Mitch Weissman (2013)
Background vocalist/original "Beatlemania" cast member recalls his contributions to Gene Simmons' 1978 solo album and his work with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on albums such as "Animalize" and "Crazy Nights," plus a potpourri of KISS stories and tangents.
David Snowden (2013)
Longtime KISS fan and former head of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion fan club talks "All Systems Go" and various KISS-related topics
John Storyk (2013)
Renowned studio designer recalls his work on Ace Frehley's Ace in the Hole Studios in Wilton, CT
Mark Opitz (2013)
Producer details his work on "KISS Symphony: Alive IV"
Bruce Foster (2012)
Grammy-nominated musician discusses working with KISS and playing piano on "Nothin' To Lose"
David Wolfert (2012)
Grammy- and Emmy-nominated producer recalls working with Peter Criss on his first post-KISS solo album, 1980's "Out Of Control"
Bob Ezrin (2012)
Legendary producer details "Destroyer: Resurrected" and the making of the album
Lydia Criss (2012)
Author discusses the second printing of "Sealed With A KISS" and various Peter Criss- and KISS-related topics
Ron Nevison (2012)
A celebration of the 25th anniversary of "Crazy Nights" featuring an in-depth discussion with renowned producer/engineer
Jean Beauvoir (2010)
Songwriter/recording artist recalls collaborations with KISS on "Animalize," "Asylum" and more
Kenny Kerner (2010)
Recalling KISS' early days with the co-producer of "KISS" and "Hotter Than Hell"
Eric Singer (2010)
Exclusive interview with KISS' current drummer regarding a variety of topics
Ace Frehley (2009)
KISS' original Spaceman details his first studio album in 20 years, "Anomaly"
Bruce Kulick (2009)
Non-makeup-era axeman discusses KISS tenure and latest album, "BK3"
Mike Japp (2005)
A discussion with KISS collaborator on the "Killers" and "Creatures Of The Night" albums
Dick Wagner (2004)
KISS' favorite "ghost" guitarist discusses his guitar playing on "Destroyer" and "Revenge"
Jesse Damon (2003)
Former member of Silent Rage on his collaborations with Gene Simmons
Stan Penridge (2000)
Peter Criss' right-hand man talks Chelsea, Lips and working with the Catman
Bruce Kulick (1999)
Guitarist talks Union project with John Corabi, Eric Carr and ESP
Sean Delaney (1998)
A brief encounter with the "fifth" member of KISS
Bob Ezrin (1998)
Former KOL webmaster Michael Brandvold grills the legendary producer regarding his work with KISS
Non-KISS Band Members
Derrek Hawkins (2011)
KISS fan and former rhythm guitarist in Ace Frehley's band recalls his stint with the Spaceman on tour and recording "Anomaly"
Art Lindauer (2011)
Guitarist/vocalist discusses working with a pre-KISS Eric Carr in the cover band trio Flasher.
Adam Mitchell (2010)
Songwriter/collaborator recalls working with KISS, Vinnie Vincent and writing songs on "Killers," "Creatures Of The Night," "Crazy Nights," and more.
Bobby Rock (2010)
Powerhouse drummer recalls his wild ride with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Rich Circell (2008)
Lead singer discusses working with Ace Frehley in pre-KISS band Honey.
Mike McLaughlin (2006)
Guitarist on his personal musical path and work with Peter Criss, Criss' "One For All" album, and much more
John Henderson (2004)
Musician shares his memories of collaborating with a young Paul Caravellos (Eric Carr) and his memories of Carr's pre-KISS bands
Neal Teeman (2003)
Uncle Joe drummer discusses working with Paul Stanley in pre-KISS band formed in 1966 and assistant engineering "Alive!"
Victor Cohen (2002)
Rhythm guitarist/keyboard player discusses working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
David Bartky (2002)
Bassist recalls his musical beginnings and collaborating with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Phil Naro (2002)
First lead vocalist of Criss recalls work with Peter Criss and ex-KISS guitarist Mark St. John
Jason Ebs (2002)
Final lead vocalist of Criss discusses his musical background and working with Peter Criss just before KISS' reunion in 1996
Robert "Bob" Pryor (2001)
Guitarist discusses his musical influences and working with Eric Carr in the Cellarmen
Ron Leejack (2000)
Wicked Lester guitarist recalls collaborating with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley prior to KISS
Ross Berg (2012)
A detailed conversation with the author of "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust."
Paul Grein (2012)
Yahoo Chart Watch blogger and certified chart expert provides a current breakdown and analysis of KISS' Nielsen SoundScan totals.
Larry Harris (2009)
Former Casablanca executive dishes on his must-read book, "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records."
Todd Schorr (2004)
Artist discusses designing the album cover for Peter Criss' first post-KISS solo effort, 1980's "Out Of Control."
Charles Frehley (2001)
Brother of Ace Frehley discusses his sibling and his own musical career.
"For years, I've lived inside my dreams. Somehow, I've made them real, it seems. I made my own rules because I am: Man of 1,000 faces." ? -- Gene Simmons? Upon visiting Gene Simmons.com and clicking on his official biography, one is instantly greeted with:
Behind The Man Of 1,000 Faces With Author Ross Berg
By Tim McPhate
Gene Simmons co-founded KISS 38 years ago!!!
KISS continues to be the juggernaut of licensing/merchandising, with over 2,500 licenses.
KISS has broken BOX OFFICE RECORDS set by the Beatles and Elvis and continues stronger than ever.
KISS has been AMERICA'S NUMBER ONE GOLD RECORD AWARD WINNING GROUP of all time. (RIAA).
Conversely, upon clicking over to page two of his official biography, one will find the following nestled at the top of the page:
Gene Simmons was born in Haifa, Israel in 1949, and is the only child of his mother, a German Nazi Concentration Camp survivor. He has always attributed his ethics, morals and drive to his mother's notion's about life. "Every day above ground, is a good day," his mother is apt to say. Every day above ground, indeed.
Released in January, "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust" offers a unique examination of KISS' resident "Man Of 1,000 Faces." With his inventive and readable style, author Ross Berg paints an intricate portrait of Gene Simmons, detailing the roots of his childhood, while weaving threads between the Holocaust, his love of comics and horror films, KISS, songwriting, his childhood experiences, and his affection for his mother. Six years in the making, the result is a fascinating work of "narrative nonfiction" that provides a view inside the metamorphosis of Chaim Witz to Gene Klein to Gene Simmons. And as you'll read in our one-on-one interview, it's a book the author has been writing since he became a fan some 35 years ago.
KissFAQ: Ross, let's start with your personal "KISStory." Describe the moment when you heard your first KISS album/song. What was it about the band that clicked with you?
Ross Berg: In 1975 or 1976, my dad bought me a magazine largely devoted to the Beatles as they were my favorite group at that time. I remember flipping though the magazine with my older brother and we came upon a photo in the magazine of the weirdest looking creature we had ever seen. I specifically remember my brother exclaiming: "Is that a person?" We honestly didn't know. I remember it was a black and white photo of Gene from the "Hotter Than Hell"/"Dressed To Kill era where he had that toothy, wild grin (as opposed to the more angry-looking faces he displayed in photos in later years). In very '70s lettering, the caption read "Gene Simmons of KISS." I thought it was the weirdest, most unexplainable thing I had ever seen -- but eventually got back to the business of looking at and reading the rest of my Beatles magazine.
Months later, my father dropped me off at my friend Brian's house and he came running down the driveway, excitedly showing me this new record album his mom had just bought for him. Looking at the "Destroyer" album cover that first time in Brian's driveway, I was struck by two specific things: these four guys standing atop the burning rubble of a destroyed city was amazingly cool ... and the guy on the far right of the painting was clearly that scary weirdo my brother and I had seen in that magazine. Mystery solved. I was super-intrigued and my buddy sat me down in front of these big speakers in his bedroom as I held the inner sleeve of "Destroyer" in my hands that read "SHOUT IT OUT LOUD"" and contained the lyrics to "Detroit Rock City." The sounds of a radio announcer and kitchen dishes clanging and some guy starting up his car were intriguing and strange ... and then suddenly the opening, chugging chords of "Detroit Rock City" began and that was it. This was the most exciting, incredible music I had ever heard. I would never be the same. This band looked and sounded like nothing I had ever known and I was hooked for all time. To this day, the "Destroyer" cover art and the song "Detroit Rock City" both hold such amazingly special places in my heart. They changed my life forever.
KF: How about your first concert experience?
RB: My first KISS concert was on the Animalize tour. I was in high school and really enjoyed the experience -- but also secretly wished that I was watching the original band with make-up and bombast on the "Love Gun" tour or what have you. I had a good time, but couldn't help longing for the original band.
KF: What drew you to Gene Simmons initially?
RB: He was the first member of KISS I ever saw, he especially sickened the girls in my elementary school, he had the toughest and most powerful image, and his songs and singing voice always appealed to me more than the other band members; even at age 7 or 8 -- I was far more attracted to Gene's songs ("Deuce," "Watchin' You," "Nothin' To Lose," "She") than Paul's.
I would look at the photo of Gene on the "Alive II" record and wish I could be him. And all these years later, I still do. I still wish I could somehow be that Bat-Lizard character up on that stage drooling blood and breathing fire and flapping my tongue and wearing dragon boots and extending my batwings and feeling like God.?
KF: Talk about your favorite three Gene Simmons songs. I know "Mr. Make Believe" is one of them ...
RB: Well, of course, this is really a hard one because it's always difficult to narrow down the musical catalogues of one's favorite bands to just a few songs; and, of course, one's favorites can change weekly or even daily. But, to put aside the Simmons songs that I just like to crank up to 11 and play air guitar to simply because they kick ass ("Deuce," "Watchin' You," "Let Me Go Rock N Roll", "Calling Dr. Love," "Got Love For Sale," "Almost Human," "Larger Than Life," "I Love It Loud," "War Machine," "Saint And Sinner," "And On The 8th Day," "Murder in High Heels," "Thou Shalt Not," "In My Head," and the like) -- the Gene songs that really move me and are my all-time favorites are his softer and more personal songs:
"Mr. Make Believe": This is actually my favorite song by any band in any era, period. Besides the fact that it contains the most beautiful melody and vocals I've ever heard ... the song speaks to me because, just as Gene is singing to the Mr. Make Believe in his life that shaped his world, for me, I hear the song as me wishing I could hide within the Mr. Make Believe alter-ego that Gene created. I want to disappear within the fantasy and make-believe and safety and power that the Bat-Lizard character represents to me. This song will be played someday at my funeral.
"Goin' Blind": Regardless of what Gene had in mind when he put this song together -- for me -- it has always profoundly encapsulated the pain of being different. The pain of wanting something so badly and it's just agonizingly out of reach. It is such a sad and powerful melody and Gene sings it with such conviction and longing. I always feel the young Gene's desire to be accepted into American society and his secret life as a Jew as the "between the lines" engine of this song. He is different, always will be, and that reality is something that cannot be controlled or changed or even made to be understood by others. A really special song.
"See You Tonite": Yes, the lyrics seem somewhat non-sensical and the verses are all the same and yada yada -- but this song has a feeling that just sends me! Gene's voice, the acoustic guitar, the infectious and beautiful melody ... the fact that Gene admits he will "cry and cry" -- to me, it just adds up to pure musical perfection. I find this song incredibly moving and it has often been the first song I have played for people to convert them to "KISSdom." I think it's a song Lennon and McCartney would have been proud to have written. My VERY close runners-up are "Man Of 1,000 Faces," "A World Without Heroes," "'Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide," "Waiting For The Morning Light," and "Journey of 1,000 Years."
KF: Many of my favorite Gene songs are on your list. Ross, rumor has it that you turned down the opportunity to try out for the "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" "fan" episode. Can you shed some light on that?
RB: I think, like alot of people who enjoy writing, I prefer to observe the world from a distance most of the time. I remember being around 18 years old and this local radio station had this program called "Rock Line" where fans could call in and ask their favorite rock stars questions. One night they said, "Our guest this evening will be ex-Beatle George Harrison. So give us a call and don't miss your chance to talk to George." Well, without giving it a moment's thought, I excitedly dialed the number so I could talk to George Harrison. After a few rings, a voice on the other end says, "Okay, please hold -- you will be caller number three ... be ready to ask your question after the first two callers," and then I was put on hold but could hear the broadcast through my telephone. I sat there on the phone for about 10 minutes while the radio host greeted George and asked him a couple of questions and explained to Harrison that we would now be going to the phones so that the fans could be the ones to ask him questions. As I listened to the first caller talking to George, I began to feel incredibly nervous. [I thought,] "What the hell was I going to ask George Harrison? And what compliment could I possibly bestow upon him that he hadn't already heard a million times before?" I simply hung up the phone. I could have talked to a Beatle but I hung up. And I've never regretted doing so. So whether you think I'm crazy, that is my nature.
Years later, when I received an email from one of Gene's "Family Jewels" producers, I read the email carefully and something just didn't sit right. The producer may have been told about my intense fascination with Gene through our own beloved Julian Gill (I don't quite remember) -- but the message read something like: "We hear that you are one of Gene's most devoted fans and we would like to talk to you about spending the afternoon with him to be filmed for an upcoming episode. You must contact us within the next two days." I thought about it and thought about it and, first off -- the idea of it made me nervous as hell. I had already met Gene for five minutes at a time at a couple of previous book signings and the excitement of those brief encounters was about all my heart could take. And, secondly, I'm a very introverted person and frankly wouldn't want to be filmed spending the day with anyone for eight hours trying to make small talk. And, thirdly, Gene's show has always felt scripted to me and I just felt like something uncomfortable would undoubtedly be in store for me. Surely an entire episode of a fan simply hanging out talking with Gene Simmons wouldn't be exciting or wacky enough to make the cut.
I decided not to even respond to the producer's email and thank God I followed my gut on that. Now, if you've seen the episode in question -- you know that the set-up is that Gene knows he's going to be meeting his "number-one fan" and is sure that this fan is going to be female and a hot one at that. So we see Gene primping and getting ready for his "date" with the fan. Well, sure enough, he arrives to the fan's home only to discover that it is a middle-aged man [Ed: Bob Brunson]. Now, I'm quite sure that this was all set up ahead of time and was supposed to be a really humorous turn of events in that Gene was expecting to spend the afternoon with some hot blonde and is now stuck with, instead, some middle-aged guy. As followers of KISS, we know that Gene loves his fans and treats them right -- but for the sake of the show being scripted and going for laughs -- Gene is portrayed as being very disappointed. It all probably looked and sounded really funny on paper, but the execution of it on camera was uncomfortable to say the least.
As I watched that episode all I could think of was, "Thank God I didn't pursue this and get picked to be on this TV show only to be made to look like I was a disappointment who was getting on Gene's nerves." Oy. To this day, I still cannot watch that episode. I felt/feel so sorry for the fan, Bob, who is actually a really nice guy. He got to spend the day with Gene and have it preserved for all time on celluloid ... but at what cost? Sometimes, I think it's better to admire our idols from afar.
KF: Speaking of writing, let's segue into your book. "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N' Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust" was six years in the making. Writing a book is a big undertaking. How did you balance writing this book with everyday life?
RB: It honestly was not easy. I have a full-time job, a wife and two young kids. Often the only time I could work on the book and concentrate and have quiet was to wait for everyone in the family to go to sleep and then I'd stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning researching and writing. One thing that helped is before I began actually writing the book, I brainstormed heavily and essentially mapped out the entire book and which chapters needed to be written and what content those specific chapters would contain. At least that way, I could say, "Okay, tonight I'm going to work on the vignette where Gene is at a party with Cher and meets Ringo Starr." So planning ahead made the process less chaotic but, ultimately, my passion and interest in the topic kept me going. There is no way I could have worked on this book late into the morning for years on end and wake up only hours later for work if it hadn't been a labor of love.
KF: Indeed. Your book isn't simply a biography, rather a "narrative nonfiction." Why did you decide to take this particular angle?
RB: Two things; one, I had already written a slighter book on "The Elder" album that was the usual straight-ahead factual style that one usually gets when reading a biography. And, secondly, alot of the stories that Gene has told over the years ("The Rolling Stone" reporter interviewing Gene only to be interrupted by Flora asking if they wanted matzah ball soup ... Flora attending KISS concerts and screaming in every direction, "That is mine son!") always struck me as kind of cinematic. I felt like these collection of stories that Gene would tell about his life would make a great film; so, in a way, the narrative nonfiction style allowed me to feel as if I was almost writing a movie script. I wanted the reader to experience not just facts, but to "be in the scene" and to see scenarios unfold as if watching a movie. I also think its style is conducive to going backward and forward in time, which is something I felt strongly about experimenting with as I wanted to illustrate how profoundly the past affected Gene's future.
?KF: I've read that your goal with the book was to "educate." Can you elaborate?
RB: Well, when you're talking about the Holocaust where 9 million people were murdered (with 6 million of those being Jews), it is often hard to wrap one's head around those kinds of numbers. The Holocaust is something that has affected me all my life -- especially being raised by a survivor of a survivor. I've had a desire to teach others about this tragedy so that history might not repeat itself but oftentimes people simply did not want to know. My thinking was that an Anne Frank or a Flora Klein can often be a more effective tool for teaching others about this tragedy because what occurred suddenly becomes more real. You can look at a photograph of Anne Frank and read her actual words and then truly understand that this beautiful, innocent young girl was taken away and murdered for absolutely no reason. If you are a music fan or a KISS fan or a "Family Jewels" fan, and you are intrigued by Gene Simmons, you might take more of a personal interest in his life and perhaps be more affected by what his mother went through.? So the notion of "educating" people was certainly one of my goals and if I can reach people who otherwise didn't know or didn't care about the Holocaust before reading this book, then I have done my job. The fact that I have already had many non-Jews tell me how much they learned and didn't know about the Holocaust before reading my book has been amazingly satisfying. If I can do my part -- even just a tiny part -- to educate the next generation, then it has been all worth it. I am currently enrolled in a Master's Degree program in Holocaust Studies so this is something that I am obviously devoting my life to and hope to ultimately teach Jewish Studies or Holocaust Studies in a university setting.
KF: Best of luck with that. One thing that stuck out to me was that the book reads easy, and is not simply a recounting of facts.
RB: Again, the stories that Gene has told about his life over the years have always struck me as kind of cinematic. So, my thinking was to have the book read almost like a movie script.
KF: Can you outline the steps you took to conduct your research for the book?
RB: In many ways, I feel like I've been researching and studying Gene all my life -- so that was both easy and difficult. It was easy in that I knew all the stories and facts of Gene's life but the work was going back and actually locating the sources where I had originally learned all of these things so that I could cite them for the book. My research on Gene came from books others had written about him and ones he himself had written, magazine articles and interviews he had given through the years both in print and on television shows and home videos. My research about the Holocaust -- specifically children of Holocaust survivors -- came from outstanding books like "Maus," "Nightfather," "In The Shadow Of The Holocaust: The Next Generation," "Children Of The Holocaust: Conversations With Sons And Daughters Of Survivors," and others.
What is interesting about doing research is one bit of information can often lead one to whole other areas of research; I stumbled upon a book that discussed how Jews were some of the major pioneers of punk rock and that would lead me to information about Jews and the evolution of the comic book industry and that would lead me to investigate the idea of the mythical Golem, etc. ?So I think my book became much richer as I stumbled upon other sources of pertinent information as I went. I was also very fortunate to have KISS Army founder Bill Starkey point me in the direction of Eva Kor (survivor of Nazi Dr. Mengele's evil experiments on children) and I was able to speak with her and interview her and that allowed for some very powerful primary research and revelations.
KF: Getting to the topic of the man himself, how do you think Gene's early years in America -- and the fact he had problems assimilating to American society and couldn't speak English initially -- shape his later years?
RB: It made him identify with "the outsider" -- which, in his case turned out to be the monster movies he began watching on television and comic book characters he read about. Many of these monster and comic characters were from other planets ... other worlds ... just like Gene. Many of them could not speak and were misunderstood. They were "the other"... just like Gene. Gene's inability to connect with others through language led him to develop his facial expressions and non-verbal talents. Visuals became very important. So I think the affection for and connection with these monster/comic characters began early in his life and certainly went on to inform Gene's alter-ego in KISS. ?In addition, the other kids called Gene "stupid" because he couldn't speak English; the teachers held him back a grade. I think these early experiences contributed to Gene's drive later in life to prove the doubters wrong.
KF: That makes me think to his ability to speak multiple languages. It's been said many times the makeup was born out of the respective KISS members personalities. But after reading your book, with regard to Gene, there seems to be an extra significance behind the Demon character. Your viewpoint?
RB: My thesis is that Gene "played" at being evil through his alter-ego in KISS to further explore and ultimately control the mystery and fear connected to his mother's Holocaust experiences, as they were never directly discussed with him. Gene tells an interesting story about finding a spider inside his yarmulke as a young boy and being terrified of spiders for years thereafter. Finally, he decided to control and overcome his fears by wearing spider jewelry and performing in front of giant spiderweb backdrops in early KISS concerts. I think Gene's alter-ego in KISS is a larger example of this, but very much the same phenomena: conquer one's fears by confronting, taming, and owning them.
KF: This book isn't just a view into Gene's life, KISS and his relationship with his mother, it also delves into the difficult topic of the Holocaust. In what way do you feel the Holocaust, and the fact his mother survived it, has affected Gene?
RB: Research on children raised by Holocaust survivors reveals that these individuals often live their lives to try and make up for those who lost their lives in the camps. In other words --fame, success, wealth, notability ... these are often seen as being the proof that Hitler failed. So the fact that Flora survived not only led Gene to live his life in a way that would cause his mother no further pain (no drugs or alcohol), it also spurred him on to become successful on a grand scale so that his mother would know that she survived for a reason.
KF: You also tie in comic books, horror films, themes such as heroism, the significance of some of Gene's more lyrically meaningful songs, and Gene's childhood experiences. It really casts an interesting light on Gene. In fan circles, and going by some remarks by people who have worked with him, Paul Stanley has been cast as "complex." What about Gene? Is who is lurking underneath a complex person?
RB: Personally, I see Gene as an incredibly complex person who tries very hard to appear non-complex. I see a vulnerable person who has adapted a loud, macho image to cover it up. I see a man who cares deeply about his music and how his talents are perceived (even by critics) but who has come to accept that he will never get musical respect and so goes out of his way to act like he doesn't care.
Early on, Bill Aucoin told Gene he sounded too educated in magazine interviews and so Gene began to make outrageous and uneducated statements ("Shakespeare is crap") to try and give an impression of what he thought a dumb rock star should sound like. I think it is really a shame that Gene took Aucoin's advice, in hindsight. Gene is incredibly intelligent and unbelievably knowledgeable about music history -- and it's a real treat when he lets his guard down and shows that part of himself. Sadly, it isn't often enough.
KF: When KISS became popular, you infer that Gene showered his mother with riches almost a payment for what she done for him. Please explain.
RB: Research on children raised by Holocaust survivors reveals that these individuals develop what is known as the "Last Meal Mentality." In other words, Jews historically have always eventually been kicked out of countries or, worse, killed; so they began to develop this mentality that any meal could be their last one in a particular residence so they'd better be ready to flee at a moment's notice. Being a financially secure Jew certainly helped in the process of fleeing and getting to safety -- and so many children of survivors, Gene included, become very preoccupied with the idea of attaining money as a safety net. Gene has often argued that money is what saves sick people's lives, pays for the finest medical care, and so on. In many ways, he equates it with love because it is a survival tool. So when Gene became wealthy, he made sure that the money he made went on to serve as a safety net for his mother and served as a means for restoring her dignity after the indignities that she had survived.
KF: In public, Gene makes no bones about his love for money. What do you equate this to?
RB: I think it goes back to the idea of the "Last Meal Mentality" of money as a safety net for the historically vulnerable Jew. It can also serve as flashy, visible proof that Hitler failed.
KF: Switching gears from money to love. What do you make of Gene's first serious love relationship, with Cher?
RB: I think Cher was probably Gene's first love and the relationship also gave him an opportunity to try out a "father" role for her kids which he seemed to enjoy.
KF: And what do you make of the fact that Gene Simmons -- the man who ridiculed marriage for years -- is now married to Shannon Tweed?
RB: I believe that Shannon is the love of Gene's life and it probably got to the point where he knew he truly would lose her if he did not fully commit and get married.
KF: I think you may agree with me when I say "(Music From) The Elder" is an excellent album, despite its lackluster commercial performance. This album was essentially Gene's "baby," in many ways. In your opinion, did the commercial failure of "(Music From) The Elder" deal a blow to Gene's ego? In the book, you infer "the wall went back up" afterward.
RB: I believe, in many ways, "The Elder" was a very autobiographical record for Gene, seeing as the action takes place after a holocaust and a young boy is trained to become a hero in spite of how improbable the possibility of that would seem at the outset of the story. I think the failure and ridicule heaped on that album injured Gene tremendously, and I don't think he really recovered and ventured out again in an honest way, creatively, until the "Carnival Of Souls" album many years later. Gene had some great songs on the "Creatures" and "Lick It Up" records -- but beyond that, he seemed to be pretty much going through the motions. Personally, I think that is why Gene began acting in movies around this time. I think he wanted to grow and explore and push the limits of his creativity and, after "The Elder" bombed, it became obvious that KISS would no longer be the vehicle to allow that kind of artistic expansion.
KF: That's an interesting take. Of course, we as fans see Gene Simmons, "The Demon," the celebrity, the businessman, the mogul. We also gain a window, granted a controlled view, into his role as a father via his television show. In your opinion, and as an author of a Gene Simmons book, is Gene a happy, content person?
RB: In my view, Gene fits the profile of a "workaholic" and studies show that workaholics keep busy to blot out their feelings, enjoying the adrenaline highs that come from the intensity of rushing to meet work deadlines. Workaholics can typically never accomplish enough -- never obtain enough praise or money to truly feel good about themselves. Their sense of self-esteem is based almost entirely on perceptions of how others judge their work performance. Knowing how much joy Gene has brought to the world through his talents -- it makes me sad to imagine that he himself is not content or happy; but he may not be deep down inside. He certainly experienced a lot of pain in his formative years and, in addition, carries the burden of having to live his life big in order to make it up to those who were denied life in the death camps. It's very sad.
KF: Ross, through the process of writing the book, can you share some of the things you learned?
RB: In addition to learning more about the Holocaust, children of survivors, and details of the death camps themselves -- I learned how incredibly generous the members of the KISS Army truly are. I think one of the most special aspects of my book are the amazing fan quotes that are spread throughout the different chapters. Fans who took the time to contribute their thoughts to the book made the end product as special as it is, in my opinion. I thank each and every one of them.
KF: What do you hope the reader will walk away with in reading your book?
RB: To quote a very wise woman: "Every day above ground is a good day." Despite the evils that exist in this world, love and life still bloom. Be encouraged to plunge into the thick of life and reject hatred towards others at all costs.
KF: Your mother is also a child of a Holocaust survivor. Do you feel an extra connection to Gene?
RB: Yes, I feel a very intense connection with Gene based on this fact. It leads one to live a dual existence in many ways. On the one hand -- you are taught to be proud to be a Jew; on the other hand, there is great secrecy and fear connected to allowing others to know that you are a Jew. The paranoia and fear that gets passed down from parent to child can be confusing and painful. I grew up in a home where we hung the mezuzah (a sacred parchment containing Torah portions stored in a protective case and hung on the doorposts of Jewish homes) on the inside of the doorway so that we wouldn't be identified publically as Jews and put at risk of being targeted by violence. It really shapes your world as a scary place.
KF: In the book, there is a touching moment you describe when you met Gene at a book signing. Can you recount that story?
RB: I had the incredible opportunity to meet Mr. Simmons at a book signing. As I was trying to explain to him all that he had meant to me in my life, and that my mother had also been a child of survivors, my two-month old daughter began to cry. Gene immediately and lovingly turned his attentions to my daughter and entwined his pinky finger with hers. As my daughter stopped crying, Gene took me aside and gently explained to me that his mother Flora often used this same trick to get him to stop crying when he was a baby. This was obviously just one of the many special coping methods and survival techniques that Flora had passed on to Gene and his eyes lit up as he spoke of her. I felt so privileged to have Gene reveal to me one of Flora's parenting secrets.
KF: And the big question: Have you sent a copy to Gene and/or Flora?
RB: I did send a copy to Gene but decided some time ago that I would not try and contact Flora directly. If Gene would like to share the book or relay some of its content with his mother, that is up to him; but I feel that Flora has been through enough pain and I don't want to needlessly remind her of something that she may not want to revisit. My book does contain photos of the death camps and I am sensitive to the fact that she may not want to see those sorts of images.
KF: Congratulations on your book, Ross. It's a great read and you've made it very affordable. Any last message for KISS fans?
RB: I want to thank Julian and Tim for interviewing me and for providing this forum to promote my book. And.......... I honestly feel like I couldn't have completed the book without the constant encouragement and support from fans on KissFAQ, Facebook, the KISS Detention Hall, the PodKISSt, and other awesome KISS meeting places. And, again, I truly think one of the richest aspects of this book are the amazing fan quotes that are spread throughout the different chapters. So, thank you, KISS Army. This is much my book as it is yours. Rock on ... I love the lot of you misfits.
KF: Thanks for your time, Ross.
(KissFAQ wishes to thank and congratulate Ross Berg. "Gene Simmons: A Rock 'N Roll Journey In The Shadow Of The Holocaust" is a must-have for the KISS/Gene Simmons library. Purchase your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit the Flora Army on Facebook.)
January 19, 2012