Lydia Criss: The KissFAQ Interview
Continued from Part 1
KF: Lydia, I have to ask the obligatory "Beth" question. "Beth" is a song that generates much debate among KISS fans. Before its release, "Destroyer" was hovering around the million mark but seemed to have stalled. If "Beth" was never released as a single, what would have happened?
LC: They had already gone gold on "Alive!" I'm not really sure ... but I know Gene and Paul [didn't] want the song on the album. I think it was Bill Aucoin who really pushed for it.
When we were going to Japan, we were at the airport. We had a long wait at Kennedy [International Airport] before we got on the flight. And I looked over to Gene and I was thanking everyone in the band for making it possible for me to go to Japan. And I said to Gene, "I really want to thank you for making it possible for me to go to Japan." And he said, "Don't thank me. Thank 'Beth' -- it made it possible for all of us to go to Japan."
KF: I'm not sure if you're aware but KISS have been playing "Beth" in concert with Eric Singer singing. What do you think of that?
LC: I've seen them do it on YouTube. I think it's kind of strange because he's standing instead of sitting and the guys are playing guitars in the background?
KF: Yes, acoustic guitars.
LC: I'm not that crazy about it. I guess I'm so used to the way Peter sang it.
KF: Of course, Eric Carr recorded it.
LC: Eric Carr did a good job.
KF: So you liked Eric Carr's version?
LC: I was shocked when I first heard it. When I saw him at the Hot In The Shade party, I was talking to one of my girlfriends. He walked by, and I said, "Eric come here." And I asked, "When you sang Beth, did you think of me?" And he said, "Of course, I did!" And I said, "That's a great answer." He was such a sweetheart. And I really did like the way he sang it.
KF: Can you name your favorite song sung by each original KISS member? For Peter, I would hazard a guess it'd be "Beth" or "Hard Luck Woman"?
LC: Yeah, it's "Hard Luck Woman." But I also really like "I Can't Stop The Rain."
KF: That's a great song, written by Sean Delaney.
LC: Yep. As far as Ace, I don't know. My favorite Paul song is one that's on his solo album, I can't think of the name of it, but Richie [Fontana], my boyfriend, played on it. He sang it [during his club tour] and got a standing ovation...
KF: "Tonight You Belong To Me"?
LC: That's it.
And as far as Gene, he has a slow song ... "Mr. Make Believe."
KF: That's on his solo album.
LC: I guess I like the songs from the solo albums (laughs).
KF: Those are all great tunes.
LC: And "New York Groove" is my favorite from Ace.
I also like "100,000 Years."
KF: Do you listen to KISS much at all these days?
LC: Not really. I had a boyfriend in the '90s who was a big KISS fanatic. I probably listened to them at that time. But [now] I don't really listen to KISS songs. Believe or not, [I listen] mostly on YouTube. I have them on my iTunes, I have every single album on my iTunes. I listen to a song once in a while.
KF: Give me a snapshot of your music collection. What other artists are you into?
LC: My favorite band of all time is Queen. And my favorite band right now, since Queen isn't around anymore, is Aerosmith. I like Cheap Trick. My favorite artist is Rod Stewart. I like U2.
KF: The Beatles?
LC: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones -- we don't have to say them (laughs).
KF: They're a given (laughs). When you said Rod Stewart, that made me think about "Hard Luck Woman" and how Paul said he envisioned giving the song to Rod when he wrote it. And of course, Peter has a similar Rod Stewart-like raspiness to his voice.
LC: Yeah, when they finally decided to use it for a KISS album, Paul wanted to sing it. But Eddie Kramer said, "No. Peter should sing it."
KF: Your book contains all of these great photos of other artists -- Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton, U2, and Van Halen. Is there a favorite photo that you've taken?
LC: My favorite one that I can think of right off the bat is the one of Freddie Mercury with his hand out [on page 340], with the red pants. That's one of my favorites.
That might be what my next project will be. I mean, I've got so many amazing photos that are just sitting idle, just wasting away. I have a wall that I'm looking at right now -- Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Brian May, Slash, Rod Stewart, Dan Akroyd, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith ...
KF: I'm a big Van Halen fan. You've got some great early shots of Van Halen in your book.
LC: Yeah, those were actually taken at the Palladium.
I want to do a book of only other artists because I had no idea the amount of photos I had. When I stopped working at my photo agency, they sent me back my stuff and they made a list. And I was reading this list to somebody that wanted me to take pictures of them. And I said, "No, I'm retired now" (laughs). I didn't really want to do it, but I started reading some of the names and they said, "No wonder why you don't want to do it, look at all the photos you've taken!" And I said, "That's only part of the list, you don't even know the rest of the list!"
So I want to do another book, and then there's only one other thing I want to do. I'm Italian, and I make the best spaghetti sauce. I want to bottle my spaghetti sauce.
KF: No kidding?
LC: I want to be like Paul Newman (laughs). You know who did this -- and I was thinking -- "This is my idea!" -- is Marky Ramone. He bottled his own sauce.
KF: I wasn't aware of that. So we can expect Lydia Criss' spaghetti sauce?
LC: Yep. That will probably be after the second book.
KF: Ace's book, "No Regrets," came out last November. Have you read it?
LC: I've read it. He gave me a copy when I went to go see him at B.B. King's. It was perfect timing because the week after he gave it to me I had a flight and I read it on the plane.
KF: What are your thoughts on his book?
LC: I was surprised at some of his inner feelings that I wasn't aware of. I did know most of the stories. Some I didn't know because there was a time when [Peter and I] were divorced where I didn't see Ace for four or five years. I thought it was good ... but I think he played it safe.
KF: Some fans have said Ace didn't give enough "dirt."
LC: You know what it is, I think he probably doesn't need a lawsuit by Gene and Paul. Because Gene has basically said to me, "Look, we have lawyers on retainer." That's one thing he was probably afraid of. And the other thing was he didn't remember a lot of stuff.
KF: Ace has admitted that. He mentioned that he talked to a lot of people to help stimulate his memory.
LC: Even his righthand man, John Ostrovsky, one of the co-writers, called me and said, "Ace wants to know if you know the addresses and contacts to all the road crew you're in touch with." And I said, "Have Ace call me." And when I saw him at Bill's memorial, I was joking with him and said, "Why can't you call me instead of John?" I punched him in front of everybody (laughs).
KF: Set him straight, Lydia.
LC: They're like brothers to me. I don't look at them as stars, even though they are. I was telling somebody last night that it blows my mind how many people on Facebook know who I am. I don't think of myself as famous. I find all these kids that were 10 when KISS first came out, they're all 40 now (laughs).
KF: It really is crazy that KISS are coming up on their 40th anniversary.
LC: I know, I know. I've been asked to go to Norway for a 40th anniversary expo, and I think there will also be a Germany expo. And for the German one, they said they want to have me, Peter and Ace.
KF: That would be cool.
It looks as if Peter's book will finally be coming out this year. His book has been in the works for quite some time.
LC: Peter has been talking about it for as long as I can remember. I remember he told me that it was going to be called "A KISS Without A Face." That was back in the '80s. I had just moved to Manhattan and we had some financial thing we had to discuss. I think that's when he actually told me that he was selling his makeup. And I thought that was the worst move he ever made.
But now he's finally releasing his book. But I'm assuming he has to "play it safe" too. [Gene and Paul] stopped somebody from selling their book. You know Marc Scallatino?
KF: Yes, the author of the "Vintage KISS Photos 1974-1981" book.
LC: He had that book out and he had to stop selling it. KISS stopped him from selling it. I don't know what the actual problem was with that one.
KF: What do you know about the road crew book by Mick Campise and J.R. Smalling?
LC: I know about the road crew book, but nobody wants to pick it up. See, that was my problem at the time. I mean I didn't shop it good enough. I went to Bill Aucoin and said, "Who should I give it to?" And he recommended a company he knew. I gave it them and they shopped it. And I spoke to a lawyer about that, and the lawyer said to me, "I've got to be honest with you, they're not real literary agents." So they wasted a year of my time. They said they shopped it. There are three book companies -- Simon & Schuster, Random House and Harper Collins -- they all turned [my book] down.
KF: What did Bill Aucoin say to you about doing your book?
LC: I remember him standing in my living room and saying, "You know, if you do a book about KISS, you've got to do it as good as KISS would do it." And that scared the s*** out of me!
KF: Did you have to run your book by Gene and Paul?
LC: No. I ran it by three lawyers. One lawyer checked out the text. The other two checked out my photos. The thing is there were photos where I said, "Well what about this photo of Peter practically naked?" And they said to me, "He posed for it. You can use it." So you know, I wasn't scared that I'd get sued. And I didn't lie and if I did lie, they would have to prove I lied. I know I told the truth.
KF: Have any of the original members ever commented on your book?
LC: Paul bought my book and he needed it shipped overnight for a meeting that they were having about my book.
KF: Really? To have been a fly on the wall in the meeting...
LC: I know. But I know, deep down in my heart, they liked the book, because if they hated it they would have sued me (laughs).
I know Gene must have gotten his [book] through somebody. He's a little bit of a sneak sometimes. I was selling photos in the '90s and they were snapshots, but they were my photos. But I didn't know you're not supposed to sell snapshots. If you're going to sell photos, you have to sell them in a limited quantity because if you sell them as snapshots that's like merchandising. [Gene] sent me a cease-and-desist letter.
But some of my photos, I gave them permission to use in "KISStory."
KF: What did you think about Larry Harris' book?
LC: I read that one. I spoke with him at the time, and we were supposed to get together for dinner but we never did. The story I remember about Larry is when KISS was going to Europe in 1976. I drove Peter to the airport and I am at the airport crying, crying. "Oh, I'm not going to see you..." And Larry goes, "Alright, we'll buy you a ticket right now. And you get on the plane and we'll buy you clothes when we get to Europe." And I said, "I have no luggage." He said, "We'll buy something when we get to Europe." And I said, "I have no passport!" And he said, "Then you can't go" (laughs)" But he said go home and get a passport. And I did, I got my passport in a week and I flew out.
KF: So, the cover for Peter’s book was posted on Amazon the other day.
LC: I know, I saw it. "Makeup To Breakup"
KF: What do you think of the cover?
LC: I think it looks too plain.
KF: It's really going to be interesting to see the book's contents.
LC: The other thing is Peter is ... and this is going all the way back to before we were married. Peter is an exaggerator. He might make these stories bigger than they should be. And I'm not sure how good his memory is because, believe it or not, the guy he's working with ...
KF: Larry "Ratso" Sloman.
LC: He actually came to me and said, "I heard there was something that you didn't put in your book. We're wondering if we can see it and see if we want to use it." I told them, "To be honest with you, whatever I didn't put in my book I'm putting in the second printing so I can't give it you."
I thought that was really interesting and asked, "How did you know about that?" I didn't really tell anybody. And he said, "I guess Gigi [Criss] told me." And I said, "I never spoke to Gigi." I said hello and maybe five words at Bill's memorial.
KF: Have you heard about the book KISS are working on, "Nothin' To Lose," detailing the band's early years?
LC: Yes, they're going to use some of my photos in that book too. Ken Sharp is a friend of mine, he's a great guy.
KF: I'm very much looking forward to that one. I don't believe a release date has been announced yet.
LC: I think Ken did say it was coming out this summer.
KF: So when Peter's book comes out, are you going to buy it?
LC: Of course! I'll buy it.
KF: So what's going to be on tap for you once the second printing of “Sealed With A KISS” is out? Will we see you at more KISS conventions?
LC: I think the Germany and Norway expos are next year. I might hit the Chiller convention in October. And maybe a few other events.
KF: Lydia, we really appreciate your time. Best of luck with the second printing.
LC: Thanks a lot, Tim.
(KissFAQ wishes to once again thank Lydia Criss. The second printing of "Sealed With A KISS" is scheduled to be available in June. In the meantime, make sure to visit Lydia at http://www.lydiacriss.com and on Facebook.)