Gene Simmons worried I’d do this to him
November 25, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
I interviewed Gene Simmons on January 28, 1996. You can read all about the confusing, stressful lead-up to the interview in my book In Cold Sweat: Interviews with Really Scary Musicians.
There’s a reason the book has been in print for twelve years: It’s good. And the reason it’s good is because the interview subjects gave me good answers. However, I must take credit for being a journalist who put the welfare of his interviewees ahead of his own ambitions.
For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why Simmons took forever to agree to the interview. What follows is supposition; I’ve had no contact with Simmons since the followup to the interview.
Bass Player had never done an article on Simmons, and he was concerned that either the magazine would relegate him to the back pages or—worse—do a hatchet job on him. For some entirely incomprehensible reason, he’s been called a lousy bassist. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a fine bassist with a style all his own.
I’ve read many times that Simmons only agreed to the interview if he got the cover of the magazine. That’s not true. He did the interview not knowing what would happen to the article. That took a lot of courage on his part. Originally we were supposed to spend an hour together, but he not only gave me more than two hours, he let me listen to “Hate,” and he took me into the studio and introduced me to Bruce Kulick and Toby Wright. None of that was on the original itinerary.
What happened was that because of my questions and my demeanor, Simmons realized that he would almost certainly get the cover of the magazine and that there was no chance that I would do to him what painter Thomas Kluge did to the Danish royal family.
People think Kluge’s painting is hilarious. I don’t. It was a massive betrayal of trust.
Oh, the Danish royal family will survive. That’s not the point. For me, the world has more than enough ugliness, dishonesty, cynicism, and nihilism. Where does it get us? Okay, so you really stuck it to the Danish royal family. And?
Gene Simmons worried that I’d make him look like a clown. He had every right to wonder, since so many “reputable” music journalists had been unable to see beyond their biases and simply report on him factually. When I was a music journalist, I had no axe to grind, no preconceived notions, no agenda, and no desire to humiliate or take down anybody. Some of the musicians I interviewed were mediocre, in my opinion. To get around having to lie about them, I let them describe their music. See how easy that is?
The idea of “compromising my integrity” is alien to me. What integrity? I was a music journalist, one of the least-important occupations on earth. Sometimes I went to palaces, wearing my K-Mart clothing. Who cares? How does somebody else’s good fortune have anything to do with me? That was their life, and I had my life. My job was to improve my life.
Maybe my lack of interest in palaces makes me unusual. I would never live in a gigantic mansion the size of a mall because I’d always be afraid that someone had managed to sneak in and was hiding in one of my walk-in closets. The best scene in Citizen Kane is when Orson Welles and Dorothy Comingore are in his castle, sitting in front of the fireplace. She’s doing a jigsaw puzzle on the floor, asking him why they can’t go out more, and he’s sitting so far away from her that he has to shout, “What?” because he can’t hear her.
Envy is corrosive. It makes people disgusting. I never envied any of the fabulously wealthy, famous, talented musicians I interviewed, so there was never any danger that I would “take them down a notch” by writing an abusive piece on them. I also couldn’t betray someone who’d trusted me enough to let me into his studio or home.
In 1996 I was thirty-four years old, living with my brother Tim because he didn’t charge me rent. I had virtually no income, but since I had no expenses, it didn’t matter. If you’d offered me a million dollars to write a piece that absolutely slaughtered Gene Simmons, I would’ve refused. One thing that really bothered my mother in the last two years of her life was the notion that almost everyone has a price. The state of our culture horrified her.
I don’t have a price. You couldn’t have paid me enough to do a hatchet job on Gene Simmons, because he didn’t deserve one. That million dollars would’ve been ill-gotten gains. Every time I looked at my bank statement, I would’ve been reminded that I was garbage, a thing with no morals.
That’s why the Bass Player editor who replaced Karl Coryat enraged me to the point that I blew out my immune system. He changed titles of articles I wrote, making them insulting, and he killed perfectly good pieces without explanation. His actions made me look like the vindictive, resentful incompetent.
Envy and betrayal. If you’re a jealous backstabber, you’ll end up in the gutter. It’s inevitable. At the very least, you’ll live in a perpetual state of unhappiness and paranoia that no amount of wealth or fame will assuage. I saw it myself only a few days ago. My antidote to the ghastly spectacle I witnessed?
And I’d like to say I think you’re a great guy and a lot of fun to be with, and I had a lot of fun talking to you. I really enjoyed myself. I hope you go on to write lots of best-selling novels and make lots and lots of money. More than enough money. Make tons of the stuff and find happiness and success.
How many music journalists do you think he’s said that to over the past forty years?
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