KissFAQ Book Review: Peter Criss' "Makeup To Breakup" (11/2012)

KISS co-founder comes out swinging with his long-awaited autobiography
By Tim McPhate

After decades of hinting at a book, Peter Criss will finally have his moment in the sun as an author. His long-awaited "Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of KISS" will be published Oct. 23. And KISS fans, you should get your claws into this book because the Catman has come out swinging. Make no mistake, this is an entertaining read. Many skeptics will question the veracity of some of the book's contents and that is understandable - after all, this is KISS and we should believe everything and believe nothing. Still, Criss is a co-founder of the band and we as fans will only have four opportunities for this type of book. These are Criss' recollections, his viewpoints, his truths. And as such, they are completely valid.

"Makeup To Breakup" gets off to a captivating start in the prologue in which Criss details his traumatizing experience resulting from the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake. It turns out that Criss was shaken up (no pun intended) so badly that he found the barrel of a .357 Magnum hanging in his mouth. Thankfully, a cooler head prevailed. (Guns come into play often throughout the book, whether it's shooting Christmas trees and television sets or Criss having maniacal thoughts of wiping out a couple of his ex-bandmates and their manager.) From there, it is more or less a chronological journey through Criss' life. Readers will learn about the Criscoula family and growing up in Brooklyn; the hardships of going to Catholic school (specifically, the "fear of the nuns"); gang life; Criss' musical upbringing; and meeting his first wife, Lydia. The formative years of Criss' musical career are also highlighted, including work with the Barracudas, the Sounds Of Soul and Chelsea.

Criss segues into meeting Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and later Ace Frehley, developing his Catman persona, and getting KISS off the ground with the aid of Messrs. Aucoin, Bogart and Delaney. Criss is candid as it pertains to his feelings regarding songwriting on the early KISS records and the band's "pecking order." The worst, though, was when Gene and Paul worked in tandem to assert their authority over me and Ace. They always claim that they encouraged Ace and me to contribute songs or to sing, but they made it clear that there was a true pecking order in the band: Paul was the lead singer, Gene was the second lead, and they would write most of the material. After a while, they threw us a bone and we'd each get a song on an album. But Gene to this day asserts that the doors were always open for Ace and me but we just didn't deliver. We delivered - they just didn't accept. I was still writing with Stan Penridge, but no matter what I brought to them, it wasn't right for this particular record.

With an assist from Larry "Ratso" Sloman, Criss offers plenty more personal accounts. You'll get Criss' vantage point of Frehley's KISS audition; you'll be in the studio with the band and Bob Ezrin during the making of "Destroyer"; you'll be in the room during Criss' bizarre last audition with KISS in 1980; you'll get Criss' first-blush reaction upon walking into rehearsals for "Unplugged"; you'll eavesdrop on the conversation during a video conference with Simmons and Stanley prior to the KISS reunion; you'll get Criss' side of "Psycho Circus"; you'll read Criss' allegations about Stanley's pill-popping ways on the Farewell Tour; and you'll be inside Criss' head during KISS' tour with Aerosmith in 2003 and on the phone with Criss and Stanley in 2004. Some details may or may not be fuzzy. According to Criss, Ezrin only suggested "one lyrical change" in "Beth." He also has his own recollections of his near-fatal 1978 car accident with Fritz Postlethwaite and the creative process for "Psycho Circus."

Criss also regales readers with tales about his solo career, including honest depictions of some lean years in the '90s on the road playing off-the-beaten-path dives such as "the Sandbox." Arguably more interesting is his recollection of a meeting with Bill Aucoin in 1980 following the release of his first post-KISS solo album, "Out Of Control": "I don't want anyone to hear this, this is heavy," he said. "They black-balled you. The record isn't going anywhere, and they made sure of that. God forbid you should come out with your first record and it was a hit. They actually threatened to take a hike if your record did well. So the record company buried it." Out Of Control was released in Europe, but you could hardly find it in the States (Maybe even more interesting is learning about the significance of the number nine with regard to Criss' second wife, Debra Jensen).

While Criss does come off as sincere throughout the text, readers will sense touches of disgust and bitterness. Criss does not mince words when it comes to his fellow KISS bandmates. It may be surprising for readers to learn just how betrayed Criss felt by Frehley toward the end of the reunion era, so much so that he compares him to "Judas." (There's also a surprising hazy tale of a sexual experience with Frehley.) Perhaps not surprisingly, Criss describes Stanley and Simmons as money- and power-hungry "Machiavellian" figures. So bruised is Criss from his experiences that you almost question whether he is happy or satisfied with his KISS legacy. By the conclusion of the book, even Criss admits that he hopes he doesn't take the negative "feelings to my grave."

As for Tommy Thayer, Criss is ruthless, which is evidenced by his recounting of a scene in the dressing room during the KISS/Aerosmith tour in 2003: "Like he's earned the right to be called a rock star," I'd continue. "He's a stand-in for Ace. He doesn't even have his own licks, and I'm supposed to respect this piece of shit? 'Peter is complaining again,' Gene would say. Sure I was complaining. I grew to hate that guy. Tommy would come up to me onstage and I would look the other way. I didn't even want to look at him, I despised him so much." To his credit, Criss is hard on himself as well, taking responsibility for his sub-par playing on the "Dynasty" tour, his drugging and womanizing exploits. He also recalls in great detail his depressive, drug-addled state in 1982 and a sobering stay at a psychiatric institute in Long Island.

Criss wraps his 367-page book by detailing the last five years of his life, including the recording of his most recent solo album, "One For All," and how hurt he was by its poor sales; his battle with breast cancer and his newfound role as a cancer spokesman; living with his current wife Gigi and how he was affected by her own battle with cancer; and how he ultimately wants to wind down and "enjoy the rest of my years." Overall, this may be the best read out of the KISS member autobiographies released thus far. (And the good news is that it appears we'll also be getting a book from Paul Stanley.) The bottom line: If you're a KISS fan, Criss' book is a must-have for your library.