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Exclusive Book Excerpt: Peter Criss, 'Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS'

Insane tales of hard partying and suicidal depression

October 8, 2012 9:00 AM ET
peter criss makeup to breakup kiss
'Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS' by Peter Criss
Simon and Schuster

Rock & roll excess has always been a rather large part of the Kiss package, but never before have we heard the details quite to this extent. These exclusive excerpts from Peter Criss' autobiography begin with the drummer shoving the barrel of a .357 Magnum down his own throat in the aftermath of the devastating Northridge earthquake. Later, he recalls partying with John Belushi ("a huge KISS fan") and opening in Paris for Jerry Lewis, who joked of his unlikely openers, "That's got to be the worst or the best thing I've ever seen." 

Have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that's halfway down your throat? It's a really unforgettable sensation, like a piece of iron dipped in oil, with sort of a coppery aftertaste. I got my first and (hopefully) last taste of one on January 17, 1994, sitting on the floor of my debris-strewn bedroom in Los Angeles.

Just twelve hours earlier I had been lying in bed, watching TV. It was around three A.M. and I was cozy under the covers when I feel a little tremor. I'd been through quite a few "shakers" in California. Chandeliers rattling, traffic lights swaying. But this was different. The tremors started getting more frequent and I started to hear a rumbling noise, so I sat up in the bed and all of a sudden the whole place shook big-time and the TV flew off the dresser, tumbled down, and blew up. I was like, "Motherfucker!" Then the lamps fell over and I was like, "Holy shit!" Turned out this was the beginning of the Northridge earthquake, a massive catastrophe that killed thirty-three people and injured more than eighty-seven hundred.

I'm a Brooklyn boy: I knew about cockroaches and rats and zip guns, not earthquakes. So I started to panic. I heard glass shattering in the bathroom. I was hearing all this devastation, and just then another big jolt came, and my bed collapsed and the huge wooden armoire started dancing across the bedroom and then tipped over. Behind the armoire, on a nail, I had hung a bag that was filled with $100,000 cash. That was all the money I had to my name. I wasn't going to put it in a bank – didn't trust them – and I was in trouble with the IRS then, so I figured I'd keep the cash nearby and if someone was going to rob it, that's a big piece of motherfucking shit to move. But now the huge armoire was lying on the floor and the bag was hanging from the nail, exposed.

My fear of death set in. Lamps were flying through the air. I got up and ran into the living room and I saw all my KISS gold albums falling off the walls and shattering. I also had a full cabinet of Steuben crystal that I had managed to pry from my ex-wife's hands, and all that precious crystal busted up. All of a sudden, the couch flew through the air, the armchair went over, and I got thrown into the bathroom wall. I was thinking, "Jesus, I'm going to fucking die in some shithole apartment in Hollywood. I just don't believe you're going to take me this way."

So I found my .357 Magnum, tucked it under the waistband of my sweatpants, threw my bathrobe on, pulled on some sneakers, grabbed my bag with the cash, and ran. I knew enough not to take the elevator, so I rushed down the steps. It was still dark out and people were screaming, running half naked out of their apartments into the street. Outside, it looked like a war zone. Cars were overturned; a water hydrant had blown up and there was water gushing out into the street. People were running around screaming that it was the end of the world. Then, like in a movie, I heard a rumbling sound and I saw the tar separate and the street crack open. Everybody was panicking, but suddenly I got strangely calm. I was scared, but once I had my footing and my money and my gun, I knew no one was going to take them from me.

I just kept walking around in circles; I didn't know where to go. By then the sun was coming up and there was an aftershock and everybody screamed again. I had circled back to the front of my building, where hundreds of people had congregated. All the windows of the health-food store on the ground floor had shattered, and the food was all over the ground. Our underground garage had collapsed and lots of cars got totaled.

By late afternoon, they let us back into the building. I walked into my apartment and I couldn't believe it. Everything I had of value was leveled. I had no bed. The rod in the walk-in closet had collapsed and my clothes were on the floor. The refrigerator had toppled over and all the food was going rancid. The kitchen cabinets broke open and there was sugar everywhere. In the living room, all my records were shattered on the floor. The top of my People's Choice Award, which I had won for "Beth," had broken off. My daughter's pictures had fallen off the wall and smashed into a million pieces. Everything that I used to look at and cherish was destroyed.

peter criss makeup to breakup kiss
Just being the Catman; On the Charles Bridge in Prague, early ‘90s.
Courtesy of Gigi and Peter Criss; Courtesy of Amy Cantrell

I didn't have electricity yet, so I lit a few candles. I was filthy, covered with the dirt and grime of the streets, but I couldn't shower because the whole shower had fallen apart. Even if it hadn't, there was no water. I couldn't even run the sink and wash my hands. I walked back into the bedroom and sat down on the mattress on the floor. I had to brush away the soil from my flowerpots, which had all broken. It was dusk and a huge wave of depression rolled over me and I almost threw up. I felt like there was a hot poker plunged into the pit of my stomach. I thought I was taking a stroke. I couldn't even breathe right: The air felt thin from the dust and the dirt in the apartment and the rotting food. The whole room stank from death.

I thought to myself, Why should I keep going? I was in the middle of recording a new album, but fucking whoop-de-do; I was on TNT, a clown label. Then I started talking to myself, like in that Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is": "What do you really have to live for? Your two marriages have gone to shit. You hardly see your daughter. You got a hundred grand, but you were worth twelve-some-odd million at one point in your life. If this had happened when you were in KISS, your manager Bill Aucoin would have been there with fifty cop cars, twenty ambulances, and a helicopter. When you're on top and you're making everyone rich, they all love you, babe. Life is wonderful. But now you're really just a has-been. No one cares about you, especially in Hollywood."

I looked around the room. I once had money to burn. I'd fly to Barbados for the weekend. I lived in a twenty-two-room mansion and had my pick of four luxury cars. And now I was sitting on the floor in the middle of the debris of my former exalted life. It was then that I realized that I didn't want to live. Life had been just a fucking nightmare, nothing but ups and downs and drugs and fighting, and I was sick of it all.

So I pulled out the .357 Magnum and put it in my mouth. The barrel is about six inches long, and I easily put three inches in. The gun is an inch in diameter, so I began to gag a little. When I hammered the gun back with my finger on the trigger, I started shaking. I knew if I slipped, it was all over. I also knew that I had straight flat-head bullets in the gun, so if I pulled the trigger, my brains would wind up somewhere across the street. I was a lucky bastard: I had cheated death a few times, but that wasn't going to happen with a .357 Magnum in my mouth. That gun would literally take a man's head off. If you shot an elephant in the head, it would go down. That's why Clint Eastwood loved it. It's the most powerful handgun in the world.

They say that in situations like this, your mind just starts racing, and you see your whole life before you. But for me, everything seemed to be in slow motion. I had cried wolf many times in my life, especially with KISS. I was known for quitting the band a million times. But this was different. This was far from a bluff, because there was nobody there that I was bluffing. Just me and the rubble.

Then I thought about my mother. There's not a day that goes by that I don't bless myself with holy water and then get in my car and rub the medal of the Virgin Mary that she gave me and say a Hail Mary for my mother. And then I kiss her Mass card that's right there on the dashboard.

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