Lydia Criss shares more of her KISStory

Wife of former KISS drummer releases 2nd printing of "Sealed with a KISS", featuring additional photos and stories.

By Peter Lindblad

Lydia and Peter Criss -The 70s
Their splashy divorce made headlines in New York City and across the world. In 1978, Lydia Criss and KISS drummer Peter Criss split up for good. There were irreconcilable differences. His alleged infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse and violent temper – all of it detailed in Lydia’s recently revised and expanded biography “Sealed with a Kiss,” the first edition of which was published in 2006 – drove a permanent wedge between the couple, who first met in 1966.

In her book, "Sealed with a KISS", Lydia relates how she stood by Peter and provided financial support as he attempted to jump start his music career with long-forgotten bands such as Nautilus, the Sounds of Soul, Lips, The Barracudas, and Chelsea. Then, along came Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, members of Wicked Lester when their paths crossed with Peter’s. It was Simmons who answered Peter’s ad looking for musicians playing original music who needed an experienced drummer. Soon after, KISS was born.

 "Sealed with a Kiss"
by Lydia Criss
KISS grew to become one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands the world has ever seen, and Lydia – who became a respected rock ‘n’ roll photographer – did more than go along for the ride, often supplying some of their clothes in the early days with the help of her mother, the seamstress. She was there when KISS played The Coventry and the 54 Bleeker Street loft that was home to The Brats. She was there when they brought their theatrical rock circus to Madison Square Garden for the first time and toured Japan. And she accepted a 1977 People’s Choice Award on their behalf for the song “Beth,” which she inspired.  Telling the story of KISS’s rise to fame from the perspective of a rock ‘n’ roll wife, Lydia’s book is packed with photos of KISS in concert and at play, behind the scenes. It is loaded with KISS memorabilia, including the newspaper and magazine clippings she meticulously collected, KISS clothing, concert tickets, etc. And it should be required reading for KISS fans. 

This is Part 1 of our interview with Lydia Criss.

Looking at the photos from the early years, you and Peter were a stylish couple back then.
Lydia Criss: Oh, we were the two that were more stylish than the rest. We were the two dressers. You know what it is? My mother was a seamstress. So, she made him a lot of his jackets. She made me most of
my clothes. I did buy a lot, but she did make a lot, too. So my mother was a big help for me because my mother would get mad at me if I’d spend $50 on a blouse. [I’d say,] “Okay then, I’ll find a pattern and material for us and you’ll make it for us.” And she’d make it … for $10 (laughs) or maybe $5 even. That’s why she made my wedding gown. She made all the bridesmaids’ [gowns]. She was amazing.

But you made stuff, too, right? I think there was a KISS jacket [in the book] with what looked like rhinestones on the back …
LC: I made that. That’s a regular denim jacket that I bought in the store. And I did everything on that. I’m actually selling that in the auction, which I said, “Why am I doing this?” But people said to me it’s because you’re never going to wear it and if you really, really, really … first of all, it looks like it’s made for a child. I was so small then. And I just said, “You know what? If you ever want something like that again, you can just make another one.” And I did, because I have all the stuff. It just takes time. It is rhinestones, and I have the rhinestones,

I have the studs … I have all that stuff. And I used to like say if I was sitting at home doing nothing one night, I would do like the left side of the jacket, and then I would make sure the right side [was done] so I could wear the jacket. And then, I was bad, because I would keep adding but I would always add balance. You know, I would always make the right and the left … you know, I wouldn’t work on it if I could only make half a side, where I’d do just one side and not the other side. The jacket was always wearable, but it just kept getting more and more glitter – more bling to it (laughs).

So much of KISS’s clothing and stage show early on was put together in do-it-yourself fashion, with everybody pulling together. It must have been thrilling to be a part of it. Talk about how their look evolved.
LC: Yeah, in the beginning, my mother actually made some of his stuff, some of his jackets, like there’s a picture of him in the loft – it’s one my lithographs, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. It’s a picture of all four of them back in the loft, and it’s not even their loft. It’s the Bleeker Street loft, which was The Brats’ [loft]. You know, The Brats, which was a band from New York. It was their loft. And it was way before [famed KISS manager Bill] Aucoin, and they were all dressed in different things. Ace’s mother made him a shirt, and Peter’s mother made him a shirt. I made him his hot pants and my mother made him the jacket. My mother made a lot of his stuff in the early days, too, but not once it came to Aucoin. When Aucoin stepped in, [everything] was done by a professional – a real professional.
KISS - Backstage at the Bleeker Street Loft - June 1, 1973
Lydia Criss 

I know you made that KISS shirt that’s in the book, too. Is that your favorite piece?
LC: Yeah, believe it or not, I sold that in the previous auction. Oh, the KISS shirt. I made one for Peter. I made one for Gene. I used to make them for his family. You know what it is? I had a stencil that was used for the bass drum. And I used it on the shirt. And I just used glue and glitter. It was so easy to make.

Oh, yeah.
LC: Yeah, I mean it was just put the stencil on, put the glue on and then put on the glitter and it was done. And it went through the wash. That’s why it looks like it does. It looks like that stuff is coming off.

It gave it kind of a cool distressed look.
LC: Yeah.

What was the hardest thing about doing this book?
LC: The memories, the memories. You know, I’m an organization freak. I’m a Scorpio, so you know, we’re like really organized. I had to have everything right. I had to have it in order. In the book, there are three sections: there’s before KISS, KISS, and then after KISS. But the hardest part was having to deal with some of the things that were painful at the time, and they became painful again. There were times where I would sit and read. I did my manuscript many, many years before I decided to [publish it]. I mean, I decided to do the book, but my publisher went bankrupt. He was a small-time guy, and he went bankrupt, and I got all my stuff back. That was basically in the ‘90s. I had started that at the end of the ‘90s … like ’99 I think I had given my manuscript over to him. And then he didn’t do anything, so in 2004, I got everything back, and that’s when I became serious, when Jacques van Gool of Backstage Auctions did the auction. And I just said, “Well, what do I need all this stuff for? It’s going to be in my book. I can always look at it in my book. I can’t hold it physically, but it’s in my book.” So, basically, I sold everything and I wanted to do the book, but the thing that really, really hurt was when I’d sit home at night – because I didn’t have editors at the time; I’d have editors later on, but at the beginning I just had a manuscript and then the editors kind of went through the manuscript, and they would correct things. Not much though. Believe it or not, they were surprised that I wrote my book. They just corrected like punctuation and grammar and stuff like that, and maybe a little bit of the things we fought about, like say they’d say something happened this way, I would say it happened that way. But they weren’t there. I was there. But they’re talking to other people and other people are telling them, “Well, you know, no it was Sean Delaney.” And I’d say, “No it wasn’t. It was Neil Bogart.” Or, they’re saying it’s Neil Bogart, and I’m saying, “No, it was Sean Delaney.” That was one thing we disagreed with, but the thing is, we decided to word it where it says we disagree: “Well, I feel it happened this way. Other people feel it happened this way.” But anyway, the hard parts … you know, getting divorced, finding letters where Peter is cheating on me, having to have an abortion … those are the things. I would sit at night, and you know, after I’d be on the computer all day, working on the book, I’d sit at night, on my couch, with a little light on, and I’d read all their corrections, and I’m telling you, sometimes I’d be hysterical, crying, and then a paragraph later, I’d be hysterical, laughing.
The Big Day

What was it do you think that originally attracted you to Peter?
LC: His character, his personality. Anyone that knows Peter from those days will tell you Peter was a great guy – especially when he wanted to be a great guy. Like, he’s a schizophrenic or he’s got split personalities, but Peter had something magical about him. It was definitely not his looks that attracted me. I wasn’t attracted to that, and he surely didn’t have money. So, it was definitely his personality.

What were your dates like? He seems like he’d be a fun date.
LC: We really wouldn’t do much. We would go to friends’ houses, we would go to the Village, we would go to Central Park … maybe we’d go to the movies. We didn’t really have like [dates]. I mean, he didn’t take me out to dinner much. Like I said, he didn’t have money. I was still living at home. I couldn’t cook, so I wasn’t cooking him dinners. He had a friend who lived in my neighborhood, Jerry Nolan, his best friend, who was the drummer for the New York Dolls. Coincidentally, he lived in my neighborhood, and Peter would sleep over and stay over there, or we’d go over and hang out at Jerry’s. Or, most of the time, we’d go to see Peter play.

At first, you didn’t think much about dating a musician. Everybody always says how tough it is. Was it difficult for the two of you early on?
LC: I really wasn’t even aware what went on dating a musician or what went into that. I dated a sailor before him, but before that … I only had two boyfriends before him, and before that there was a guy, but we were only 16, so we didn’t work – we were like still going to school. And so, I didn’t know what it was like to date a musician. I mean, I thought it was okay at the time. Then, when I read some of his book, I was definitely … the wool was being pulled over my eyes. And that’s another thing that hurt, reading his book. I’m sure him reading my book hurt also. And I think that’s his way of getting back or getting even with me, ‘cause that’s how Peter is. Peter can be a real sweetheart in front of you, but he can stab you in the back when you’re not looking.

You write about some of the financial issues you had while Peter tried to get his music career going.
LC: I mean I worked; he didn’t work. You know what he paid for? He paid for his drugs, and he paid for some of the clothes he might have bought and maybe the gifts for his family. But I paid all the household bills – you know, for all the furniture. I paid for the vacations. I paid for our honeymoon. I paid for our wedding. Even though the wedding – you get gifts and it pays for itself – but I initially paid for the wedding. But I paid for the honeymoon … you know what he used to do, which I found out later also? And I’m talking about maybe two years ago, I might have found out. He was making $50 a night and he’d tell me he’d only be making $35 or he’d only be making $25. The guy that worked with him, the guitar player, he says, “We never made less than $50 a night.” I’ve got records. I’ve got records that I kept, and it’s in a composition notebook – the picture of the book. But I kept records of all the jobs he worked and what salary he came home with. And either he was spending it on girlfriends or he was spending it on drugs. So that’s another thing that I found out way later, way after I was divorced – like 25 years after I was divorced.

Was there a low point early on with Peter where you asked yourself, is this ever going to get any better or perhaps Peter isn’t going to make it?
LC: Not really, because we were only married two years when he met KISS, when he met Gene and Paul. He met them in ’72. So that was only two years. Two years is nothing. There was a point where we had just moved to our second apartment, I was kept busy with moving, working every day; then, I’d sell Avon during the day at my job, and then I’d also make macramé – different things, chokers, belts, bracelets, and I would sell them, you know, to supplement the income. So, there was none from him, or very little.

Pre-Kiss, did you think any of the bands he was in up to that point was going to be big?
LC: Chelsea. Chelsea was the only one, because they had a record deal. Everybody else did cover songs, so they weren’t looking for a deal. There was a time when Peter did do something. He was in a contest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that they won. And they got a record deal, but it didn’t do anything – like one single I think they did. It really went nowhere. But Chelsea … at least Chelsea had an album. They worked with some pretty important people at the time, like the producers and the engineers and stuff like that. I had no idea who these people were, and eventually, years later, you realize they were somebody. Even Eddie Kramer was somewhere involved in there. I’m not sure how, and there was different people. And I thought that might have made it, even though that wasn’t my type of music, but at least when he joined KISS, at one point it got to the point where he would just … working with Stan Penridge and they were just doing drugs, it was back to the old days where they were just doing cover songs and some original stuff back in the same old clubs. He was playing, you know, the King’s Lounge, like when he was with some other bands earlier than when he was with Stan, it was called Lips. And he had played the King’s Lounge with Joey Lucenti. He was in a band with him when KISS came to audition Peter … not audition, because Peter would audition at the loft, but they wanted to see him play with the band, so they came to see him at the King’s Lounge. He played with a few bands in that one club, not too far from where I used to live in Brooklyn.  

Meeting the men from Wicked Lester, you talked about how shabbily they dressed, but they had big plans. Did you sense right away that this was going to be something different for Peter?
LC: Well, when I saw their attitude and their professionalism … I mean, they were unprofessional in certain ways and were professional in other ways – you know, trying to bust Peter’s balls in flirting with me. But I saw right through that. But I just said, I like the songs; I loved “She” and “Deuce” and there were just songs where I just said, “Wow! This is more my style than Chelsea.”

Even at that time it seemed like they had grand designs on putting together a big stage show, huh?
LC: Um, I’m not sure if they had that in mind. I think Sean Delaney was that … that was all Sean Delaney’s ideas, from what I can remember. You know, I’m sure once they realized there’s money … [that] you could do something with a lot of money then you’re not limited. Then your mind expands and you can see things you never thought you’d be able to do. I don’t think they saw that in the early days. They just wanted to be big, like … yeah, The Beatles were big, but they didn’t have the stage that KISS had. They were basically all Beatles fans, so that’s what they were looking at. Ace was a Jimi Hendrix fan, so, you know, Jimi Hendrix didn’t have anything elaborate. In those days, it was basically [David] Bowie, Alice Cooper and the New York Dolls that they took everything from. And Sean Delaney incorporated it and went even further.   

The Coventry was where the band got its start. It wasn’t an auspicious beginning for them. What do you remember about the place and those first shows?
KISS - Coventry Show Flier
LC: The Coventry was very small. It was a neighborhood club, but it was the club to play. It was right over the bridge from Manhattan in Queens, and that’s where the Dolls played, that’s where there were bands like Luger and Street Punk … with Street Punk and Luger, [they] eventually played with them at the Diplomat. I think the Brats played at the Coventry. That was the place to play. And Gene and Paul went and talked to the owner and got a gig. I think it was Paul. I’m not even sure it was Gene, but I think Paul.

I thought it was interesting where one of the pictures of KISS playing at 54 Bleeker Street with the Brats showed them behind what looked like a rope that was separating the band from the crowd.
LC: I know (laughs). I know. We thought it was hard to believe then (laughs).

It was interesting that the Brats were holding their own shows there.
LC: You know, I’m still friends with Dominique, the lead singer; he calls himself Keith West. We always knew him as Dom from The Brats. I’m still friends with him. He still lives on the same block as my boyfriend [Richie Fontana, who used to play in Piper with Billy Squier].

Oh, is that right?
LC: Yeah. We live in the same housing … it’s really nice like Tudor-type houses out in Queens, and they have the same management company that manages the houses. It’s not low housing. It’s expensive. But they live about three doors down from each other.

Is that place still around, that 54 Bleeker Street loft?
LC: It’s still there. I don’t know what’s being held there, but I actually … somebody asked me about that like, “What’s the number? I [went] on Bleeker Street and I can’t find anything.” I’m going, “You’re not going to find anything. It looks like a doorway.” So, I gave her the number, 54.

I wanted to ask you about some of the big events in your life and that of KISS, starting with the Casablanca launch party. That looks like it a great time.
LC: Oh, it really was. I flew out with Gene’s girlfriend, Jan. I think we were staying at the Chateau Marmont at the time. And we shared a room with Gene. And my mother made me that outfit [shown in the book]. Like I said, she was a seamstress. She made the black velvet jacket. I made the hot pants. She would make the tops and I would make the bottoms. They’re easy to make – for girls they’re easy, not for guys. But I used to make the same pants for Peter, just bigger. I mean, it wasn’t done professionally, but it looked good. Anyway, I would make the bottoms, and she made the tops, and she made me a vest, a silver lame like vest and a bow tie, and it looked like a tuxedo. And I rented a top hat, and I remember meeting David Janssen [who starred in the television series “The Fugitive”] and Alice Cooper. I met Alice Cooper that night. That was amazing. Oh, and the other thing about that night was that I was drinking Black Russians, and that’s not the thing to drink on an empty stomach, ‘cause I don’t remember food being there. I was drinking Black Russians and all I remember is the limo driver carrying me out over his shoulder, both of us hysterically laughing. I wound up staying in the limo while everyone went out to have something to eat … and well, see there wasn’t any food. Everybody went into restaurant, and I stayed in the limo ‘cause I was too bombed. And the next day, I stayed in my room until about 6 o’clock at night. I could not get out of bed. I should have eaten before. I finally ended up having some soup at around 8 o’clock at night.

They really did it up that night.
LC: It was great. I have some pictures. I did take pictures. They didn’t come out that great, because I had a little tiny Insta-Matic camera. It wasn’t anything professional. And I’m just glad I got something, but it wasn’t what I would have liked.

Yeah, because they really did it up. They had a guy dressed like Humphrey Bogart …
LC: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I have pictures of him. I think I put that in the book … they had a fake camel, and there were all these gambling tables, like a casino, but it was old-fashioned looking, like from “Casablanca.” It was amazing. Neil Bogart even dressed as Humphrey Bogart, and he was wearing Humphrey Bogart’s real jacket [from the movie]. So it was amazing. And then the offices of Casablanca … there were palm trees and camels and arched doorways … they made it all look like the Middle East (laughs).

What do you remember about some of the shows KISS would play in Detroit? That was the town that was really into KISS.
LC: Above all, they loved the band. They just loved them. I don’t know why, but maybe because of “Detroit Rock City,” or maybe they did “Detroit Rock City” because they’d loved them there. I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. But for some reason … the promoter really liked them. I think it was Steve Glantz, who was the promoter. Him and Bill Aucoin got along great, and they booked them there a lot. And that’s kind of where they really made their mark. You know, they played the Michigan Palace first, and I think they even played with Aerosmith at one point. They played with Mott the Hoople at one point. It was interesting. It was really interesting how they climbed the ladder. And then they’re playing Cobo Hall, and then they decided to do a live album, with the remote trucks outside to capture it, to tape it. And it was a great place to do that, because it was a place where they were really loved.

Did it seem like it was … I don’t want to say an overnight success, but that it was moving quickly for KISS at that point?
LC: Well, let’s see, I supported Peter for six years, and then three years before we got married, so nine years. It wasn’t an overnight success (laughs). Let’s see … we met in ’66, and then Alive! went gold in ’75, so that’s nine years. So, it was about time. At that time when it happened, it was a great point. Things were starting to happen. Peter would come home and say kids are like jumping on the limos … and the other thing is, they had limos (laughs)! In the early days, KISS would be pulling up [to venues] in a station wagon (laughs). I don’t remember really them being in tour buses in those days. They would fly everywhere. They would fly and that was one of the other amazing things, that we would just ask for a plane ticket and we’d get it, you know. It was like, whoa. Call the travel agent (laughs).

 What do you remember from that first show at Madison Square Garden?
LC: Madison Square Garden, of course, touched my heart in a way no other venue could, because I grew up there. I saw the [Concert for] Bangladesh there, you know, George Harrison. I saw some of the biggest acts I will ever see at Madison Square Garden. And just to be able to see … I mean, the Rolling Stones were at the Garden.

You saw everyone.
LC: I saw Bianca Jagger. There was Bianca Jagger, and I was sitting in the same seats where she was sitting when the Rolling Stones played. And everybody asks me, “What was the best thing in your KISS life?” There’s not one; there are three. Madison Square Garden is one of them, the People’s Choice Awards was the other, and going to Japan was the other. At Madison Square Garden, I stood on the stage and there were people that knew my name and were calling me. I would go on the stage before the band, and I actually looked out into the crowd and saw a banner – actually, Jacques sold it in the last auction. And it said, “We love Lydia,” and I’m going, “Oh my God.” And then there was a little banner back by itself, hanging from the rafters in the back of the Garden, and all I did was cry. I could not stop. The tears were just pouring down my face. When they played, the ovation that the audience gave them, the claps for encores and everything … it was just amazing. I mean, my family was there, my friends, my relatives … it was just an amazing … I mean, Bill Aucoin was right near me, and I was crying on his shoulder (laughs).

After all you’d been through those nine years, hearing “Beth” for the first time must have brought out a flood of emotions.
LC: Well, that was more like 11 years by that time (laughs). It was more like ’76, I guess. They played the Garden in ’76 or ’77 … no, ’77. So maybe it was about 10 years. It was just unbelievable. Him singing “Beth,” every time he’d come out, he’d bow to me (laughs). He’d actually stop at the sound board, because I’d be standing at the sound board, and he would bow to me and then go. But he would never throw a rose to me. He would always want to give them to the fans. And he would never let me stand in the pit. That was another thing. I could have had a lot more photos if he would have let me be in the pit. The pit is right below the stage where all the photographers stayed. He would not let me go because it was too dangerous.

He did have a paranoid side to him, didn’t he?
LC: Very paranoid, yes.

I wanted to ask you about going overseas. What was your favorite memory of going to Japan?
LC: Just being in Japan. I’ve been to Japan twice – once in ’77 and once in ’78. But just being in Japan was
amazing because I never in my life ever thought … I never dreamed of being married to a rock star. I just dreamed of being a little Italian housewife that raised four kids and grew up and all I did was cook all day. I never dreamed of going to Japan. That wasn’t one of my dreams. I never dreamed of being an author. I never dreamed of publishing my own book – never dreamt that, but I did it, and I believe if I put my mind to anything, I can do it. Going to Japan was one of my favorite, favorite things because you just see how the other side of the world lives. And you think it’s so much different than the way you do, and sometimes it really isn’t. It’s like they still have the same … you think they’re so far behind the times, and really, they’re more ahead of the times than we are. I mean, just the fact that I could buy cameras so much cheaper than you can buy them here … you know, I bought my Nikon and that was my first camera that was a professional camera. I bought that there. Peter told me to go out and buy a $2,000 fur coat, so instead I went out and bought a $500 Nikon.

It paid off for you.
LC: I know it did, because eventually, I wind up working in a photo agency. She was also my agent. I was her friend. We used to travel together, the boss that owned the photo agency. And I was also her bookkeeper.

Oh, is that right?
LC: And now, I’m [rock photographer] Bob Gruen’s bookkeeper. You know, Bob Gruen? The John Lennon New York City t-shirt?

Sure, sure.
LC: You know, he did Dressed to Kill.

That’s right.
LC: I’m his bookkeeper. Well, actually, right now I’m panicking, because it is tax time and I have to get back to bookkeeping.

I have to ask you about the People’s Choice Awards. That must have been a nerve-wracking experience.
LC: That was such a nerve-wracking experience, you have no idea. Okay, they knew they were getting the People’s Choice Award. That’s one award that you’re told beforehand. That’s why everybody who gets it usually shows up. For some reason, KISS only found out 10 days before, so they couldn’t show up. They were already booked in Fargo, North Dakota. They said, what are we going to do, sit in the audience with makeup on? We’re going to feel ridiculous and blah, blah, blah … so I’m sitting at a table backstage in Detroit with Gene, Peter and Bill Aucoin, and I just said, “Well, I’ll accept the award,” just joking. And Gene turned out and said, “Okay.” And once I knew he said, “Okay,” I said, “Oh my God.” I lost 10 pounds in 10 days. I was a nervous wreck. I had to get a dress, I had to get hair, I had to figure out what to do with my hair, I had to get nails … I didn’t even have long nails. I had to get them, fake nails. I had to do the whole thing, and I was a nervous wreck. I had to give a speech. Not only that, but they stuck me in the audience and they never told me when to walk up. They never told us. There was nothing. They never told
"Beth" - Peter Criss
me anything. And Bill Aucoin was sitting next to me and he just pushes me out. I was sitting on the aisle. He just pushes me out, and he goes, “Good luck.” And I’m going, “Bill, I’m going to kill you (laughs).”

Were you able to do the entire speech as written?
LC: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’ve done this speech so much, I know it by heart: “Honestly, ‘Beth’ is my favorite song, not only because it’s how Peter feels about me, but it’s how everyone feels when he’s away from the woman he loves. KISS is performing tonight and they just want me to thank you for this great honor, and I want to thank KISS.” And then I blew a little kiss.

That was a nice touch.
LC: Yeah, I think Carl Glickman or Howard Marks wrote it for me. He wrote that for me. And I practiced. I said it over and over again on the plane. The week before, I used to carry it around with me, practicing it for 10 days. All I ate for 10 days was an egg a day.

Is that right?
LC: I was nauseous. I couldn’t eat anything, and I was stuck … I would try to eat something, so I would have a hard-boiled egg, and I was like full just from eating that. And I was a nervous wreck. And I think I went down to 103 pounds the day of the People’s Choice Awards. 

What was the most frustrating thing for Peter about being in KISS?
LC: Well, he was frustrated because he couldn’t get enough songs on the albums, but the thing was, Peter’s songs are not as good as Gene’s and Paul’s. That’s the problem Peter doesn’t realize. He thinks his songs are great and they’re not. I mean, I’m sorry to say it, but I mean, “Beth” is good and some of the songs were good, but he also wrote them with Stan Penridge. And Penridge was really the writer. You know, for some reason I think you have to know music … not really, no – because Richie [Fontana, formerly of Piper] doesn’t. You don’t have to read music, but you know … playing guitar might help. I don’t know, but my boyfriend, Richie, he’s an amazing writer. Peter wasn’t – sorry, sorry.

How would you characterize your marriage to Peter? It seemed like you had to play psychologist quite a bit.
LC: Well, to be honest with you, I thought we had a good marriage. We did fight, but I thought everybody fought. And you know what it is? I realize now everybody doesn’t fight, because I think you fight when you’re younger because you’re just too immature. Richie and I, we’ve been together 11 years, and we’ve had two fights. That’s it. Two fights in 11 years. And they weren’t major … well, one was major, and one, neither one of us know what the fight was about (laughs). “Why did we have that fight?” We don’t even remember. Anyway, one was a major fight, but the thing is when you’re young, you fight a lot more. You’re jealous. You’re immature. Richie’s been through … do you know who Richie is?

Richie Fontana?
LC: Yes. He’s been on the road with a major band, Piper. He was with the Skatt Bros., which was Sean
Richie Fontana - Piper
Delaney. He’s had a great career. He was on Paul Stanley’s album, the solo album. And he was a drummer, but he also plays every other instrument. He’s like a McCartney, like a McCartney of the Aucoin people. You know, we don’t fight. We’ve both been through it all, we both know … hey, we’re mature. I know he’s gone out with girls. He knows I’ve gone out with guys. What are you going to do, fight about the past? But that’s the thing: Peter was always jealous, and he says I was jealous, but of course, I was jealous because he admits he was cheating on me. Why shouldn’t I be jealous?

Was it the drugs that changed Peter? Or was it the success? Or was it all of it?
LC: No, that’s what broke up our marriage. You know what I used to say to Peter? I’ll be honest with you. I used to say to Peter, “Look, I know you’re a rock star now. And I know you’ve got lots of girls all over, hanging all over you. And I’m sure you sleep with some of them. Just don’t take them to breakfast.” In other words, “Don’t flaunt them in front of your band members. Do your thing and get rid of them.” Debbie, obviously, he didn’t get rid of. And he wound up marrying her. I believe that it was all … at that point, drugs were a major part of our life, and that’s what really broke us up. I really believe that. It wasn’t the girls, because I knew he was with girls. It was the drugs.

It seems like him and Ace … I don’t know if they kind of ran together, but they seemed to be interested in the same things.
LC: The thing is … it’s not that they ran together, because they kind of didn’t. Yeah, Peter hung out with Paul a lot. We went on vacation together, twice. Once we went to Rockport, Mass., which is kind of like Martha’s Vineyard in a way. It’s near there. And then we also met in Hawaii together – me, Paul and Peter and whatever girl he was with at the time. I never actually went on vacation with Ace. So, it wasn’t like … I was closer to Jeanette [Trerotola, Ace Frehley’s former wife] than … well, actually, Paul had a girlfriend I was close to as well. But I’m not sure. I know we used to go out to clubs with Paul, because Paul lived in the city, but we were actually closer to Paul at one point. But I think that people think that Ace and Peter were close, but just because they both drank but it wasn’t necessarily that way.

Peter did have his wild friends like John Belushi.
LC: Yeah, we had John, but so did Ace. Ace knew John, but the thing is we were introduced by another friend of mine that used to do videos for KISS. We were introduced to John, and also, Sean Delaney worked with John Belushi. Yeah, Sean did work on “Saturday Night Live.”

What was the scariest moment for you with Peter?
LC: Um, when he would get violent. There were a few times. There was a time where I got hit by him. Three o’clock in the morning, we’re living in Brooklyn, KISS is doing their first album. Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner [the producers on KISS’s debut album] were joking with him, and they said, “Oh, Lydia’s flirting with Paul,” just because I was taking pictures and because they wanted to bust his balls. But he came home drunk and he wanted to beat me up, so he did. He punched me in the lip, and I had to go to work the next day and make an excuse for that one. That was scary. The other scary one was in my apartment in Manhattan, when we moved to the east side of Manhattan. I don’t know, we were having some sort of fight, and I wound up leaving and I checked into a hotel. And the other time was … there was another time he was hitting me, but basically … oh, we were on the road and I actually left the room and knocked on Bill Aucoin’s door and said, “Can I sleep in here,” and I did. At that point, Peter was wrecking the room, and I have photos of it.

In the end, you didn’t end up divorcing just Peter. You divorced KISS pretty much and your previous life.
LC: That’s the hardest part of getting divorced. You don’t leave a person. You leave their family, you end up losing their friends, and their business associates. Fortunately, I kept in touch with Ace. I’m not in touch with Gene or Paul. I see them occasionally, maybe once every 20 years … I don’t know (laughs). But I do talk to his family. I’m close to his family, his brother. I’m closer to his brother now than he is. He hasn’t talked to his brother in about 15 years. He only talks to one of his sisters, and the last time I saw Peter, which was at Bill Aucoin’s memorial, I had to tell him it was his sister’s … the one sister that he does keep in touch with I had to tell him it was her birthday.

Oh, is that right?
LC: I said, “You should call your sister.” The family is always complaining, “We don’t hear from him. We don’t hear from him.” So I tell him, and I have seen him in 16 years and I’m reprimanding him (laughs).

Learning how to be a photographer, did you ever think that would help you stand on your own two feet?
LC: Well, absolutely. I always loved being a photographer. My mother took pictures and my uncle was a professional photographer. My uncle actually built his own camera and he was in a photography magazine. He always had a Leica, which I wound up getting when he passed away. But my mother always used to go, “Oh no. Here comes aunt Mary with the camera.” And that was my mother. So I always had a camera, and when I finally was getting divorced, I’m going to go for lessons, because we had finally gotten professional cameras. And you know, you can learn a little bit through … you know, once we were in Japan they were telling me what to do with this camera and I’m going,”Ugh. I’m like lost.” But I went to school. I went to school, to the New School in New York City, and I took a couple of classes. Jeanette was supposed to go with me, but she bailed out. And so I took a couple of classes, and I learned how to use the camera. And I just said to myself … I just remember walking in my home in Greenwich, and I thought, “You know what? Your life is not over. You can do whatever you want to do, and you’re going to do it.” I just said, “I want to be a photographer.” And that’s what I became.

Who was your favorite band to photograph?
LC: Ah, Queen. Queen. Well, KISS would have been if they’d allowed me to be in the pit, but I wasn’t allowed because of Peter. It wasn’t KISS; it was Peter who didn’t want me there. But Queen has the best lighting. I loved their lighting. I mean, I’m not sure, but I’m sure KISS had great lighting also. I mean, I love to photograph KISS. They’re so visual. But other than KISS, it would be Queen.

Was there a photo that you’ve taken over the years, maybe of Freddie [Mercury] or somebody, that’s your favorite?
LC: Oh yeah. I got a picture of Freddie where he’s standing with his fist out and he’s standing sideways and the lights from something on the stage just keep going. It’s an amazing photo and the weirdest thing about it is [famed rock photographer] Barry Levine asked me for a copy of that photo.

Oh, is that right?
LC: So, you know who Barry is, right?

He taught you a few tricks, right?
LC: Barry is my inspiration, and so is Bob Gruen. They both inspired me. Barry inspired me with his professionalism and his creativity. Bob Gruen inspired me with respect to you can do anything and they’ll love it (laughs). I said to Bob Gruen, “I have a photo in my book … some of them are dark, some of them are out of focus.” He goes, “It doesn’t matter. They’ll love them anyway.” I didn’t want them in my book, but my editors said, “Put them in the book. They’re history. They’re part of history (laughs).”

Do you have a favorite Ace story you could tell? It seems like there is a lot of them.
LC: Well, you know the one of him with the girl on the balcony.

LC: Jesus, I don’t know. I think Ace is a story in himself. He’s a character. Oh, all right. I’ve got a story about Ace. I probably don’t have it in the book. Okay … well, maybe I do. I’m not sure. Anyway, Ace is here one day. He’s at my apartment, and he’s going over to see this girl Linda, who lives on 72nd. I’m like a couple of blocks away from there. A few blocks from the Dakota. So he’s going over to see Linda, and he goes, “Lydia, could you lend me $20?” I said, “$20? What the hell are you going to do with $20?” And he says, “Oh, you know, just in case I need $20.” I said, “Ace, I’ll give you $50.” So I went over the safe and got $50 out of the safe and I gave him $50, and he goes, “Hey, you got a lot of money?” And I said, “No, but I’ve got money.” And he goes, “Will you marry me?”

And he likes to gamble.
LC: Needless to say, I never got the $50 back (laughs). He loves to gamble. I was at his apartment once. It was me and Jeanette. We were at the apartment, and he took a Lear jet to Atlantic City, and he called up Jeanette. And he says, “Jeanette, I’m not coming home tonight.” She goes, “What do you mean?” We were in his Manhattan apartment. He had a house at that point I think up it was up in Irvington, New York. It was just a rental. Or maybe he owned it. I’m not sure. He might have owned it. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t the big house that he bought in Wilson, New York. He goes, “I’m not coming home.” And she goes, “Why not?” And he says, “Because I’m winning $40,000. I’m up $40,000. And I’m not coming home. We’re rained in.” And she goes, “Okay, fine.” He winds up … the next day he takes the plane out and comes home with $25,000. She goes, “What happened to the other $15,000?” And he goes, “Well, I lost it. And I also bought you a mink coat (laughs).” He’s hysterical.

He hasn’t changed much, except for the sobriety I suppose.
LC: Yeah.


Look for more of our interview with Lydia Criss in the coming days. In the meantime, visit for more information on Lydia and the revised and expanded edition of her book, “Sealed with a KISS.”

No comments:

Post a Comment