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

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We listened and they had no reaction. No "Wow," no "Hmmm," no "Holy shit," not even a "This stinks." But I was ecstatic. Ezrin had taken Stan and my little song and had turned it into a masterpiece. Now I really understood why he was considered such a stone cold genius.

Not everybody shared those sentiments. When Destroyer was first released, we got a strong backlash from our hardcore fans. After six months, the album was dead in the water. The critics didn't think much of it, either. Ezrin had even received a threat from a guy who said he was going to go up to Toronto and punch him in the nose for all the KISS fans.

It was time to release another single from the album to stoke up sales, and I pushed for "Beth." Gene and Paul agreed, but made sure that it wound up on the B-side of the single, with "Detroit Rock City," one of Paul's songs, featured on the A-side. But Scott Shannon, who was working in the promotion department of Casablanca (and who would go on to become a famous disc jockey), loved the song and urged a deejay in Atlanta to flip the single over and play "Beth." The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. "Beth" became our highest-charting single ever. It revived the album's sales and it won many awards, including a People's Choice award. It even got played on easy-listening stations. One day I was channel surfing and "Beth" was playing on three different stations simultaneously.

I was on cloud nine. Not just for the personal accomplishment, but because my song propelled the album back onto the charts. Destroyer was our White Album, the best album we ever did in our lives, and it was nice to see Bob Ezrin get the credit he richly deserved. He may have been a harsh taskmaster, but the end result was more than worth it. When "Beth" hit the charts, Bill Aucoin came over to our brownstone with a big bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne and we made a little fire and toasted our good fortune.

"The irony is that you saved the album, Peter," he said. "But they're going to hate you for it."

Even though "Beth" had revived the album, Gene and Paul didn't want me to play it live. When we started rehearsing for our next tour, Bill told us that we had to put "Beth" in the show by popular demand. Gene and Paul immediately said that it wouldn't work.

"We'll make it work," Bill told us. "We have new fans who are coming to see us because of that song." So they finally agreed. But when we started trying to play it, it was a fucking nightmare. None of them had played on the original track. Ace had no idea how to play an acoustic guitar.

Then Sean and Bill came up with a brilliant idea. We would play a recording of the musical track and I would come out from behind my drums to the front of the stage, where I'd sit on a drum case and, with a single spotlight on me, sing the song live.

"Fuck you," I told Sean. "I'm not leaving my drums."

Frankly, I was petrified by the idea.

"When you get a taste of what that's like to walk out there and sing your song, I'll have to be dragging you off the stage," Sean predicted.

He was right. When we first rehearsed it, they put my drum seat out front and I sat on it and sang the song. Of course, Gene and Paul went out front and made fun of me. But when we finally did it live onstage, the fucking house came down and I realized that I finally had an ace in the hole no matter what Gene and Paul would try to do to me. I had tears running down my face that first time we did it. Sean was right. From that night on, I couldn't wait to get out and do that song.

You would think that after all my years of struggling, our newfound success would have made me feel more comfortable and secure. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. While we were in the studio recording Destroyer, I got really depressed. Perhaps it was because I was burning my brain to a crisp with the massive amount of coke I was doing, or maybe it had something to do with getting beat up on a daily basis by Bob, but I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I went to management, and Alan Miller recommended a psychiatrist he had seen named Daniel Casriel. He was pioneering a new type of therapy called primal screaming, and I was gung ho to see him because I had heard that John Lennon had also undergone primal therapy.

Casriel had a beautiful brownstone on East Fifty-first. We did a consultation and I told him I was miserable. I was always on the road or else in the studio. I couldn't enjoy my life. I didn't even feel like playing then. By the end of that session, we determined that my major issue was that I felt that I didn't deserve to be famous.

"Bullshit, you do deserve it," Dr. Casriel told me. "And eventually you're going to scream, ‘I deserve to be famous' to me."

He had me attend a group session a few days later. There were six people to a group, and each of us would sit on a mat with Dr. Casriel in the center of the circle. After a few minutes, I realized that next to these other people, my problems seemed a little puny. One guy believed that he had a hole in his head. The woman next to me was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, a fifteen on a scale of one to ten. You couldn't keep your eyes off her, but she thought she was ugly. There was a pilot who had a problem with flying.

Each patient would get a personalized mantra from Dr. Casriel. The woman's was "I am gorgeous. I have everything going for me." And he would make you repeat it over and over again, louder and louder. My mantra was "I do deserve to be famous. I do deserve to be a winner." He had me screaming that over and over, louder and louder, until it was almost like an out-of-body experience or an exorcism. I was rolling around on the ground, tears coming out of my eyes, screaming, "I do deserve to be famous." And thanks to my singing, I knew how to scream. I could shatter glass with my screaming. So all the other people were hugging me and consoling me and saying, "You do deserve to be famous."

When that session was over, I felt reborn. After a few more sessions, I had never felt more relaxed. The stress was gone. No more panic attacks. I had even cleaned up and stopped doing coke and drinking. I felt that Peter Criscuola had reemerged and that that lunatic Catman had receded into the background.

New Year's Eve 1976 was a good measure of our dizzying success. Three years earlier, we had opened for Blue Oyster Cult and played to thirty-five hundred people. Now Blue Oyster Cult was opening for us and we had sold out the Nassau Coliseum, all thirteen-thousand-plus seats. When we went onstage, we were treated like conquering heroes. Backstage there were people who wanted to have their picture taken with me, have me kiss their babies. It was frightening to have all these people touching me and grabbing at me. One girl pulled my brother and me aside and pulled up her dress to show us a huge KISS logo tattooed on her ass. If I wanted to, I could have gotten blowjobs onstage, offstage, in-between stage, backstage, under the stage. It was wild.

Onstage, we always felt as if we were looking into some bizarre mirror. Thousands of people in the audience were wearing our makeup. We were on the front covers of all the big industry magazines – Cashbox, Record World, Billboard.

Ironically, the one thing that really bugged us was that offstage we would never be recognized without our makeup on. Bill would always lecture us: "Don't ever get caught without your makeup. When you're out, wear big dark glasses that look mysterious." At first that was fun, but after a while it began to bother us. I remember walking into the China Club in New York City one night and telling the host I was Peter Criss from KISS.

"Yeah, and I'm fucking Mick Jagger," he said, and turned away. I had to take out my license and show it to him before I could get a table. I couldn't believe that we'd finish a huge tour, the world would go crazy, and then we'd go home and walk the streets of New York and no one would recognize me.

After Destroyer came out, I slipped and fell back into doing cocaine again. It would be glib to say that after working with Gene and Paul, anybody could become a drug addict. The truth was coke was everywhere. The promoters would always have some for you, the radio-station guys would turn you on. Back at the office, Bill was doing it. I'd go to Studio 54 and I'd sit with Halston and Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger and Steve Rubell, and everyone was doing blow.

When we'd be in L.A., Ace and I would get a hospitality gift from Casablanca sent to our rooms. It would contain a basket of fruit, an incredibly good bottle of wine, a couple of grams of coke, and some quaaludes along with a card reading, WELCOME TO L.A. LOVE YOU, NEIL. CASABLANCA RECORDS. We'd go out to Le Dome, and half the staff at Casablanca would pull out their little bottles with the spoon on a chain. If you got a job at Casablanca you'd immediately get a Mercedes, and every afternoon a guy would go door to door and take orders for coke and quaaludes, which were put on your expense account. It was insane. We were too naïve to understand the dangers of coke. We figured that if a genius like Ezrin could do it and still produce critically acclaimed platinum albums, what was the downside?

The party scene in New York was just as crazy. There were great clubs like Tracks, JP's, and Ashley's. I would frequent Plato's Retreat a lot because it was a sex club that had terrific orgies. My favorite place was Studio 54. Where else could a kid from Brooklyn hobnob with Warhol and Truman Capote? I would go upstairs onto the balcony and lean over with a drink in one hand while a broad was sucking my cock. Later I'd go downstairs and screw a model in one of the bathrooms.

Even my role model Bill Aucoin wasn't strong enough to resist the temptations of wealth. As we got richer, he got crazier and crazier. He had a beautiful pad in Olympic Towers, one of the ritziest buildings in the city. He began to throw coke-fueled parties where he'd surround himself with nubile young boys, and his apartment turned into Dante's Inferno. I remember many nights of partying at Bill's when it would get to be around six in the morning and you'd get that electric feeling from doing too much blow, and the sun was coming up and you'd open the drapes and see the huge 666 sign on the neighboring building on Fifth Avenue. That was a wake-up call right there.

Slowly but surely, I became addicted to cocaine. I got crazier and crazier. I capitalized on the fact that I was in the hottest band in the world and I could get away with anything. I acted out, in part, because I was beginning to feel so alienated from Gene and Paul that I just didn't want to be around them anymore. The joy of making music with them was gone.

There was always a lag between our successes and the fruits of those successes. The money was going to come to us, but it hadn't come in vast quantities yet. So I began to deal coke to our crew. I'd cop a quarter of an ounce from Bob Ezrin's dealer and then Lydia would cut it with baby laxative and sell it as grams. Bill and Sean would score from us. On the road, I was supplying all the roadies and our truck drivers. Gene and Paul never knew this or they would have gone crazy. But it was hard to miss. The crew would literally be lined up in front of my hotel-room door after a show. I charged them sixty bucks a gram, which was a reasonable price, and that way Lydia and I got to snort coke for free.

But after a couple of months dealing coke, it got too risky. All of a sudden I was getting knocks at my hotel-room door at five in the morning.

"Get the fuck out of here!" I'd scream, and throw a shoe at the door. I figured that sooner or later I'd get busted.

But just because I stopped dealing didn't mean I stopped using. I was born hyper. I'd been on medication since I was a kid to keep me calm. So imagine what I was like on blow. Like all coke addicts, I could never have 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 back later that night with some really good blow, so I downed them and went to sleep.

Around this time I befriended somebody who could snort me under the table. John Belushi was one of the biggest comedy stars at that time. We met at JP's and hit it off immediately. He was a huge KISS fan. After we hung out awhile, John did a skit on Saturday Night Live in which he played a backstage bouncer who wouldn't let people in to see us. John wanted me to come on the show to do a cameo, but Bill didn't think it would be such a good idea to do it without the band, so it never happened.

I think one of the reasons John loved hanging out with me was because he wanted to be a rock star. We met right before he did the Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd. When they performed a live show at Radio City as the Blues Brothers, John invited me down. They were so happy to be up there singing the blues with real players like Duck Dunn. John felt he had been a clownlike cliché on Saturday Night Live. Music really spoke much more to his soul.

One of the first times we hung together was at a Saturday Night Live after-party the week the Stones were on the show. They hosted it at an old bar that John and Dan had bought for their private use. When I got there, we immediately went to the bathroom and did some coke. John's energy was so overwhelming, he lured you right into his insanity. Even the way he did blow was special. He had no time for tiny vials or little coke spoons. He carried a baggie full of coke, and he would scoop some up in his palm and literally shove it up your nose.

We had a great time that night. He introduced me to Steve Martin, who was an up-and-coming comic then. I believe Steve was also wired on coke, because he never stopped talking. But he seemed brilliant, and I just knew he was destined for stardom. The night was magic until some guy started fucking with Keith Richards and Keith drew a derringer on him.

"Keith's a crazy guy," John confided to me, which was saying a lot.

One night I was hanging at John's place in the Village. He had soundproofed a room in his pad and he would crank up his stereo and blast the Allman Brothers. We had been partying all night, and the sun was coming up when he came up with an idea.

"Let's go to Grand Central Station," he said.

That sounded like a horrible idea.

"John, it's going to be rush hour. I'm too wired to handle that shit," I said.

He smiled his famous innocent smile. "Trust me, you're gonna like this."

Before we left, he called up Aykroyd to tell him to meet us there. I could hear Dan through the phone. He was humming the theme from The Twilight Zone.

"Witness: Two morons walking through the early-morning streets of Manhattan doomed to die," he said in his best Rod Sterling voice. "Now I'm going back to bed."

And he hung up.

"Fuck him," John said, and we grabbed a cab to Grand Central. We went to one of the main waiting rooms, and John instructed me to go over to one corner of the room and face the wall. Then he marched over to the opposite corner and did the same. By then the room was filled with the noise of the morning rush-hour commute.

"Peter, Peter, it's me," I heard a voice as clear as a bell coming from the wall. Somehow John knew that the acoustics at Grand Central were such that you could communicate across the room if you faced the wall. So we were talking and talking. I can only imagine what the passing commuters thought as they saw John and me both standing alone on either side of the room and talking to the wall.

Destroyer was released in March of 1976. In May we left for our first tour of Europe. We had conquered our homeland, but Europe was a different matter. We started off in England. Except for the Hammersmith Odeon in London, we played filthy half-filled shitholes that the Beatles had played coming up. How cool was that!

France was a little better. Our promoters gave us a royal welcome, sending hookers over in a Mercedes. They'd pick us up, drive us around, and we'd get serviced in any way we wanted. One night I got so drunk on brandy, I couldn't get it up. She didn't give a shit – she still got paid.

We had a problem with the language barrier in Paris. One day we wanted to go sightseeing, so Gene asked Susan Meneo, one of the girls who worked at Casablanca, if she could speak French. She said she could, so we all piled into a cab. The cabdriver asked us where we wanted to go in French. And Susan said, "Can yooo take uz to zee Champs Eleeezay?" with a heavy French accent. We laughed so hard we almost pissed our pants.

We played two shows in Paris at the Olympia Theater opening for Jerry Lewis, of all people. He was pretty funny when he began his show. "I don't believe what I just saw. That's gotta be the worst or the best thing I've ever seen."

Germany was a strange place. Everybody there tried to act like Hitler had never existed and there wasn't a Second World War. But I rubbed it in their faces one night in Offenbach. We were staying at an old-style hotel and it was the night of Muhammad Ali's big comeback fight versus a German guy named Richard Dunn. While we were watching the fight, I decided to try Jägermeister. I was downing it with beer chasers, and that shit will fuck you up. Our roadie Fritz noticed that the Cat had gone crazy. I was threatening to jump out the window, tear the place up, whatever. So Fritz and J.R. and Campise decided to lock me inside the huge, beautiful antique armoire in my room. They threw me in it and locked the doors.

That gave me flashbacks of being locked in the closet in Catholic school. I started screaming and making growling noises and banging on the doors. Campise told me later that you could literally see both sides of the armoire bust out, the front doors fall off, and the whole thing collapse as I broke my way out. Then I ripped all my clothes off and jumped out the window. There was a two-foot-wide ledge that ran all the way around the hotel. I started scampering around the ledge to the front of the hotel, where there were two huge gargoyles on either side of the main entrance.

I climbed up on the back of the one of the gargoyles, buck naked, screaming, "Muhammad Ali! Muhammad Ali rules, you fucking bastards!"

The police came in two minutes flat. They threw a blanket over me and dragged me off the gargoyle and back into the hotel room. They told Bill that we'd better be out of Germany in the morning, which was okay since we were scheduled to play Sweden the next day. But we had to pay the hotel $10,000 in damages before we could leave.

A few days later we were in Sweden and it was Ace's turn to stir up some shit. We were eating in a restaurant with a unique theme. Everybody sat around a big pool, each table would get a remote-controlled boat, and you'd sail your boat across the pool to the chef, who would load your boat up with the specialty of the house, shrimp. Then you'd navigate your loaded boat back to your side of the pool and have your dinner.

Ace and I were pounding down the drinks when Ace suddenly entered the Forget It Zone. Ace turned to me and said, "Peter, I'm fucking Godzilla."

"Yeah?"

"I'm fucking Godzilla and I'm going to destroy all those boats."

"Go right ahead," I said.

So Ace got up and jumped over the barrier into the pool, fully clothed. He started beating his chest and belting out "ARRRRGGGHH!" and then he began to slap at the boats as they drove past him. Nobody could believe what they were seeing, and the next thing I knew, boom, I passed out face-first right into my salad. But I'm told that Ace picked up a boat and went "ARRRRGGGHH!," and ate the shrimp, then threw the boat across the pool. Then he splashed around some more, knocking the boats around. All the other patrons were freaking out. Shrimp were floating in the pool, the water cascading over the sides. Our group was in hysterics, even Gene and Paul, but everyone else was totally pissed off. One woman was screaming that her dress had been ruined.

Of course we got thrown out. I was still comatose, so Big John had to pick me up and carry me out on his back. The next day he came by and said that Ace's Godzilla routine was the biggest expense of the tour.

But touring wasn't just fun and games. Most of the time, touring was monotonous and lonely. You spent most of your time just waiting for the hour and a half you'd be onstage. And after touring nonstop for so many years, my body was beginning to break down. I couldn't even lift my arms after a while, so J.R. took me to a local doctor to get some shots. He shot me up with a horse needle. He went right to the bone and then moved the needle around so that the liquid soaked the bone down and the joint could move. Do you know how fucking painful that is? But after I got one, I could finish the show. What I didn't know was that they were shooting me up with cortisone. And when that shit wore off later that night, I would be in excruciating pain. I was tearing the ligaments in my arms even more by playing. With the cortisone, I just didn't feel the damage that was being done.

When I found out I was getting cortisone, I flipped out. Meanwhile I was taking coke and every other drug under the sun, but to me cortisone was a no-no. It affected me in weird ways. My attitude got shittier, I was totally miserable, and I was affecting everyone around me. One night the pain got so bad that when we were driving back from a gig, I couldn't even lift my arms. I was sitting in the back of the limo with Paul and I turned to him.

"Paul, if you ever did any decent thing in your life, please cancel this tour for me. I can't play anymore, I can't even lift my arms, I'm in excruciating pain. I know I cry wolf, but I'm not fucking around this time."

Then I laid my head on his shoulder and I started crying like a baby.

When we got back to the hotel, Paul went right to Gene and told him we had to cancel the rest of the tour. They called Bill and he canceled the remaining dates. For once Paul had done the right thing, and I was truly grateful.

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