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.
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.
My mother had died three years earlier, on New Year’s Day, 1991, and I still hadn’t gotten over it. I had been very close to my mother; we had a very strange, deep relationship. We were more than mother and son: She was my closest friend. I was still hurt and grieving her. I had been concerned my whole life about letting her down. I always realized how hard she had worked for me to be something, how much it meant to her that I became something. And if I offed myself, how could I ever meet her again in heaven?
And what about my father? He was still alive; he’d be devastated. And I thought of the KISS fans, the greatest fans in the world. And then my eyes wandered a bit and I looked over at the fallen armoire, and next to it was a picture of my daughter. It was my favorite picture of her: Jenilee was about ten when it was taken, and she looked like a saint. And, miraculously, the glass wasn’t cracked, it wasn’t broken – the frame was standing up defiantly in the midst of all the rubble. That’s when it just clicked. I had been going through some real bullshit, but no matter what, I still had my kid, man.
Suddenly there was an immense feeling of faith in that room. I began to believe that God didn’t want to take me in the midst of this massive lunacy – that he had more in store for me. But the depression was so dark and so deep and the pain so acute; I was in the middle of a tug of war, almost like a battle for my soul. I could feel the force of the power I had holding back the trigger with the gun in my mouth. I had the power of life and death, right there and then. And I was in full control of me dying or living. It was very, very heavy.
But how could I do this to my little angel in the picture? So I pulled the barrel of the gun out of my mouth, put it back in its holster, and then locked it back up. And I resolved to go and finish the album and take my young band on the road and see what the future would bring. I cheered myself up and took my pillows and made a bed out of the mattress on the floor and slept right through the night. And then I woke up the next morning and got on with my life.
We were in one of the studios at the Record Plant in New York, arguing over something stupid, as we often did, when out of nowhere Bob Ezrin, our producer, came running into the room. He was wearing a T-shirt that read TIME IS MONEY and he had a crazed look in his eyes. Plus he was carrying a metal fire extinguisher.
“You cocksuckers are going to learn what this means,” he said, referring to the slogan on his shirt. “You are not going to waste the fucking time that we’re paying for arguing over what you’re going to eat or when you’re going to get some pussy or whatever the fuck your problems are, because you can’t even tune your own instruments. I’m going to show you the value of time.”
He proceeded to start spraying the contents of that fire extinguisher all over the studio floor, all over the wall, all over our instruments, all over our amps, even all over us. We were shocked and ran out of the studio and into the console room as we watched him maniacally spray down the room. Then he marched back into the console room and sat behind the big board, which had his name engraved on a metal plate that was attached to it. He was that powerful a producer.
“Now who’s wasting money and time?” he asked.
Ezrin seemed out of his mind. Maybe the huge mound of cocaine piled up like a small mountain on the board had something to do with this outburst.
“How long is it going to take us to get back into the studio?” Gene asked.
“I don’t really care,” Ezrin answered.
That was the first day of working with the Boy Wonder, Bob Ezrin. And it wasn’t even the worst one.
Coming off our breakthrough Alive album, we finally decided to listen to the people who kept telling us that our music should be more sophisticated, more like the Who and Led Zeppelin. I always thought that our strength was in our rawness and balls-to-the-wall energy. KISS was always a great three-chord jerk-off band, the best three-chord band in history. I could understand the desire for change: I was getting pretty bored playing the same boom-ba boom-boom-ba, boom-ba boom-boom-ba beat song after song. But as Gene loved to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet now we were about to fix it after we had achieved our first major success.
We were all excited about working with Bob Ezrin, though. He had produced all the classic Alice Cooper albums and had done a groundbreaking record with Lou Reed. He was, from all accounts, a musical genius. He was also a major coke addict at the time. I had never seen that much coke in one place. I’m not talking about grams – it was more like bags full of blow that would be laid out in pyramids on the mixing board.
It was interesting that Gene and Paul didn’t say a word about Bob’s drug problem. They were both majorly antidrug, and if Ace or I would get fucked up on drugs, all hell would break loose. In Gene’s memoir, he claims that when he saw all that coke on the console, he thought it was Sweet’N Low and put it in his coffee, but he didn’t drink it. He must have thought the razor blade was a stirrer and the mirror was to admire himself in.
Paul immediately had his nose up Ezrin’s ass, and before we knew it Bob was at Paul’s house writing songs with him. The songs themselves were actually quite great, songs like “God of Thunder” and “Flaming Youth.” What I didn’t like was that they’d come into the studio and tell me how to play the song. It wasn’t a suggestion and it wasn’t a collaboration, it was “This is the way you do it.” Of course I rebelled. Then Ezrin would pour out a mound of coke and use it to reward me for doing it his way.
So if the coke was to be our common ground, I wanted to get up on his level and do the same amount as he did, but it was impossible. Ezrin had a nose like an aardvark and I could never keep up no matter how hard I tried.
Ezrin really took us all to school. One time he was listening to us play and walked into the studio from the console room.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he screamed at Gene.
“I’m playing,” Gene said.
“You’re not even in fucking tune. Don’t you know how to tune your guitar?”
He proceeded to show Gene how to perfectly tune the bass. Gene was a large, intimidating man, but I saw Bob ream him out and carve him a new asshole. And Gene just took it.
Bob did the same thing with me. I was trying to play a song and Bob blew up.
“You can’t play this beat?” he screamed. “Give me the fucking sticks.” He sat down behind my drums and played the beat and once he showed me and I understood the theory of it, it wasn’t hard. But he had to make me look like a jerk to teach it to me.
We all learned an enormous amount from him. It was like being in a musical summer camp. He brought a blackboard in and he wore a little cap and he had a whistle around his neck that he would blow when we fucked up.
“All right, campers, put your instruments down, we’re going to school.” And he’d write on the blackboard and teach us the fundamentals of music theory. All while he was smashed out of his gourd on coke.
Working with Ezrin was the hardest experience of my life. For me, music is all about emotion and attitude. When you pick up those sticks, you have to feel it or else you’re just tick and tocking – you’re a mechanical clock. Most of the greats didn’t play by the book, they played from the heart. But this was different. Ezrin actually wrote out every drum part for me and came up with some very intricate drumming that wasn’t even in my musical style. I was a meat-and-potatoes Charlie Watts, Motown type of guy. Ezrin demanded complexity, so I got frustrated very fast that I wasn’t giving Bob what he wanted.
Plus I was cutting my own throat snorting Bob’s blow. I guess I could have just said, “Bob, I don’t want to do no blow. I’m fucking up here.” But I thought I could do the blow and cut it on the drums. I couldn’t. My timing was all over the place. After Bob shoved a bunch of blow up his nose, it probably sounded even worse than it actually was.
So Bob rigged up a click-track box for me that he called the Cat Box. He wrapped it with silver metallic tape and drew my face with my makeup on it, and he’d take a drumstick and hit the box to keep me on the beat. I’d hear his click box through my headphones while I was recording. I’d be playing along with it, but all of the sudden I’d hear an extra beat and I’d get thrown off and I’d stop the recording.
“Wait a minute. You just switched up the beat,” I’d say. “There’s something wrong with that box.”
“Nah, there’s nothing wrong with the box,” I’d hear him say from the console room. There wasn’t. He was just fucking with me, playing mind games. As if this wasn’t hard enough to do on its own. I started to really hate Bob at that point. But, as with most of the stuff that Bob did, he had a hidden agenda. After a while, Ezrin realized that I had a trigger temper, and he began to push me just far enough so I would begin to take out my anger on the drums. I would see him laughing hysterically and I would hit those drums harder than I ever hit them in my life. I just envisioned Ezrin’s face on those drums and I hit them so hard it sounded nasty and evil, which was what he was going for all the time.
It was excruciatingly painful, but the outcome was genius. You listen to those songs on Destroyer and you go, “Holy fuck, those drums are amazing.” But to get there, I went through hell and so did everyone else. Like Gene used to say, “If Peter isn’t having a good day, nobody’s having a good day.”
As painful as these sessions were for me, they were doubly hard on Ace. Ace didn’t respond well to Bob’s tough love. Once you get the drums down and add the bass and the rhythm guitar, it’s up to the lead guitarist to complete the picture. And then you’re up there naked, you’re on your own. Ace, like me, loved to play by feel. Ace’s brother was a classically trained guitarist, but Ace hated his studied playing. Ace loved spontaneity, but Ezrin had other plans for him.
I didn’t get to witness Ace’s arguments with Ezrin because the minute my drum tracks were done, I was out of there. Why would I want to stay around to listen to Ace getting reamed out for the next five hours when I could go home and have fun or go to a club?
Ace was drinking and partying with his friends a lot, and he started missing sessions. One time he actually told Ezrin that he couldn’t record because he had a previous engagement to play cards with his pals. Ezrin didn’t take too kindly to that and called one of his own ace session guys, Dick Wagner, who came in, nailed the songs, and left. The consummate pro. Wagner never got the credit, but it’s him playing on songs like “Beth” and “Sweet Pain.” Ace was furious he had been replaced and felt that Gene and Paul were traitors.
When Ezrin started working with us, one of his criticisms was that all of our songs were about sex. He felt that to get to the next level, we had to expand our palette a little bit and try to reach a broader audience than the fifteen-year-old boys who were our fan base. Ezrin found that vehicle in a song I had written with Stan Penridge.
Back in the Chelsea days, Stan and I had written a joke song to knock our bandmate Mike Brand’s wife, Becky. She would always call him during rehearsals wondering when he was coming home. So the song originally went, “Beck, I hear you callin’, but I can’t come home right now / Me and the boys are playin’, and we just can’t find the sound.” So we were knocking this guy’s wife: Shut the fuck up, quit calling.
I wanted to get a song on Destroyer, so one day Gene and I were in a limo and I started singing “Beck” to him. I knew that both he and Paul would never go for a ballad, so I sang him a faster version of the song and he seemed to dig it and suggested I play it for Ezrin. But when I sat down with Ezrin, he immediately understood it for what it was.
“This is a ballad. I hear it on the baby grand. This is going to be a hit record,” Bob enthused. “I’m going to get the New York Philharmonic to play on this.”
“Yeah, right. In my fucking dreams,” I said.
Ezrin just smiled.
“This little song says so much in so few words. ‘I wish I was home, but I can’t be,'” Bob said. “Everyone will relate to that – businessmen, doctors. It’s a universal theme.”
He wanted to make one lyrical change, though. He thought we should change the name from Beck to Beth. I was fine with that. Ezrin’s man Dick Wagner, who played acoustic on the track because Ace was out in space somewhere, loved the song, too, and immediately thought it could be a hit.
But Gene and Paul kept resisting it. They didn’t want a ballad on the record. That’s when Bill stepped in. He had heard the basic track, and he thought “Beth” was a hit. So when Ezrin hired the New York Philharmonic and we went down to record the session, Bill suggested that everyone in the orchestra should wear those fake tuxedo T-shirts and that I should go down in full makeup and take photos with the orchestra.
“I know you’ve been going through hell with them over your song, but I love it to death,” Bill told me. “So let me make you feel good.”
Bob was in full tails and a top hat and played the baby grand piano. We must have had more than twenty-five pieces in the orchestra. And when they finished the track, I was crying my eyes out, it was so beautiful. And the orchestra was clicking their bows and Bob stood up and called me up to take a bow as the writer. When I was bowing to the room, I never felt so proud in my life.
With the track completed, we then had to go in and record the vocal. I went into the studio and Bob lowered the lights to get me in the mood. Just then, in walked Gene and Paul, and they sat down on the couch in front of the board. I was shitting a brick, all alone in there, about to sing KISS’s first ballad. Meanwhile, those two fuckfaces were sitting in the booth stone-faced like they were at the zoo watching an animal through the glass.
“Okay, take one,” Ezrin said.
All of a sudden, my legs began shaking. I was so scared I thought that my voice was vibrating when I began to sing. I looked and saw that Gene and Paul were grinning because I was really struggling.
“What’s the matter, Peter?” Bob said.
“I can’t sing like this,” I said. “These two cocksuckers are sitting there laughing – “
“Hey, assholes, get your fucking asses out of the room,” Bob screamed at them.
They left, and Bob closed the door. Then he sat down behind the console again.
“Okay, Peter, let’s do this. Sing it for me.”
We did a couple of takes and Bob suggested I go up a little higher. I did, and it was beautiful.
“I love it, I fucking love it,” he said, and called me into the console room to listen to the playback. He had the engineer make a quick mix, and then he called Gene and Paul back into the room.
“Listen to this,” he said.
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.”
“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.