Gene Simmons and Dave Navarro: Ass Men
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2004
In an exclusive meeting with two rock icons, Gene Simmons and Dave Navarro get together to plug Gene’s new solo album, Asshole.
“I'm already too rich, and I don’t give a damn what you think. Does that sound arrogant?”
In his inimitable fashion, Gene Simmons is explaining the rationale behind Asshole (Sanctuary), his new solo album. While it contains a few trademark hard rockers, the disc finds the legendary Kiss bassist trying his hand at everything from tender balladry to alt-r&b to country schmaltz. “A lot of the stuff I write doesn’t fit Kiss and isn’t even guitar-based,” he elaborates. “After 30 years in rock, maybe I can take some chances. If a Gene Simmons record is just going to be some more Kiss songs, why bother?”
Simmons is seated in a sunny chamber at Headroom Studios. The site of many Asshole sessions, the Los Angeles recording facility is owned by ex-Poison guitar ace Richie Kotzen, who also played on several of the album’s songs. Simmons is perched on a high stool, his upper body covered in a shiny black bib, like a man in a barbershop or a candidate for dental X-rays. A comely young lady whom Simmons introduces as his cousin is carefully applying makeup to his rock vet visage.
As Simmons never tires of pointing out, Asshole contains a song, “Waiting for the Morning Light,” that he cowrote with Bob Dylan. There’s also a collaboration with the late Frank Zappa, titled “Black Tongue,” that features the entire Zappa family singing over a track Simmons fashioned from a snippet of Frank in concert. Another big-time collaborator is Dave Navarro. In fact, while Simmons is getting into makeup, Navarro is off in another part of the studio, adding his trademark guitar stylings to Simmons’ cover of Prodigy’s late-Nineties electronic hit “Firestarter.”
Right on cue, Navarro emerges from Headroom’s control room to enjoy a smoke in the studio’s sun-dappled courtyard. He’s looking trim as ever, dressed in rock and roll black, biceps stretching the sleeves of a form-fitting T-shirt. Goateed and grinning, Navarro strides up to Simmons and places a hand on his shoulder.
“What Bob Dylan might be to this man,” Dave volunteers, “that’s what this man means to me.”
“Oh, cut the crap,” Simmons responds.
Simmons and Navarro have been major icons for two subsequent generations of hard rockers. In the Seventies, Kiss took the sexual ambiguity out of glam and became one of the decade’s most influential acts. With his flamethrowing basses and hyperextended tongue, Simmons stood out as the sickest and nastiest in a notorious quartet of clown-faced bizarros. And at the dawn of the Nineties, Jane’s Addiction injected a blast of unabashed metal histrionics into alternative rock. Singer Perry Farrell was the band’s tripped-out philosopher and artist-in-residence, but Navarro was alt-rock’s premier tattooed love god, whose nipple rings excited as much hysteria as his fluid, fiery guitar style.
In conversation, however, the two rock stars couldn’t be more different. Simmons is as over-the-top offstage as he is on—loud, politically incorrect and unapologetic in his love of the almighty dollar. Navarro, for his part, is a master of ironic understatement. A guy who’s married to Carmen Electra doesn’t have to raise his voice to make an impression.
But then all great rock has been built on edgy contrasts. “We got a real yin-yang thing going here,” Simmons acknowledges, “but Dave and I share the same DNA.”