When I made inquiries about getting a press invite to the Gene Simmons/ Shannon Tweed wedding — which happens this Saturday, October 1st at the fancy-schmancy Beverly Hills Hotel — I’ll admit, a part of me was joking. But another part of me, a bigger part, was completely serious. Because how freakin’ cool is that wedding going to be? Remember that documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II? Imagine that, but as a wedding. I have to assume it’s going to be pretty similar to any Kiss live show, with a few surprises. Will Gene breathe fire before or after the vows? Will Paul Stanley toast the new couple like he introduces songs? (“Does anybody here like coooooold gin?”) When they do the Hora dance with Shannon, will the house band play “Shout It Out Loud” or “Black Diamond”? And how long into the reception before Ace Frehley disappears into the parking lot to do whippets in a van with curtains?
When I received the last in a series of emails explaining that I was definitely not invited to the wedding — written in a snippy “you’ve got to be kidding” tone that I’m sure they also use with TMZ reporters — I was crestfallen. It hit me hard, much to the bafflement of my wife, who didn’t quite understand what the big deal was.
“Since when do you give a shit about Gene Simmons?” she asked.
“I’ve always given a shit!” I spat back. “I’ve got all the Kiss albums, or at least the ones before Peter Criss left. And I’ve got that t-shirt with Gene’s face on it, and that Kiss lunchbox that I use for office supplies.”
“But you only like that stuff ironically.”
“Hey, if you know how to appreciate Gene Simmons without being ironic, I sure as hell would like to hear it.”
She shrugged. “I don’t even know how to appreciate him ironically. All I’m saying is, you want to go to somebody’s wedding, you have to be a little more sincere about it.”
I had to concede, she made a valid point. Even when composing the email to Gene’s publicity machine, politely requesting a seat at the wedding somewhere in the back near Ron Jeremy, the implied “air quotes” were probably obvious. If I was going to fix this, I had to somehow demonstrate that I don’t just love Gene Simmons because I think he’s a genius of unintentional buffoonery; I also legitimately enjoy him and his cock-rock jackassery in a non-sarcastic way.
But to pull off that hat trick, I had to first determine if it was actually true.
When you think long and hard about your musical past, it’s easy to get embarrassed by the recurring motifs. In the last 34 years, Gene Simmons has popped up an awful lot in my life, far too often for it to be a coincidence. The 1990s in particular were an active Gene Simmons decade for me. Every year had its milestone Gene Simmons moment. In 1991, I somehow managed to impress and sleep with several women in the Chicago area because of my barroom bullshit observations about the made-for-TV movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. (I could do 20 minutes on Peter Criss’ acting talents alone.) In 1993, I interviewed the Kiss tribute band Strutter for San Francisco’s The Nose magazine, and somehow coaxed them into having philosophical discussions about homoeroticism and cod-pieces. In 1995 I came up with the brilliant idea of co-authoring a humor book with Joseph Campbell — kind of a “he said/ he said” — debating the myth symbolism in Kiss songs, and even pitched it to a few publishers until a helpful editor informed me that Joseph Campbell was dead. In 1997, I went to a Kiss reunion concert dressed in Gene Simmons’ makeup (I only did half of my face because I’m lazy), but then offset my exposed adoration by screaming unnecessarily long, smart-ass song requests during the show. (“Play the instrumental ‘Escape from the Island’ from the unfairly panned 1981 album Music From The Elder!!”) All the years I spent listening and talking and thinking about Gene Simmons, it was always with a snarky wink. If music appreciation is a nightclub, than Gene Simmons is the fat chick I went everywhere with to make myself look thinner.
I met Gene in person just once. It was 1998 or thereabouts, and he was in the lobby of the Second City comedy theater in Chicago, where I worked at the time. I asked for an autograph, because I thought owning a Gene Simmons autograph would be hilarious, like owning a VHS copy of Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. (I asked him to include the message “To my BFF from your BFF,” but he refused.) As I handed him a pen, he pretended to take a bite out of one of my fingers. I yelped and he smiled and then patted the ass of his not-Shannon-Tweed date. That’s when I realized, hey, this isn’t Spinal Tap. This is a real flesh and blood human being, who smells like bad cologne and cheats on his wife and is convinced that the rest of the world finds him as attractive and talented and irresistible as he does. When you learn that the irony is a one-way street, it’s not funny anymore. It’s just mean.
As I pondered all of this, making a mental inventory of my 30-plus year inability to take Gene Simmons seriously, I started to panic. Maybe I really am a fraud fan. It’s one thing to recognize the inherent stupidity of an artist you’ve followed your whole life, it’s another to be incapable of appreciating them without ironic detachment. I adore Lee Majors and The Six Million Dollar Man, and I’ve never been compelled to make sure strangers know how ridiculously campy I think the show was. I love making fun of the terrible dialogue and crappy acting in the original Star Wars, but I can still watch it and get the same goosebumps it gave me as a kid. Why should Gene Simmons be any different? Why am I incapable of finding the pleasure in his unique brand of silly rock excess without being self-consciously clever about it?
As it turns out, I just wasn’t digging deep enough. To remember why you ever fell so completely and awkwardly in love with someone or something, it’s often necessary to go back to the beginning.
In October of 1977, my uncle decided it would be funny to dress me up for Halloween like Gene Simmons. We spent most of the day getting the makeup just right, and creating a costume with bat wings and platform boots. He used a sharpie to add a thick coat of hair to my otherwise bald 8-year-old chest. When I joined my friends for trick-or-treating, they were speechless. They watched in slack-jawed wonder as I showed off the stage moves my uncle had taught me. I could do the guitar-solo-air-kick and the mood-enhancing-crotch-thrust and sing roughly one-eighth of the songs from the Kiss Alive II album.
“God of thunnnnnder and rock n’ rollllll,” I sang in my high-pitched prepubescent squeal. “The spell you’re unnnnnnder, is gonna rob you of your virgin soul!”
It would’ve been ironic if I had any clue what the lyrics were about. Instead, it was just cute. Well, depending on who you talked to. Some of our neighbors thought it was cute. Others made it abundantly clear that they weren’t amused by my one-boy performance of “Love Gun,” especially if they were Episcopalian. I don’t know why that was. Do all Episcopalians have phallophobia?
As the evening stretched on, the crowd dwindled down to just me and a girl named Emily. She’d never given me so much as a second glance until that night. But now she was standing uncomfortably close and trying to hold my hand. And then, during my performance of “Detroit Rock City,” as I flicked my tongue and punched at the air with my codpiece (actually just a plastic ice cream bowl from Dairy Queen), Emily came to the conclusion that I needed to see her vagina immediately.
At first, I didn’t know what I was looking at. It was just a hairless mound which, based on what little I knew about anatomy, should have contained a penis. Emily held her dress aloft like it was a boat sail and she was waiting for a gust of wind. She gazed at me expectantly, waiting for some kind of reaction.
Lacking any other ideas, I stuck out my tongue and wagged it at her, screaming, “Rock and rooooooll!” I had no idea at the time just how dirty that was. I was just following the script.
When I told my dad about it later, he just laughed. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a guitar now, huh?”
“Oh yeah, right,” I said, pretending to gag. “That’s just gross.”
“Give it a few years,” he told me with a wink. “You’ll be learning the chords to Beatles songs just so more girls will lift their dresses for you.”
In hindsight, maybe that memory has nothing to do with Gene Simmons. But in a weird, tangential way, he played a big part in my introduction to sex. Because of him, I saw my very first vagina, which resulted in my father telling me the first (and only) thing he’s ever shared with me about relationships and intimacy: Rock musicians get lots of pussy. And there was absolutely nothing ironic about any of it.
If that’s not enough justification for me to get an invite to Gene Simmons’ wedding, well, obviously romance is dead.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MTV Hive