Ayn Rand rocks.
That’s the attitude of KISS frontman Gene Simmons, an autodidact who immigrated from Israel when he was 8, and who leaned on his own creative drive to become one of the most successful entertainers of his era.
"You are responsible for yourself. I am a big believer in Ayn Rand's philosophies," Simmons, 67, told Private Wealth magazine.
"When I first came to America, I used to go to the library every day after school. I couldn't believe that all of the knowledge of mankind was available to somebody who [was] not even from America," he said. "So if I had access to all the knowledge that the rich and the powerful have, why is it anybody else's responsibility for me to do well?"
Just like Ayn Rand, who changed her birth name -- Alissa Rosenbaum -- after emigrating to America, Simmons started life as Chaim Weitz, born in Haifa, Israel. His mother was a Holocaust survivor. And after their arrival in the U.S., minus his father, the family struggled. But Simmons committed himself to education from Richmond College in New York, as a way to move up and out. He received a bachelor's degree in education and later taught 6th grade in New York City. His other unique early jobs including stints at Glamour and Vogue, where he was an editorial assistant. He became a scholar—of life, of music and designing his own life on his own terms.
Part of that determination began when Simmons and friend Paul Stanley formed KISS in January 1973. While the group has gone through many twists and turns over the decades, including changes in personnel, they are gearing up to begin a world tour in April. It is a musical success story, fueled by an enduring and cross-generational fan base, that has few rivals in the fractious entertainment industry where, today, one-hit wonders are the standard, and now the exception: artists disappear more quickly than they started after one or two hits.
The band's popularity has remained constant. KISS, thus far, has sold more than 100 million records—amassing 31 Gold albums and 14 Platinum albums over 43 years — a feat in the world of rock and one that earned the theatrical foursome induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Though Simmons is mostly known for his onstage antics—the make-up, the menacing long tongue, the outrageous costumes—he’s first and foremost an entrepreneur.
Simmons penned a book, Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business in October 2014, where he outlines 13 principles thathave led him to success. At its core it reflects the true spirit of Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness: self confidence, self-esteem, self-reliance and self-determination.
It is also clear that Rand has remained a sturdy guidepost. He tweeted his connection to her in 2015: "Ayn Rand's THE FOUNTAINHEAD, great book, wonderful movie. Read it. See it. Rand is one of my heroes."
Ayn Rand's THE FOUNTAINHEAD, great book, wonderful movie. Read it. See it. Rand is one of my heroes.
— Gene Simmons (@genesimmons) August 16, 2015
Given his fame, flair for the dramatic, and enduring stage presence, Simmons could single-handedly help make Rand hip to a new generation of fans. Imagine, a Gene Simmons Draw My Life video—like the ones released recently of Hank Rearden and Rand herself. Or a Simmons one-man show at FreedomFest, the largest gathering of libertarians. Would Rand have liked Simmons’ music? Probably not. She had a pen-pal friendship with guitar God Duane Eddy, but was often quoted as saying she “didn’t get rock and roll.” But she would have certainly admired his entrepreneurial gusto, and would have cheered creative efforts to engage new readers.
Jennifer Anju Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society.