Gene Simmons: Rock god turned business tycoon


Gene Simmons has made a career out of doing a lot with a little. 

His band, KISS, featured members with little or no formal musical training but went on to become one of the nation’s biggest rock acts. Growing up in Haifa, he sold cactus fruit to workers at a local bus stop to help his struggling mother.  And, more recently, the mundane everyday activities of his family were at the center of a reality show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” which had a six-season run. 

Now, Simmons has taken a simple concept — namely, work hard — and turned it into a book. “Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life, and Business” is a brash guide for the budding entrepreneur from a man whose band has sold more than “100 million CDs and DVDs worldwide and manages over 3,000 licensed merchandise items,” according to publicity materials, and who is worth, according to various websites, an estimated $300 million. 

The book, which was published in October by Dey Street Books, targets the wannabe Generation Y entrepreneur who is looking for guidance from an accessible voice. It is also for the casual reader who may not be interested in business advice but wants insight into the mind of an entertainment icon. Either way, the book is an enjoyable, if slightly redundant read, and it shows how Simmons is the embodiment of the classic American immigrant success story.

“Though I was born in Israel, I can tell you that it’s America that has become the Promised Land,” Simmons, 65, writes in the book’s preface. 

Simmons, born Chaim Witz, emigrated from Israel to the United States at the age of 8. He learned the language, worked a variety of jobs and eventually changed his name when he decided his ambition was to be in a rock band, noticing there were very few in that field with the last name Witz.   

“I didn’t take it personally. I recognized the facts. I realized that Robert Zimmerman had turned himself into Bob Dylan. That Marc Bolan from T. Rex had been born Mark Feld. And that Leslie West from Mountain had originally been known as Leslie Weinstein,” he writes. “They all reinvented themselves, changing their names, and their images along the way.” 

Equipped with just a bass guitar and a genius business instinct, Simmons, with the help of Paul Stanley, who is also Jewish, founded KISS in 1973. The band made the decision to manage itself and, although the members didn’t have the chops of, say, The Beatles, they had larger-than-life ambition and outside-the-box ideas: They wore elaborate face makeup on stage, oversaw a KISS movie (“Detroit Rock City”), and inspired action figures, comic books and more. 

Simmons, who lives in Los Angeles, relays all this as he blends advice with memoir. He describes his 1980s courtship with Shannon Tweed, a model-actress who became his wife in 2011. He fell hard for her, he writes, after dating the likes of Cher at the age of 29, and later, Diana Ross. (Cher was Simmons’ first girlfriend because, as Simmons advises his reader, success should come before love.) 

His relationship with Tweed has been a source of some of Simmons’ few failures — at least, as he tells it. Simmons admits he was not always faithful to Tweed, and berates himself in the book for his infidelities. 

Nonetheless, the book is mostly filled with Simmons’ glories. In addition to his Hall of Fame music career, Simmons also has a restaurant chain, an Arena Football League team (the L.A. Kiss), a record company and more. 

For a man worth so much money, Simmons proves surprisingly in sync with the everyman. In one chapter, he writes about the benefits of working at home and how cutting down on commute times is an important part of the journey toward realizing one’s dreams.  

Other tips are more brutal and discomfiting. At one point, he advises his reader to have self-confidence so extreme that it verges on the delusional, such as to only be friends with more successful people, and to avoid vacation days and down times at all costs. He cites the likes of Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Richard Branson as people who are among his role models in the business world.

“Have a killer instinct,” he writes. “I still do. And I don’t have to. I would, arguably, make a living without trying very hard at this point. My bills are paid. I don’t have to write this book, or be in a rock band, or be partners in all the companies I’ve mentioned. Why do it? 

“Because I’m a champion. I pride myself not only on what I’ve achieved, but on what I dream of achieving. I refuse to sit on my thumb all day and talk about yesterday. That’s for wimps. I’m a today and tomorrow person … YOU first. Everyone else second.”   

Simmons makes it clear early on that what he says is only his opinion and the reader can take it or leave it. But there is enough here, especially Simmons’ words for recent college graduates — or, perhaps, for Simmons’ own two children, Nick and Sophie, who are in their 20s — that rings poignant and true:

“In the real world, once you grow up and Mom or Dad isn’t there to bail you out of trouble, there is no one there to help. And there will be no one there to force YOU to lead a smart life. And an economical life. And have a lifelong business plan,” he writes. “YOU will have to do that for yourself. But here’s the good news: YOU will get all the rewards. And take heed, regardless of your age: it’s never too late to get started. It’s never too late to get started NOW.” 

KISS reunion tour in Haifa: Gene Simmons goes home


The most well-circulated piece of trivia about Gene Simmons, former member of the band KISS, is that he was born in Haifa, Israel. For years Simmons’ birthplace and Israeli heritage were rumored to be true, but in the Digital Age it would be confirmed with Wikipedia and video interviews on YouTube.

Now there is no question that the aging rock star, who is starring in his own reality TV show, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” traces his roots to Israel.

In back-to-back recent episodes, Simmons ventures back home to Haifa. With son Nick and soon-to-be wife Shannon Tweed, a former Playboy Playmate, along for the trip, Simmons takes an El Al jet to Tel Aviv en route to his birthplace, where he receives the City of Haifa’s Medal of Honor from the mayor.

Simmons had left Israel as an 8-year-old, moving to the United States with his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz.

In the episode appropriately titled “Blood is Thicker than Humus,” Simmons explains that he is reluctant to return to Israel, but his fiancee convinces him to go. When he arrives at his hotel, the cameras are in tow for his first experience speaking to Israelis.

Using a perfect Hebrew accent, Simmons checks into the hotel with the pseudonym Oy Vey. But it isn’t long until the memories of his childhood lead him to a very emotional moment when he proclaims, “Hashem sheli [my name is] Chaim Veitz,” using his birth name Witz and expressing that he would be nothing without his birthplace.

Simmons and his entourage get a VIP tour of the important sites in Israel, including Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. He also visits Cafe Nitza, the bakery where his mother worked. Sitting down to enjoy a pastry, the aroma from the cafe revives memories for Simmons.

On a nostalgic tour of his childhood, Simmons visits Rambam Hospital, where he was born in 1949. He returns to his childhood house in Haifa and speaks in Hebrew with Chaya Cohen, his neighbor growing up.

The most poignant segment of the two episodes is the reunion dinner secretly convened by Tweed that allows Simmons to meet his Israeli family 50 years since he left the country. He meets his half-brother and three half-sisters for the first time. Together with his half-siblings—his father’s children from subsequent marriages—Simmons visits their father’s grave and says the Kaddish memorial prayer.

Say what you will about reality TV, the Gene Simmons nostalgia tour to Haifa is must-see television before the High Holidays. If watching a former rock star tour Israel as the distant memories come back in a cloud of nostalgia doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps the message of reconnecting with family will.

As Simmons puts his father’s yarmulke on his head, he suddenly realizes how important his roots are to him.

Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneurial rabbi and blogger. He is the president of Access Computer Technology, an IT and social media marketing company in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter (@rabbijason) and at http://facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller.

Kiss’ Gene Simmons: Boycotters are “fools”


Shout it out loud: Gene Simmons thinks Israel boycotters among his rocking colleagues are “fools.”

Simmons, the Kiss co-founder known for his seemingly endless tongue, returned to Israel this week as part of his reality show, “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels.”

Simmons, born Chaim Witz, left Israel 50 years ago as a child with his mother, and settled in New York.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Simmons blasted rock’n’rollers like Elvis Costello, the Pixies and Roger Waters, who are boycotting the Jewish state because of its West Bank settlement policies and its use of closures to pressure the Gaza Strip in its conflict with its Hamas rulers.

He said they were “fools” for boycotting the region’s only democracy.

“The countries they should be boycotting are the same countries that the populations are rebelling,” he said.

Kiss, a glam-rock band known as much for its outrageous costumes and makeup as its anthemic music, scored huge fame and hits in the mid-1970s with songs like “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud” and “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite (and Party Every Day)”.

From the Mouths of Babes


How Do You Decide Whom to Marry?

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•You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming. — Alan, age 10

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•No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with. — Kirsten, age 10

What Do You Think Your Mom and Dad Have in Common?

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•Both don’t want any more kids. — Lori, age 8

What Is the Right Age to Get Married?

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•Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person forever by then. — Camille, age 10

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•No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married. — Freddie, age 6

How Can a Stranger Tell if Two People Are Married?

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•You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. — Derrick,

age 8

What Do Most People Do on a Date?

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•Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. — Lynnette,

age 8

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•On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date. — Martin, age 10

What Would You Do on a First Date That Was Turning Sour?

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• I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. — Craig, age 9

When Is It OK to Kiss Someone?

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•When they’re rich. — Pam,

age 7

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•The law says you have to be 18, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that. — Curt, age 7

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•The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do. — Howard, age 8

Is It Better to Be Single or Married?

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•It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them. — Anita, age 9

How Would You Make a Marriage Work?

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•Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck. — Ricky, age 10

Set, Spike, Kiss


I’ll never play the violin in high heels again.

OK, I’ll be back in sticks in six weeks, and I never played the fiddle. But I did play an important game of volleyball.

Every Sunday, my peeps and I play co-ed pickup volleyball on Venice Beach. New catch Austin is always up for a little bumping and setting, so I invited him to come out and play. It seemed like the perfect chance to make a make a big impression. I’d win the point, I’d win the game, I’d win his heart.

Wearing nothing but my red polka-dot bikini, I was dressed to impress. But my play? It wasn’t pretty. Remember the last kid picked for gym class? Yeah, that wasn’t me. I was never even picked. I spent P.E. class helping Ms. Toppee keep score. So, Misty May I’m not, and Austin’s presence only heightened the pressure.

Then I saw it, in slow motion, the volleyball teetering above the net. This was it! One of those “douse me with Gatorade, throw me on a Wheaties box, one shining moment” kind of plays. The kind of play we’d recount over victory drinks. The kind of play I’d never attempt, but one that would make Austin fall for me — hard. Unfortunately, I’m the one who fell.

In all my 5-foot-2 glory, I jumped for the spike. But my towering 5-foot-3 opponent, Wendy, went for the block. We collided midair and crashed to the ground in a Cirque de Soleil contortion of bikinis and sand. I heard my teammate Randy say, “That’s hot.”

Austin helped me hobble off the court and drove me to his couch. My foot — swollen. My ego — bruised. I wanted the afternoon to be perfect. I wanted Austin to think I was perfect. I wanted to start things off on the right foot, and now all I’ve got is a Hobbit foot. Who wants to date an uncoordinated girl who lives in a Shire?

This wasn’t the first time I klutzed my way through a courtship. I’m the Tasmanian devil of the singles scene, the Lucy of JDate. I hit my golf ball into the moat at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. I released an air hockey paddle into Brad’s head, I spilled cold beer on Andrew’s pants, and I knocked over a candle during dinner with Dave. Those guys each canceled our relationship faster than a bad fall sitcom. I’m nervous Austin will follow their lead — another date bites the dust.

The next day I met Doc K. He looked at my chart, did a George Clooney head tilt, and said “Carin Davis … wait, do you write for The Jewish Journal?”

“Yes. I — “

“That’s what I thought. You write that singles column. My wife and I read it. You talk about a different guy every time. Pretty funny stuff. But as a happily married man, let me give you some dating advice.”

“What about some medical adv–?”

“Quit looking for the perfect guy and find your perfect match. From what I’ve read, you’re not perfect, so why would he be?”

“I’m sorry, I’m here about my–”

“The key is to find someone who likes you despite your faults … wow, I can’t wait to tell my wife I met you. Well, let’s look at that foot.”

Leaving the office with my broken toe taped and orders to stay out of stilettos, I realized the podiatrist formerly known as Dr. Phil, made a correct diagnosis. Not only was I looking for the perfect guy, but I was desperate to appear perfect to him. No whammies. All my ducks in a row. Not that I own any ducks, geese or Empire chickens — or would bring anything that quacks on a date. I would, however, make myself meshuggeneh trying to look graceful and flawless. But why work so hard to get some guy’s hechsher?

Sure men get excited about that perfectly polished, put-together, supermodel type, but they also get excited about cold pizza. They’re not so hard to please. Sometimes we’re so focused on impressing the person we’re dating, we fail to notice how impressive that person really is.

Austin could have called The National Enquirer, told them he’d located Big Foot. But instead, he was a knight in shining T-shirt. With my athlete’s foot elevated and my head in his lap, we spent hours talking, exchanging stories and playing beach blanket bingo. Guess I was the one who was swept off my feet. Well, at least one of them.

Freelance writer Carin Davis can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

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