We are following up our recent feature book review of Peter Criss, drummer of KISS’ book MAKEUP to BREAKUP, with an exclusive interview and book review from his first wife, Lydia Criss.  She gives a first-hand, behind-the-scenes account of what it was really like to be the first fan of the KISS Army.

by Bob Wilson

Lydia Criss spoke with me on January 4th, 2013 about the second printing of her KISS related tome, and some of her other musings and memories, as well. Much the same as as the band, Lydia was never boring, and came across as naturally sweet and gracious. Her book offers over 1,500 insider photos of the band, sundry memorabilia the KISS ARMY will drool over, and her autobiography covering the pre, during, and post Kiss years.

Lydia was in the “KISS fold” from before their inception, being the wife of their original drummer Peter Criss. When the band was forming their appearance in costumes and makeup, she helped to work as a seamstress on the now classic outfits.

Lydia asked if I knew that her “maden name was DiLeonardo”, before she recounted how she then earned the nickname “Annie Oakley” while working as a bookkeeper for Abercrombie & Fitch in Manhattan, as her duties included cleaning and pricing guns in the sporting goods department. Through these efforts, Peter Criss was able to concentrate his focus on the band, as they ascended to the heights of fame. The two had met in Brooklyn while he was playing at a local club, as she had “gone to the club with a girlfriend.”  Chemistry sparked between her and Criss and they would go on to marry. Her close-knit Italian family eventually warmed to accept the long haired drummer, though, at first, she said her brothers were “skeptical” of him.

Photographs cover moments both public and private through an insider’s camera lens. KISS ARMY members will be left drooling over saved backstage passes, and all variety of memorabilia documented here for posterity.  Lydia also recounts her life in three phases, that begin with her early life in Brooklyn, and leave us updated to her current relationship with rock drummer Richie Fontana.

Gene and Paul are portrayed by Lydia as solid businessmen, and keeping the band “alive” throughout it’s many incarnations over decades. The two also are said to have “their own spin on KISS lore”, but none can deny their common sense and determination in treating KISS as a business.  Although Ace is described as having the biggest heart of the original four members, in a sense he and Peter were lucky to be brought along for the ride in that aspect.

KISS has sold over 100 million records worldwide, 28 of which have gone “gold”. Simply put, love or hate Kiss, these are numbers that rank them with Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and almost anyone else we can name from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee list. Add in Kiss Halloween costumes, dolls, makeup sets, a tv movie (KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM, 1978), a KISS coffin, skateboards, tee-shirts, programs, and concert tickets, and you have quite a gold nugget in your miner’s pan. The group might be viewed more as a “Barnum & Bailey Psycho Circus” than ever being confused with Motzart, but it is hard to argue with their success.

Lydia’s book is an accumulation of items that she saved, to be remembrances when she looked back on these wild days later in life. KISS fans will feel fortunate that she decided to share these memories in this voluminous coffee-table book edition.

The book can be ordered at lydiacriss.com, or from amazon.com.