November 10th, 2009
10:53 AM ET

KISS meets the troops

Unnaturally tall. Those are the first words that come to mind when KISS enters our backstage room at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

I have been preparing for this - my first interview with the costumed rock band - for days, committing biography, discography and makeup styles to memory. But one thing I had not readied myself for was the combined impact of Gene Simmons' 6-foot-plus stature and those towering platform boots. The sight of one elevated icon after another seemed almost superhuman, an assessment that was not diminished by the earthly act of conversation.

Despite being considered ultimate showmen, the members of KISS are as impressive one-on-one as they are before a crowd of tens of thousands. Their open and unaffected manner seems at odds with the Demon/Starchild/Catman/Spaceman “personas” and kabuki makeup.

Listening to Paul Stanley’s earnest enthusiasm about "Sonic Boom," the band's first studio album in 11 years - “It seemed like a great time to finally go into the studio and not only be proud of our past but use it as a foundation for the present and future,” he said - you’d be forgiven for forgetting the group’s 35-year career. They have been years toughened by glory and decline, rebirth and death, disunion and reunion. Yet, so cohesive does this latest lineup seem, I actually believe Eric Singer when he says, “We get along great, we love being together and we have a great time when we’re doing this stuff."

While Gene Simmons did his expected hard sell, saying “Sonic Boom” proves “the legend is alive and well,” he also teared up when expressing pride in members of the U.S. armed forces.

At the ensuing meet-and-greet with a veterans' group called Wounded Warriors, Sergeant Anthony Johnson - injured during his second tour in Iraq - was quick to transfer the mantle of hero: "I myself don’t count myself as a hero. I put my pants on just like everybody else does."

"If they think that it’s awe-inspiring to meet me, it’s even more awe-inspiring for me to meet them," he continued, "because they’ve been in rock history for 35 years.”

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