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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Being Gene Simmons does not get boring

Los Angeles, California – “Well, of course, everybody wants to be in the movies. So they asked me if I was serious. I said I was very serious. I had been preparing for two years. So then they asked me to look into the producer's face and let him know I was going to tear his heart out.”

Gene Simmons was remembering his screen test.

How did you look? I asked. Show me how you look when you are going to tear somebody's heart out.

Gene Simmons glowered. He looked mean. He kept it up until I told him he could stop.

“Then they told me I had the role,” he said.

The role was as a villain of the future in “Runaway,” an action picture starring Tom Selleck as a cop who chases killer robots. The movie has been one of the box-office losers of the 1984 holiday season, but Gene Simmons can always fall back on his night job, as a lead singer in the rock group Kiss.

Kiss, currently in the midst of a national tour, is famous for its makeup, its black and white lightning flashes over the faces of the group's members. Simmons is famous for his sex life, which is one of his favorite interview subjects. I didn't have to press very hard to get him onto the subject.

Before this movie, your fans had never seen you without your makeup, I said.

“Some of my fans have seen me without my makeup,” he said, somehow stopping short of an outright leer.

Is it different, I asked, working in front of the camera instead of in front of a live audience?

“Very different. When you are a rock star in front of 20,000 people, you receive instant gratification. A rock star on tour is a king in his domain. He can have anything he wants. The movies are not my domain. There I have to leave my kingdom behind and work hard and get along, just like anybody else.”

It must be an amazing feeling, to be able to pick up your guitar and make thousands of people scream.

“It becomes an addiction. You get to like it, and you like it a lot. You meet people who want to be with you just because of who you are. They will do almost anything to be with you. Women worship you and want to be close to you. To be in a band on the road is to have anything and everything you want just by picking up the phone. Your shirts are dirty? They disappear. You want to eat? What? Where? The luggage, the limousine, everything is taken care of. All you have to do is get on the stage and play. Your guitar's out of tune? They hand you another one. Anyone who complains that it's a difficult life is looking for sympathy. And what you get paid is ridiculous.”

You sound, I said, like a happy man.

“Very happy.”

He smiled, and took a drink of water, and asked one of his publicists if it would be all right to put the glass down on the carpet. She said it would be.

“The romantic concept of being a rock singer on the road,” he said, “is that you do everything to your body, abuse it, take drugs. The survivors don't. I don't drink or smoke or use drugs, and I work out every day because I want to look good onstage. Nothing is more boring that a singer who is out of breath after the first song. And also, back at the hotel after the show, I want to have my strength left for encores, of course.”

It must be lonely, back at the hotel, I said.

“I am never lonely. I have quite a successful sex life.”

Is that the reason you got into music in the first place?

“You bet. A person who is a performer who tells you he puts on a guitar because he wants to be famous and rich is telling you nonsense. What he really wants is girls and their mothers, absolutely groveling at his feet. Once you put your guitar on, you're trying to impress women… and guys, too, you want them to think you're cool.”

It never gets boring? I asked.

“Never. Ultimately, it's a great way to spend your life. Food can get boring, but after a time, you're hungry again. It's the same with sex.”

How many hotel rooms have you been in, as a touring rock musician?

“In 11 years, at least 2,000.”

How do you make yourself feel at home?

“I'm a pig.”

But you just asked permission to put your glass down on the rug.

“This is not my hotel room.”

And in each of those 2,000 rooms, you were never lonely?

“Never. I can't remember a night when I was lonely.”

So, OK, now. It's morning. How do you say goodbye to your latest conquest, before you hit the road again?

“Like this.”

He nodded politely, smiled, and said, “Goodbye.”

Don't you even say thanks?

“No. She does.”

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