It’s the undeniable elephant in the room. The patriarch has strayed but no one is saying when and how and with whom and for what reason.
So goes the ongoing struggle to make sense of the tension between Gene Simmons and his longtime companion, Shannon Tweed. If you’ve been following the sixth season of Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels closely like I have, you probably share my fascination and frustration.
To recap: During the premiere episode, Gene brought a couple of beautiful women with him to his latest business dinner. When it was over, he was photographed exiting the restaurant with both of them on each arm. The pic was mysteriously sent to an openly weeping Shannon, an odd occurrence on the show. (Not once did she ever have a problem with him hanging around babes before.) Later, she confronted a confused Gene who proclaimed his innocence. Ultimately, she left the family home and temporarily moved into a hotel room. Because she insisted, a reluctant Gene eventually went to a therapist.
Since that time, the show has jumped back and forth from sequences that were taped last year to more recent developments. One of the more moving episodes involved a trip to Israel where Gene learned for the first time of his extended family, thanks to previous arrangements made by Shannon.
When he visits his father’s grave (a man he has publicly villified for decades), the phony rock god persona he’s carefully cultivated since the early 70s instantly melts away leaving behind a guilt-ridden, immensely sad son named Chaim Witz expressing feelings the audience rarely sees. This guy, I like. The Demon? Not so much. He’s way too full of himself and in denial of reality.
If only there was as much honesty and clarity about his deteriorating relationship with the former Playmate Of The Year. Since that sixth season premiere, it remains unclear why she is so upset with him. The words “unfaithful” and “womanizer” have popped out at times but no specifics have ever been freely offered. It’s truly maddening when you want to understand the whole troubling situation.
In an earlier piece, I speculated that the real reason Shannon has been angry at Gene was because of a sex tape he appeared in three years ago which he unsuccessfully tried to keep private. Throughout the season, Shannon and even her son, Nick, have noted that the last few years have been difficult. So, why hasn’t anyone mentioned the sex tape? Is it really that much of a taboo subject for a reality show that has pointedly promoted this estrangement?
When Howard Stern appeared on Larry King Live back in 2006, he made a good point he’s made for years. That he’s always admired broadcasters and performers who are real with their audience, whether they’re decent people or not. When are Tweed and Simmons going to be completely real with theirs?
When are they going to stop acting coy? When are they going to end this annoying dance around this persistent issue? You can’t go on TV and show viewers only the good side of your private life, like this family has done in the five previous seasons of their show, while keeping the darker stuff off-camera. That’s not reality. That’s propaganda.
If you’re going to devote a considerable amount of time on the breakdown of a longterm relationship, you can’t skip anything. What would be the point? Based on what’s been shown so far, it looks like Shannon is just upset about that damn picture. But that’s obviously not the problem. It’s merely a symbol.
Beyond the question of fidelity, there’s also Gene’s stubborn refusal to scale down his workaholic ways (to be fair, a central theme throughout the series), especially when he’s bored or not the centre of attention. Consider the very revealing episode where he accompanied Shannon back to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the place where she spent much of her pre-Playboy existence.
At one point, Shannon tries to tell her man about the city’s decision to name a street after her, a lovely honour most of us will never have the privilege of enjoying. But she never manages to break her news because Gene rudely interrupts her by focusing on himself, at one point with a historical Kiss reference.
When she’s asked to do a ceremonial face-off for the local hockey team, Gene has to be given something to do so he won’t be bouncing off the walls. (He ends up being a goalie during a break in the game.) When she’s given an honourary jersey with the number one on the back, Gene wonders why he has number two on his. When she’s out of her seat at the arena, a couple of women (whose faces are blurred) are sitting on her boyfriend’s lap as photos are snapped right in front of Shannon’s family. And when she does a radio appearance, he just has to squeeze in that kissonline.com reference among other self-indulgent moments.
In the most recent episode, the second-to-last of the season and easily one of the strongest this year, Gene’s therapist is flown in during a Kiss tour stop. Although she is understandably shy about talking about it, daughter Sophie eventually opens up on camera to the point where you wish she would go even further. (Nick has strong opinions, as well, and seems less uncomfortable talking about his family life.) Clearly, there’s a lot of resentment about Gene’s lengthy absences from home, among other things.
Which brings me to the tease for the season finale. Is Gene, the most famous critic of marriage today, about to do a 180 in order to save his relationship and bring his family closer? If so, what a stupid idea. I’ve long believed that the issue, despite countless half-joking comments to the contrary, hasn’t been the nature of their union, it’s always been Gene’s selfishness.
Here’s a guy who probably never has to work a day in his life ever again thanks to all the hit records he made with Kiss and all those ridiculous endorsement deals that turned him into a self-parody. So, why does he keep doing it? He’s addicted to the attention from his audience, especially the females, hence his constant need to be surrounded by them, whether he actually fools around with them or not. Hell, at one point, while in his Demon get-up just before a show, he actually inappropriately flirts with his therapist right in front of Shannon! (Dr. Wexler actually has to remind him of their strictly professional relationship.)
When the therapist sits down with the entire family, one point is made abundantly clear. Gene shouldn’t do what his kids and common-law wife want, it’s what he wants that matters. Does he really want to be married? Is Shannon the only woman he wants to be intimate with from here on out?
I seriously doubt it. A good friend of mine asked me in a Facebook message last month if I thought they were on the verge of splitsville. I said no. But now, having seen several more episodes and read a good number of articles about this near 30-year relationship, I’m starting to have my doubts.
Whatever Gene and Shannon decide to do, regardless of their TV show, is their business, as I noted previously. But if they want to become closer and leave the mistakes of the past behind, they need to start getting real with each other and, while they’re on TV, their audience. Nothing will change if the status quo remains the same.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
CLARIFICATION & UPDATE: What I originally thought were the final two episodes of season six are actually the final shows of the first half of that year. Speaking of that, A&E is releasing all the Family Jewels programs from 2011 on DVD in late Spring. Look for Season Six Part One (which ends with the proposal cliffhanger) and Season Six Part Two (which concludes with the wedding) on June 12. Season seven is scheduled to air sometime this year but no official announcement has been made just yet.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, February 29, 2012