Gene Simmons (myspace.com) Al Simmons (provided by author)
During the 1940's there was a famous movie actress named Jean Simmons, so when my mom, Jean, married my dad and took on his last name she also took on a repeating-loop question and answer session.
My dad was a big man in Winnipeg. He stood six-feet, two-inches tall and weighed, in his words: "Two hundred and plenty." A popular member of the Lions Club, Air Cadet League and Chamber of Commerce, he couldn't walk the few blocks on Portage Avenue from Eaton's to The Bay without ten people calling out, "Hi Big Al." When I started my career in show business I was constantly asked, "Are you related to Big Al Simmons."
Musically I led a pretty sheltered life. I've always loved the music of the late 20s and early 30s so the hit parade didn't really hit me. In the middle of one of my school shows in the late 1970s a smart-aleck grade-six boy asked, "Are you related to Gene Simmons?"
"That's my Mom!" I answered without hesitation. The laughter that ensued would make any stand-up comic jealous. After the show the teachers told me all about the band Kiss.
I began to wonder if we actually could be related. Was it possible that Gene and I were kissing cousins? The similarities were amazing. We both wore outlandish costumes. We both did outrageous things on stage, and we both wore makeup --Gene singing in a rock band and me blowing balloons at kiddie's birthday parties.
The fact that my last name had star quality was nothing to stick your tongue out at, and it didn't end with Gene. In the late 1990s I was at a sandwich shop in the Yukon. The young man behind the counter asked for my name so he could call me when my order was ready. He almost fainted when I told him. He suggested that, while waiting for my order, I go to the comic store next door and get the first edition of Spawn. Before I finished my soup I found out that the unpleasant protagonist and I shared a name. A year later, on tour in California a festival sound technician insisted I go to the nearest movie theatre. The first line spoken in the Spawn movie is: "Al Simmons is the best."
I had shared the name Simmons with a silver-screen siren, a curly-haired fitness guru in short-shorts, a painted-faced rock singer with a long tongue, and a Beauty-Rest Mattress. Sharing it with a fictional creature from hell wasn't any extra burden.
Lately most of the name-calling has faded away except for that KISS guy. Gene is still making headlines around the world. But now the star of reality TV's Family Jewels has the balls to step into my territory to give a talk at the Concert Hall.
I may not be as widely known but I am a pretty big fish in this small Manitoba pond. So don't be surprised Mr. Simmons if folks begin asking you: "Are you any relation to Al Simmons?"
Al Simmons' one-man, multi-prop, music-filled, off the wall performances have elevated audiences world-wide to collective giggles and all-out guffaws. He is a creative genius with the soul of a vaudevillian and the wacky brain of an inventor.
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