On Power by Gene Simmons
KISS co-founder Gene Simmons really likes power. So much so that his new book’s title contains this word three times. On Power: My Journey Through the Corridors of Power and How You Can Get More Power is his self-help manifesto that alleges to outline the finer points of focused ambition. Though he does deserve credit for breaking taboos with his extremely Darwinian worldview and advice, Simmons’ 150 page book gets too lost in the clouds of its own self-congratulation to warrant any attention in the existing genre of motivational books.
If you’ve ever heard an interview with the KISS frontman, you’ll know that Gene Simmons really likes Gene Simmons, and won’t hesitate to tell you as much. He takes immense pride in his philosophy and his accomplishments, and is (in theory) well-suited to write a self help book. His self-worth bursts off the page, such as when the opening chapter ends with the statement “Want to become like me? Read on.” He uses italics extensively throughout—much more than is reasonably necessary, as if everything he needs to tell you must burst off the page. The picture on the inside cover approaches self parody, with Gene standing arms open in front of an extensive wall of platinum records and KISS merchandise. However, as in the Muhammad Ali quote, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Simmons undoubtedly has achieved a great deal across multiple entrepreneurial endeavors, and he inherited nothing at birth. This, at the very least, proves Simmons is properly credentialed and at least deserves a listen.
His worldview and the advice that follows are unabashedly Darwinian. He describes his own backstory in which his family migrated to the USA from Israel from extremely humble beginnings. As years went on Simmons consciously behaved as a chameleon, adopting and mimicking the culture around him so as to appear similar and relatable. This included perfecting his English language ability (not his first language, which is remarkable considering how well-spoken he is) and changing his legal name to sound more American. This pro-assimilation attitude could be off-putting to members of ethnic communities offended by the notion that success requires you pull up your pants and utilize accurate grammar. But Simmons writes to give you practical advice, not make you feel better.
The latter half of the book reads like a modern day update of How to Win Friends and Influence People. A series of chapters each highlight a prominent figure, some historical and others contemporary, analyzing the mechanics of the ambition and street-smarts that led to their glory. Included are Napoleon, Oprah, Elon Musk, and Michael Jordan. While these passages aren’t totally devoid of logic and advice, they attempt to attribute a figure’s success as solely the result of their character traits and visionary plan, without really acknowledging the luck and chance timing required to strike gold. Of course, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t enter, and the famous people chronicled here all certainly earned their ticket through ambition, overcoming adversity and maintaining visionary focus through all life’s challenges. But Simmons attempts to tell you that you, too, are destined to acheive greatness if you take his advice, when in actuality this is far from guaranteed.
Some of the advice throughout is obvious, at other times shaky. Simmons praises Elon Musk’s risk-it-all investment strategy, in which he makes a killing on a successful business, sells it, and then pours all the profits into the next big idea in a do-or-die fashion. The takeaway here is that hedging bets is for losers—go big or go home, right? Except Simmons then explains his own differing risk strategy, in which any endeavor is insured by a backup plan, and a backup plan in case that backup plan fails, and so on. If both tremendous risk and extreme caution are equally viable options, what is the purpose of an advice book if each polar opposite path is recommended?
A couple of factual errors late in the book shake the foundation of reader trust. In a section about ambitious rocker Dave Grohl, Simmons describes the perseverance required to overcome the sudden loss of his “best friend,” Kurt Cobain. Except it’s well established in the media that while Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic shared a longtime personal friendship, Grohl was comparatively kept at a distance as a mere business acquaintance. Is this kind of music-nerd nitpicking missing the point? Possibly, except it isn’t the only factual error to be found. A section on Frank Underwood mentions that the House of Cards protagonist ascends to the presidency “in the final season.” But anyone decently familiar with the show would know this happens by the end of season two. In a work of nonfiction, it isn’t unreasonable to demand the author has all the facts straight; that’s a mere starting point. When the narrator so clearly gets facts wrong, you’re left to wonder what other truths throughout are stretched or erroneous.
Strip away the rock star anecdotes and the celebrity profiles, and what practical advice are you left with? Mostly obvious things you already knew. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you can succeed. Get off the couch and do something. Practice practice practice. Persevere through failure, because you will fail multiple times. Laziness is your enemy, so never hit the snooze button. Only pursue endeavors you are passionate about. Glance over the sum of advice available and you won’t really find anything you haven’t already heard from high school guidance counselors. As far as $15 dollar celebrity self-help pamphlets go, you could do worse than On Power, but it doesn’t have any life-changing guidance.
For KISS fans and longtime Gene Simmons devotees, On Power is a must have. For everyone else, its only appeal lies in the character study of Simmons himself, as his self-reverence and uber confidence are their own novelties. He’s certainly articulate and has earned his right to speak, and deserves some credit for plowing through the canonical beliefs of the snowflake generation without breaking stride. That aside, the supposed path to power the book promises is scarcely found within, and its preoccupation with the top .01% of society is egregiously disconnected from everyday readers.