NAME: Gene Simmons
DESCRIPTION: Rock star and family man.
LAST SEEN: Trading his platform shoes for a speaker’s podium.
Before there was “HIStory,” there was “KISStory,” a coffee-table photo-essay book released to celebrate and chronicle the 20-year career of flamboyant rock band Kiss, founded by bassist Gene Simmons and front man Paul Stanley.
Simmons, a wild party guy who once dated Cher and seemed to be in the gossip pages every day, was domesticated when he married model turned actress Shannon Tweed. The couple live quietly in Beverly Hills with their two children.
They also quietly rake in fistfuls of cash. Tweed, one of the top direct-to-video stars, earns millions acting in low-budget erotic thrillers. As for Simmons, although the band tours infrequently these days, its members have developed a way of keeping in close contact with loyal fans: Kiss Conventions, memorabilia-and merchandise-filled touring confabs that also sport two-hour acoustic concerts by the band and lengthy question-and-answer sessions with attendees.
Ducats for the conventions run a mind-boggling $100 apiece, but Simmons says the get-togethers are not profitable. Some observers think otherwise.
At any rate, the 23-city tour of the noon-to-midnight gatherings kicked off last week in Los Angeles and will close Aug. 1 in Pittsburgh.
Held at hotels, the confabs are designed to attract Kiss fans from all over, with attendance at most sites expected to hover near 1,000 fans. Simmons says the band, whose gimmick was the Kabuki-like face paint worn by its members, still has quite a following, both in the U.S. and abroad, with more than 1,000 fan clubs around the world, some reaching into such unlikely recesses of the world as Russia and Southeast Asia.
He says the Q&A sessions at the conventions often turn into revival meetings, with fans emotionally recalling how the band changed their lives. “We thought we were doing these things to give something back to the fans,” says Simmons. “But we’re getting such a kick from being close to our fans, it’s actually become something we’re doing just as much for ourselves.”
To help promote “Kiss My Ass,” a Kiss tribute disc released last year sporting the likes of Garth Brooks and Lenny Kravitz, the band performed on several TV shows. Kiss also joined Brooks for a perf on “The Tonight Show,” for a rousing version of “Hard Luck Woman.”
Kiss is also expected to hit the road sometime in 1996 to support the release of its 28th album, an as-yet-untitled offering set for a Mercury Records release in November.
“Who knew that four bums off the streets of New York would be one record behind the Beatles with the number of gold records they have?” says Simmons. “We have the people at the conventions to thank for that.”