Sealed With Another KISS: Interview With Lydia Criss, Part 1

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Sealed With Another KISS: Interview With Lydia Criss, Part 1

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Sealed With Another KISS, Part 1
Lydia Criss: The KissFAQ Interview

By Tim McPhate

When I think of the "must-have" books for the KISS library, the ones that come to mind are "KISS Alive Forever," "KISS: Behind The Mask" ... "KISStory." Chris Lendt's ability to recount four-course meals from the '70s and what "rankled" the late Bill Aucoin make "KISS And Sell" a winner. Can't go wrong with the excellent research and extensive detail found in Julian Gill's KISS Album Focus books. Nestled at the top of the bookshelf is also Lydia Criss' excellent "Sealed With A KISS."

What makes "Sealed With A KISS" arguably a cut above the rest is the personal feel of the book. It's like looking at an insider's personal scrapbook from the '70s. And the photos. Criss' book contains more than 1,500 images, offering fans a unique time capsule of a most magical period in KISS' history as well as some great never-before-seen images from the unmasked era. Coupled with the text, it's as if you're right alongside Criss on not only her personal journey, but KISS' rocket ride to superstardom.

Originally released in 2006, not surprisingly "Sealed With A KISS" ultimately sold out of its first printing. While Criss released an ebook version last year, fans' best opportunity to land a physical copy is by scouring eBay, where copies run anywhere from $100 to $300. But that's about to change with the second printing of "Sealed With A KISS," which is set to be available in June. KissFAQ caught up with Lydia Criss to put her book back on the table and discuss the second printing, as well as a potpourri of KISS topics.


KissFAQ: Lydia, thanks for taking time to speak with us. We've been in touch for the past few months and you mentioned to me that you were working on a second printing of "Sealed With A KISS." Can you give KISS fans an update on what's going on in your world?

Lydia Criss: Well, first I was working on my ebook since my first printing sold out. I didn't really think it would take long to get the second printing done. Especially since most of the work was done already. But the ebook came out during last summer. The second printing of the book is being printed in Italy now, the same place [as the first printing].

KF Is there a tentative release date?

LC: It usually takes a little less than two months especially because I already had a book printed [with them]. We have corrected a few things so that means you kind of have to start over. It's really complicated. Being that I am the publisher, they have to send me a book that doesn't look like a book, it looks like a newspaper. I have to review everything and Fed-Ex it back immediately.

There's been a lot of little steps in between. I takes a while to order the paper. That's the thing that takes the longest. I didn't quite understand why a printing company wouldn't have paper in stock already. But I've heard from some people in the industry that Italy has the best paper. I really wanted to go back to Italy. It's so much easier. I tried doing everything the American route but the price was crazy.

KF: Speaking of crazy, I was looking at eBay this past week and your book was going for upward of $100 to $200.

LC: I went to a Belgium [KISS] convention a couple of years ago and we did a deal where I brought X number of books. I brought the amount [and we did the deal]. I thought it was a little too much and it really was but ... we had a special cover made for that convention. Same cover, just a different main photo. A different photo of me and Peter. Whatever I didn't sell there, [he] payed me and he said he would sell them. So that's probably what's out there on eBay. I know the person that's selling them...I've seen them as high as $300.

Three years ago I did the Sweden convention. At that one I brought just the right amount of books and I basically sold out. I could have probably brought a few more. But you know the problem is it's so expensive to get books [overseas]. My book, one book, if you send one book over there, it cost $40. Now, with the new increase, I think it's going to cost close $50. It's crazy to spend $50 just for postage. They used to have a way of sending it via boat and they just cut that out. When my book first came out, it cost $27 to send to Europe. Now it costs $27 just to get it to Canada.

KF: Is the second printing a strict reprint or are there any changes or additional content?

LC: There are a few things that we've changed. There was the same text on two different pages. The text was doubled, so we corrected that. We took Peter's social security number out. You know we were so cautious to take telephone numbers out (laughs).

There was also a picture of me and Tony Bennett that I wanted a little bigger because there was plenty of room on that page. That's basically all we did. I just did corrections. I think there's one photo, it was a much lighter photo. On the computer it looked nicer than it did in the book. It's a photo of me and it just became a little darker. So we just made it lighter. And I added 16 pages.

KF: Really?

LC: It's something that I was going to put in the first book, but by the time I got to the end of the first book I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

KF: (laughs)

LC: It's a 16-page listing of all the gigs that Peter ever played. It's where he played. When he played. Who he played with -- all prior to [when KISS got] management. Up until they started getting paid by the management, which was Oct. 1, 1973.

KF: Well I know some fans who weren't able to pick up your book the first time around will be very excited.

LC: I know. And you know the other thing that's going to help me tremendously this time is Facebook. I constantly get fans telling me that my book is the best [KISS book]. I know "KISStory" is a great book, but I look at my book as a smaller version of that. I didn't have that idea to begin with. I was looking to do more of a scrapbook. At one point I did have a publisher, a small publisher that went bankrupt. The book was going to have a spiral binding to look like a scrapbook. That's what made me write the book. I used to bring my scrapbook to conventions and fans went nuts. I didn't realize it because I was involved in it but fans love seeing what Peter, Paul, Ace and Gene looked like when they were 20 years younger. Now it's close to 40 years (laughs).

KF: I'm glad you mentioned that because it's exactly what I love about your book. You have this amazing collection of photographs and mementos like matchbooks, cards and receipts.

LC: There was a lot that I wasn't allowed to put in. I had to leave some stuff out because of copyright and trademarks.

KF: How did you manage to keep all of that stuff? Are you the type of person that keeps everything?

LC: I am a pack rat (laughs). I had a lot of room up in the attic at the house in Greenwich, Connecticut. And when I moved to Manhattan I had everything in boxes and
kept it at my parents.

Later, Richie Ranno from Starz approached me to see if I wanted to do a convention and get rid of some of this stuff and I said absolutely. It was just in boxes and I was never going to look at it again. I mean you do once in a while, but I kept it at my parents. The conventions were good but then I stopped doing them and then I did an auction. I basically sold everything to finance the book.

KF: Ultimately, why did you decide to self-publish the book?

LC: The thing is that I had total control. I think it worked out best for me because I'm a Scorpio and Scorpios love control.

KF: I remember getting my signed copy in the fall of 2006 and reading it over a few nights. One of the first things that stood out to me was the placement of the nice quote from Peter on the back of the book acknowledging your support of him. Did you ever have any moment of doubt that Peter was going to "make it"?

LC: You always have some doubt. I did say in the book, somewhere toward the end, you gotta find someone else that has faith in you. Not just me. I mean someone that's in the business that believes what you believes in. You can be the greatest musician in the world and if you're not discovered, it's not going to do you any good.

KF: As it pertains to KISS, you mean people like Bill Aucoin, Neil Bogart and Sean Delaney?

LC: Those are the exact three that I was thinking of. Those are the three who are in my head right now.


KF: In the very early stages of KISS, can you admit to witnessing a spark or a sign that told you they would grow to become arguably the biggest band in the world?

LC: When I met Peter he was just so special. That's why I had faith in him. I knew there was something there that other guys didn't have. Then when I met Gene, Paul and Ace, I felt the same way about them. They were four guys that had something you can't really put a name on. It's a personality trait. It's an intangible. They were destined to make it. They knew that it was going take a lot of hard work. But they were willing to put that time in.

KF: I believe you've mentioned KISS' first tour of Japan as one of your favorite experiences.

LC: Well, there's really three. That's one of them. The People's Choice Awards was another. And the first time they played Madison Square Garden. As far as my personal life goes, it would be getting the house in Connecticut. Getting my first dog. The Mercedes. Things like that. It was a time in my life that was just so special.

KF: In the 1978 chapter, you describe going into the KISS warehouse to pick out some classic '70s KISS memorabilia. That warehouse would be akin to a gold mine for KISS fans. Can you give a mental picture of the warehouse?

LC: It was sort of the beginning of the merchandising. It was in California and I only visited it once. It was a warehouse with shelves like any other warehouse. And you'd walk up and down aisles. And it wasn't as big as you would think it is.

KF: I guess with KISS in the '70s you just picture everything as being "big."

LC: KISS' warehouse was very small. And some of the stuff wasn't even there. That's why some of the stuff had to be shipped to me.

KF: This might be a tough question, but looking back on the period of 1978-1980, is there anything you would do differently in terms of your relationship with Peter?

LC: Well (pauses), I thought I did everything that I could. There were times where I was on the road with things to do and I think I remember Peter saying I didn't pay enough attention to him.

But I just think that most of the reason why we're not together is because of drugs. So I don't think I would change anything only because I've done my share of drugs. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not embarrassed of it either. I believe in trying something once. Don't put anything down if you don't know what you're talking about. That was my feeling then. It's not now, but it was then. It was the '70s and that was the thing to do.

I'm older now and I'm a lot wiser. I don't think my body could take what I did in those days. But I don't regret anything at all. I think it was just a matter of the drugs that Peter did and also the fame. I think the fame was a little overwhelming. You know what he said to me was, "I never wanted to be famous. All I wanted was a hit single."

KF: That reminds me of the quote in the book where you said, "He hated KISS, he hated putting on the makeup and he hated being famous." Those are strong words.

LC: We really broke up in 1978, even though we didn't get divorced until 1979. I knew at that point that he didn't want to be in KISS anymore. If we were still together, he would have still been in KISS because I would have made sure he stayed in KISS. Whatever I had to do, I would have done to help him stay. I don't think his second wife liked KISS and she was pushing for him to leave.

KF: Did Peter make a mistake in your opinion?

LC: Well, he did tell me at one time, before the reunion tour, that he made a lot of mistakes in his life and he said he wished he could take them back. And I'm sure that KISS was one of them. Look at all those years where he basically did nothing. I mean he was in bands but he didn't go anywhere. KISS wasn't doing that great at one point but I am sure if they were together it would have been great. Because they reached their peak and there was no decline. They just dropped.


KF: It's almost been two years since Bill Aucoin passed away. Can you share one Bill Aucoin story?

LC: Oh wow. There are a lot of stories that jump out when I think about Bill. Unfortunately, the last time that I ever saw Bill was in New York City when he was staying at my apartment. He was going home to do chemotherapy and had a 1 o'clock flight. And if he took the 1 o'clock flight he would have missed his chemotherapy. So what he did was he went [to the airport] and got on stand-by. He had a lot of frequent-flier miles and he had like a special VIP club pass and got on [an earlier flight] and that plane ride is when he had an attack. Probably if he didn't make that flight, he might have had the attack in the airport or maybe at my apartment. I'd rather have had that happen rather than a plane where you can't go anywhere. I live right by the hospital where they took John Lennon and I would have taken him right there. Unfortunately he did make that earlier flight. They ended up getting him to a hospital but he was in a coma for a week after that.

Bill Aucoin was the most cheerful, happy person. That night at my apartment, I was saying good night to him and he was in the kitchen. He was making a phone call. Because I live in a brownstone, phones don't work in the middle of the apartment. He said something to me and I said, "I just wanted to make sure you're OK. And I just wanted to tell you that I love you." And he said, "I love you too. I want to thank you for letting me stay." He was such a great person.

KF: What do you remember about Bill's memorial in Florida?

LC: The memorial in Florida was extremely hot. It was at Bill's favorite restaurant but the restaurant does not have air conditioning (laughs). In Florida, I don't understand that. It's by the coast and you do get a breeze, but you have to be sitting at the table that's right near the water. I had my hair up and I was sweating. Everybody was sweating. But the thing I loved about the memorial were the faces that I hadn't seen in years. It was just good to see all the people -- Bill always wanted to get everyone together and I don't think he meant to do it this way. The only two that were missing, of course, were Gene and Paul, but they did go see to Bill. They were on tour, they were in Europe. They flew in the day he passed away but they missed him by a couple of hours.

KF: That's too bad.

LC: They went straight to Florida from ... I think they were in Scandinavia. They spent the entire day, I was told, with Bill's family. I think they knew they were going to take him off the respirator. Maybe I'm being selfish for Gene and Paul, but I think they should have waited a couple of hours. Gene and Paul could have at least said goodbye to him. I feel at least I got to say goodbye to him. I knew he was sick. I knew I might not see him again. But he looked amazing. That was the thing about Bill. He had cancer but it didn't look like it at all.

KF: We lost another industry great recently with the passing of Dick Clark. In the book there's a photo of the band from 1974 at the ABC's "In Concert" taping. What do you remember about that day?

LC: I actually put that photo on my Facebook. I was in the audience and it was really exciting because it was the first time KISS was going to be on TV. They were taping it and I knew it was a Dick Clark production. I remember I brought my Instamatic camera, a $20 camera, and I see Dick Clark walk out. And I just said to myself, "I am not going to blow this chance." I got out of my seat and ran up on stage and introduced myself to him.

I came home from school everyday around 3 o'clock. At 4 o'clock "American Bandstand" came on. I watched "American Bandstand" through my whole childhood.

KF: Without Dick Clark, New Year's Eve just isn't going to be the same.

LC: I know, I know. It's going to be sad that he's not there.


KF: Switching gears a little bit. Lydia, what is your take on KISS continuing with two members wearing Ace and Peter's makeup?

LC: Well, I know that Peter sold his makeup. I'm not sure about Ace. That last time I talked to Ace about it, he said he didn't sell the makeup and he gets paid every time they use it.

I don't know Tommy Thayer, but he did email me when he bought my book. He emailed me and told me I did a wonderful job. I thought that was so nice of him. I don't know Tommy that well. But I can always tell in photos that it's Tommy and not Ace. But for some reason, Eric Singer fools me sometimes (laughs). I see a photo and I have to look closely. I did finally meet Eric and talk to him. He's a real sweetheart.

As far as them wearing the makeup, it would have been nice to give them two other characters. But the problem is I think there are too many characters. Eric Carr had a character and who was the other one?

KF: Vinnie Vincent.

LC: Right. But I don't think the fans would react the same. For some reason, I think KISS made the right move, doing what they are doing because they've got little kids following them. And the funny thing is I ask kids at convention, "Who's your favorite member of the band?" And they'll go, "Eric Singer" (laughs). They don't know Peter Criss.

KF: Have you seen the band live recently?

LC: No. I've met Eric Singer. I've never met Tommy. I haven't seen Gene or Paul since 1995. I'm talking about in person. I did see the reunion tour and the "Psycho Circus" tour.

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?

Read Part 2

(Make sure to come back for part two of our interview with Lydia Criss in which we talk "Beth," more "Sealed With A KISS," photography, her take on Ace Frehley's "No Regrets" and Peter Criss' forthcoming book, and more. Meanwhile, visit Lydia at and on Facebook.)