By Brian Ives
Over the weekend, KISS kicked off their latest U.S. tour on in Tuscon Arizona. Their current trek, called “Freedom to Rock,” celebrates the military, and KISS has been backing up their words by putting veterans to work.
As Gene Simmons tells Radio.com, “We’re teaming up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Government, to hire vets on every single stop of our tour, and they’re gonna get paid, and they’re gonna help our crew put on the greatest show on earth, period.”
The promotional photos for the tour sees the iconic KISS logo in red white and blue, and the members of the band draped in the American flag. That display of patriotism is more common among country artists than hard rock bands, but Simmons feels a huge debt to the U.S. Armed Forces, and with good reason. “My mother was 14 when she was in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. My mother’s alive and well, but only because of America. Without America’s military, the world would be in deep… fill-in-the-blank. I’m forever grateful for that.”
Simmons has, in recent years, worked with the Wounded Warrior organization, whose stated mission is “To raise awareness and enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members; to help injured service members aid and assist each other and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.”
Sadly, Wounded Warrior was recently plagued by controversy, when executives who were spending 40% to 50% of the organization’s money on overhead were fired. (In a positive development, the organization has since hired a new CEO).
Simmons is quick to point out that, despite the controversy, supporters of the military should continue to support Wounded Warrior: “Like any large organization, there are going to be some bad people. Many people go to church; not every priest is a good guy. But you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Wounded Warrior is an important organization, and all the various vet groups are important because, shamefully, we don’t have an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees if you volunteer to serve your country, and risk life and limb, that you’re even going to get a job, so that you can feed your family. It’s pathetic. ‘Hey, thanks a lot for risking your life, and you’ve been wounded. Good luck out there!’ The men and women of our military may not expect to get rich and famous, but at least give them a job for God’s sake, so they can feed their family!”
Simmons and his bandmate Paul Stanley are co-owners of the the Rock and Brews restaurant franchise, and they use that business to give back to veterans. “We try to do our part: when we open a new one, we close the doors to the general public, and only vets are invited in. We feed them, we honor them, and we give big fat checks to the local vet organization to try to help and do our part.”
Simmons is oft-quoted in the press whenever he says something click-baity — which, to be fair, he does frequently: he seems to treat interviews as performances as surely as they were a KISS concert. But his band’s commitment to vets tends to get underreported. “Oh, I don’t care about that,” he says.
“The best philanthropy is anonymous charity. When you’re doing it for the right reasons, and not to tell everyone how nice you are. That’s self-aggrandizement. That’s also OK: if you want credit, that’s OK. But the higher giving is anonymous giving.”
But in the case of veterans, it’s not just about contributing money, it’s also about raising awareness of the issues that face vets and their families. “The reason we have to call attention to giving to our vets is because, shamefully, we don’t do enough. Imagine if all the politicians who are raising hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns, instead raised money for veterans? It costs a billion dollars to get elected President of the United States, and that comes from donations. Can you imagine how much a billion dollars can do for our returning vets?”
The “Freedom to Rock” tour will mostly avoid the big cities, or “primary markets,” in the parlance of the concert industry. “We’re hitting the cities that normally don’t get the headlines in the newspapers, places like Mankato, Minnesota and Eugene, Oregon, because that’s where we cut our teeth, when we first started touring, 42 years ago. We went to ‘Small Town, U.S.A.,’ the heartland. We’re hitting what the concert promoters call ‘secondary cities,’ but they’re wrong. They’re ‘first cities.’ They’re where all bands, and all politicians, need to go first, to convince people that you’re real.”
Speaking of politicians, the former Celebrity Apprentice star stops short of endorsing his former boss, Donald Trump: “I’ll say this: I’ve known Donald for a few decades, and what you can say without argument is that he’s a good father. His kids have turned out really well. There’s nothing bad you can say about that.”
Beyond that, he won’t say much. “Who cares what Gene Simmons, or George Clooney, has to say. Vote with your conscious. The reason they have a curtain at the voting booth is because its nobody’s business who you’re going to vote for. The problem with celebrities telling you who to vote for is, some of the fans will actually vote for the wrong reason. I think celebrities should shut up.”
He has, however, been highly critical of President Obama. (It’s worth mentioning, that he’s also referred to him as “a wonderful family man”).
“After the fact!” Simmons says, pointing out that he only criticized him after the election. “Once democracy is exercised, you can opine, as [Bill] O’Reilly says, all you want. But I don’t want to influence anybody’s vote.” So, if Trump calls for a KISS performance at a rally? “We won’t play for Hilary or Trump.”
And don’t expect any political jams on the next KISS album. Three years ago, he told Radio.com that he’d just written a new song (which we presume isn’t politically charged) called “Your Wish is My Command.” But will there ever be another KISS album? “It’ll come,” Simmons says. “But we’re so busy, touring, doing the KISS Kruises, running our [Arena League] football team, L.A. KISS. [But] We’ll do a new record.”
He adds, “I cut two new songs about three days ago, and they may or may not be for KISS. The songwriting goes on.”
When interviewing Simmons, time always flies. But one last, very random question: in Bob Dylan’s (rather violent) video for his 2012 song, “Duquesne Whistle,” the legendary songwriter is followed around L.A. by a posse that includes a Gene Simmons imitator, complete with KISS makeup. Did Dylan get permission, and if not, could Simmons sue his one-time collaborator (surely you remember Simmons’ 2004 solo jam “Waiting for the Morning Light,” co-written by Bob)?
“No!” he laughs. “I mean, he does have to get permission. Legally, sure. Anybody that uses my image has to get my permission. But it’s fine! I won’t sue Bob!”
Catch KISS’s tour in the “first cities” (as Simmons puts it) across the country this summer; check out the dates at Eventful.