Makeup to Breakup by Peter Criss

If Makeup to Breakup by Peter Criss was a work of fiction, it'd be some kind of postmodern masterpiece.

More than once while reading it I wished that the "Peter Criss" character was the unreliable narrator of a fictional satire of rock mythology Americana rather than the unreliable real-world narrator of his own autobiography. (I was happy to discover Stephen Hyden agrees with me on this point.)

Which is not to say I did not enjoy it. I did - very much so. I read it two-and-a-half times in preparation for this blog, and almost every other page of my copy is dog-eared. It's just that it transcends itself if read as fiction: all the sex, drugs and metaphorical spectacle of Bret Easton Ellis's Glamorama without that book's bizarre complications.

But celebrity memoir it is and fiction it is not. And it adheres to the basic celebrity memoir formula - x amount of outrageous stories, x amount of vulnerabilities, your basic Behind the Music emotional triggers and general arc of rise, fall, and rise again, older and (allegedly) wiser, etc. Interestingly, Peter wanted to write this in the 80s, when that "rise again" part of his story had yet to materialize. Publishers, wisely, opted to wait a few decades. (Even with the happy ending - return to wealth, triumph over breast cancer - Ace, speaking on Eddie Trunk's radio show, thought the book was so depressing it should come with a stool and a belt to hang yourself.)

Before we continue, a word of warning: there is simply no way to discuss this book and stay within the realm of PG-13 reading. Hell, even an R-rating. As Peter Criss puts it when discussing the adjustments Peter Criscuola had to make when coming home between tours: "The Catman lived a very wild life." Eventually, Criscuola receded altogether, and the Catman just stayed on tour, even when he was home. That's definitely part of the story, but Peter's re-telling of it is even more revealing in its own decidedly NC-17 way. 

In more than a few places, Peter rather transparently tries to maneuver the reader to a conclusion that is completely disavowed by the context and details he himself provides. A few examples

We got booked into the Sahara Hotel in Vegas, opening for the Jefferson Airplane. The manager of the place asked us if we wanted any girls. He took us to one of the shows in the hotel and we sat in the audience. I was like a kid in a candy shop. 'How many can we get?' I asked. 'As many as you want,' he replied, 'delivered right to your door.' I picked out a cute redhead, and we spent a wonderful night together. Years later, we were back in Vegas, and I asked about her (and learned) she jumped out of one of the top floors of the hotel because she had been so depressed. I thought to myself No kidding. You get off work and some guy goes 'You can't leave, you have to go up to room 675 and suck that guy's dick.' I'd kill myself, too.

Like I say, effective literary irony for fiction but a bit problematic for non-fiction. You want to shake the guy and say, "Peter, you were the guy in room 675." 

Speaking of life on the road, he spares few details (boldface my own:)

I'd tie women up, blindfold them, put bananas in them. No big deal. But the crew (comprised of the biker gang The Renegades) made us look like nothing. Biker boys don't party like rock boys do. (...) One of the guys laid out a line of Bab-o cleanser and had one of the girls snort it. 'What? You could kill her!' I protested, 'She's bleeding from the nose, we could get arrested.' He shrugged. 'Ah, I'll fucking throw her on the side of the road. What does it matter?' Some of those guys were really crazy. But I loved them.

A little further down from that section:

The myth of early Kiss was that there were two groups within the group. There was the Gene and Paul group: the sane, straight, levelheaded members who shunned booze and drugs and who propelled the band forward with their business acumen. Then there was the Peter and Ace group, the wild and crazy, musically creative guys.

While I agree that Gene and Paul's revisionist history of how the original line-up meshed is bullshit, to say he was one half of the "musically creative" side of the group is overstating things to say the least. When describing his aversion to working on Attack of the Phantoms, he writes "I became a drummer in a rock'n'roll band because I was a rebel, I was fighting the system, fighting the Vietnam War." 

I mean... what? The above is written around page 160, and at no place in the preceding 159 pages were his motivations for becoming a drummer in a rock'n'roll band (sex, drugs, fame, causing a ruckus) not completely self-evident.

We would have business meetings and I would, in my usually crude way, seek to debunk the myth. I would actually be sober at these meetings and would proceed to explain that the emperors had no clothes: 'I drink and drug, Ace drinks and drugs, Bill drinks and drugs, Sean drinks and drugs, so naturally Gene and Paul's way is the right way? One of these fuckfaces is sitting here throughout the whole meeting drawing huge, anatomically correct dicks. (more on this in a moment.) This other fuckface, all he can think about is getting the fuck out of here and getting laid. And their way is the highway we should all travel on? Like we didn't get on this road because Ace and I were bad boys? I'm so fed up with you hypocritical motherfuckers.

Peter very well may have put things like this at the time, but - and maybe this is just me - this seems to me to be a little revisionist history of his own. I see his point and think it's worth considering against Gene and Paul's take on things. But he too often positions his acting-out escapades as intentional protests against the Gene and Paul regime (or society itself) when he is clearly simply out of his mind on drugs. No one else seems to recall Peter putting things so pointedly.

Like all coke addicts, I could never get enough. I would stay up for days on end. One time I stayed up for seven straight days. Eventually, I started hallucinating. I thought the police were surrounding our brownstone, so I got my gun and made a barricade by the upstairs window. Lydia called Sean, and he rushed over with a handful of ludes. He promised that if I took them he would come over later that night with some really good blow, so I downed them and went to sleep.

Peter's hard-drugs years ended with the inevitable ultimate escalation of all the above. Having chased his second wife aka "the Playmate" (holding their infant daughter in her arms) and Sean Delaney out of the house while firing at them, he holed up in the barn with his full arsenal - some insane amount of guns, ammo and cocaine, which he likened to the end of Scarface - until the cops came and surrounded the place and talked him out. He went to rehab shortly after.

As seemingly self-unaware as some of the above reads, they've got nothing on any section that deals with his penis / relationships. To say he's preoccupied with both his own genitalia - aka "The Spoiler" as it "forever spoils other women," despite his going into great detail about the women who leave him for other men - and others is an understatement. His preoccupation with cock 

is basically the mission statement of the entire memoir. Early on, we get this:

I visited (my grandfather) in San Francisco where he had met a nice woman and they were living in an RV. We took a shower together in the trailer park facility and when he turned around, the guy was hung like a horse. My grandfather saw the surprise on my face and he said, 'This is why I do so well in life. I'm a cocksman.' I had never heard that word before. 'That's a man who knows how to use his dick. I haven't worked a day in my life, because once a woman gets some of this thing, it's all over,' he explained. (He traveled the world) getting married to rich women. After a few years, he'd divorce and marry another one.

This conversation, as freely relayed, takes place in the public shower facility of a trailer park, a detail that effectively nullifies the romantic image Peter's formed about the acquisition powers of his grandfather's massive dong. More importantly, I'm not sure you can take anything anyone who self-describes as "a cocksman" says seriously. (Peter North, maybe, but that's the man's damn job.)

And this conversation takes place in the 1970s! Presumably around the time Kiss was trapped in San Francisco for a week, with no money. (During which time Peter got the idea to open "the gay kitchen" and pretended to be some kind of gay maitre'd in their hotel. This section confused the hell out of me, as did the one where he pretends to be some kind of gay rapist backstage when they were touring with Rush.) When I initially read it, I assumed Peter was a child showering with his grandfather and getting this strange lesson in male delusion; it's even more disturbing when you realize Peter was in his 20s when this happened.

The above is recounted in the book's first few pages, presumably because it's the key to understanding Peter's approach to everything that happens afterwards: if you've got a big cock, damn it, people should just give you what you want.


In lieu of all this, opening up the proceedings by asking the reader if they've ever tasted the long barrel of a .357 Magnum when it's halfway down your throat, then describing the taste and the cold iron hardness of the gun, is a Freudian fastball served right up over the plate. It's an attention-grabber, either way (no pun intended.)


As mentioned above, it's not just his own cock Peter's concerned about.

- Apparently, Paul was always doodling genitalia. And he was really good at it. He'd fill notebooks with crazy penis illustrations, straight out of the end credits of Superbad. While Peter spends a good amount of time wondering if Paul is gay, he also figures the Starchild probably couldn't help it because "he was surrounded by such good (dick) models. Ace and I became famous for whipping our dicks out at the drop of a hat. Then we'd grab each other's dicks. It wasn't sexual, just stupid adolescent tomfoolery.

Sometimes we did it to provoke Gene. We'd be putting our makeup on, I'd get a huge boner, and I'd pull my pants down and go over to Gene as he was applying his makeup and lay my boner on his shoulder. Then Ace would do the same thing on the other shoulder. Gene would scream and flip out and yell, 'Get the fuck away from me!' But he dug the joke. 'Go over to Paul,' he'd say. And Paul would cringe.

- Peter is particularly praising of Ace's penis, which he describes over and over again. (Even when he's being unflattering: "We'd be in the sauna, and he'd pass out. His towel would fall off his body, and he'd be naked with his big schlong hanging down. His big balls would be sweating, and his mouth would be open. He looked like a giant dead tuna.") Oh yeah and they might have blown each other a few times. (But Paul might be gay!) I don't care who's blowing whom, mind you, just find it kind of funny how selective Peter's take on this stuff is.

- During a party at Gene's penthouse, a Warren Beatty movie came on TV, and Peter overheard Deb (aka Playmate 2nd wife) telling other guests that she'd had a brief affair with the actor. When he saw her allegedly pantomime how well-endowed Beatty was, this was over the line. He immediately whipped his gun out and fired a bullet through the TV screen, aiming of course for the actor's face.

- There's plenty more, but last one: "I thought Oz was the coolest show on the planet. Where else could you see beatings, stabbings, and guys with their schlongs hanging down to the floor walking around?" 


- At one point, one of Peter's post-Kiss bandmates shows him how to open a checking account and pay his bills. Sure, Peter was kept in a man-child bubble during his time raking in the millions, but it's a telling detail. The way he tells it, his lack of riches after a certain point (and his failure to achieve the same amount of wealth as everyone else on the reunion tours) is always due to everyone else's greed, bad advice, or stupidity.

- Before his time with Kiss, Peter was in a band that was apparently held hostage for six months by their lead singer. I think it's meant to be some kind of metaphor for how he would later feel with Kiss, but the whole saga (just skimming the surface for our purposes here) is staggering. First, their lead singer - who, along with his girlfriend, is methed-up all the time and always armed - locks them in his home and guards them with aggressive dobermans. Then they escape but somehow (!) are coaxed into returning, where they are again trapped. I mean: you've got to be somewhat off-the-ball to be talked back into being taken hostage. They escape again but not before discovering a counterfeit-money machine in the guy's house and a lockerful of disguises and false identities. Yet this story is wrapped up only with Peter's hoping writing about it doesn't kick off some old vendetta.

- "Look at all the people (Gene and Paul) drove mad. Poor Eric Carr was reduced to sitting in his hotel room naked with the blinds all drawn, drinking and refusing to come out. Bill Aucoin lost his whole empire on drugs. Sean went crazy. Howard Marks died a drunk. Neil Bogart died. They drove Mark St. John and Vinnie Vincent crazy. The list could go on and on."

Perhaps, but I'm not sure any of these examples can be pinned on Gene or Paul. (Additionally, in another part of the book, Peter describes Mark St. John as a pedophile, but never crazy. Wouldn't that strengthen his case?)


No rock and roll memoir is complete without at least a couple of stories like these:

By the time Lydia arrived at the hospital, I was lying on a gurney with two black eyes and a busted nose. They put a bandage on my broken nose and sent me home with a big bottle of Percodan. I had never taken Percodan before, but they were a revelation. A couple of them with champagne was a killer high. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It took Belushi to introduce me to the pleasures of Percodan. 

Belushi and Peter were great pals and fellow party addicts. At one point, Belushi drags him to Grand Central Station and has Peter stand facing one wall while he faces another wall across the room. He'd discovered that two people positioned in exactly such a way could carry on a conversation and hear one another perfectly due to the acoustics of the room.

Also, neither here nor there, but once Peter was saved from drowning by none other than Paul McCartney.

The making of Peter's solo album is probably the high point of the "fun" side of the rock craziness.
Every two weeks, like clockwork, a big bag would be dropped at the back kitchen door of Vincent Price's mansion, where Peter stayed for the duration of recording. It contained fifty quaaludes, thirty Percodans, forty Valiums, thirty Seconals. This list doesn't include the cocaine or champagne or get into the orgies. It was during this time that he met Deb Jensen at a party at the Playboy mansion.

He assures his wife when she visits that the reason he doesn't want to have sex with her is because he got V.D. from a blood transfusion at the hospital.
Deb later flew out to the set of Phantoms and hung out in his trailer the whole time. (Eventually, he just stopped leaving it, and they stayed holed up there for most of the shoot.)

One day she came over and asked if I would fuck her with my makeup on. We started banging and there was a mirror right near us and I looked at it and saw my face and I freaked out. My makeup was running, my whiskers were all askew, the black and the silver had rubbed off on her face, the lipstick was all over the place. I just looked demonic. I realized that I was out of control, that I had lost my fucking mind and that I was fucking up the show. But I didn't care.

His first wife Lydia did okay by the divorce settlement, but Peter seemed more concerned that she was fucking some guy in an inferior band "to make me look like a jerk."
Of course, most of this all happened when Peter was much younger and out of his mind. He met his current wife Gigi right around the time of the reunion tour, and they are still together. He's fairly candid about the details of their marriage - at times too candid, even for a candid book, such as the play by play of the first night they had sex - his own failures and fears, and at least in this one area, things generally end on a happy enough note.


Most of the book's overall vitriol is reserved for Gene. And more often than not, it seems well-justified. I was amused (and a little grossed out) by some of the Demon's hygiene habits, but rather than recount those here (or his spot-on observations about that ridiculous damn weave Gene has welded to his scalp these days) I'll opt for this:

Gene had become the de facto leader of the group because he would get most of the interviews. With his blood spitting and fire eating, he became the visual focal point of the group, the most photographed. All of us, especially Paul, were beginning to resent Gene's dominance.

So much so that a meeting was called, and everyone agreed the solution was not for any one member to tone anything down but for each and every member of the band to be outrageous. This worked well for Paul - not so much for Peter or Ace, though.

They worked in tandem to assert their authority over me and Ace. They were master manipulators. Ace and I weren't. Gene admits now that if he and Paul wanted us to do something and Ace and I didn't, they would 'emotionally batter' us. So we were emotional wrecks, too unstable to help make decisions that affected our lives, and their gestapo tactics were justified to bring us in line with what they thought was right for the group.

Giving Gene the teensiest benefit of the doubt, he recounts in his own book how over and over again, the band would meet and go over the details of the tour, then Peter would ask him the next day when they were going to meet to go over the details of the tour. Totally no memory of having already met and hostility when reminded. I'd probably start opting for manipulation rather than reasoned debate myself after that happened enough times.


Paul was a master of mind games. I guess that's what four hours a day of talking to your shrink will do for you.

Paul became crazier (in response to proximity to Steven Tyler.) He started going on and on with his raps as if he was an evangelist. Then he'd put his arms behind him, turn his back to the audience, and passionately make out with himself. Then he'd take his guitar and stick it between his legs and ride it around the stage and then he'd hump himself with the guitar. Then he'd switch it around so it looked like the guitar was humping him in the ass. I wanted to shoot myself. To make things worse, he'd go crazy and run from one end of the stage to the other, slapping himself on the ass. What the fuck does that have to do with rock and roll? Maybe if the song was called "Slap My Ass," then it would make sense.

Paul's liner notes for Kissology vol. 3 (written immediately after Peter decided not to renew his contract with the band) are fairly petty. Peter makes a good point - he was cleaned up for all the reunion tours, yet Gene and Paul still spoke to him like he was wasted. And they certainly still do. Being talked down to by Captain Weave and Captain Slap My Ass would grate on me, too. Of course, who knows but the four of them how things really went down, and I'm sure Gene and Paul overlooked a lot of water on their side of things.

Will the four of them take the stage for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year? Will Paul's memoir set any of the record(s) straight? Only time will tell.


I had nothing on Ace when it came to being eccentric. At one point, Ace began to recite jokes into a small tape recorder. Then he would come up to me, say, "Hey Cat, listen to this," play back the joke while he lip-synched to it, and then burst out laughing. He graduated from that to a little laugh box. We'd be on a plane or in a car and suddenly you'd hear this hysterical laughing coming from the box and Ace would join right in.

He would always come up with these non-sequiturs like "blame it on the Bossa nova" or "thirteen for a dozen." Half the time you had no idea what the fuck Ace was saying. Later on, when we were raking in a lot more money, Ace began to shoot home movies. By this time we had taken on a lawyer and business managers who were all Jewish. Ace would invite all of us up to his house for a party and then screen these home movies that he and his pal made. We'd sit around the TV and, all of a sudden, Ace would walk into the room wearing a full SS uniform complete with red swastika, hat, and a Luger.

You vill watch my movie, he'd say, and then he's show these movies with Ace and his friends in Nazi uniforms torturing other friends. I'd look over at our managers and Paul Marshall, our lawyer, and they'd just look appalled. But by then he was making so much money for them, what could they say?

This sort of thing culminates in Peter's and Ace's donning Totenkopf regalia and storming into Gene's hotel room one night, demanding to see the Demon's papers. As much of an asshole as Gene undoubtedly was, his mom was a concentration camp survivor, and this was to put it mildly in spectacularly bad taste. As someone once said: Cocaine's a hell of a drug.

Ace and Peter's drug and orgy adventures are compelling reading, to say the least. To choose only one anecdote from the dozens recounted in Makeup to Breakup is difficult, but I was particularly amused by their getting 'luded up and trying to play racquetball at their country club. Reminded me of the scene in Fear and Loathing (the movie) where Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro attempt to enter the Bazooko Circus casino after eating mescaline and huffing diethyl ether.


In the final analysis, this is one of the better rock memoirs out there, despite the occasional lapse of narrative integrity. I could easily have included a hundred more paragraphs, especially about trying to get the mob involved with his financial dealings with Kiss after the break-up and the fallout from that.  (Or his small-venue tours in the early 90s.)

There are times where Chris Lendt's assessment of him ("What got Peter off was forcing you to deal with his irrational rantings and ravings") is borne out almost comically. And while he is the author of most of his own disappointments, you still end up rooting for him to come out of it all. The section covering the years between Dynasty and Psycho Circus is depressing for this reason - it's a slow motion train wreck in-between Peter dealing with his own manic highs and lows against a backdrop of impending financial disaster and relentless personal and professional disappointment.

But emerge he does, eventually. My friend recently read it and texted me "I'd love to write an article where I did coke for 24 hours and tried to relate to this. Even then, I probably couldn't."

That gets to the heart of it, really; it's practically impossible for us mere mortals to truly relate to anything these guys went through.

A book like Makeup to Breakup might not bridge that gap of inscrutability 100%, but it's a fascinating blend of opposites: self-aggrandizing, humility, confession, pathos, histrionics, misdirection, honest accounting, rationalization, excess, triumph, failure, coping, and not coping.


  1. Sounds like maybe this memoir ought to have been titled "No Homo, Bro!" Admittedly, I'm kind of delighted by that image of Gene sitting there minding his own business, when suddenly some sort of Spidey-sense alerts him that something is wrong, and he discovers the something in question is Ace and Peter with their boners on his shoulders. He gets mad, demands that they go do it to Paul, too. Then everyone goes out and plays "Love Gun."

    What a world.

    1. It would certainly make a funny scene for the movie, to be sure.

      ha - I like that alternate title.

  2. lol. I can't even imagine what to even begin to wonder what to begin to imagine to even say.

    1. I believe the words you are looking for MIGHT go something like, "Beth, I hear you calling, but I can't come home right now; me and the boys are playin', and we just can't find the sound. Also, we may or may not be blowing each other."

    2. Immediately followed by all 4 in barbershop-quartet harmony: "But we-ee-ee're not gaaaa-aaa-aaay...!"

  3. Hey, there's no place for Peter Criss solo albums! I'll comment here instead:

    "Out of Control," 1980:

    (1) "By Myself": Definitely a Criss song; it's got some of that "Beth" sensibility to it. A sad song, and not exactly a home run, but I like it.

    (2) "In Trouble Again": Not a favorite. Lots of cowbell. Lots of easy rhymes. But I like Criss's voice, so I like this alright.

    (3) "Where Will They Run?": Sounds like it could have come right off the solo album. Which, since this IS a solo album, is no surprise. Pretty good. Super-duper early-eighties.

    (4) "I Found Love": This is another one that makes me imagine Peter Criss as Larry Underwood.

    (5) "There's Nothing Better": This almost sounds like something Elton John would have been at around the same time, except with shitty lyrics.

    (6) "Out of Control": I can hear this one fitting in on "Unmasked" quite nicely.

    (7) "Words": This is one of those gentle, sad ballads of Criss's that I like so much. It's not necessarily one of the better examples, but I'll take it.

    (8) "You Better Run": Kind of odd to have two songs with such similar names on the same album, but that's alright, I guess. This is Criss in electric-blues/soul mode. It's decent.

    (9) "My Life": Well, at best, this is by far the second-best song ever recorded that was titled "My Life." I do like it fairly well, though. A lot of this album reeks of Criss needing a better producer to get more out of these songs.

    (10) "Feel Like Letting Go": Has almost a gospel feel to it, but it never quite goes as far down that road as it seems like it wants to. Still, this is a pretty good song, and arguably the best one on the album.

    (11) "As Time Goes By": I think this is just a brief instrumental of the standard, but I haven't had any luck actually finding it.

    Overall -- not a bad album for anyone who likes Criss's solo work, but it sort of feels like it was underproduced.

  4. "Let Me Rock You," 1982:

    (1) "Let It Go": Not, sadly, Peter Criss wailing the song from "Frozen." Pretty good, though.

    (2) "Tears": Criss's vocals seem off somehow, but this is a decent song.

    (3) "Move on Over": Criss brings a lot of attitude to his best songs. I'm not sure this is one of his best songs, but it's got attitude to spare.

    (4) "Jealous Guy": You've got to have some big-ass balls to cover John Lennon, but Criss does a very credible job of it.

    (5) "Destiny": I've had no luck finding this song.

    (6) "Some Kinda Hurricane": Kind of generic, but not bad.

    (7) "Let Me Rock You": A good cover; dunno who did the original. Russ Ballard wrote it, so he's a good guess. I could Google this, but I'm too busy typing about how I don't know.

    (8) "First Day in the Rain": Dig those early-eighties production values! This is a pretty good song, though. It was written by Steve Stevens!

    (9) "Feel Like Heaven": Holy God . . . this almost seems like proto-rap. Interestingly, the song was written by Gene Simmons. It doesn't seem entirely like something he would be comfortable singing, in terms of vocals; might be that's why he gave it to Criss.

    (10) "Bad Boys": I don't believe there was any consideration given to this being the theme song for the Michael Bay movie, which seems like a shame. I can hear this one having been done by Criss/Kiss on one of their early albums.

    Overall -- the production is more polished than on his previous solo album, but for the most part, the tunes are weaker.

  5. I quite like the idea of putting the song "Out of Control" on Unmasked. I think I'll make a playlist with that mixed in there.

    I love Peter Criss' '78 solo album. Out of Control's okay - I think my favorite is the title track. I like his improbably decent version of "Jealous Guy," too. But each effort after the '78 one seemed a diminishing return.

    Someone needs to overdub the Criss "Bad Boys" over the Bay movie, definitely.