AT 60: ROCKING HARD AS EVER
November 03, 2009
Maybe they're now eligible for the cover of AARP magazine, but Simmons and mates rock as hard as ever

By William Weir

The 60-year-old rock-star club is boosting its ranks -- joining this year are Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and, maybe most shockingly, Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons.

"It means as much as you want to make it seem," Simmons says of age. Along with the three other members of Kiss -- all in full Kiss regalia -- Simmons is waiting this night to go on stage for a sold-out show at Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. The dressing rooms are marked off for each member of Kiss, as well as one for "Pyro" -- fire being a classic part of any Kiss show. Not much happens pre-show -- besides the road crew and some hangers-on, the guys of opening act Buckcherry wander about, as does veteran rock manager Doc McGhee. The members of Kiss are nowhere to be seen until they show up in McGhee's room for an interview.

"I will tell you that we are playing longer than we have ever played. As you can see, this is not kid stuff. You have to be pretty strong to be able to physically do 2 1/2 hours of rocking the house."

While Springsteen's music and persona have allowed for the onset of maturity with songs about the complexities of relationships, Kiss continues to spit blood, breathe fire and shoot rockets out of guitars. The tradition continues with this fall's release of "Sonic Boom," the band's first album of new material in 11 years.

So while it may be a jolt when the Boss appears on the cover of AARP magazine, it's even more disconcerting to imagine "the Demon" gracing the same cover. But Simmons -- whose family-life cable TV reality series, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels," has found fans -- is proceeding boldly into his years. He did indeed appear at an AARP event last year, where he told an audience that "60 is the new 20."

Theirs is a physically taxing show. "Just try walking around for 2 1/2 hours in these," Simmons says, placing his platform boots onto the coffee table. Even sitting down in them appears to take considerable work.

The years of bounding around onstage have taken a toll, in part leading to a couple of hip replacements for the group's other remaining original member, guitarist Paul Stanley, 57. But you won't hear them complaining.

"It's not unusual for one of us to be sick, but the last thing we're going to do is go on stage and tell people," Stanley says. "When we go up on the stage, we're Supermen."

The guys in Kiss work hard, no doubt. They're also proud self-marketers (items for sale at its Web site: Kiss wine, Kiss bingo games, Kiss Mr. Potato Heads -- for a while, you could purchase a $4,500 Kiss Kasket).

But even they couldn't have calculated how their costumes would serve them in the long run. The Rolling Stones are a spry bunch onstage, but camera close-ups reveal the years. Kiss members in makeup look, more or less, like Kiss always has.

The outlandish get-ups lend themselves to what could prove to be the most innovative business model in music -- the rock band in which age isn't a factor. Stanley says that's the long-term goal.

"I don't delude myself into believing that I'm not replaceable," he says. "Should I leave or should Gene leave, hopefully the band would continue."

In the 1970s, fans circulated wild tales about the band ("'Kiss' stands for 'Knights In Satan's Service!' "Gene had a cow tongue surgically grafted onto his own!") that fueled their mystery, as well as parents' fears about letting their kids go to the shows. Judging by the crowd at Mohegan Sun, going to a Kiss show now is an event for the whole family.

At the merchandise counter, wearing a Kiss T-shirt shirt ("If it's too loud, you're too old" emblazoned on the back), Bridget Walker of Woodstock, Conn., was helping her 10-year-old son, Christopher, pick out his own concert shirt. Walker, 36, has seen the band "seven or eight times," beginning in the 1980s. She saw the band most recently in Detroit with her 14-year-old daughter. Has the experience changed much over the years?

"Not really," she said. "They're older, but aren't we all?"

Kiss
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: United Center
Price: $20.50-$126 at 312-455-4500