–Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of KISS, by Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman (Scribner, 2012)

 

 

Peter Criss book

Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of KISS, by Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman (Scribner, 2012)

“Have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that’s halfway down your throat?”

Woah. Talk about an attention-getting opening to a rock-star autobiography. After he grips the reader by the throat by talking about the gun that he had stuck halfway down his own throat, Peter Criss has already partially achieved his mission. Who would have the audacity to put his book down after a thrilling beginning like that? The former KISS drummer’s shell-shocking opening anecdote sets the tone for a book that’s as gritty and emotional as the roller-coaster life of the man himself. Having just endured the devastation of the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake 12 hours earlier, Criss felt like his life couldn’t have reached straits more dire. Here he was, sitting in the wreckage of his decimated apartment, feeling lonely and desperate following two failed marriages, a stalled solo career and a fortune lost. Criss stood at the brink of that proverbial precipice and, fortunately for his readers and legions of fans, survived.

If there’s a single theme that could be applied to Makeup To Breakup, it would be perseverance against adversity. This tough-yet-sensitive street kid from Brooklyn, New York epitomizes the mythologized rag-to-riches tale of the American Dream, and Criss makes it crystalline clear he always did things his way. Makeup To Breakup is a fun and lively read throughout, even during its darkest and most intense moments. When a seven-year-old Peter poked his face into the food dish of a friend’s dog, a trip to the emergency room ensued when the dog tore his lip half off. The incident resulted in Criss’ lifelong fear of dogs, but it also further cemented his close and endearing relationship with his mother. In 1982, when strung out on cocaine and threatening to shoot his friend Sean in front his second wife Deb and daughter Jenilee at his Connecticut estate, Criss stared down a squadron of police and SWAT teams in full riot gear. This frightening event did not result in an extended prison stint for the disillusioned former KISS drummer, but rather a successful and enlightening time in rehab. He emerged from this dark period to mostly kick hard drugs for good and to demonstrate the unlimited power of resiliency. As Criss demonstrates, when one summons the courage to face his/her fears and learn from mistakes, life’s possibilities are boundless.

Criss’ trip to the top of the rock and roll gravy train, of course, was anything but simple and easy. The oldest of five in a working class Italian-Irish family, he suffered years of abuse at the hands of the nefarious nuns at Transfiguration Catholic School and the violent youth gangs on the hard streets of Brooklyn. By his teenage years, he had joined a gang himself, but soon enough his new gangs became the numerous rock and roll and R&B bands he played in on the local club circuit. Gene Simmons has long disparaged Criss’ drumming ability, but the evidence Criss presents here of his tireless work ethic during his years in the trenches of the New York music scene seems to contradict those negative assertions. When Criss finally joined KISS in 1972, he already was a seasoned veteran compared to his bandmates and a married man, though he admits he was far from settling down. Along with his equally wild and mischievous KISS partner Ace Frehley, Criss indulged heartily in the promiscuous sex and substance abuse that largely defines the rock sub culture. But the underlying thread of the KISS story is diligence, and it is hard to imagine a harder-working band in the 1970s than KISS.

Readers always take away their own distinct impressions from these books. Also, it would be pointless and futile to summarize an entire book in a review. So, to avoid rehashing the facts of Criss’ life verbatim, I’ll leave a few examples of passages and points that moved me personally as a reader and fan. It was surprising to learn about how much original manager Bill Aucoin and band coach/choreographer Sean Delaney helped to shape KISS’ image and stage show. In fact, Criss gives plenty of credit to all the tour managers, stage managers, body guards, crew members, and record label execs who built the foundation for KISS’ monumental success in the 1970s. Criss also makes it clear that Simmons and Paul Stanley like to take far too much credit at the expense of the rest of the KISS family, including himself and Frehley. It should come as no shock then that Criss partially blames Simmons’ and Stanley’s manipulative and controlling behavior on the breakup of the original band. Criss also reveals the heartbreak and deep sorrow that marked his turbulent relationship with his second wife, Playboy Playmate Debra Jo Jensen. He expresses regret that he ignored the red flags throughout his relationship with Jensen, which was based primarily upon wild sex, substance abuse, and insatiable lust:

“This was not true love. My dick was in love, not my heart, and drugs didn’t help. I didn’t want to start touching her or kissing her. I couldn’t stand the thought of her leaving.”

Criss implies a warning to his readers about the dangers of being entangled in unstable and superficial relationships, a lesson he learns well later in his life. He has a knack for learning from his past failures, exemplified by his assertions of having stayed clean and in-shape during KISS’ reunion tours, contradicting Simmons’ earlier claims that Criss was drunk and unable to perform. Oh, the mud-slinging and parleys among jilted musicians seem endless.

Makeup To Breakup is by no means a barrel of laughs or a chuckle-fest, like Frehley’s book, No Regrets. But Criss comes across as far from the brutish, miserable complainer that his former bandmates accuse him of being. Yes, he is street tough and hard-headed at times, but he also is caring, sensitive, and deeply reflective. There is an overarching sense of brooding that shapes and colors Criss’ life story, but at no point does this story become dismal. The Catman speaks up loudly and proudly, and it is a hell of a fun roller-coaster to ride. —Jonathan Kollnot

 

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on February 16, 2014.

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