KISS — Interviews, concert reviews and commentaries

by Alan K. Stout

In A 'Gene-Like' Fashion, Simmons Rocks VH1

(Commentary, August 2005)

The Weekender
August 17, 2005

By Alan K. Stout
Weekender Music Columnist

click to enlargeI don't watch reality shows. Never saw "Survivor," or "American Idol," or that one where fat people try to lose weight every week. Actually — though I loved "Ally McBeal" and do watch "Nip Tuck" — I'm not much of a TV person at all.

Last week, however, the folks at VH1 sent me a tape that provided a little sneak peek of a new reality-type show that will be premiering this Friday, and this one, I just had to watch.

Maybe the people at the network somehow know that I've seen KISS about 30 times, or that I have a Paul Stanley-style rose tattoo on my right arm. Or maybe they somehow know that some of my friends and I actually call each other "Gene," and that we refer to things that we think of as cool as being "Gene-like."

Whatever the reason, I got an early look at the pilot of VH1's new show, "Gene Simmons Rock School," which features the fire-breathing, blood-spitting, bass-playing demon of KISS trying to turn a group of classical music mini-scholars into a killer rock band. And, not surprisingly, I liked most of what I saw.

It's very "Gene-like."

The show is set at Christ's Hospital, a 450-year-old boarding school just outside of London which is known for its properness and formalities. And though it's not exactly familiar turf to Simmons — who's known to frequent the Playboy Mansion, owns a Polaroid collection of the thousands of women he's slept with and seems quite at home singing songs like "God of Thunder" and "War Machine" from atop the rafters of Madison Square Garden — he, like everywhere he goes, seems to take immediate control of the place.

Simmons, in addition to a being a hard-rock icon, is actually also a devoted father and a former school teacher, and he makes for a pretty good mentor. And it isn't long before he's showing his 13-14 year old students that Led Zeppelin and AC/DC can be just as much fun as Mozart.

Unfortunately for his prodigies, not all will make the cut and become a part of the new band he's forming, and of course, it's "Master Simmons" — and you just know he must love being called that — that decides who stays and who goes over the course of six weeks.

(Think "Supreme Gene," which the members of Iron Maiden once nicknamed him, will have a hard time telling a musician that's not up his standards that he no longer wants them around? Guys like Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, who have reportedly both been shown the door in KISS on several occasions, could probably tell you some stories.)

In addition to the charming kids and Simmons' funny yet dynamic persona, the show is also a fun watch because though Simmons often comes off as the heavy, he isn't above being poked fun at. Several students tell the camera how much they don't like him, and that he is the most arrogant person they have ever met, and narrator Dee Snider provides the perfect mix of sincerity and sarcasm.

Example: After spending some time with the kids and realizing they don't know much about KISS, Simmons sits them all down in front of the TV to watch a KISS documentary.

"Now that the pupils of Christ Hospital Boarding School are showing some rock aptitude, Gene thinks they're ready to study his favorite subject," says Snider. "Himself."

Despite its quirkiness, the show also manages to demonstrate why perhaps Simmons is a founding member of one of the most successful bands of all-time. Since his students are already better musicians and more schooled than most rock artists, he tries to teach them the intangibles: image and attitude. And while I won't reveal the name of the one he chooses to be the lead singer and frontman of the young band he's forming, it is not the student with the best voice, but rather one that's a bit awkward and clumsy, but also has the most swagger.

What also makes the show enjoyable is that while Simmons can be stern and intimidating, there's also a fatherly warmth that comes across in much of his interaction with the would-be rockers. Even in old photos from the '70s, the commanding "bat-lizard" always seemed to get soft around young kids, and because I've interviewed him and met him a few times, I know, first hand, that he sometimes simply enjoys playing up the All-Things-Gene, money-loving, lack-of-humility image, and that in reality, he knows he's led a blessed life.

That part of the inner-Gene also makes the show work, and contributes to it being "Gene-like."

"Gene Simmons Rock School" premiers Friday at 11 p.m on VH1, and will then air each Friday at 10:30 p.m. Over the course of the next few weeks, the group's final members will be chosen and schooled by Simmons, and band will later open a show for metal legends Motorhead.

(And if they think Simmons is scary, wait unit they meet Lemmy.)

Very "Gene-like," indeed.

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