Gene Simmons: greedy, misogynistic, megalomaniacal bag of dicks. Paul Stanley: platitude-spewing ultra-narcissist. Also greedy. Ace Frehley: OK, sorta cool in that aloof guitar-hero way, but so whacked out on hard drugs and liquor for most of his life, kinda pathetic, really.
Peter Criss, however, has arguably been the least intolerable of the four original members of KISS: the lovable fuck-up, the “emotional one,” the heart and soul of a frequently heartless, soulless band. Never considered a particularly great drummer, his contributions were crucial nonetheless—his “Beth,” however sappy, was KISS’s biggest-ever hit, and his vocals made “Black Diamond” and “Hard Luck Woman” two of the band’s better tunes. But he seemed forever pushed around and disrespected by Gene and Paul. And his addictions and unceasing protestations of unfair treatment earned him multiple pink slips from the KISS corporation over the years.
It has made Criss a fairly sympathetic figure, and maybe if he’d kept his mouth shut and his pen away from paper, things would have stayed that way. But Criss, who’d been threatening to write a tell-all memoir for the past 25 years, finally completed the deed with his newly published Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS—co-authored by Larry “Ratso” Sloman (who helped write Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue and Howard Stern’s Private Parts and Miss America).
Bad move. Makeup to Breakup—through which Criss clearly intended to settle scores with his erstwhile bandmates, various KISS associates, and his two ex-wives—backfires dramatically, coming off exceedingly petty, exasperating, and selfish. Criss hardly portrays himself as a saint, but even though he details his many personal and professional failings, candidly recounting them isn’t the same as owning them. In the end, his lack of genuine soul-searching—as promised in the preface—and his persistently righteous indignation and self-pity render him an unlikable, bitter, oblivious lout.
Criss plays the sympathy card from the book’s outset in the admittedly compelling opening line, “Have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that’s halfway down your throat?” It’s January 17, 1994—the date of the Northridge earthquake—and Criss is sitting inside his demolished Hollywood apartment, down to his last $100,000 (cash in a bag, because he doesn’t trust banks), lamenting his IRS woes and status as a washed-up rock-‘n’-roll has-been. He sticks the gun in his mouth, then, just as he’s about to pull the trigger, he spots a photo of his young daughter on the floor and decides to go on living. Nearly 400 pages later, after we’ve been taken through the ups and downs of his 66 years on the planet, he says he’s “a deeper Peter Criss” for whom “trust, honor, integrity, respect—all those were very sacred to me.” But the bulk of the book blasts that claim to pieces.
Criss’s hypocrisy and contradictions are breathtaking, even after having decades to mull this stuff over. We’re told repeatedly that Gene is “truly a pig when it comes to sex.” But elsewhere in the book, Criss looks back at his own questionable sexual escapades with virtually no shame or remorse. There’s the drunk girl he and Ace covered with food and condiments from the hospitality table, then shoved naked into the elevator. There’s the redheaded Vegas showgirl Criss picks out to be sent to his room who, years later, he learns, jumped out a hotel window over having to “service” guys like him. (“I’d kill myself, too,” Criss writes unsympathetically.) And there’s the time he stumbled across members of the KISS crew—biker guys—abusing groupies in their room at a Holiday Inn, forcing them to, among other things, snort powdered cleanser. “Some of those guys were really crazy. But I loved them,” writes Criss with the benefit of hindsight.
Elsewhere, Criss goes out of his way to suggest, in pejorative fashion, that Stanley is gay or bisexual (a long-standing KISS-related rumor). Stanley loved to doodle and would rather shop for drapes and “frilly blouses” than drink with Criss. Clearly gay. Meanwhile, Criss says that he and Frehley used to “grab each other’s dicks. It wasn’t sexual, just stupid adolescent tomfoolery.” And, in maybe the most talked-about nugget from the entire book, Criss all but confirms that Frehley (who he earlier outs as bisexual) gave him oral sex during a threesome with infamous groupie “Sweet Connie from Little Rock”: “What he did down there, I don’t know and I don’t care, but eventually he came up for air. ‘You are one sick motherfucker,’ I said, and Ace just shrugged.”
Simmons and Stanley are consistently raked over the coals for putting money ahead of decency and friendship. And yet, when the pair asks Criss to join the 1996 KISS reunion tour, he leaps for the money and ditches his bandmates in Criss, his ’90s group that he’d previously credited with helping to pull him out of the suicidal depression that opens the book.
Later, he and Frehley have a falling out when Criss finds out he’s being paid less than on the 2000 KISS “Farewell” tour. Frehley, who Criss claims was like a blood brother to him, “betrayed me like Judas for some pieces of silver.” Throughout the book, Criss slams Frehley as “lazy” and a chronic masturbator.
Aside from one or two generic “Boy, I was an asshole” mea culpas, Criss rarely takes responsibility for any of his own failures. Crappy record companies—or the meddling of Simmons and Stanley—are to blame for his post-KISS records tanking. Others foisted drugs upon him.
The final two chapters of Makeup to Breakup detail Criss’s recent bout with breast cancer and his deep religious faith. He uses the cancer episode to get in one last shot at Simmons, Stanley, and Frehley: “Every year I do a walkathon for breast cancer to raise money. My dentist sent in a grand one year. Did the band send anything? Not a fucking dime. They didn’t even call me after I went public with my cancer.”
At the end of the book, Criss writes what’s already obvious: He’s still harboring plenty of bitterness toward his former bandmates. Evidently, this revenge memoir didn’t provide quite the catharsis he’d imagined, and it hardly provides the reader with any notion of goodwill toward the Catman. “I hope that I don’t take these feelings to my grave,” Criss writes of his anger.
He should have kept his feelings to himself.