Inside Kiss’ legendary performance at Salt Lake City 2002

When glam rock trailblazers Kiss played at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony, they delivered arguably one of the most memorable live performances in the history of televised sport. Frontman Gene Simmons remembers it like it was yesterday.

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Poised on a small stage that moved across an ice rink as dancers skated around them, all the while dressed in their iconic platform boots and make-up, Kiss played their 1975 single, Rock And Roll All Nite, to a televised audience of billions at the Salt Lake City Closing Ceremony. The exploding fireworks and heavy guitars only added to the anarchic vibe. “This thing was a real heart-stopper,” Gene Simmons, bassist, singer and founding member, recalled.

What do you remember of the show?

I remember seeing the champion athletes from different countries, different nationalities, different races and different religions all getting together and not worrying about where somebody was from or what language they spoke. The Greeks started this a long time ago and… what a wonderful idea! The Olympics are one of the bright spots on a very tainted human history. If aliens landed on earth and gave us an overview they would say, ‘You guys did a lot of bad stuff, the Inquisition, the Nazis of World War II, all sorts of things. But you did some cool stuff. The Emancipation Proclamation, Magna Carta, the Olympics…

What other events are like that?

The Eurovision (Song) Contest is a good attempt but it stays in Europe. North America and the rest of the world have no idea what that is. As far as I’m concerned, the more world events there are, the more connected maybe we can all be.

Was it fun to play that show?

It was fabulous and of course it went out live, so we had some restrictions. The camera crews were very specific, ‘Stand here, do this. Don’t do what you normally do.’ We had to stay very close together. It was probably the smallest stage we’ve ever played on. And right in front of us was ice, ice skaters, and we had to stay on that truck platform and the amplifiers were far off in the stands. I was told that two billion people could watch the Olympics on earth and that’s sort of a big deal.

What was the mood like in the stadium?

You can’t help but smile. There are people that are holding hands and putting their arms around each other who, if they went back to their countries or borders that separate them, wouldn’t necessarily do that. And I’m using kind language. Elsewhere, enemies in the Olympics unite over a bigger idea than borders and separation of people.

Are you a big Olympic Games fan?

I’m a big fan of athletes. You may not necessarily be a golf fan, but when you see somebody like Tiger Woods at the height of his power you can’t but be amazed by it. You might not be a boxing fan and you see someone like (Muhammad) Ali or (Mike) Tyson in their prime, you’re awed by the athleticism of it. It’s always been stars that bring people to something. Golf wouldn’t be golf without Tiger Woods. And boxing wouldn’t be boxing without Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was known then.

Are the Olympics in tune with the ideals at a Kiss show?

Well, it’s not a stretch to say the Olympics and Kiss believe in the same philosophies. One is that it’s apolitical. What you or I may think of certain political leaders, your own prime minister, President Trump – that’s not what it’s about. It’s a celebration of life. For those few hours with Kiss, our job is to make you forget about the traffic jams, or the fact your girlfriend is screaming at you for something you’re completely unaware of. And likewise, the Olympics are not about politics. It’s all-inclusive, and for those few hours that you’re there it’s about the spectacle of both the Olympics and Kiss. Do we ascribe and subscribe to make a complete spectacle out of ourselves? Damn right we do.

Picture by Kishimoto/IOC /NAGAYA, Yo

Is “Rock And Roll All Nite” the perfect song for an Olympic Games closing ceremony?

For one thing, everybody can sing it because it starts off with ‘I’. There are lots of bands that use the word ‘we’, but there’s nothing more powerful in the English language than ‘I’. ‘I’ is the most important word because it’s about the power of the individual. You can be black, white, old, young, male, female, whatever, but as soon as you say ‘I’ it completely defines what is the greatest allegiance you can have.

Does music have that power to bring people together like sport?

Music is more than music. It’s the soundtrack to people’s lives. When you stand to attention to your country, there’s music. There’s a theme song for nations. There are songs for the Olympics, songs for funerals, music in church. Life on earth without music would be just horrific.