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Lydia Criss Tells The "Beth" Story

There have been oodles of Kiss-related books issued over the years (heck, I even authored one a few years back, The Eric Carr Story). But I can honestly say that one of the best - if not THE best - Kiss book to ever be issued was assembled by Peter Criss' ex-wife, Lydia, titled Sealed with a Kiss.

What you'll find inside the book is a true "fly on the wall" view of Kiss' peak '70s period - with recollections and great photos spanning from Lydia's childhood and meeting/marrying Peter through to the masked group's formation, rise to fame, and eventually, Peter's exit from the band (and Eric Carr's first-ever performance with the group).

And it turns out that Lydia is a great rock photographer - in addition to snapping many pix of vintage Kiss, she also photographed other acts of the era, which are included in the book (Queen circa The Game, Van Halen circa Van Halen II, etc.). Lydia spoke with Songfacts about Sealed with a Kiss, as well as the personalities of Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter, "Beth," plus Kiss fans then... and now.

Greg Prato (Songfacts): Was "Beth" about you or the wife of Peter's bandmate from a pre-Kiss band?

Lydia Criss: Originally, the song wasn't a sweet song like it is now - it was a mean song. It was written about Peter's guitar player's wife [when Peter was in a band called Chelsea]. His name was Michael Brand, and her name was Rebecca - and everyone called her "Beck." You know, Becky. So when the song was written, it was written like, "Beck I hear you calling, but I ain't coming home right now. Me and the boys are playing." It's like, "It's too bad for you" - that type of song.

I'll never forget, Peter was so excited when he first wrote the song. We were waiting for him - we were having dinner in a restaurant - and he showed up late. He said, "I couldn't leave. We were finishing the song, and it came out so great!" He used to tape everything on a little cassette deck that he used to carry with him, so he played us the song in the restaurant. It was on an acoustic guitar and it wasn't that nice of a song. So it's like, "Fine. Whatever. We're hungry, let's eat."

He was in Chelsea in 1970 to 1971, then he was in Lips - it was written with one of the guys from Lips, which is Stan Penridge. Then he presented it to Kiss, because he wanted to get a song on an album, because basically, all the songs were written by Gene and Paul. So he presented it to them, and they didn't like it. They said, "We're not putting a ballad on. We're not that type of a band." And [Kiss manager] Bill Aucoin insisted that they do it.

So, Gene was a little perplexed. He says, "Well, we can't call it 'Beck,' because of Jeff Beck." Gene will never give me credit for this, because I know he takes credit for it, but it was me that named the song "Beth," because it was funny that Becky was a twin, and [head of Casablanca Records] Neil Bogart was married to a Beth, and she was a twin. It just kind of related. It got in my head, and I remember sitting in a limo one day... I don't think Ace was around and I'm not sure about Paul, but I know Gene and Peter were in the limo, and I was there. And I said, "How about 'Beth'?" They didn't say anything.

And then eventually when they went in the studio, they recorded the song. I was busy moving from Brooklyn into Manhattan and I was doing all the decorating, so I wasn't in the studio when they recorded this. I used to go to the studio a lot - especially now that I was living in Manhattan, it would have been even easier. But anyway, when it was all finished, they asked me to come down to the studio. They sat me on a stool, put headphones on me, and played the finished version of "Beth." And as the tears are rolling down my face, they said, "What do you think?" I said, "I love it! But it should have been called 'Lydia'!" [Laughs]

Basically they made it a nice song, like, "Beth I hear you calling, but I can't come home right now." I also wrote one line in the song - I mean, I said it to Peter. I was working for six years of our marriage and supporting Peter. When I finally stopped working, I said, "I feel so empty. I feel like this house isn't even my home." And he put that in the song. Because I was used to paying the bills, and being a Scorpio, kind of controlling things. When I moved, I didn't have control anymore, so I felt a little empty, and they put it in a song. Every time Peter would go out and sing that song, if I was on stage, he would first come out, bow to me, then go to his little stool.

Songfacts: How would you describe the personalities of the original Kiss members?

Lydia: They're all really nice guys. I know a lot of people say certain ones are assholes and this and that, but Gene is - as you know - intelligent. He's very business-oriented. When I would have a conversation with Gene, that's primarily what it would be about: finances. Paul was a type of guy that was always trying to make people laugh. We'd always talk about blouses and clothing, and the different things that are in style. And then we would also talk about diets and stuff like that. That was how I related to Paul.

But Paul was actually the closest to Peter, because they shared a room - when they had to share rooms at the beginning. And we didn't live too far from each other. We lived on 30th Street, he lived on 52nd. So it was only about 20 blocks, which is a mile. We went on vacation together and we used to go to clubs together.

As far as Ace goes, Ace is just a happy-go-lucky guy. He was probably my favorite of the band.

Peter is a very sentimental, sweet guy, but yet, if you say something wrong, he'll snap. I think he even says he's schizophrenic.

Songfacts: Have you kept in touch with the Kiss members after you and Peter split?

Lydia: Over the years, I've gone to some of the concerts. I didn't go throughout the whole '90s. I basically saw Eric Carr's first show [at the Palladium in 1980] and Eric Carr's last show [at Madison Square Garden in 1990], and then nothing in between. I was married a second time to a guy in the business, also. Not a musician, but a sound engineer and road manager. Kiss wasn't that hot then, anyway. I hear more Kiss songs on the radio now than I did then. I kind of took a different life and didn't keep in touch, except for Ace - I kept in touch with Ace. But I did go to the Hot in the Shade tour and I did see Gene and Paul after the after-party. So when I did see them, they were surprised to see me, and they always seemed very nice and pleasant to me.

As far as Peter goes, I talked to Peter a few times after I was divorced - we had business things we had to talk about. But other than that, we didn't keep in touch until recently when Bill Aucoin died [in 2010]. I saw Peter maybe for the first time in 15 years. I did call into the Donahue show [in 1991, when someone claimed to be Peter and was down on his luck - which turned out to be a hoax], to back him up, because that guy and that girl had everything mixed up - they were talking about doing things with Peter in clubs that Peter never went to. I just remembered certain things, and she had everything wrong. But anyway, I did see Peter then. He thanked me, and we went out to lunch with his wife at the time. But basically, that was it. I really didn't keep in touch with anybody except for Ace. I spoke to Gene occasionally; I saw Paul occasionally.

Songfacts: Did you get a chance to read Peter's book [2012's Makeup to Breakup: My Life in and Out of Kiss]?

Lydia: I did read Peter's book. I read it - believe it or not - with a highlighter. [Laughs] So everything that was wrong, I highlighted. And let me tell you, there is a lot of highlighted parts! He's not accurate. He's also an exaggerator. There were some things that I was a little bit surprised to hear, but kind of felt it always in the back of my mind. I didn't know a certain part of his life: When he was going through rehab and stuff like that, I wasn't with him. I heard about it vaguely through my mother, who had a friend that knew someone that was in the rehab place with him. I'd hear drips and drabs of things that were happening, but didn't really keep in touch with him.

Peter put in the beginning of the book - which kind of saves his ass - "The names have been changed to protect the innocent." He talks about something that happened with Bill Aucoin, but yet, he says it was Sean Delany - or vice-versa. The thing is, the people he really says bad things about aren't around anymore, so they can't defend themselves and they can't sue him - like Sean Delany and Bill Aucoin.

Songfacts: How did you get into rock photography?

Lydia: My mother always loved photography, but my uncle was a professional photographer. I always had my mother's camera, and then when I was about 16, my girlfriend gave me a little Kodak Instamatic camera. That was what I used at the very beginning - when I first was taking pictures of Kiss, we didn't have a lot of money, otherwise I would have had a lot more photos. I would buy film and use one or two rolls at the shows. I wasn't at every show, so I couldn't film everything.

And then eventually, we went to Japan and I got a professional camera, and then I decided to take photography classes at the New School in New York. Just basically learned how to use the camera, because it was a camera I was not used to at all. It went from taking pictures, and then eventually, "What do I do with these pictures?" So I hooked up with an agent, and she was someone that I had known and just briefly met during one of the Kiss concerts. We hooked up and I was with her for over 16 years.

Songfacts: I really believe that your Sealed with a Kiss book is one of the best books on Kiss out there, and I have a feeling it is one of more accurate books, as well.

Lydia: It is the most honest and it is the most accurate. I wrote down a lot of things. I had a little bit that was a diary when we went to Europe, but then I had a composition notebook, which there is a picture of in my book, where I kept all of the records of Peter's shows before he was in Kiss. And some of the stuff that is on the list is also Kiss before Bill Aucoin. So it's some of the Daisy and the Diplomat and the Coventry - those shows.

It's accurate with how long they played, what they played - I actually have what their salaries were, but I didn't put that in the book, because it was a joke. [Laughs] They were lucky if they got paid that night, after they would pay some of their little help. They had a couple of road guys: Peter's brother, Bobby McAdams, and Eddie Sloan. If they got $35, that was a lot. I kept records of everything, because my background was bookkeeping. I never planned on doing the book, but for some reason, it helped.

Songfacts: And there is a newer revised version of the book, right?

Lydia: The thing is, by the time I was finishing my book, I was practically on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It took me a whole year, without seeing any of my relatives. I would stay up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, the sun would come up, I would go to sleep, get up at 2:00, and start all over again. I got to the point where I was going to put the list of all of Peter's shows and some extra photos, and I just said, "I'm going to leave it out. I'm not going to put it in the book." It already had 368 pages.

I wanted to get the book out for Christmas, so you have to get it out in the summer - before the fall. So I successfully got it out - I think it was the beginning of September - and then when I finally sold out of the book, I was a little calmer by then, and I said, "Let me put what I didn't put in the first book in the second printing." So that's what I did.

Songfacts: Which photos are your favorite in the book?

Lydia: There's one photo I took of Kiss in Japan. I'm on stage, so it's their backs. Some of the stuff from New Haven, when I was just about to get divorced [Lydia and Peter divorced in 1979] - I went to the show with my lawyer and his son! Those are some of my favorites. There are pictures that Bob Gruen took - Bob Gruen is the photographer who took the Dressed to Kill album cover, and he also took all the John Lennon photos [during Lennon's "NYC era"]. I have a few when I was younger. There's a lot of good photos in the book. The problem is that they wouldn't let me go into the photo pit, because it was too dangerous, so I had to do everything from the stage. Eventually, I think it was Dynasty, I got to be in the audience. I was separated from Peter, so I wasn't backstage at all. I did get some pretty good shots that night... but you've got to get the book and see!

Songfacts: Besides Kiss, you've taken great photos of other artists - Queen, Rod Stewart, etc. - which are also included in the book.

Lydia: Queen and Rod Stewart are my favorites. Queen is my favorite band and Rod Stewart is my favorite solo artist, so I was at a lot of their shows. I think Queen had the best lighting in the business - other than Kiss. They were a very visual band. And as far as Rod Stewart, I knew someone that was in the band, and I worked with his cousin. So I was able to get tickets to see him a lot. I remember once, I went up to Ron Delsner's office and got 13 tickets for all my friends. We paid for it at that time, because by then, I was divorced. It was in the '80s.

But I also took pictures of Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Foreigner - I was at the Live Aid show. My second husband was friends with Ian Hunter, the singer from Mott the Hoople, and he was the best man at my wedding. I actually got to meet a lot more famous people when I was married to him than I did with Peter, believe it or not. David Bowie, Paul Rodgers, the Saturday Night Live cast. John Belushi was at my house - he was a friend up until the end. I saw him like two weeks before he died.

Songfacts: You mentioned Queen - who was the better live band at the time, Queen or Kiss?

Lydia: Well, Kiss had the explosives. But technically, Queen is a better band. Musically, they are just phenomenal. Freddie Mercury has got the best voice in rock n' roll. He could hit octaves that nobody else can.

Songfacts: You make appearances at Kiss conventions. How is it meeting fans now compared to meeting fans in the '70s?

Lydia: They're all very humble and nice. The funniest thing is all their children are dressed up as Kiss. In the '70s, they were a little more standoffish - they weren't as friendly. Now, they're just really super nice. I go out to dinner with some of them, some of the times.

Songfacts: Lastly, what is your favorite Kiss song?

Lydia: Well, "Beth" is my favorite Kiss song. And I hear it on the TV now, which is even more daunting - it's in a Volkswagen commercial. Peter always said if we ever break up, he will haunt me for the rest of my life, and I guess he's doing it! [Laughs] My other favorite Kiss song is "Hard Luck Woman." And I do like "I Was Made for Lovin' You."

February 15, 2016.
For more info on Lydia and book ordering info, visit lydiacriss.com.
All photos by Lydia Criss.

    About the Author:

    Greg PratoA journalist from Long Island, New York, Greg's books include A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video. Get more info about Greg's books here. You can also follow Greg on Twitter.More from Greg Prato
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Comments: 4

Great article. Classy lady.Scott from Atlanta, Ga
Love you Lydia!! You are amazing and a real sweetheart!!Kevin Leblanc from Nova Scotia
It comes across in this interview, but I will write it anyhow. Lydia is the sweetest. She is a very warm, friendly person who goes out of her way for us fans. Her book is incredible.Mark from Ohio
I can say that you were always on top of things, even when he thought he put one over on you. Glad to call you"my friend".Rosie from Tennessee
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