Fans line up to dine with KISS bassist Gene Simmons at Rock & Brews
By Michael Aushenker
Would you pay $80 to dine with your favorite rock star?
About 125 exuberant KISS fans leapt at the chance when Gene Simmons (“the Demon” of the ‘70s-spawned rock group) appeared for a congenial book signing and photo op in March at El Segundo’s Rock & Brews, the original outpost of the restaurant chain partially owned by Simmons and KISS leader Paul Stanley.
Excitement was in the air even before Gen. Simmons arrived to greet loyal KISS Army infantry.
Stacy Young drove down from Berkeley with a stack of KISS memorabilia that included Demon action figures and a vintage vinyl copy of Simmons’ 1978 solo album. Asked which KISS record was her favorite, she held up her copy of 1979’s “The Elder” — the baroque concept album which sped up the departure of original guitarist “Space” Ace Frehley — but quickly recanted, saying she only does that to get a rise out of other fans. “Destroyer” is her real favorite.
Simmons’ March 31 appearance launched the publication of a jocular new book celebrating and gingerly mocking his rock-star-meets-Donald-Trump persona: “Gene Simmons is a Powerful and Attractive Man and Other Irrefutable Facts.”
Author Christina Vitagliano approached the self-proclaimed “God of Thunder and Rock ‘n’ Roll” about the project while mounting the KISS mini-golf venture in Las Vegas.
“I said, ‘I have an idea, I want to do something fun,’” Vitagliano recalled, to which Simmons responded, “‘Everything I do has to be different than anything else,’” she said.
Though fans know Simmons’ larger-than-life persona through the band or his TV reality series, Vitagliano’s book makes few direct references to his bread-and-butter activities and instead pokes fun at what Vitagliano calls “a likeable arrogance.”
A San Diego Comic-Con regular for years — it was superhero comics-loving Simmons who masterminded KISS’s Kabuki doppelgangers — some have also accused Simmons of sporting an unlikeable arrogance.
He was in good spirits at Rock & Brews, however, playfully making his way around the patio to pose and kibbitz with every fan.
That included Yuko Toyama of Redondo Beach, who clutched a plush KISS Demon doll throughout the evening. The Tokyo native followed KISS during the band’s 2013 tour in Japan, meeting Stanley and getting drummer Eric Singer to sign her iPhone case, which she also carried proudly.
Despite taking a plethora of photos with fans, the towering rock star stuck around to pose for official pics in front of a Rock & Brews banner that featured the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Rush, Pink Floyd, AC/DC and, of course, KISS. And yes, at the very top of the banner art was an image of Simmons!
“The very first Rock & Brews is in El Segundo,” Simmons said of the restaurant, which opened on Main Street in 2012. Since then, other Rock & Brews have opened at LAX, Redondo Beach, Carson, New Mexico, Hawaii, Kansas, Florida and Mexico.
Simmons also took a question about Kim Fowley, the late Svengali figure behind the all-female glam rockers The Runaways, who co-wrote two memorable songs on “Destroyer”: “Do You Love Me?” and “King of the Night-time World.”
As it turns out, the songs came through co-writer Mark Anthony and KISS never talked to Fowley.
“Producer Bob Ezrin showed us the demos,” Simmons said. “They were anthemic. We liked the songs.”
Vitagliano’s project is not Simmons’ first foray into illustrated books. He’s overseen a long history of KISS comics, including the recent “House of Horrors” with cinematic horror-meister Eli Roth.
While Simmons spent hours with fans, he didn’t actually sign anything. All the books were pre-autographed and ready for sale.
As Vitagliano put it, “Everything’s business with Gene.”