Friday, November 16, 2012

Peter Criss Talks Makeup To Breakup

Peter Criss
It’s not a stretch to say that KISS’s former singer/drummer Peter Criss used up more than a few of his nine Catman lives. He fought his way out of poverty and skyrocketed to mega fame. He made a fortune and then lost most of it. He fell in love, married, and was divorced a few times. He did a stint in rehab and contemplated suicide but then fought for his life to survive cancer.

In Makeup To Breakup, Criss tells his remarkable story in his own words with an assist from Larry “Ratso” Sloman, the author who collaborated on Howard Stern's bestselling books.

Makeup To Breakup isn't an average memoir.

Peter George John Criscoula might have grown up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, but he wasn't built for it in his year years. The oldest of five children in an Italian (and part German) Catholic family, he was a scrawny, sickly child “with a big head and big baggy eyes and big ears.”

Like much of his life, it was a mixed bag. Criss fondly describes the closeness he felt with one grandmother and bitterly remembers the other as being physically abusive. She was more like the nuns at his Catholic school, who were equally physical in their approach.

With relatively few strengths and less self-confidence, Criss was fortunate to find music. He saw it as a way to get noticed and attract attention. It didn't take long for him to gravitate toward drums.

Without any other prospects, he dropped out of high school and played in a variety of local bands. A few had a limited degrees of success, but Criss believed he had a bigger destiny to fill. After running ads in the Village Voice, he decided to try a classified in a little publication called Rolling Stone.

“Exp. rock & roll drummer looking for orig. grp. doing soft & hard music.”

In April 1972, Gene Simmons gave Criss a call. After a few more conversations, Simmons and collaborator Paul Stanley went to see Criss play. He was immediately hired after that; his destiny set without ever knowing what might come next.

Kiss crew shirt
In the book, Criss describes what Simmons and Stanley were like in the early days, including their vision for fame and stardom, anti-drug lifestyle, and iron-clad work ethic. But that didn’t describe the fourth person to join the band — guitarist Ace Frehley.

Criss felt an instant kinship with the Spaceman, who believed he was from another planet. Frehley also loved to drink but didn’t like manual labor. From this start, Criss recalls how the band’s look and image evolved as a foursome. It wasn't until meeting with future manager Bill Aucoin and later label owner Neil Bogart that they would begin to shape their fame and fortune.

Along the way, Criss shares plenty of stories of excesses that accompanied rock and roll. Many of them are the by-product of eternal days on the road. What is especially interesting is that Criss shared a room with every member of the band at one time or another: the slovenly Simmons, the prima donna Stanley, and the inebriated Frehley.

Breakups weren't limited to band dynamics.

In the early KISS days, fans weren’t aware that Criss was married (to Lydia Criss) and the reason becomes obvious. It's something he conveniently forgot while on the road. He eventually left her for Playboy playmate Debra Jensen, who, at least in Criss’s telling, was an egomaniac hellbent on getting her hands on his money.

But whatever the reason, he was also head over heels in love with Jensen, even when she forgot she was married. After sleeping with a number of his friends and associates, it seems the only good thing that came out of it was his daughter Jenilee.

Peter CrissAs Criss’s second marriage was in decline, so were the relations with his bandmates. After expressing grave concerns about the band’s musical direction and over-saturated merchandising, he finally quit.

In later years he would be asked to rejoin, but it came with a new awareness. He had unknowingly signed away his rights to his signature Catman makeup and persona, relegating him to hired hand status on reunion tours. He describes the hurt and betrayal that has haunted him to this day.

Eventually, Criss does seem to find a soulmate in third wife Gigi. She supported him during his bout with breast cancer while battling cancer herself. Initially, he had kept the news of his cancer private, but later made the right choice. He wanted to bring attention to male breast cancer so that other men might never have to go through what he did.

Makeup To Breakup By Peter Criss Rocks 8.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Today, Criss is clean and sober and seems to have found peace. And while he dishes on his KISS bandmates, especially Simmons and Stanley, he admits that he too was no angel. Among the band members, he acknowledges that he was a chronic complainer. And yet, he was also a critical component of KISS’s mystique and success from day one.

Anyone can put on the Catman greasepaint, but nobody else is Peter Criss. You can find Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss by Peter Criss from Amazon or order the book from Barnes & Noble. Makeup To Breakup is also on iBooks.
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