In various histories written about US rock monsters, KISS, original drummer Peter Criss does not sound like a happy cat. Down the ‘line from his home in Jersey, there’s no mistaking that raspy voice which, in this case, is full of cheer as he looks to drawing the curtain on his performing career, his own way.
“I’m excited,” he says in a tone which expresses just that. “This is gonna be great.” While Criss often meets fans at various US conventions, he hasn’t really done much interview-wise until the phones opened up for his Australian visit. Prior to this, his 2012 autobiography, Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of Kiss, was his last word on his life and the iconic band, which he refers to in conversation as ‘the guys’.
“Oh my God, the book was very cathartic,” he says. “I had a great writer help me, Larry Sloman, who has written many great books (Anthony Kiedis, David Blain, Howard Stern, etc). We worked really hard over the years on the pieces and parts and the this’s and that’s. And it was received as one of the best books written about the band and I was very touched by that because I don’t bullshit. I’m an honourable man and I don’t whinge and lie. I’m just that kind of guy.
“And I think that’s why I think two of the band made it hard. I’m like, ‘it is what it is’. We all put our pants on the same. I don’t look at life as anything more than that. I’m very grateful for my house, my home, all the things I have because of the fans. I don’t forget that.
“For me though, it was not the way I wanted to say thank you. So I’m doing this.”
‘This’ is a farewell appearance at the Australian Kiss Konvention in Melbourne this weekend, which will include an exclusive performance (with his backing band for the occasion, Sister’s Doll) plus various signing opportunities. Another farewell appearance will take place in his home city of New York in June.
“I’m 71 now, and everyone is pretty much at the same age,” Criss notes. “You know, McCartney, Jagger, Charlie (Watts)… I don’t know, we’re all up there. I didn’t really leave the stage the way I wanted to when I was with the guys. I thought about this through the years and the fans would say, ‘c’mon Peter, just one more time, come out and play’. And to come out there, what a great place. I’ve had wonderful magic there.
“Then the next one is in New York and that’s it for me. We’ve got a lovely home by the water and I’m gonna do an Ernest Hemmingway and grow a big white beard. Write songs for other people. I got a few books in mind. I got a screenplay and an album that I’ve actually been sitting on for quite a while.”
Criss beat breast cancer in 2008 and it was an experience that has forever changed him. It’s been a very long journey from running with the Phantom Lords gang in the streets of Brooklyn, to the rollercoaster of KISS (1973-80, 1996-2000 and 2003), which included a career highlight show with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in that final year. There have been many career highs and lows, but beating cancer seems to be his proudest achievement.
“It has been a very long journey and I’ve been blessed,” he says. “I’m proud that I did beat cancer. Not many men know that they can get breast cancer and it’s changed my life like it would with any man. If it doesn’t change anybody’s life they’re an idiot. I am a catholic and I really got closer to God and my wife had a cancer and beat it. So we’ve got a really good life now and I’ve looked at it as a miracle.
“For me, being a kid from the streets and growing up poor, I had a wonderful mum and dad. I was raised really great. I know, through all of it, there were times I overlooked that and if you do that you’re in trouble. You lose your grip on what’s really important and that’s family, God and friends. What I’ve learnt through the years and going through and beating cancer is that I could bare my soul and talk about things I never thought I could talk about, but I wanted fans to know the truth about.”
KISS’s entry into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2014 was not as celebratory as might be imagined. With only the four original members being inducted, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons accepted their inductions under protest and refused to perform live with Criss and lead guitarist, Ace Frehley. The original Catman decided to make it a celebration for himself.
“After the Hall Of Fame, which was another uncomfortable moment which should have been a glamorous moment, I really thanked God and it was like, ‘you know what? I worked 55 years on this earth to get in there and this guy, Peter Criss, deserves to get in that there hall’. I worked my tail off and played some amazing drums through the years in the band and I’m proud of it.”
Given that it his various book signing sessions and meeting fans up close is partly what made him want to go out one last time, Criss never tires of seeing people wearing The Catman makeup he designed all those years ago.
“It absolutely blows my mind,” he exclaims. “I see young guys, 20 years of age, and I’m like, ‘that’s my son’. I realise that this is what we started. And when a guy comes in the room and they’ve got the full makeup and boots and the hair, I’m flipped out. What an honour. It’s just amazing that people have such respect. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Peter Criss – One Last Time
Peter Criss ‘One Last Time’ Australian Show
Friday, 12th May
The Sofitel Melbourne,
Kiss Konvention 2017
Saturday 13th – Sunday 14th May
Wick Studios, Bruswick