October 07, 2010
Fan meets Gene Simmons

By Charlie Bryce

I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I had met rock 'n' roll icon Gene Simmons in 1977, when I was 12 years old and had just seen my first KISS concert in Abilene.

So it's probably a good thing it happened just last month - 33 years later on the San Antonio River Walk.

I'll be turning 46 on Saturday, and getting to spend a few minutes with Simmons and his main squeeze, former Playboy supermodel Shannon Tweed, was like an early birthday present.

A few minutes after leaving the Hard Rock Cafe last month, my girlfriend, Amy, and I were walking along the River Walk when she spotted Gene and Shannon having a bite at another restaurant.

Amy and I are big fans of the TV show "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," a reality show about Gene and Shannon and their two children, Nick and Sophie.

When Amy turned around and told me Gene and Shannon were right there in front of us having lunch, she was in such a state of shock she could hardly speak. It was surreal.

With my background in journalism, I'd had numerous opportunities to meet celebrities in entertainment and sports, so I figured I wouldn't be nervous.

I told Amy we'd just walk by them and tell Gene how great the concert was the night before at the AT&T Center.

When I told Gene this was the fifth straight decade I'd seen KISS in concert, that seemed to initiate a conversation with him.

"We can still bring it, huh?" Simmons said.

That was Amy's first time to see KISS live, and when she told Gene that, he said, "Well, were we better than Keith Urban?"

Gene and Shannon were both cordial to us, and they didn't have any Hollywood attitude.

Shannon didn't even seem to mind when I accidentally called her Sharon once. She said, "Oh, you're probably thinking of Sharon Osbourne."

Gene's onstage persona is "The Demon," but when you meet him in person, his charisma and charm reveal a really cool, down-to-earth guy underneath all the makeup.

I'm not much of a Facebook junkie, but I was really excited about posting a photo of Amy and I with Gene and Shannon.

Even though it's not the original lineup these days, KISS still knows how to satisfy rock music fans better than any group I've seen. They are the consummate showmen, in my opinion.

It's hard to believe Paul Stanley and Gene are 58 and 61, respectively, when you see them perform.

With Simmons breathing fire, spitting blood and soaring over the crowd with hydraulics, he seems to transform himself into a character who would be right at home in a comic book.

On top of that, you've got arguably the greatest showman in rock history, Paul Stanley, working the crowd into a frenzy.

And the "new guys" - lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer - hold up their end of the bargain, too.

I'll never forget what it was like trying to squeeze my way into the coliseum the first time I saw KISS in Abilene.

That was during KISS' heyday in the late 1970s, and the fans were stampeding through the door so much that a skinny 12-year-old boy from San Angelo was lifted up by the fans around him fighting to get inside. I couldn't even hand my ticket off to be torn.

Seven years later, I saw KISS play at the San Angelo Coliseum in 1984. It was a dream come true to get to see them in my own backyard. That night is etched in my memory as the greatest night of music I've ever experienced in my hometown.

One of my best friends, Todd Williams, was at the same first three KISS shows that I saw - Abilene in 1977, San Angelo in '84 and Austin in '88. We didn't know each other back then, but we finally got to see them together last month. It was like we came full circle.

Including shows in Dallas in 1996 and 2000, I've seen KISS seven times spread out over the past five decades. It makes me sound like I'm 70, huh?

Like a lot of KISS fans, I've spent an enormous amount of money on KISS albums, concert tickets and memorabilia over the years. If I knew the exact figure, I'd probably be ashamed of myself.

But I didn't feel so bad last month when KISS brought some military personnel up on stage and presented them with a check of more than $440,000 from that one show. Say what you want about Simmons and Stanley, but they're good-hearted philanthropists.

And 10 years from now if they're still playing shows, I'm sure I'll be there for a sixth straight decade.

This rock 'n' roll pneumonia isn't going away anytime soon.

Charles Bryce is a former Standard-Times sports editor now working as a freelance writer.