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'So, have you ever measured your tongue?"

"No, but it's long," Gene Simmons replies, rolling it around in his mouth a little bit.

"Is it your favourite body part?"

The shock rocker and founding member of Kiss smirks to himself, and brushes a bit of lint off his leg.

A tall, lean man, he is dressed in a finely tailored black jacket, over a patterned shirt, open to reveal a somewhat hairy chest, with dark, narrow, pinstriped pants and black boots that have big buckles at the ankle. In his breast pocket, he sports a yellow dahlia.

He is a dandy from the dark side.

He makes an executive decision, and decides not to take the bait.

"I like female body parts," he coos.


"Breasts initially," he drawls. "They're ornaments," he says, strumming a pair of air boobs.

His face remains expressionless. He pushes at his long thatched hair that fits over his head like a stiff tablecloth. On his left ear, he wears a silver small hoop earring.

I move on. "Tell me why rock 'n' roll is always about the mouth," I say, hoping he might turn funny. "There are Mick Jagger's lips. Steve Tyler's mouth. Your tongue. What's that all about?"

"Well, women are so repressed sexually," he says. "They don't really get a chance to go to strip clubs. Strip clubs are an everyday fact of guys' lives, ogling women, breasts and hips. We're all about that. Women watch soap operas and read romance novels, and there's no in-your-face sexuality. So when a performer gets up on stage, whether it's Tom Jones shaking his hips or Gene Simmons sticking his tongue out, it's an in-your-face sexuality. She says, 'Finally, a man that just puts his appendage on the table and says, 'Here it is, baby.' "

Oh, I'm not taking it -- his bait, that is. I refuse the offense he offers like a dinner invitation. Nor am I going to be the one to yank him out of the seventies by his boot buckles. He seems to have female sexuality pegged to some frustrated suburban housewife model. Not that he would care if he were called a retro creep. He wants us to think poorly of him. More than that, I'm quite sure he wants us to think he's an asshole. Why? Well, it's simple really. He has a new album to push, and it's called Asshole.

Simmons may be lowbrow, but it's all high concept.

"For a while, I thought I would be respectable," he says, when asked about the choice of title for his first solo CD in 26 years. (The band Kiss has made several CDs in its 30-year history, but this release features Simmons and friends, including Frank Zappa.) "But then I thought, nah. I think it's a funny word, I don't find it vile or malicious. Wherever you go, it follows you. ... So I'm going to have asshole parties," he continues, deadpan. "And you'll have to be a real asshole in order to attend, and I will determine who is. And a girl will be an assholette or an assholesse, and once you come in, you'll get a certificate to say you're a real asshole. And once you leave, and someone says, 'What are you? Some kind of asshole?' you can say, 'Well, as a matter of fact I am. I'm a real asshole. Gene Simmons says so, and he's the biggest asshole," he concludes with another self-satisfied smirk.

How cute. Simmons is known as a marketing genius. He reminds me at one point that the Kiss franchise business is worth over half a billion in U.S. dollars. Simmons has long understood the image power of the grease-painted, fire-breathing, blood-spitting musicians. In the seventies, they sold the rights for Kiss dolls, among other items. Then along came his magazine, Gene Simmons Tongue, Kiss Kondums (dubbed "rock 'n' rubbers"), a comic-book series, Kiss Visa cards and caskets. "By the way," he says, "There ain't no rock 'n' roll brand. There is only Kiss. Who else is going to do this?" he asks, extending one of his pudgy hands to reveal what he has up his sleeve -- a Kiss watch.

Well, what would he say to critics who might suggest that the only reason he would be putting out a new CD is to prove he is still an artist, rather than a concept? "Oh, I don't care," he says. "Critics are failed human beings. They're the guys that never got laid in school."

"Why do you still do it?" I ask. "You have lots of money."

"Because I want more."

"You're insatiable?"

"Insatiable has negative connotations," he says, pouting. "The notion of life is to do more. And the time to stop is when you're dead," he says, spitting the last word over the top of his tall glass of Coke. He had a backlog of songs, he reports, and a lot of them didn't "suit" Kiss. "And after [Kiss]scaled all the heights and broke every attendance record that the Beatles or Elvis ever set, and after being the number-one-group-gold-record-award-winning champions of all time in North America," he says. "I don't feel I have anything left to prove."

I switch subjects to ask another question about what he thinks women want. Sex? Marriage?

"Well, first you want the sex," he says, plunging into an enthusiastic response. "Then comes the real price to pay. You want the house, the picket fence. Women and marriage are like quicksand. Very easy to get into, but you're going nowhere, you're stuck, and you're not getting out."

In his rocking heyday, Simmons reportedly kept a journal of all his sexual conquests. He lived with Cher for a time. (He calls her "a no-nonsense girl who doesn't play the female thing.") But he has lived with Newfoundland-born former model Shannon Tweed for 20 years. He has two children with her, Nick, 15, and Sophie, 11. They all perform on Asshole. "I have been happily unmarried to her," he says. "But the idea that any other human being, especially a woman, would ever delude herself into thinking that she had a right to ask me where I'm going, who the . . . wants to know?"

So what makes it work for her? (Simmons says he doesn't believe in sexual fidelity.)

"I don't care about that. I only care what I care about. And she cares about what she cares about. It's only about me," he says, tapping his chest. "If I choose to be with her, it's a daily decision." To emphasize his philosophy, he tells me that prostitutes are more honest than most women because at least they tell a man up-front what a "relationship" is going to cost. But he's recycling quotes. I've read this in other interviews he has given.

The least he could do is shock us with something new.

Enough, I tell him. He is doing himself a disservice, I say. He is more thoughtful than he wants to let on. Unmasked, he is still masked. He wears a kind of psychic grease paint. Under it all, he is a guy called Chaim Witz, born in Israel, the son of Hungarian Jews. His parents divorced when he was 9. He moved to the States with his mother. He watched the Ed Sullivan Show, saw the Beatles and invented himself. For a while, he was a sixth-grade teacher, for Pete's sake.

"Oh, you're doing the holier-than-thou thing," he admonishes. "Which is, you're telling me, 'Don't do it that simply. Come up to my level.' Well, let me tell you what it is. Life is over soon enough, and what the . . . does it all mean? What's meaning all about anyway? Life, simply, at its simplest, is Epicurean hedonism, which is to say, the absence of pain is pleasure! My perspective comes from my mother, who survived the concentration camps of Europe. Trust me, nobody in a concentration camp is thinking of anything but survival. You're not being tortured, and you're alive. That's all the meaning you need."

One last question. Any concessions to age?

"You know, only white people concern themselves with that," he scoffs. "Ever heard of black people getting together and saying, 'You know that B.B. King. He's almost 80. I think he should quit.' "

Okay, so any concessions to age?

"Oh no, they're gonna have to drag me, kicking and screaming off the stage."

You must work out, I say. You dye your hair.

He stares back at me, glowering. "Yeah, and you wear bras and lift 'em towards the heavens, and I dye my hair. We all do whatever it takes to play the game."

The game here feels like a pissing match in a school yard. But he's 54, and I don't have a penis. Besides, I don't feel like playing any more. The interview ends. He gets up to have his picture taken. The Globe photographer wants him to stand by the window. "The reason that's not a good idea," says Simmons, who purposely stands away from the glass, "is that the light will diffuse the thickness of my hair."