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Gene Simmons' financial kiss-and-tell

Dr. Nicholas PerriconeKISS began life as a band that scared parents and thrilled a generation by mixing circus-like showmanship and horror-film danger with good ol' '70s power-chord rock 'n' roll. Thirty years later, KISS is nothing less than an American classic. The band has earned more gold records -- 24 -- than any American band in history, and bassist/vocalist/demon Gene Simmons can take much of the credit.

While the drum and lead guitar seats in the band have seen members come and go over the years, Simmons and partner Paul Stanley have been there throughout, and have turned KISS into not just a band, as Simmons likes to say, but a brand. KISS holds more than 2,000 licenses, including everything from comic books and credit cards to condoms and caskets. And while the Israeli-born Simmons, who fell in love with American pop culture as a boy and prides himself on having achieved the American Dream, turned KISS into a business empire, his other ventures have made him a mogul in his own right even beyond his band's achievements.

Simmons' pop culture magazine, Gene Simmons' Tongue, celebrates the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. He has a record label, Simmons Records, and a book imprint, Simmons Books. His first book on that imprint was his own Sex Money Kiss, a book that espouses his virtually Puritan work ethic and business philosophies. He also has a cartoon show about his life as a rock 'n' roll dad called My Dad, the Rock Star, which just debuted on Teletoons, Canada's Cartoon Network.

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But right now, Simmons is focusing on the KISS/Aerosmith tour, which he says is shaping up to be one of the year's biggest, and "KISS Symphony: Alive IV," the latest KISS CD and DVD releases. Both formats document KISS' performance with the 60-piece Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which performed with the band while adorned in full KISS makeup. And, the CD was the first release on KISS Records, the new label the band runs in conjunction with the Sanctuary Records Group.

Bankrate spoke with Simmons, and received some stream-of-consciousness insight into his business philosophies.

Bankrate: How do you decide whether to take on a business venture?

Gene Simmons: The deal has to make sense. The aesthetic should pull the heartstrings. The word "cool" is bandied about often enough. NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association, the NHRA, are cool, and go to the heart of what America is about. So that's why we have KISS cars, and why I was the grand marshal of both two years in a row. Visa cards, corporate credit cards -- as far as I'm concerned that's about as cool as you can get. Corporate America is cool. People hate to admit it, but what's cooler than Starbucks and Coca-Cola? We buy their products and we love them.

Bankrate: With all your businesses, is there anything you turn down?

Gene Simmons: Cigarettes and hard booze. Those are two products I don't personally use, and that's something we can't have on our conscience -- somebody's health problems. But other than that, I'm happy to put KISS on almost anything. We even have KISS Kaskets.

Bankrate: Because we all have to die?

Gene Simmons: Well, we prefer you buy it while you're alive, because they're moisture-proof, and you can use them as a cooler. You watch the ballgame Sunday, and you can grab a cold one from inside the KISS Kasket. How cool is that?

Bankrate: Of all your business ventures, which is the most profitable for you?

Gene Simmons: In a short period of time, there's nothing as profitable as touring. We're in the middle of the KISS/Aerosmith tour, and at this rate, there's no reason why this shouldn't be a $100 million or more grossing tour. So just in terms of the numbers that come in every night, you walk away with a million dollars a night. That's not a bad days work.

Bankrate: $1 million a night for the whole band, gross, or $1 million for yourself, in your pocket?

Gene Simmons: Myself in my pocket? No. Well, if the audience is big enough, sure. If you do the arithmetic, $100 a ticket, and if you've got 50,000 people, that's a $5 million gross. And after expenses, you might put one large in your pocket, sure.

Bankrate: With all your success, how much are you worth?

Gene Simmons: A lot. An awful lot. But numbers aren't indicative of anything except how well you're doing in life. What I mean is, it's like judges holding up numbers to an Olympic athlete. This is how well you did this. I'm comfortable. I've heard people say money is the root of all evil, but of course they're nuts. Lack of money is the root of all evil. If I don't have a dime in my pocket, I might hold up a 7-Eleven. If I have $100 million in the bank, why would I want to grab a gun and hold up a 7-Eleven? People are very uncomfortable talking about money, but I'm happy to. Money is good. Anyone who tells you it's not ... How about buying your mom the hip operation she needs, or buying your child the food he needs. Love, unfortunately, is not the most powerful force in the universe. Love, despite what they tell you, is not going to put food in your mouth no matter how many times you say, "I love myself and I love my child." Only money can do that. And how much is enough? I believe that's a loser's game. I believe it's never enough. I like to think that Bill Gates, who has quite a bit more than I do, gets up an hour earlier, and works harder and tries to make more. Because more is what America's about. "When is enough?" is limiting. It's like a world champion. If you're the fastest runner that ever existed, what does that mean, does that mean you quit, or you get up the next day and try to break your own record? I'd like to think you get up the next morning and try to break your own record, because being alive means "I want more." When is enough? When they stick you 6 feet underground.

Bankrate: In your KISS Kasket.

Gene Simmons: I might not go that way. I can't make a profit if I buy my own product.

Bankrate: What is your investment strategy? Are you big in the market?

Gene Simmons: I do dillydally in the market, I have real estate, but I invest in the business that I know best. I'm pretty conservative when it comes to investments. Maybe 10 to 20 percent is aggressive, the rest is pretty conservative, blue chip kind of stuff. But I invest. If there is a penny to throw at something, I'd rather throw it into somebody that I trust. I'd rather throw money at someone who's going to work harder than anyone I know, who doesn't take holidays and has a blue-collar work ethic, and gee, I know a guy like that. His name is Gene Simmons. And, I know a guy who's a winner who won't take no for an answer, and refuses to be second best, which is why Gene Simmons Tongue is doing very well, and Simmons Books, with "Sex, Money, KISS," climbing the charts, and Simmons Records, which will debut a Simmons solo record and be signing other artists. There are an awful lot of other ventures I'm getting started with, but investing in Gene Simmons is a good business strategy.

Larry Getlen is a freelance writer based in New York.

-- Posted: Sept. 22, 2003
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