Kiss me lots, pay me more

Gene Simmons reckons to have slept with 4,600 women in his 32-year rock career. Fiona Sturges wasn't 4,601
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The Independent Culture

Gene Simmons is dressed to impress. Or so he reckons. Encased in black trousers and sweatshirt, with sunglasses to match (yes, it's November and, yes, we are indoors), the 54-year-old Kiss front man's look is between panto villain and pimp, though in his mind he's irresistible.

Gene Simmons is dressed to impress. Or so he reckons. Encased in black trousers and sweatshirt, with sunglasses to match (yes, it's November and, yes, we are indoors), the 54-year-old Kiss front man's look is between panto villain and pimp, though in his mind he's irresistible.

"Do you like this?" he asks, proudly pointing out the cartoon moneybags on both arms. Um... it's not quite my kind of... "It's my logo," he says. "I trademarked this 20 years ago, and I put it everywhere. Listen, if a completely unqualified person walks into a store and wins £100m in the lottery, he runs down the street yelling, 'I won!' and everyone says, 'Hey, good for you.'"

"But I work for 30 years every day, never taking a vacation, and then tell people I've made £100m - that's bad form. Well, I reject all that. I've got £100m. Humility gets you nowhere. Money is the root of all evil? Bullshit! Lack of money is the root of all evil. When was the last time you saw a millionaire rob a 7-11?"

Something tells me it's going to be a long day. If there's something else Simmons loves, it's the sound of his own voice. He barely pauses for breath as he embarks on a series of well-rehearsed lectures revolving around his twin passions: women and money.

Simmons, it seems, is living proof that fame is a great aphrodisiac. In their Eighties heyday, Kiss, the band famed for their kabuki-style make-up, explosive shows and hordes of groupies, were among the biggest stadium rock acts in America, selling 90 million records and paving the way for a slew of poodle-haired soft metal acts such as Whitesnake, Europe and Bon Jovi.

Kiss still have the distinction of making the most money of any band out of merchandise. Even now, two decades after their last big hit, they do a roaring trade in mugs, T-shirts, posters, key-chains, dolls, cheque-books, credit cards, condoms and even customised coffins - a snip at $4,700 (£2,600).

And the band isn't Simmons' only source of income. He's tried films, both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, producing the surprisingly good 1999 film Detroit Rock City. He's written two autobiographies ( Kiss and Make-Up and Sex, Money, Kiss) and the publisher of the monthly entertainment magazine Gene Simmons Tongue. Earlier this year, he released Asshole, his second solo album.

Even with £100m in the bank, Simmons believes that wealth is relative and there's always more to be made. "All I know is that tomorrow morning Bill Gates is going to wake up earlier than I am and work longer hours," he says. "And Richard Branson's out there kicking ass. When I first met Richard, I saw the little boy who didn't have anything, but had big dreams. Once men lose sight of the little boy, they're just waiting to die. When is the race over? When my legs are cut off - and even then I'll crawl. It's not the acquiring of wealth, you see, it's the striving to get it."

The principle seems to apply also to his tireless pursuit of women. He's in a long-term relationship with the ex- Playboy model Shannon Tweed (previous girlfriends include Cher and Diana Ross), with whom he has two teenage children, but he rejects monogamy and claims to come out in hives at the mention of marriage. By his reckoning, he's has slept with more than 4,600 women.

"My autobiography was going to be called Women are from Mars, Men have a Penis. Men and women have nothing in common; we're not built the same," he says. "We have testosterone, you don't. You make one or two eggs a month, we make millions of sperm every day. The problem is this: that the female of the species has deluded herself into thinking that all those billions of sperm that he makes are just for her. Why not let us have a few hundred million to play with? I'll just take a million. But no, you want them all."

As he drones on, I wonder to myself why anyone would want to go near the Simmons seed. Still, 32 years into his career, the women still queue up. There's a page on his website entitled Ladies in Waiting, where fans post pictures of themselves in their underwear. On his new DVD Speaking in Tongues, which intersperses excerpts from a recent spoken-word tour of Australia with Osbournes-style footage of life at home, we watch a procession of busty young blondes saunter into his house and rub up against him like hungry cats.

In our interview, he takes every chance to assert his manhood. He reads sexual tension into my body language (a twitching ankle is a come-on), making sleazy remarks about my clothes (I'm wearing too many) and two bone-crushing handshakes. A psychologist would have a field day.

Simmons now sees himself as an all-round entertainer. His spoken-word show came about when "someone offered me a lot of money to go to Australia and talk. I find people like to listen to what I have to say, possibly because I'm an only child, possibly because I'm from another country and possibly because my mother survived the Nazi concentration camps.

"I've always thought for myself. I'm somewhat of a classic epicurean hedonist. My purpose is to be selfish, and I don't regard the word as an insult. Nature has designed us to be selfish - it's called the survival instinct. In case of disasters on aeroplanes, you're told to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else. It makes sense. If you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else."

Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel in 1949. His father left the family when he was nine, after which his mother Flora moved with her son to Brooklyn in New York. His musical epiphany arrived when, aged 13, he saw The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. "They changed my life," he says. "When I came over, I was an immigrant. I looked funny, I talked funny. I didn't fit in. They had long hair, they talked strange and yet everybody loved them. I saw that it was OK to be different. They validated who I was, and from then on I wanted to be in a band, one that looked different and was admired. I still think of Kiss as The Beatles on steroids."

His mother bought him a second-hand guitar, and by the time he was 19 he had been in five different bands. In 1973, he formed Kiss with Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. With their pantomime outfits and anthems such as "Crazy Nights" and "Rock'n'Roll All Night", they won legendary status for a largely teenage audience.

Now the teenagers are all grown up, though even in middle age they flock to see Kiss live. The band completed a world tour in August, and there are plans for more shows, with possible dates in Red Square and Hyde Park.

Will Simmons ever put down his guitar and leave the stadium shows to the young pups? "I'm afraid they're going to have to drag me kicking and screaming. To hell with dignity and self-respect. Look at what I do on stage - I wear higher heels than you, more make-up than you. I'm an entertainer; I make a fool of myself and I make you pay for the privilege. I love money. And I'll do everything it takes to get more."

The DVD 'Speaking in Tongues' (Sanctuary) is out now

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