Gene Simmons, lead singer of the band Kiss, spoke at Pitzer’s new Benson auditorium last Saturday, discussing his journey from a poor immigrant’s childhood to rock n’ roll stardom. The talk was organized by Pitzer’s Associate Vice President for College Advancement, Joy Kliewer. Proceeds from the event went to support student scholarships.
“I’m a weird guy, really,” Simmons began.
He explained that he improvises all his speeches, and proceeded to do just that.
“I’d like to tell you the story of how a little poor immigrant came with his mother to the United States,” he said. “When I came to the United States, I realized that all the troubles of the world didn’t exist here…. You cannot fail in America. Take it from an immigrant boy who came to America. I didn’t have language skills or an education.”
Simmons emigrated from Israel to the United States with his mother, a Jewish Hungarian concentration camp survivor, at the age of eight. In his speech, he recognized his mother’s contribution to his success.
“Through my mother’s eyes I learned the wisdom that I have yet to hear from the philosophers,” Simmons said.
Simmons also emphasized the importance of self-confidence and assertiveness in his rise to fame from humble beginnings.
“At the end of the day, nobody’s gonna be able to teach you that thing that you need most of all—belief in yourself,” he said.
Aside from discussing his rise to fame as a musician, Simmons also described his strategies for success as a businessman. Throughout his time in Kiss, during which the group sold more than 100 million records worldwide, Simmons was the driving force behind the band’s merchandising. He now has, among other things, his own record company, publishing company, and television show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” now in its sixth season.
“What I do best of all is listen, because what I find out from you, I can’t get from the marketers or the businesspeople,” Simmons said. “The way to succeed is to learn how to listen.”
He also revealed he has used the legal system to his benefit many times.
“I sue everybody all the time. Because everybody dares transgress,” he said. “People tend not to respect your domain, what’s your own.”
Simmons also tried to connect with students on a more personal level by walking through the audience and handing his microphone to students.
“I want to connect with you instead of being linear,” he said. “Because life isn’t linear.”
He asked the students he spoke to about their career plans. When each person answered, he responded by asking, “What’s your fallback option?”
Rmax Goodwin PI ‘12 said the speech was “all about self-actualization.”
“I personally was not super-impressed by his emphasis on merchandising and capitalizing,” Alycia Lang PI ‘13 said.
For Kliewer, the event was a great chance for the Pitzer community to hear from a successful musician and bussinessman.
“This was a rare opportunity to hear from Gene Simmons, who is a rock legend and entrepreneur, as well as a Pitzer parent,” Kliewer said.
Both of Simmons’ children attend Pitzer College. Nick Tweed-Simmons is a senior, while Sophie Tweed-Simmons is a freshman.