Gene Therapy For Rock School

For wild man of rock Gene Simmons, a 450-year-old boarding school in the heart of the British countryside is far removed from his usual habitat.

Rocking up stadiums heaving with headbanging fans yes, the classrooms of a straight-laced school in Sussex known for academic brilliance, no.

Until that is, the fire-breathing bass player of bad boys of rock, Kiss, became 'Mr Simmons' for Rock School. Tina Lofthouse meets him.

About the only thing the pupils of Christ's Hospital school and Kiss rocker Gene Simmons have in common is somewhat unusual dress.

But while the kids' uniform comprises long blue coats, knee breeches and yellow socks, Gene's is black and white face paint and tight leather pants.

Despite the disparity, Gene's task was to turn these straight-A music students into a hardcore rock band.

One of the first tasks he set his new charges was to choose a rock and roll name. "Mom and Dad don't name their child The Edge or Sting, they name him Henry or Harold � so you have to create yourself," says Gene.

So young Joshua from Hampshire, something of the class loner who claims to speak fluent Elvish, suddenly became Emperor, with an attitude to match.

Simmons was so impressed by Emperor he chose him as frontman for the new band.

"He was great because he dared to be great. This was the same kid who was picked on by the rest, tone deaf, the outsider.

"Little dogs bark the loudest because they know they have nothing to lose � they know the big dogs can kill them at any time. Big dogs don't go at the head of the pack, it's the little dogs."

RDF, the producers of Rock School, knew they'd found the man for their new Rock School project when they saw Simmons on tour with Kiss.

"On stage was like world war three with things levitating and exploding, and the Kiss make-up... and girls lifting up their tops." Gene recalls.

"They thought I was arrogant beyond belief which is what they wanted. They wanted to take this guy and put him in this regimented school to teach rock."

Simmons says his biggest challenge was the British reserve. "It was daunting. On the surface of it, you thought all you had to do was just put a band together. But I had to break the British stiff upper lip, make them more, how do I say this without p***ing everyone off?, American, and not be so afraid of what other people think."

He says the biggest lesson he hoped to instil in his pupils was to look after number one. "School teaches a 'we' philosophy but life isn't about 'we'," says Simmons. "By being in a rock band they learn that the most important thing is 'I'. In school you're given a schedule, you're told where to go and what to do. As soon as you graduate all that stops, and the world says 'what are your decisions?'"

Having briefly taught sixth grade in his 20s in Spanish Harlem, Simmons wanted to see if he really could teach. "My teaching didn't last that long as the band took off so I had some unfinished business with Gene Simmons. Was I any good at teaching? It was also about being and extrovert and showing my mother 'look mom, it's me on the television!'"

But true to form, he wasn't exactly plagued by self-doubt: "I'm an only child and I was supremely confident that I'd be brilliant in anything I tried. I mean that seriously. People laugh as they aren't used to such confidence � this lack of belief stops people doing as well as they could."

The final goal for the Rock School band was to support Motorhead in front of 5,000 hard rock fans. But Simmons had no doubts he'd get them through it: "By hook or by crook I would get them to do my bidding. If they hated me, and in the beginning they did, fine. People don't like hearing the truth but they rise above it and think, 'Yeah, I can be better.'"

And the secret of success to be a rock god? Individuality. "There's no cookie cutter of what a rock star has to be but if you're in a symphony orchestra or a rapper or a country and western singer you can be like everyone else, it is expected.

"There are no rules in rock and roll. Ultimately it's about guitars and drums but what it says is that the individual is more important that anything else."

Having now finished filming Rock School, Simmons is already gearing up for his countless other ventures. "I like work... toil and all that. I start the second Rock School shortly and I have 12 other shows in America."

Never one to let an opportunity for publicity go by, Simmons reels off his projects: "I have a boxing venture, a Kiss Broadway play, a DVD manufacturing plant, a Kiss coffee house..."

His rock career has spanned 30 years and Simmons attitude is that "you can slow down until the worms start using you as food."

"Until then life is about living it, says Simmons, 56. "I want to do it all."

"That's why lots of women are better than one. It's my blueprint. I manufacture billions of sperm � think of me as McDonalds 'billions served'."

For a man who claims to have slept with 4,600 women, how else could the interview end? "Women don't want to hear the truth!" he adds.

Published Teletext Channel 4 Guide 2005

Image courtesy of VH1