I met Beth. As in the Beth in that song, "Beth" by the rock band Kiss off their album Destroyer.
Sung by drummer Peter Criss, the song became the band's biggest hit, achieved gold status and opened them up to a new level of respect and reverence despite it being directly obverse to the band's known hard rock sound.
Piano, flute and a symphony of strings were delicately utilized by producer Bob Ezrin for this sweet romantic ballad about a musician wistfully singing to his girlfriend/wife, desperately wanting to come home but unable to do so. And even though the song might've been sung to/for Peter's real life wife at the time, it may surprise people to know that her name wasn't Beth at all. It was Lydia -- Lydia Criss -- and I met her.
When you become a fan of anything, be it a rock band, a sports team or whatever else, after you've exhausted your fandom on the object/person in question, you either lose interest in said obsession and move on to something new or you graduate from novice fan to diehard fan. Your obsession mutates into a fascination for the minutiae surrounding said object d'amour.
For a sports fan, it might turn into extensive knowledge of all the back room dealings, the owners, the board of directors etc. For a rock fan, it might be an exhaustive knowledge of the producers, managers and roadies of their favourite rock band. Sometimes, the interest in the band's music gets superseded by the behind-the-scenes trivialities itself. When it comes to Kiss, I am one of those kinds of fans.
My fandom for Kiss will remain with me for the rest of my life. But I honestly don't listen to "Detroit Rock City" or "I Was Made For Lovin' You" all that much anymore. Even though it's a classic tune, how many times can one person be expected to listen to "Rock And Roll All Nite" without eventually wanting to slit their own wrists?
I've heard it so many times that it has the same impact as listening to "Happy Birthday" or the national anthem. No, my interest in Kiss endures because of the 40 years of rich band history there is to scour and revel in. Maintaining fanaticism for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley is similar to trying to sustain interest in Superman and Batman after you've discovered Wolverine, Moon Knight, Spectre and Hawkman. Although, some would argue that one's maturity level is already stunted if you're still in need of a Superhero/Rockstar fix.
Meeting Lydia was a huge moment for me. She's arguably part of the band's inner circle -- having been present during Kiss' formation, struggle and crest of success. Being Peter Criss' wife during the first decade of the band endows her with an insider's vantage point that isn't riddled with skewed ego that fame and fortune can sometimes indelibly leave on a person's psyche. But more importantly, she belongs to a very elite class of people -- the muse to one of popular music's greatest songs distinguished further by its one name title i.e. "Layla," "Angie" and "Suzanne."
When the applause, accolades and admiration finally dim on the singers and songwriters, whose output make up the soundtrack to people's lives, does anyone stop to wonder what becomes of their muses? When you're a zealous superfan you most certainly do. The desire to meet the subjects of beloved songs is assuredly a quest to understand the singer who sang about them. It's also kinda nuts.
Still, as someone who has harnessed muses for creative inspiration before, finding the nub of the songwriter through his/her muse is an elusive and futile task. Sometimes a muse is there to emote only a feeling; sometimes their influence is as slight as the delivery of a sung word. However, when the song is open, upfront, and about boundless love like "Beth" it piques curiosities. I had to meet Lydia.
I met Lydia in Manhattan on a day off from tour this past April '13. We agreed to meet at my hotel room to record a conversation for my podcast and to say I was nervous would've been the understatement of the year. Here was a woman who had in-turn inspired a thousand first/last dances, accompanied many a lonely heart and represented the longing for what countless others were going through. Truthfully, I only grew to love the song when I was far from home on tour and caught myself saying over the phone that I "can't come home right now" too.
All my fears and nervousness quickly dissipated within the first five minutes of meeting Lydia. She was disarming, charming and apologetic for being only two minutes late. I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief and nervousness turned to excitement -- I was about to have a one-on-one with "Beth."
During our hour-long talk, she was most obliging, happily enduring my inclination to steer the conversation back to Kiss and, probably for the millionth time, courteously went through the entire backstory that led up to the recording of the song. To hear it from the source/the inspiration of the song itself was indescribable and something I think only other Kiss fans would be able to appreciate.
Of course she also agreed to our sit-down because the second printing of her book, Sealed With A Kiss. The impressive photo book of her days married to Peter Criss had just been released and memories were easily reminisced. Stories I had read to mythologizing degrees were casually tossed off like they happened yesterday, but this wasn't some musicologist or historian, this was the source. I was in Kiss heaven.
When a band or person achieve superstardom the way Kiss did, supporting characters tend to get pushed aside regardless of how vital their role. Yet, no matter how deified, over-exposed and stale these major acts get it is at these moments when the tide shifts and these background players start to come to the forefront to assume their rightful place as diamonds in the rough.
Lydia is that diamond.
Listen to Danko interview "Beth":