Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Book Review - On Power

There is no shortage of self-help books on the market. Millions have discovered who moved their cheese and the color of their parachute. But while gurus try to extol the benefits of the four-hour work week or the liberating power of not giving a fuck, none of these authors has made a career (not to mention a large fortune) from spewing fake blood while clad in BDSM gear, six-inch platform shoes and a full face of kabuki make-up. Yes, Gene Simmons (from KISS) has joined the movement with his book, On Power.

For a guy who has adopted the nickname “Dr. Love,” Simmons (or maybe it’s his ghostwriter?) is a surprisingly fluid writer. Born Haim Witz in Haifa, Israel, Simmons emigrated to the U.S. with his mom as a young boy. Simmons’s telling of his own life has a bit of Horatio Alger about it, a mix of hard work (he picked up odd jobs from a young age and got his teaching degree even as he chased his dreams of being a rock star), clean living (he eschews the “drugs” part of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” though certainly implies he indulged heavily in the other two), and determination that resulted in his success and stardom. 

Simmons created his own image, changing his name and finding a passion that became his north star, pursuing music while doing what he had to make ends meet. If you get past the chesty bravado and, you know, the whole Gene Simmons oeuvre, On Power is a mainstream meditation on the way you can achieve success if you define that term by the amount of money you make and the power you exert. Simmons portrays himself as a clear-eyed realist, unafraid to tell it like it is, even if it means stepping on a few toes. This means (unsurprisingly) he has little patience for today’s everyone-gets-a-trophy attitude of child rearing and unapologetically encourages women to use their sexuality to get ahead. Simmons also has little patience for people who do not want to sully themselves with the tactics necessary to achieve power, explaining that wanting to do good is impossible if you are not in a position to do so (a fair point).

Other advice Simmons dispenses is basic but important - network to improve your career opportunities, have a back-up plan (and a back-up plan to the back-up plan), be frugal, focus your energy on what you are passionate about, understand the fine line between sucking up to your boss and being unafraid to tell uncomfortable truths (personally, I still have not mastered this one), associate yourself with the people who do the things you want to do, and on and on.

It all makes for light and fast reading and Simmons is heterodox in his examples, dropping references to everyone from Machiavelli (to whom Simmons offers a strong defense) to Warren Buffett (who shows that a shrewd businessman whose word is good can get very powerful people to do things they might not otherwise do) to further his points. Of course, Simmons’s success has also come from a relentless focus on his brand and that of KISS – they have licensed everything from coffins to comic books and, although the band has never had a number one album, retain a rabid following that has made Simmons a very wealthy man. In short, while you may not love the messenger, you cannot argue too strenuously with the message.  

That said, if it is possible for a small book of less than 160 pages to feel a bit padded, On Power certainly pushes the limit. The last third of the book is made up of what are essentially glorified Wikipedia entries for people Simmons looks up to or he points to as exhibits of the types of strategies he believes in – Churchill overcoming a speech impediment as a child and escaping from a prison camp during the Second Boer War illustrates tenacity, Oprah Winfrey rising from impoverishment and sexual abuse shows determination, Michael Jordan using the fuel of not making his varsity basketball team in ninth grade to feed his singular competitiveness, etc.

So, if you are looking for a pithy, sometimes potty-mouthed pep talk to tackle your life, DO NOT rock ’n’ roll all night and party every day - Gene Simmons’ orders.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

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