Gene Simmons' financial kiss-and-tell
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
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
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
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
Bankrate: $1 million
a night for the whole band, gross, or $1 million for yourself, in
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
Bankrate: In your KISS
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.