Book review of Sealed with a KISS, Lydia Criss

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Buy your copy Sealed with a KISS starstarstarhalf starno star Author: Lydia Criss
Publisher: Self-published (2006)
Genre: Biography/Music

No matter what the product, one should always be armed with a certain amount of trepidation when approaching an item where the word “unauthorized” figures into its description. In the case of Lydia Criss’s autobiography, however, it’s easy for that one little word to get lost in the shuffle of her absolutely incredible personal collection of casual snapshots of Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and, of course, Peter Criss.

Lydia and Peter Criss first met in 1966, and although it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, it at least bore a decent resemblance to the concept. For Peter’s part, he claimed to have fallen in love when Lydia walked in the door for their first date; Lydia, meanwhile, started off thinking he was nice, but before they’d finished dinner, she’d changed her mind and decided that she hated him. Fortunately, by the time the evening came to a conclusion, he’d at least worked his way back up to “tolerable,” and after a few years of dating, the pair were married in January 1970. As it turned out, the couple’s marriage wasn’t destined to be a long-term arrangement – they were divorced in September 1979 – but if you know anything at all about KISS’s rise to success, you know that quite a lot happened in Criss’s career during those nine years…and Lydia had her camera with her for most of it.

Although it’s interesting to see the evolution of the band’s famous make-up and stage show, it’s also fun flipping through the pages and playing Spot the Celebrity. While growing up, it seems that one of Peter Criss’s best friends was Jerry Nolan, who’d later go on to serve as drummer for the New York Dolls; there’s a 1965 photo of the two of them flanking jazz great Gene Krupa. At a party for Casablanca Records, you’ll see Alice Cooper and David Janssen (“The Fugitive”); there’s a shot of very young Eddie Van Halen in London in 1978, a backstage photo of David Lee Roth in ’79, and a highly unlikely photographic pairing of Bob Geldof and Andy Warhol from an after-show party in the late ‘70s. The primary focus, though, belongs to the author and her then-husband; there are some great outtakes from a 1975 Creem photo shoot, where Peter is dressed to the nines in a suit, scarf, hat, and his omnipresent cat make-up, as well as some amusing shots of the pair at their home in Greenwich. For the record, though, if you can avoid page 193, do so at all cost -- unless, that is, you want to see a highly disconcerting photo of Peter with his member tucked between his legs as he stands beside the naked ass of Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kirslake.

It’s important to realize, though, that when the phrase “absolutely incredible” was used as a descriptor in the opening paragraph, it was in regards to the photos, not the text. “Sealed with a KISS” is a labor of love, one which Criss has been trying to get published in one form or another for the better part of two decades, and bless her for finally realizing her dream, but that doesn’t make her a professional writer. She does an adequate job of describing the events during KISS’s ascension to the top of the charts, but while there are certainly some interesting anecdotes within the book’s pages, it’s extremely easy to find yourself taking a pass on the text and just looking at the pictures. In Criss’s defense, however, the scrapbook-styled layout is legitimately enthralling, blending a mixture of photos, flyers, receipts, letters and postcards, ticket stubs and backstage passes, magazine covers, and even matchbook covers.

All in all, “Sealed with a KISS” offers an unique perspective, spotlighting both the rise of one of the most popular rock bands of all time as well as the sad decline of a marriage; it might be a bit too much for casual fans of the band, but members of the KISS Army will go absolutely ga-ga for its contents. It’s a shame that Peter, let alone the rest of the band, couldn’t offer at least a little bit of point-counterpoint to Lydia’s story, but you can’t say that she doesn’t have enough to show for the life she’s lived.

~Will Harris