Book Review: “Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS” by Peter Criss with Larry Sloman
You can’t unknow the things you know but there are times when I wish you could. I earnestly wish I had never read this book, not because it’s badly written or boring but because it has shattered an illusion I have been living with for the past 35 years.
It’s important to understand how much I loved KISS from about the age of 9 or 10. Circa 1978-1980 they meant everything to me. Their words and music spoke directly to my heart and my yearning pre-pubescent soul. No-one on the planet understood me like these strange men in make up, spandex and monstrous boots.
In those days media was a very different creature to what we know it to be now. Pre-internet, iPhone and 24 hour news cycles us kids relied on TV Week, Tiger Beat (imported), Countdown and the occasional TV news or Sunday paper snippet to keep up to date with our idols. So it took a long time for me to build up any picture of who Paul, Gene, Peter and Ace were as real men.
Even in recent years I still had a very Vaseline-on-the-lens, soft-round-the-edges view of what their reality was. Yes, that whacky Gene had slept with some countless thousands of groupies; yes, Peter and Ace were druggies who’d been kicked out of the band for their bad behaviour. Because I had loved, and had continued to love, them so much I didn’t dwell too much on these distasteful topics. After all, this is what rock stars do, right?
I had read Gene’s autobiography a few years ago and it had provided a few details but was really a very broad brushstroke recollection. Gene is all about the KISS brand, he’s not into allowing the truth to scare away a potential consumer.
I had been alerted to Peter’s book by a colleague at work who is also a massive KISS fan. He had started reading the book, told me to read it and had then left to go on holidays. The next day he sent me this message: “Not sure what the amazon policy is but you should return your copy of Peter Criss. Hang onto your fond memories of the band don’t ruin them discovering the truth”.
If only I had heeded this sage advice. It is one thing to glimpse or suspect the bad behaviour of rock stars, it’s easy to file those stories and rumours under “those crazy boys” or put them down to media exaggeration or simply sweep them under the rug in your conscience. It’s another thing to read the stories in black and white graphic detail and ponder the depravity of a human being who could commit or condone such behaviour in the name of “fun”.
I don’t want to go into particular details. Suffice to say the sorts of things these boys did on tour to entertain themselves is simply disgusting. Not only was their mistreatment of women beyond appalling (sex with willing groupies is one thing, public humiliation and endangering lives is something else altogether) but their drug fuelled destruction of property for entertainment makes me see them in a very different and unflattering light.
Peter is an angry and hard-done-by individual and he uses this book to let rip on those who have done him wrong. He is merciless on Gene especially. Yet he comes across as a whiny victim, a man who is keen to blame those around him for being mean, underhanded and dishonest yet he is blind, or at least dismissive, to his own disgraceful behaviour and complicity in the dire behaviour of those around him.
Particularly offensive to me is his view of himself as a man with a special relationship to God. He seems to have convinced himself that God understands him, is forgiving of his horrendous womanizing while he is married, his drug taking, his prodigious ability to behave badly in any given situation.
I thought I’d be reading a garden variety biography of the man who has long held a special place in my heart; Catman, the man responsible for “Beth” one of my all-time favourite KISS songs, the quiet, mysterious drummer with the enigmatic smile. Instead I am left to deal with a much darker reality than I suspected and the sadness of knowing that I will never reclaim the naive love I have harboured for these men and their music for the past 35 years.
Some things are better left unknown. The truth can and does hurt you.