|My Dad the Rock Star|
Gene Simmons: Rock Star and Dad
The last TV show you’d expect to hear Gene Simmons talk about has got to be The Care Bears, but that’s exactly the series the legendary KISS front man brings up when talking about the background of TELETOON’s new cartoon, My Dad the Rock Star.
“I knew a number of Nelvana’s shows, like The Care Bears, and some older shows, like Teen Wolf, so I called them and we bandied about the idea of doing a KISS cartoon,” says Simmons on his cell phone from a recording studio. “We couldn’t come to terms on that concept, but (former president) Toper Taylor and I liked each other, and we started discussing my peculiar home life, and the funny stuff that’s always happening.
“Like when my boy went to kindergarten, and they asked the kids to bring in photos and things to talk about what their parents do. One boy brought scissors, because his dad was a barber, another kid brought a hammer, because his dad built houses, and my son walked in with a poster of me spitting fire and drooling blood.”
That story pretty much sums up the premise of My Dad the Rock Star, about a larger than life, Heavy Metal dad named Rock Zilla, and his son Willy, who just wants a normal life.
“Everybody’s got families they think are weird, but the real truth is that my son Nick has a mom and dad who are especially weird,’ laughs Simmons. “His mom’s a Playmate, that’s Shannon Tweed, my own Canadian content, and his dad is seven feet tall with Godzilla boots who sticks out his tongue for a living.”
Simmons also has a daughter, Sophie, now 11 years old, who joined him and Nick, 14, to watch a preview episode of My Dad the Rock Star. “They were just laughing their heads off. It’s such a fantastic cast and it’s just such a great show. I’m really proud to be associated with it.”
If all of this sounds like a big contradiction for The Demon, then you don’t know Gene Simmons. He might be the guy who put on some make-up, stuck out his tongue at the world and gained fame and fortune, but he remains at heart the hard-working immigrant kid who just wants to make his mom happy.
Simmons was born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel in 1949, the son of Flora Witz, a Holocaust survivor who soon became a single mom. With an uncle and brother in New York City, Flora decided to bring her son to America in 1958, where they settled in Flushing, Queens. At this time, the age of eight and a half, Chaim changed his name to Gene, and went by his mother’s maiden name, Klein. He’d go through the local yeshiva, American high school and community college before beginning his rock and roll career and adding the Simmons in 1972.
“I’ve always felt like an outsider, I still do, but America has given me everything I’ve ever dreamed of, and there are no limitations. Immigrants try to prove they’re as good as the next person, and really work for the things they want. I’ve never taken a vacation in my life. You have a lot of time to have a long vacation when you’re underground.”
And that pretty much sums up the premise that is Gene Simmons, which has seen the entertainer become a true multi-media celebrity. He moved from rock and roll to film and television, dated all the divas of his day, and now heads a monolithic merchandizing empire, which includes everything from KISS caskets to a new book and CD, both produced by his own imprint and label. Simmons will also be out on the road with KISS and Aerosmith starting in August 2003, which is sure to revive an interest in a band that has sold second only to The Beatles.
“The idea of getting up on stage and shocking people is not what it’s all about,” he explains. “The idea is to make a complete spectacle of yourself. And if critics say that’s what we do, you’re damn right it is.”
The spectacle formula has obviously paid off. A quick Internet search turns up 5,170,000 sites under KISS, 335,000 under KISS, the rock band, and 188,000 under Gene Simmons. That’s one impressive fan base, with age ranges Simmons sees as a great audience for the new TV show.
“The people who come to see us are families, its parents bringing their kids,” he says. ‘They dress up like KISS and all come together. A forty-year old can put on make-up and no one will look twice at him, and a kid can stick out his tongue and have the time of his life. It’s kind of like Ringling Brothers, or Barnum and Bailey, but we look cooler. It’s the greatest show on earth.”
“And it’s the same for Rock Zilla,” Simmons continues. “I don’t see why we can’t do Rock Zilla records and Rock Zilla tours for the kids. If you can have Smurfs On Ice, then why not Rock Zilla On Ice?”
If it sounds like Simmons has big plans for his animated incarnation, it comes as no surprise. He’s always seeing the potential in things, such as his early appreciation for Saturday morning cartoons. As he wrote in his autobiography, Kiss and Make-up, published in 2001, “I used to tape them and watch them over and over again. Even if I had company at the house – other musicians, actors, celebrities – I was intent on watching these cartoons. People didn’t understand my obsession, but then a few years after that everyone acknowledged these cartoons as seminal works of post-war American art. But I always knew they were.”
In fact, Simmons says, animation has always been a big part of his life. As a teenager he published his own “fanzines” with titles like Cosmos and Faun and Lamaba Gamma. “They were based on fantasy and science fiction, comics, movies, basically anything that stretched the imagination. Too bad there isn’t a genre of literature called Imagination.”
As a former Mickey Mouse Club fan, sixth-grade teacher, and Kelly Office… Guy? Simmons is known to practice what he preaches. “Once you break free of the rules, all things are possible,” he says. “That’s where the great stuff comes from, whether it’s the Bible, or Alice in Wonderland, or superhero comics, they’re all from the same place, which is not the three dimensional world.”
“The important thing is to create work, it’s the love of work, it’s not whether you have a job,” he says. “My kids understand that. My boy was the commencement speaker at his school, and the teachers said he was a shining example for the other students. There are strict guidelines at home. There’s no television until after eight o’clock, and up until then you get home and work your tail off.”
That might not be the way Rock Zilla rules his roost, but then again, he’s one of many projects for the many-facetted Simmons. He’s also writing a comic book for Bongo Comics, producing motion pictures for Marvel Comics, and signing new acts for his record label. His new book, Sex, Money Kiss, and CD, KISS Symphony: Alive IV, are also launching this summer. Will the man never stop?
“You get a chance to stop when they dig a hole for you,” he says. “And anybody who thinks I’m going out willingly better think twice. I’m the guy who’s going to be kicking and screaming – they’re going to have to push me in.”
Something tells us we’re going to be hearing a lot more from Gene Simmons before that ever happens. Oh yes, and a lot more about Rock Zilla too.
And don’t forget to watch Mondays at 6:00 p.m., Tuesdays at 7:00 a.m., and Sundays at 5:30 p.m., beginning September 1, 2003.
Manager, Media Relations