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The life and times of Gene Simmons

by: Caroline Westbrfook - Last updated: 2002-04-21

Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons on stage

Rock stars, in general, lead colourful lives, and Gene Simmons, flamboyant founder member of American rockers Kiss, is no exception if his autobiography is anything to go by.

What makes Kiss And Make-Up particularly fascinating, however, is the contrast between Simmons the rock star - famous for outlandish stage make-up, costumes and close encounters with female fans (he claims in the book to have had around 4600 'liaisons' with the opposite sex) - and Simmons the Yeshiva-educated kid, born plain old Chaim Witz in Israel in 1949.

Simmons spares no detail in describing his early, pre-Kiss, life, moving from Israel to New York with his over-protective Hungarian mother, a concentration camp victim, when he was eight, and discovering such modern inventions as television, refrigerators and even Santa Claus, whom he assumed was a rabbi after seeing him on a billboard ("I figured he must have been a Russian rabbi because of all the snow in the background."). He had a gruelling Yeshiva education in the New York suburb of Williamsburg, which began at 7 am and often went on until 9.30 in the evening - but he discovered music, the ultimate influence in his life, after seeing The Beatles' legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

Kiss's rise to fame is chronicled in equally entertaining fashion - fluctuating record sales, live shows, his relationship with fellow band members (including Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley) and the people behind the scenes all get their fair share of coverage, but the book is at its liveliest when describing Simmons experiences with groupies - although he has avoided the drugs and alcohol which have been the downfall of many rock stars, he clearly made up for this with his encounters with the opposite sex (including his romance with Cher). The 80s saw a string of acting roles for Simmons and the launch of the now-defunct Simmons Records, while he also met Shannon Tweed, the actress who would later become the mother of his two children Nicholas and Sophie.

It's obvious from reading Kiss And Make-Up that Simmons is immensely proud of his Jewish roots and has fond memories of his early life in both Israel and New York. Not only that, but the book makes for hugely enjoyable reading, largely because of his entertaining writing style - not only does he pack in anecdotes by the ton, but he also allows his enigmatic personality to shine through.

A bunch of previously unseen photos from Simmons' personal collection also adds to the fun - shots of him as a child in Israel, vintage snaps of the band in concert and putting on their trademark facepaint, shots of Simmons' children and one particularly fascinating snap, in which Simmons, while out with Cher, is attempting to cover his face so that he wouldn't be photographed without his make-up. Whatever your opinion may be of Kiss' music, this is a must-read.