Hey Gene, Is It Loaded?
On Monday, the 2017 United Nations General Assembly opens. Already mid-town Manhattan is a security fortress. Metal barricades line block after block, with large concrete cubes stenciled "NYPD" blocking sidewalks and intersections.
While walking west on 54th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, I encounter dozens of NYPD police officers and Secret Service agents, as well as police dogs. The street is closed to traffic. Some important dignitary is about to show. It isn't Trump. He isn't staying at the London NYC Hotel. He can do better in his gold-plated pit high above Fifth Avenue. So who could it be?
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I see former KISS co-founder, Gene Simmons, strutting down the street dressed in black and wearing metal studded boots. All that security is not for him, but that doesn't stop him from enjoying the asphalt runway as he struts his celebrity. New York's finest are enjoying the spectacle, as Simmons poses for photos with dozens of cops. The Secret Service, however, is not amused. Simmons is attracting gawkers and photographers. I assume the Secret Service would have preferred to close the street to pedestrians. Now people are stopping rather than moving along what otherwise is a nondescript dimly lit, midtown side street.
There are two types of celebrities. Dylan and Tommy Lee Jones fall into the first category. People with loads of talent, but who are aloof. It is not unusual to encounter celebrities in the first category either surrounded by security or in disguise, which of course, means you don't know that you have encountered them.. My old friend Steve Koplin encountered Lou Reed in Steve's neighborhood several years back. Steve, who is a big fan of Lou, tells me he was afraid to approach Reed given Reed's reputation. Lou had loads of talent, but was reportedly not fan friendly. Back in 1974, I managed to snag an autograph, but I had to rely on a security person to get it. They wouldn't let me near Lou.
Then there are those who fall into the second category: Charismatic folks, who ride a gimmick to fame and fortune. Gene Simmons clearly falls into that category. On a good day, KISS was a terrible band. It was the bubblegum band of the mid-Seventies, but it lacked the songwriting talent of the original bubblegum stars--the Ohio Express, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, and Bobby Sherman. All KISS had going for it was clever Kabuki (歌舞伎) disguises, a long snake-like tongue, platform shoes, and fake blood, but that was enough to keep them in the limelight for four or five years.
So why does Simmons' persona persist 35 years after KISS' peak? The answer is evident after watching Simmons for 25 or so minutes working the street. Every time Simmons gets within a few feet of the entrance to London NYC, he turns, heading back into the street. Every fan who wants a posed photograph with Simmons gets one. One woman is upset that the first photo was a bad one. She asks for a second, with Simmons gladly accommodating the request. I would not be surprised if Simmons posed for at least 50 photographs during the 25 minutes that I watched him, with the number probably being closer to 100. Several times, he asks people whether they want a photograph with him. He also clowned with the police. Simmons was in his element.
Despite his willingness to satisfy his fans, his face exhibited a lack of enthusiasm for what is another day at the office. He looks bored. No signature tongue wags. Yet, I suspect that the fans don't notice. A New York moment for them and me.
If I am not mistaken, Simmons was accompanied by Sharron Tweed, his long-term companion and now spouse. She receded into the background, looking a bit bemused. She has been here before. Given Simmons' reported $300 million net worth, Tweed seems more than willing to allow Gene to accommodate the fans.
Photographer Note. My encounter with Simmons was obviously unexpected. I was using a 120mm lens at the time. I would have liked a wider angle, but I had no idea how long this spectacle was going to go on for, so I didn't switch lens. As they say, the best camera is the one you are carrying. It was partly cloudy, which meant the street was pretty dark. I also would have preferred to be using my Olympus OMD-1, but I only had the Fuji GFX with me, which meant ISO and aperture were an issue. Despite those limitations, things seemed to have worked out.
It Has Been a Few Years Since the Seventies
Gene Simmons Posing with New York's Finest
Straightening Tie; Nice Watch
Gene Simmons Poses