Filed under the bookstore section called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Blameless”, this is the KISS drummer’s attempt to set the record crooked. The KISS breakup soap opera has no shortage of pointing fingers, but Peter Criss adds all eight of his own, plus two (non-opposable?) pointing thumbs, and a pointing toe. Gene’s an asshole, Paul’s an asshole, Ace is an asshole, his grandma’s an asshole, the IRS together comprises an asshole…nothing’s ever Criss’s fault, is it? At its best, the book is revealing and honest. Sometimes it’s shallow and manipulative, 384 pages of PR management. And it was ghost-written, which adds another obfuscating layer between the reader and the truth.
It opens in 1994. Criss is in a filthy bedroom in LA, down to his last hundred thousand dollars, and getting ready to shoot himself. The barrel of the gun is in his mouth when he looks at a picture of his daughter, and he hears God telling him not to do it. The scene is overcooked and not entirely convincing. Then we go back to the beginning, when a young man called Peter Criscoula joined a band called Wicked Lester, which changed its name to KISS, recruiting Bill Aucoin, and emerged as the hottest act in rock (figuratively and otherwise. The time when Gene Simmons set himself on fire is described with some glee)
There’s some big laughs in this part of the book: like when the band discovered that their live show had finally received a positive review…from a gay lifestyle magazine. But ultimately you can’t say that Peter “Catman” Criss ever fell out of character, for Makeup to Breakup is indeed catty: proof of this comes early in the book, where he slams Paul and Gene for their “revisionist KISStory”. This is the start of a lot of ripping on his erstwhile bandmates, which starts out funny and then becomes less so.
Makeup to Breakup is certified masturbatory material if you hate “Gaul Stimmons” (Paul is described as semi-gay, with a fixation for men’s dicks. Gene is presented as a power-tripping megalomaniac who belongs in a room with padded walls), but for heaven’s sake, at least those guys wrote music. What did Criss ever do? “Beth”? That was someone else’s song. He didn’t vibe with the band musically (he recalls hearing a tape from Wicked Lester and thinking it was too heavy for his taste), and his personality clashed with everyone. Add in his well-documented substance issues and you have a hors de combat member of the KISS Army.
Criss’s problem is that he was boring – and that is the one thing rock stars can never be. They can suck at their instruments. They can be narcissists and egomaniacs. They can be brazen criminals. But they can not be boring. Criss was smaller than life, the dullest member of the band, possessed of a fragile, neotenous face and quintessentially inadequate drumming skills. His career highlight was really someone else’s highlight. He even had the most boring character.
Criss wasn’t a rock star, he was more of a rock meteor…a brief flash in the night sky, and then an anticlimactic cooling lump displayed in a museum for the next forty years. Say what you will about Gene and Paul, but THEY are KISS. All Peter Criss did was keep the drummer’s stool warm for a while, and this memoir exposes it totally.