Kiss rocks all night, parties one more day

By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Reuters) - After nearly 30 years, the members of Kiss still rock 'n' roll all night and party every day. But not for much longer.

The controversial hard rock group, formed in 1972 in New York City, has announced it will put away the grease paint, pyrotechnics and high-heeled boots after its current concert tour wraps late this summer. The band will play its 1976 breakthrough hit, ``Rock and Roll All Nite,'' one last time and then be gone -- for good, according to bassist Gene Simmons.

``We've never played that game,'' Simmons, 50, says of those who think the farewell tour is just another one many marketing gambits. ``We've always pretty much said what we mean and meant what we said. We go out on top, and on our own terms.''

That is pretty much the way Kiss always has operated since Simmons, guitarists Paul Stanley and Paul ``Ace'' Frehley and drummer Peter Criss joined forces and separated themselves from other rockers by donning makeup and adopting outrageous onstage stunts, such as Frehley's exploding guitars and Simmons' fire-blowing and blood-spitting demon persona.

Thanks to persistence and hard touring, Kiss won a mass audience with 1975's ``Alive!'' and went on to sell nearly 75 million albums and, as Simmons proudly notes, earn more gold records (23) than any other rock act save the Beatles.

``We basically decided to write our own rules,'' he says, ''including pouring our own blood in the ink for our own comic book (in 1977), just anything wacko and, ultimately, to have fun.''

There have been fallow periods, too. Criss and Frehley left the group in 1980 and 1982, respectively, each dogged by drug addictions. Simmons and Stanley, meanwhile, soldiered on against pop music trends, even dropping the makeup in 1983.

But thanks to the Kiss Army, a core of devoted followers, Kiss's albums kept going gold and regularly rolled into the Top 40 of the Billboard charts.

``We have a lot in common with all great things American. If you think about it, America doesn't really have a lot of respect, but it's the culture that rules the world. (Kiss) has a lot more in common with hamburgers and wrestling and Hollywood movies than we do with ... crepes and caviar.

``We really are the quintessential American band -- of the people, for the people, by the people.''

And it was for ``the people'' that the original members of Kiss got back into makeup for a triumphant reunion tour in 1996 that was named ``Best Comeback'' in the Rolling Stone magazine reader's poll. With Criss and Frehley cleaned up, Kiss again became one of rock 'n' roll's top marketing entities, with an unrivaled line of merchandise that ranged from T-shirts to automobiles.

So why quit now?

``We've done it all, including going out on tour with the first 3-D show in history,'' says Simmons, referring to the 1998-99 ``Psycho Circus'' outing. ``I don't know what else we could do except keep making records and keep touring.

``I admire with all my heart what the (Rolling) Stones have done. But we would rather, like our shows, leave 'em wanting more instead of overstaying our welcome.''

``We feel fulfilled. In a lot of ways this is like our graduation party. I'm not sad I'm leaving high school; I'm looking forward to college. Kiss will continue in other ways -- certainly the comic books and all the other stuff will go on. But there's other things we want to do.''

Right now, however, Simmons is mum about the members' futures. But it is widely known that Stanley, who did a stint in the lead role of the Toronto production of ``Phantom of the Opera'' last year, wants to do more theatrical work.

Simmons, meanwhile, recently filmed an action-adventure movie called ``Wish You Were Dead,'' which is due out later this year, and is co-producing a CBS television movie titled ``Rock and Roll All Night,'' which he says is ``not about Kiss,'' except that Kiss is part of two people's lives -- not unlike the theme of last summer's movie flop ``Detroit Rock City.''

A new concert album, ``Kiss Alive IV,'' recorded during the group's New Year's Eve show in Vancouver, is due in stores March 28. And the group recently filmed a soft drink TV ad slated to debut during the Academy Awards telecast March 26.

Then there's the tour, which features hand-picked opening acts (Ted Nugent and Skid Row) and will end this summer with an extravagant outdoor gig and lineup of bands that Simmons promises ``you couldn't imagine in your wildest dreams.''

And sometime during the year, Simmons also expects astronomers to identify four stars that will form a new Kiss constellation.

About the only thing missing is being voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for which Kiss has been eligible since 1997. But like many other hard rock outfits -- including Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple -- the honor has eluded Simmons, Stanley, Frehley and Criss.

An induction would certainly bring Kiss back together one more time, but Simmons says the group isn't fretting over it.

``If somebody wants to give you a present, that's nice,'' he says, ``but we're not courting (the Hall of Fame) or anything. ... Our awards are under the K section in your record bins. What other kind of award do you want?''

(Gary Graff is a nationally syndicated journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is the supervising editor of the award-winning ``MusicHound'' album guide series.)