PUBLICATION: The Roanoke Times



That cockroach thing they used to say about Cher? They say it about KISS, too. At the end of the civilization, there will still be KISS and cockroaches.

Now, there may just be cockroaches.

Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, the four guys who formed the self-proclaimed greatest rock group in the world, are retiring.

Golf is not in their future. Fishing, either. "Jews fishing, that's hilarious," said Simmons, who, pre-rock, was Gene Klein, an Israeli-born school teacher living in the Bronx. "We don't do that stuff. Take the hook and put it through a piece of flesh and rip it out? We don't do that. Guys named Jim and Billy Bob do that."

Guys named Gene Simmons spit blood and flex their tongues and breathe fire and have sex with thousands of women. Guys named Paul Stanley wear lipstick, sing "Love Gun" and have sex with thousands of women.

So what happens when guys like that retire?

"Everybody has all sorts of plans and lots of them," Simmons said by phone from Atlanta, where the band had just performed the 24th of 70 shows scheduled so far on the Farewell Tour. "We won't be docile."

But he didn't want to talk about what would happen after the four members of KISS part ways later this year. He didn't want to talk about the rumor that he'll be writing his autobiography and going on a book tour, or that Stanley will watch for more starring theater roles like the one he had in "Phantom of the Opera" in 1999.

Simmons wanted only to focus on KISS as a unit, out of respect for the band, he said. Because this is it. Really.

"Despite what people may think ... this is really the end, the last tour of the touring band known as KISS," he said. The band performs tonight at the Roanoke Civic Center with Skid Row and Ted Nugent.

Ozzy Osbourne went on a Retirement Tour, followed soon after by a Retirement Sucks Tour. Other bands use the threat of quitting as a means to sell more tickets. But ticket sales haven't been a problem for KISS since the band reunited after appearing together on MTV Unplugged in 1995.

"We've outlasted five presidencies, we're almost at the end of our third decade, we've sold over 80 million albums, and we're right behind the Beatles in the number of gold records," Simmons said.

The band got its start in 1973 when Stanley (Stanley Eisen) and Simmons, who had played together in New York's Wicked Lester, drafted Peter Criss (Peter Crisscoula) and Paul "Ace" Frehley to form a band of their own.Inspired by the New York Dolls, they put on makeup, adopted personas and became rock 'n' roll heroes.

They opened for Blue Oyster Cult. Then bands of that caliber started opening for them. Marvel Comics put out a KISS comic book, television aired a live action movie and an army of fans collected albums and merchandise.

Despite all of that and the fact that they practically invented the power ballad, the members of KISS never received much critical acclaim. They never cared. They just rocked.

Drug problems forced Criss to leave the band in 1980. Frehley, with problems of his own, left in 1982 for a solo career.

New members came in. The makeup came off. The band survived.

It became bigger than life again when Criss and Frehley rejoined Stanley and Simmons for the MTV reunion, which led to new CDs, a movie and more touring, in makeup, for four more years.

"The touring band has all sorts of pressures on it that other bands don't," Simmons said. If he were in the Dave Mathews Band, for instance, simply standing on stage and playing, he could do it until he was old and gray, he said.

But "every step I take ... is 8 inches above the ground. I'm on platform heels. I'm carrying an additional 55 pounds of armor, studs and leather, and we do that for two hours. When you're 70, running around and doing that stuff is just not going to fly."

Simmons is 50, and during concerts, he flies. But he wants to quit before he can't do it anymore. He wants to quit while the band's on top and he wants to say goodbye properly, the KISS way, with screaming guitars, an assault of pyrotechnics (and merchandising), and a rousing rendition of "Rock 'n' Roll All Nite," as opposed to a hearty handshake.

"We wanted to stand up in front of the people who put us here, our bosses, and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for making every one of our dreams come true," said Simmons, who will not be retiring to the poorhouse.

"Other rock stars stay poor because they never did something called due diligence," he said. "They never took care of business, they just took care of show. A lot of these guys, after their careers are over, wind upworking in the back of turnstiles saying, 'Do you want fries with that?' because most of the time they were famous they blew the money and blew stuff up their nose.KISS is like the Olympics. If we find anything in your blood stream you're out on your a--. We proved it with Ace and Peter, who were not healthy, who succumbed, lost their self-respect and lost the respect of the band."

KISS will continue to make money long after the end of the $45-a-head tour.

There are plans for a Psycho Circus Theme Park with Universal Attractions and a KISS casino in Las Vegas, Simmons said.

Still, fans are saddened by this end to touring, even with the sparks, the familiar "you wanted the best you got the best" rhetoric.

The only band that had that sort of impact on Simmons was the Beatles, he said, though he never saw them live. They were mythic, "not real people walking the planet."

So it is with KISS: with Simmons, the demon; Frehley, the spaceman; Criss, the cat; and Stanley, the lover. They are cartoon superheroes, larger than life, which is what a star should be, Simmons said. "If it twinkles in the sky, that's what makes you pick up your chin and look upwards. If the sky's dark, nobody's looking up."

The band has always been about spectacle, offering something for the eyes as well as the ears.

So what did KISS do for rock 'n' roll, in the end?

"We raised the ante," Simmons said. "Period. We never ever stood on our soapbox and tried to tell you anything about the political nature of the world or what we think of the Dalai Lama."

Rock stars, he said, "are all court jesters, and in KISS' case, we make no bones about it."

Though KISS may die as a touring band, it will hardly vanish - not as long as people still have the music, the lunchboxes and the plastic toy figures, which may well outlast the cockroaches.

"We got to do what we wanted to do on our own terms," Simmons said, sounding not quite like Sinatra. "We did it our way. At the end of the day, we've won."

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