With a career spanning three decades and 80 million records sold, one would think that Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, who made an indelible mark on pop music by dressing up like a demon and barfing blood, would spin some toe-curling tales about rock ‘n’ roll excess. Despite claims of bedding some 4,600 women, his tell-all autobiography “Kiss and Make Up” comes across more banal than carnal, disappointingly devoid of lurid road-dog details. However, that’s not to say that his book does not set up a compelling juxtaposition between Simmons’ carefully crafted rock god image and the man behind the make up.
Gene Simmons, ne Chaim Witz, emigrated from Israel to Brooklyn as a child. Coming from a broken home, the self-professed “mama’s boy” shunned sports for sci-fi books, super hero comics and television — “the seeds that would later become Kiss,” he writes. Like many kids coming of age in the 1960s, seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan inspired him to pick up a guitar and strike a few power chords, not as artistic expression, but as a way to get chicks.
Simmons may be a master showman who spit fire and flew around arenas on a high wire during concerts, but his first-person prose can be described as pedestrian at best. Instead of setting scenes and adding tension and drama with detail, “Kiss and Make-Up” lists memories like a loosely organized slide show, offering little context or analysis beyond a litany of well-worn cliches.
Furthermore, Simmons’ matter-of-fact writing style often slips into a self-congratulatory tone that many readers may find hard to take.
However, loyal members of the Kiss Army will surely gobble up the grist about the inter-band politics which pitted Simmons and singer Paul Stanley against drummer Peter Criss and ax-man Ace Frehley. “The truth was that Ace and Peter simply were not qualified to make decisions about band matters that depended on organization and structure,” he states.
Other readers less familiar with the band will be interested to know that Simmons had long-term relationships with both Cher and Diana Ross. Surprisingly enough, Simmons also dated Paramount’s own Sherry Lansing. The two met in the early 1980s when Simmons was pitching a film project. “I was attracted to her from the start,” he remembers, “but although we went out from time to time, I never did anything about it.”
Despite Simmons’ limitations as a writer, he comes across as a complex yet caring soul when chronicling his life. More than a musician, Simmons views himself as pragmatist and relentless marketer. “The master plan (with Kiss) was to create a cultural institution that was as iconic as Disney,” he writes. “We were not concerned with credibility.”
To this end, Simmons’ closes the book by hawking Kiss Kaskets — a final resting place for fans. “They say you can’t take it with you,” he writes. “I say you can.”