Has it ever occurred to you while I was Made for Lovin’ You was bursting out of the radio or when you went crazy with the crowd at the first notes of Rock and Roll All Nite as Kiss took over the stage back on that magical summer night in ‘79 that the bassist/ leader co-founder of your favorite American rock band might be of Hungarian descent? No wonder you were immediately drawn to their music and religiously collected every album in your teens!
But even if you have discovered this cult rock band just fairly recently (talking of the younger generation), we can all agree that it is no surprise it has a Hungarian member as we are known all over the world for creating extraordinary things, pulling out iconic tunes and, in general, writing history! Well, ok here we have exaggerated a little.. Anyway, let’s look at the fascinating story of Gene Simmons and the explanation behind his signature tongue-out antics.
It is fair to say that The Demon, as Gene Simmons calls himself on stage, had to travel a long, rugged road to success and fame. It took him a fair amount of courage and persistence to be able to leave behind his threadbare beginnings and become one of the most celebrated figures of rock and roll. Born in 1949 under Virgo ascendant, the ‘80s music icon first saw the day of light under the name Chaim Witz in an Israelian hospital in Haifa, a picturesque northern seaside town.
His mother, Flóra Klein (née Flóra Kovács) came from a tiny Hungarian village called Jánd tucked in the Northern Great Plain region of Eastern Hungary. She was barely 18 when she was captured in a Budapest ghetto and dragged into a Nazi concentration camp along with her entire family.
After years of great ordeal and unimaginable scenes of horror, the young woman was liberated by American troops at the Austrian Mauthausen camp. She married a fellow Jewish-Hungarian called Ferenc “Feri” Yehiel Witz, a skilled carpenter, and they changed their base to Izrael to leave behind the haunting memories of their dreadful past.
However, the new land did not deliver its promises. It was hard to make ends meet in a then underdeveloped country (it was around the time of the Israeli Declaration of Independence), besides there were also constant raging arguments at home. Simmons was still very young when his father walked out on his family for good. After his departure, the family plunged into poverty.
In a Larry King interview, the rock and roll superstar recalls his difficult childhood saying they were practically ‘dirt poor’, scraping by on meager bread and milk portions for which they had to queue in line for hours. Simmons had to take on various jobs to support his mother, for instance, at age of 7, he was picking and selling wild fruits on the roadsides. In order to escape the harsh reality, Simmons was often entertaining himself by playing Beatles songs on his guitar which quickly turned into a devoted passion.
At age of 8, his mother decided to immigrate to the US in the hope of a better future. After attending college, Simmons worked both as an assistant to a Vogue editor as well as a sixth-grade instructor. However, destiny prepared something bigger for the talented young musician.
Gene Simmons set up his first band, Lynx or Missing Links, while he was still in high school. It was followed by a number of other rock bands and music ventures but the real success was yet to come. During this period, he had to work at odd jobs on the side to provide for himself, including trading second-hand comic books. In the early ‘70s, Simmons formed another rock band, Wicked Leader with his friend and bandmate, Paul Stanley and other members, but the two quit just before landing a record deal with Epic Records.
Unhappy with their former band’s sound and look, they swore by making the “ultimate rock band”, however, they also needed other musicians on board. They soon spotted an ad placed by Peter Criss, an aspiring drummer, who was “looking to do anything to make it”. The lead guitarist, Ace Frehley was auditioned to join them in 1973, the same year when the band dropped its former name and became Kiss.
The name was coined by frontman Paul Stanley, who previously played in another band called Lips. He explained his choice by saying that kiss seemed to be a universal word that was known at every corner of the globe, besides it came with numerous different interpretations such as a passionate kiss or a kiss of death.
On a frosty late January day in 1973, the freshly founded Kiss performed its first debut gig in a smokey underground pub in Queens, New York. From that night on, it was a straight path to the rock and roll throne. Today, Kiss is considered one of the most influential bands of the hard rock/heavy metal scene, with 44 studio albums, 40 years of record-breaking global tours and more than 100 million album sales worldwide.
Of course, all of us know that there is no Kiss performance without the wild, signature makeup, crazy black leather costumes with spikes, jaw-dropping pyrotechnics and outrageous stage antics such as Gene Simmon’s blood-spitting escapade. Kiss’ God of Thunder is also famous for his insanely long tongue, so much so that there were rumours circulating in the ‘70s that he may have grafted a cow tongue onto his own as an enhancement. Later, this speculation was proven to be false though.
Nevertheless, Gene Simmons loves to show off his distinctive feature during the band’s performances. And the reason behind it? As the singer puts it, he has discovered at age of 13 that the opposite sex finds his abnormally long mouth muscle super attractive, and he does not mind taking advantage of it.
Gene Simmons has always been popular among the ladies, which he credits to his extraordinarily long tongue, as we have previously mentioned. He has also earned himself a reputation as one of rock & roll’s most outspoken personalities. He has repeatedly bragged about his thousands of affairs in TV and radio shows. His first high-profile relationship was with Cher, often referred to as the Goddess of Pop, whom he left for one of her best friends, Diana Ross.
There were also rumours circulating at the time that Simmons pursued a secret love affair with the young Lisa Minelli after spending long weeks together in the recording studio when working on modernising her music style. It may come to you as a surprise, that today the rock legend is a married man who has raised two adult children. He met his wife, Shannon Tweed, former model and Hugh Hefner protégé, at a party organised at the Playboy mansion. Despite his marital vows, he still keeps a wandering eye on the weaker sex but does not necessarily stop there. In 2008, for instance, a rather private video was leaked on the internet featuring Traci Anna Koval, a model and energy drink spokesperson, and the promiscuous rock star.
The life of the Simmons family is always far from boring and conventional. His daughter has also drifted toward a music career, although not in a way like most celebrity kids leveraging their famous parents’ connections. Sophie Simmons started out as an indie artist and worked hard to be able to stand her ground in the music industry.
The same cannot be said though of the rock legend’s son who was misfortunately involved in a plagiarism scandal. Nick shares his dad’s passion for comic books and created his own manga-style series, entitled Incarnate, in which he allegedly used numerous illustrations that show a startling resemblance to the characters of a popular Japanese publication called Bleach.
In spite of living in the US for long decades, Gene Simmons has not forgotten his Hungarian roots. Whenever he visits his parent’s native country to take care of some business, he tries to dust off his Hungarian and use it in conversations or even interviews. He revealed to Magyar Nemzet that he loves Hungarian cuisine, and he has fond memories of goulash soup and pancakes as his mother would prepare these two for every Sunday lunch. He also recalled a nursery tune his mother would sing him before bedtime which started like: “Van nekem az égen egy kis csillagom” (I have a little star in the sky).
Let’s end this article with a radio interview in which you can listen to the veteran rock superstar speaking nearly fluent Hungarian. Enjoy!
Source: Daily News Hungary