
PR.com: The actual picture of the bag with the dollar sign on it? You own that trademark?
Gene Simmons: I do. I trademarked that twenty-five years ago when I started signing my name with two slashes through the "S." Then that was trademarked because it was an application of the dollar sign. Then I wondered if anybody actually owned the "moneybag," the dollar sign with the bag around it, and found that nobody did.
PR.com: I'm shocked about that, because I have seen it in cartoons and all over the place.
Gene Simmons: That doesn't mean they own it. People use all kinds of thing they don't own.
PR.com: How involved are you? Do you get involved in design and production?
Gene Simmons: No, that is Jason. But we have a conversation before, during and after. He says, "What you think about this?" I go, "No that's not good. How about this? How about that?" We talk about, you know, marketing and how and where.
PR.com: Where is the product manufactured?
Gene Simmons: I don't know if you make a record with a record company, where is the record manufactured? Where is the CD done? I don't know.
PR.com: Ok. Tell me about My Dad the Rock Star.
Gene Simmons: That's a cartoon show that has been on the air around the world for years, actually; about four years. I created that show sort of as when our son Nick was younger, around twelve, I wondered what it was like from his point of view with a famous mom and a famous dad. So, My Dad the Rock Star, even the title, is from the little boy's point of view. But it's semi-autobiographical. I mean Rock Zilla (the animated father) kind of looks like me, but it's not Kiss.
PR.com: With Gene Simmons: Family Jewels, when is the next season starting?
Gene Simmons: Well they are supposed to start filming in August. Although you missed season two.
PR.com: You're right about that, but I did see season one. How long does filming take?
Gene Simmons: No rhyme or reason, you know, sometimes it's two days per episode or it could take a week. Depends on what you do.
PR.com: Are you guys scripted and set up by producers to say or do certain things?
Gene Simmons: No, but there's got to be some format. I don't memorize any lines and nobody writes anything down for me, but there is a format. If I am going to an Indy car race for instance, I'll tell the crew and they will just see what the activities are, and they'll try to make sense of it.
For more information about Gene Simmons' "Moneybag"
clothing line, visit www.genesimmonsmoneybag.com or www.genesimmons.com.