Forget what Neil Young said about it being better to burn out than to rust; as most aging rock acts now know, the best move of all is the comeback. Just look at the way Aerosmith, which once teetered on the edge of irrelevance, managed to clean up its act and muscle iits way back iinto the Top 10. Or Bonniie Raiitt. Or Z.Z. Top.
But Kiss? Sorry. In order to come back, you first have to go away. And Kiss has never gone away.
"Even at our worst period, we were still selling a million records," admits Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, over the phone from Los Angeles. "Out of the last 23 albums, something like 19 are platinum, and 22 are gold. I don't think we have anything to complain about. Believe me, life is good."
And judging from the sound of "Revenge," the band's soon-to-be-released 24th album, life will only get better for these guys. "Maybe I'm too close to the record, but this record seems, if anything, like starting all over again," enthuses Simmons. "It seems a more definitive record than anything we've done over the last 10 years."
In fact, Simmons and his bandmates are so excited by these new songs that they've literally rushed out to play them, booking a 10-city club tour that will conclude even before the album comes out.
"Everybody thinks we're nuts," he laughs. "The record company says, 'Why are you doing that? Why not just wait until August when the stage is ready and then charge big bucks?'
"I can't wait. I mean, I can't wait to get up onstage in a dingy little club, which I haven't done in almost 20 years, and just sweat for two hours. The idea of being up onstage with big show -- yeah, that'll come later. But just for 10 shows, 10 cities across America, I want to try out some of the new material, play some really obscure stuff from way, way back, and just get the adrenalin pumping again."
Adrenalin, it turns out, is Simmons' drug of choice, the stimulant he most keenly craves. And nowhere is that rush more potent than onstage at a Kiss concert.
Just listen to the way he describes a typical evening with the band. "I must have been in the middle of America someplace," he says. "In the middle of the show, I was looking across the stage, and everybody's sweating, the audience is going out of their minds, and I'm just within an inch of just collapsing on stage. But it felt great, invigorating. And I realized it doesn't get any better than this.
"People talk about legal highs and all that, but that's as close as you can get. It's got to be what God feels like every time people get together in temples and start saying, 'You are the king of kings.' God really must swell with pride and kind of go, 'Yeah, that feels good.' "
Yet as good as he felt being onstage with Kiss, Simmons admits that up until recently, he had taken the band and his place in it for granted.
Sure, he still worked hard onstage and in the studio, but by the early '90s, being the bass player in Kiss was no longer a full-time role. After all, he was also working as a producer, a record company executive and an actor, and doing well with each. It seemed like quite a life -- that is, until it occurred to Simmons that he was beginning to cheat himself out of what he did best and enjoyed most.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," he says now. "It hit me that what I'd been doing for almost 10 years was just basically coasting, thinking that I could be in Kiss, and be in movies, and have my own record company and management. Ultimately it winds up that each one of these areas just got a piece of Gene Simmons and not the whole heart and soul.
"It's tempting, but it winds up, the net result is, even though my ego gets satiated, and more people pat me on the back and more girls want to attach themselves to various appendages, the net result is that Kiss gets hurt.
"And if Kiss gets hurt, then the fans get hurt, which means I get hurt. So I really had to confront myself."
Simmons isn't exaggerating about his feelings for the fans, either. Despite the band's history of costumes and showmanship, Kiss was never sucked in by the metal gods mentality that made so many '70s heavy rockers seem like pompous buffoons.
"We've always been a people's band," he says. "This ain't the Grateful Dead, but we've never tried to come off holier than thou. We've certainly never preached politics or come off at all like we've known what the secret of life was all about. If anything, we've usually just sung about [sex].
"Ultimately the band's point of view is that nobody is higher up the ladder than anybody else."
That's why it's so easy to believe Simmons when he says he and his bandmates continue on as Kiss purely for the fun of it. "Some of our critics have said, 'Awww, these guys just do it for the cash.' Believe me, there's plenty of money. Everybody's taken care of. We've been taken care of a long time ago.
"I do this because I just can't imagine what else I'd do. Kiss is like air to me. Without it, what am I going to do? Wake up in the morning, contemplate my navel? Doing the shows is great.
"And then doing the encores back in the hotel is not so bad, either."
When: May 4, 8 p.m.
Where: Hammerjacks, 1102 S. Howard St.
Tickets: $15. Limited tickets at the door.
Call: (410) 752-3302.