Words: Anna Wilson.
Living legends don’t come much more legendary than Peter Criss.
Famed for his tenure as the original drummer for rock ‘n’ roll gods KISS, Criss spent his KISS years under the guise of The Catman, sharing a stage with the band as they released some of the best rock music in history, carving a wedge into the books of fame. After his departure from the band, Criss has remained a firm favourite among the genre’s percussion greats, releasing his own material and performing in world-renowned venues. But, as they say, all good things come to an end. Earlier this year, Criss retired from music after an amazing career.
Comfy cosy in his PJs and settling down for the evening for this interview, Criss already sounds like a man quite at home with retirement. At the time, he wasn’t quite off the touring circuit just yet. The buzz around Criss and his final Australian performance back in May, which was a very final and very intimate event, had the drummer undertaking an absolute plethora of interviews – Criss is still very much loved and very much in demand. “It’s kind of like, my heart feels really big. All the nostalgia, Australia has always been so cool to KISS,” he says. “The minute we played there it was like, ‘Holy mackerel, we could do this forever!’ It was hectic, the love we got was very cool. “Over the years I’ve been asked ‘why do you always play there?’ But you know what? I love you guys.”
About these (now-passed) final shows of his, Criss says, “my guitar player Michael [Stone], he said, ‘I’ve got all these instruments, we can make it [his final tour] really intimate’, you know, none of this big whoop-dee-do rock star crap. This means I can really play some cool shit that I want to do, stuff I never had a chance with the guys [KISS], do my thing. After this, I’ll be retiring – one more show at home [New York City] and then, that’s it.
“Then I’ll grow a big heavy white beard,” Criss continues with a chuckle, “I’ll write my screenplay and do some other stuff. We’re working on our new home right now, so things are good.” As final as he is about these last performances, Criss talks of the life that is to follow in a relaxed and welcoming way. Life has been good to Criss and the way in which he’s chosen to go out is, as Criss says, more intimate and the performances a more musical option than the more flamboyant farewells his peers have embarked on in recent years. It’s a refreshing idea and a far cry from the experiences Criss had when last he played with the band that made him a household name.
“We didn’t end on a great chord when we stopped touring,” he says, “There was a lot of animosity between us. We had the whole thing when we didn’t play. The years have gone by, I wrote my book, I made a lot of fans very close, I have the most intimate fans. I’ve had some intimate experiences, the most being I’m a breast cancer survivor and I’m very proud of that – I’m an advocate that men can get breast cancer and die. So my world has changed immensely.”
“Recently I got a check-up and the doctor said, ‘If you’re gonna do this [final shows], you gotta do it now because next year it’s going to get harder.’ You know it turns out it’s the best time – I’m very excited, I’m very excited to be there.”
Retiring entirely from live music Criss certainly has other things he wants to put his focus on, but his penultimate performance in Australia back in May undoubtedly meant the world to many hardcore KISS and Peter Criss fans out here – but what does it mean to Criss to come perform here for a final time?
“It’s like I could have performed in many, many places, anywhere I wanted. But it’s a really special vibe there that I want to experience. Of course the world’s gotten so cynical because of the internet and there’s a bunch of baloney going on – I said that to my wife, you could be the most amazing thing on the planet and there’ll still be some maniac that says you suck – you can’t satisfy everybody in the world so I’m really doing this for me, to make me feel good.
“I’m doing this my way, like [Frank] Sinatra,” Criss says with an audible smile. “Unlike certain members of the band who said ‘well that’s it, you’re done’ – No. I’ll say when I’m done.”
“The rock ‘n’ roll stuff, personally, between us, it’s kind of gone. I don’t hear it like I used to, there’s a whole new sound going on and I don’t dig it. I’m a Hendrix guy, I’m a Zeppelin guy. I play this stuff for what it is.”
That last show will certainly be a night to remember, a rare opportunity for only the luckiest rock ‘n’ roll fans who were able to secure tickets. And for Criss, what a way to close the curtain. “I think it’s going to be a magical night and for those who’ll be there, for a long time it’s going to be this thing they remember – that they spent an evening with The Catman!”