August 13, 1984 12:00 PM

Under a midafternoon sun shining high and hot over the Hollywood Hills, Rod Stewart is frolicking in the swimming pool of his rented house with his children, Kimberly, 4, and Sean, 3. The towheaded youngsters jump from Stewart’s shoulders and tug on his famous blond locks. When the singer climbs out of the pool he appears in peak shape for 39—tan, taut, his face unlined. This is a rock ‘n’ roll legend? “That’s the nagging question,” says Stewart. “I think about how long I can continue to do it.”

Stewart is making all the sounds of a man in a mid-life crisis. He is going through a messy divorce with Alana, his wife of five years (Rod calls her “a hard, hard woman”). He is attempting to recharge a flagging career. And after years of extravagance and mismanaged finances, he is, he claims, adopting a more frugal life-style. Gone are the fleet of nine sports cars, the troop of retainers. Gone too, if he is to be believed, are his storied superstar antics: trashing hotel rooms, drinking and the like. As for women, he is most often linked with model Kelly Emberg, 25. But, adds a friend, “as far as Rod is concerned, that is not an exclusive relationship. He still goes out on the town, and he’s been with several women in the last few months.”

Apart from his children, Stewart’s main concern right now is keeping his comeback from getting unglued. His new single, Infatuation (off the Camouflage album), hovers in the Top 10 on the charts, giving much needed momentum to his current tour. Carrying him across the U.S. and on to Australia, Japan and the Far East, the tour is expected to run through March 1985—assuming it survives guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck’s decision to bow out last month after just seven performances.

Rod and Jeff started out together in London in the ’60s, when they were members of the Jeff Beck Group. Stewart says he could see Beck’s defection coming—in his view, Beck’s instrumental solos “took the show to a low point”—and the band members started making bets on how long it would take. “Jeff is self-destructive,” says Stewart, “but an amazing guitar player.”

Ticket sales have held steady since Beck dropped out, and Stewart is still playing to sellout crowds. He stands to gross more than $20 million from the tour, thanks in part to watchdogging by Stewart’s new manager, Arnold Stiefel. The singer, who has been clearing people out of his life, successfully unloaded his old manager and longtime friend Billy Gaff a year ago. Gaff, who filed a suit over the firing with the Los Angeles Superior Court, used to show Stewart his projected earnings on a cocktail napkin, says Rod. “Then halfway through the tour he’d say, ‘Well, you’re not doing as good as I thought. I miscalculated.’ ”

An out-of-court settlement not only ended Gaff’s managerial prerogatives but also his rights to any of Rod’s songs. Stewart contends that the extended squabble with Gaff affected the quality of his music, notably the ill-received 1983 album, Body Wishes. “Going down to the courthouse at 8 every morning, then staying in the studio until midnight, was not conducive to doing my best work,” he says.

The marital brawl with Alana hasn’t helped, either. She has accused him in the tabloids of chasing after blondes, neglecting the kids (“I thought I’d rent a father,” she sniped) and fretting about “getting older.” Stewart pooh-poohs most of the charges—”Well, who isn’t afraid of aging?”—but is incensed over the bad-dad rap. “When the kids first came, I found it difficult to relate to them,” he concedes. “Now they’re the most important thing in my life.”

Stewart speaks with fondness of his own upbringing in the Highgate section of London, and he still talks to his widower father on the phone every other day. He even plans to fly his dad to New York for two weeks when the tour hits Manhattan in September. “Imagine my 80-year-old dad going out on a rock ‘n’ roll tour with me,” he says. Then he tries to imagine being that old himself. “I suppose it’d be hard to sing rock ‘n’ roll at 80,” he says with a laugh. “But you’ve got no idea what it’s like to be up there in front of 20,000 screaming fans. It’s a hard thing to give up. It’s really like a drug.” And Rod should know.

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