Simmons to Students: "Be a Rockstar"

Gene Simmons, bass player and co-founder of KISS, spoke in Pitzer’s Benson Auditorium on October 9th. In his presentation, entitled “The Medium and the Message”, Mr. Simmons discussed his life and his philosophy on achieving success. Simmons explained that he and his mother immigrated to the United States from Israel at the age of eight, and that he didn’t know a word of English at the time. Over the next fifty years, he went on to found one of the most successful musical acts in history as well as a merchandising empire worth more than $500 million annually. As Simmons joked “We have everything from KISS condoms to KISS caskets. We get you coming and going.” While so many performers and music fans seem to be concerned with the concept of “selling out,” he proudly pointed out the myriad of products that have borne the KISS logo over the past thirty years and explained that there is no shame in utilizing one's economic assets to their fullest extent.

However, Simmons focused on the students in the crowd far more than himself or his success. Walking up and down the aisles, he frequently stopped suddenly and warmly introduced himself to audience members, emphasizing the importance of eye contact and a firm handshake to making a strong impression. He explained that, in order to find success, one must “command attention” from the room. Needless to say, this is far easier said than done in the presence of a man who can easily be called one of the most famous musicians of the 20th century.

Another major message of the event seemed to be the importance of utilizing one’s assets to one’s advantage. Simmons explained his personal philosophy towards the importance of obtaining marketable skills. When discussing this concept in relation to the music business, he pointed out “Hey look, I have this pretty song. That’s great. Now how can I buy a house with it?”

Simmons wrapped up his presentation by saying simply “be a rockstar,” explaining that the best way to succeed, whether that means starting a rock band or a mutual fund, is to have the confidence to believe it's possible and the drive to get it done.

Still, many members of the audience seemed to take issue with Simmons’s unapologetic embrace of monetary success as both a goal and measure of achievement in life. As a result, the question period following the event increased in hostility with every student query. Some accused him of sacrificing time with his family in the name of business success, despite the fact that both his children, both Pitzer students, were present at the talk. Another student’s particularly biting and lengthy question regarding online file sharing began with the phrase “given that the idea of property ownership is such a Western concept…”.  Although it was impossible to see from my seat, I hope that he spoke those words into a Sony microphone.  Eventually, it seemed as if members of the audience were intentionally baiting Simmons, asking questions about his personal life, including his relationship with his long time girlfriend, Shannon Tweed.

It was both embarrassing and confusing to see several 5C students act so disrespectfully towards a speaker who had chosen to speak free of charge in order to help raise funds for Pitzer College. Regardless of one’s own personal viewpoints, it seems foolish to so rudely attack a man of such achievement for petty differences in personal philosophy.  I will note happily, however, that CMC students seemed to be some of the most supportive in the crowd.

Ignoring some asinine behavior, the event was pleasant and enlightening. Simmons captivated the crowd, proving that he is just as enjoyable without makeup on his face and a bass in his hands. His inspirational success story provides one image of the American Dream, and I can certainly say I walked away feeling empowered and energized. So take the advice of Gene Simmons, whether you’re an econ major or one of our Stag athletes, go out and be a rockstar today.