One of the great tragedies of my life is that I never got to see KISS perform live. Stephanie's father got us tickets for one of their shows in Washington, DC, and we were beside ourselves with joy. Then my parents announced that we were moving to upstate New York. I still say my mother arranged it just to prevent me from seeing the boys in concert.
Sure, I could go see them now. But it just wouldn't be the same. I still like their music, but that magic feeling of being 9 years old and discovering music that thrilled me is gone. Besides, once they took off their makeup it just ruined the whole thing for me. They've put it back on, but it's too late, at least for me. One more childhood memory up in smoke.
The reason I bring this up is because I recently had an e-mail encounter with Gene Simmons. I love Gene. I love his attitude. I love his reality show (who would have thought the Demon's family would rival the Brady Bunch for normalcy?). I love that when I was 9 years old he scared the crap out of me.
I wrote to Gene because of something he said recently about Adam Lambert, runner up (but we all know he won) of American Idol. Lambert performed with KISS on the show's finale. I was pleased to see that the band felt comfortable enough with him to do it. I thought it would send a great message to their fans: "We know he's a big old fag, but the boy can rock and that's all that matters."
Except it didn't. Instead, when Lambert came out in Rolling Stone, Simmons basically said that he shouldn't have. "This kid’s great. He’s a got a lot of talent," he told Fox News. "But mostly he should shut up about his sexual preferences. Me, America and the rest of the world doesn’t really care."
This bothered me enough that I sent Simmons an e-mail through his website. He communicates regularly with his fans, which I think is great, and I figured it was worth saying something. This is what I sent him:
I'm a little confused, Gene. You say that Adam Lambert should shut up about his sexuality because it should only be about the music. Yet a great deal of your own popularity is based on your claims of sexual prowess. Additionally, I don't think you have any idea how much it means to young gay people to see a successful proud, gay rocker. As a gay fan of 35 years, I have to tell you that your comments don't sit well with me. I expected better of you.
And here's his response, which he posted on the site a few days later.
I'm sorry you feel that way. I proudly support the Gay Community, and always have.... but believe at the outset of a career that needs the masses for success, it's not the smartest move to come out. Not at the beginning. That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it. One decision,is about building a career, that could set you up for life. The other, a life style. Don't mix the two up. I would keep my mouth shut until much later, gather my fame and riches and then do as I damn well pleased. But, this is Lambert's life and we all support whatever he decides for himself. Including me. But, I don't believe for a second that this will help his career. On the contrary.
I get what he's saying, and I'm not surprised. For Simmons it's always been about success--particularly financial. And that's fine. I'm duly impressed by the empire he's built.
But I disagree with him. I don't think anyone cares that Lambert is gay. In fact, I think it will make him even more popular. More important, I think he's going to be a role model for a lot of baby homos who can look at him and think, "If he can be gay and happy and successful, so can I."
I understand Simmons's point: Get famous first, then come out when it can't hurt you. Again, though, I disagree. Adam Lambert has an opportunity to do something extraordinary and be the first openly gay popstar to prove that who he loves doesn't matter to his fans. Sure, some people will reject him out of hand. But most won't.
Freddie waited until he was dying to come out. Elton John married a woman to hide his gayness. Boy George wasn't so much gay as he was a freakshow (in a good way). George Michael only came out when he was arrested for having sex in a public restroom. All subsequently became gay role models, if not for their behavior for the simple fact that they were gay and they were stars. But there was still an underlying message that being gay was something to keep hidden.
More recently we've had a couple of boy band members (mostly in the UK) come out. And there's Rufus Wainwright, several of the Scissor Sisters, and maybe-possibly-he won't say Mika. But Wainwright isn't exactly tearing up the pop market, the Sisters mostly target a gay audience anyway, and although several of the boybanders have gone on to have great careers they haven't really become superstars. If Mika is gay, he could make a huge impact by coming out. Until he does, though, we won't know.
Then there's Clay Aiken.
I know. But listen, Aiken is a good example of what I'm talking about. He denied the gay thing for a long time, but we all knew. And I'm guessing a lot of his fans knew as well and didn't care. Then there was the whole online hookups and unsafe sex thing. That probably cost him a few shocked Claymates. But guess what Clay is currently doing? He's shopping a book based on his successful Christmas album. And guess who they're targeting? The Christian market.
Seriously, if Clay Aiken can get caught rump rangering some dude and still manage to sell a book to Bible wavers, Adam Lambert can talk about how he "likes it on top" and be a superstar.
Gene Simmons is going to be 60 in a few weeks. He comes from a generation when coming out meant the death of your career. I understand his thinking, and I still think he's a great guy. And I still think he's wrong. Now it's up to Adam Lambert and the music-buying public to prove me right.