Gene Simmons The Gentleman
As I was getting a tall glass of water in the Polo Lounge, to begin the night, Doug the waiter passed by and said “You might want to know, Gene Simmons is in tonight and he’s sitting right next to your bench”. Hilarious, I thought. I looked up, scanned the row of A-list tables near the piano, and sure enough it was true. You can’t help but be delighted that one of your “captives” for a while is going to be someone like Gene Simmons. Let alone, literally at arm's length. Imagination takes over at moments like these, visions in my head of doing loud KISS piano covers, with Gene playing bass, as patrons fling their intimate garments through the air, the mayhem ceasing only at sunrise, after which I shovel my exhausted tequila-drenched corpse into a cab and roll home in the afterglow while the valets store my car in the underground garage till the next night. Maybe a call from the band next day asking me to ink in some tour dates, and a costume fitter wanting an appointment. NOT. I regained my senses.
First off, the guy is as real as real can get. A humanitarian, a hard worker, a patriot, a gentleman. No bullshit, no posing, nothing but grade A integrity and truth. I'm always so comforted by just being in the presence of a person whose unspoken message is "here we are, at this moment, I am just me, and you are just you". All good. Yet, tonight was to be another of those not so great starts. His back was turned to me for what must have been two hours, as he talked incessantly with people at his table, mostly about classic films, upcoming projects and interesting stuff. He literally did not turn to me once, why should he? I wasn't Johnny Mathis, in fact right now I was just a source of noise to for his table to deal with, being so close to his conversation. I cringed when I noticed him lean closer to one of the people at the table, to better hear them over the damn piano player. Oh well, just do your thing Tony, and be soft for the night, what the hell.
The women at his table were cool, classy, lovely and poised. I didn’t recognize any of them to be his wife, but I could tell this wasn’t some romantic escape, it seemed mostly business. He was intently engaged in conversation and I couldn't help but strain a bit to hear, while keeping tempo and composure. After a couple hours of this, I felt like I was torturing him, and at the same time being tortured, by the awkwardness. That's when the pianist remembers there's a whole room to paint here, so don't just concentrate on one soul. Then someone came over from another table and requested “The Shadow of Your Smile”, which is about as far from “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night” as you’ll ever get. I love the standard, and played it in a way that reflected this, appreciating the chance to focus on something other than the table right next to me, really not to care who else was nearby.
Figures, that’s exactly when Mr. Simmons finished his evening and got up to go. And then the magic started. I had already launched into the song, in a slow warm rhumba pattern. Suddenly, with the smoothness of a cat, Gene assumed a solo tango pose, and started dancing to the song, by himself, all around the piano. I could barely play from the hilarity of this enormous man with enormous presence and equally enormous hair, doing a beautiful rhumba/tango step to my song, arms in a classic pose, with perfect timing, keeping the beat and glancing at me respectfully like some cotillion impresario. Oh, the grace, the style. Oh, without the face paint! I grinned toward the ladies at his table like an Appalachian trapper showing off my prey. Yes, America. Gene Simmons may have performed for you in stadiums with tongue, thumping bass and painted face. But tonight he's dancing for me a la Fred Astaire. It was great. Then, without breaking his stride, continuing to sway, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, still dancing, slapped a couple bills on the piano, returned the wallet to his pocket, and crossed his hands over his chest, saying thanks, continuing to face me as he walked backward to exit. What a shamelessly elegant guy! It was like saying “I know it seems like I disregarded you for the last two hours, but thank you for your music. I appreciate you!” It was far more than just the tip. It was the reciprocating, giving back whatever it is he got from what I was trying to do. And he did it in his own worldly way. I managed to tell him, “Great dancing!”, through the toothy grin that still hasn’t left my numb face.