Ida Langsam Takes The Oath
Publicist pro discusses working with KISS during a challenging time in their history and trying to get word about "The Elder" out to the masses
Ida, I see you started at Ren Gravatt Associates in '74?
Ida Langsam: Ren Gravatt, yeah. That's actually my first full-time, paying PR job. I actually started as the New York City area secretary for the Official Beatles Fan Club, which was an unpaid voluntary position while I was in school.
Oh, how fun. So by 1978, you were with MJL Management as director of PR, and the following year you were with the Howard Bloom Organization and they handled Peter Criss' solo album PR in 1980. Could you tell us about your background, and how you entered the publicity field?
Well it was through my love of the Beatles. I knew I wanted to do something related to the Beatles - anything I could do to work for them, and I didn't know what that entailed. So when I graduated high school my father sent my mom and me to Europe for three weeks. The first stop was London, and of course, that's all I wanted was to go to London, so it was 10 days in London, nine days of which I spent standing outside Paul McCartney's house, waiting for him to come out and, you know, talk to the fans and sign autographs and take photos, etc. And my then best friend was with me, and so when we came back to New York, she wrote a letter to Mal Evans, who was Beatles' road manager, roadie, whatever you want to call him. He actually wrote back, so we were so excited about it, that we went up to the Beatles' fan club headquarters. Living in Manhattan, it was a very easy thing to do. We could just find out where it was and go there. We showed them the letter that Mal had written, and they kind of set us straight and said [that] he does that to everyone. He tries to pick up girls! So, we were very innocent teenagers - we had had no idea!
So we just started hanging out there after school, volunteering and helping by stuffing envelopes, or doing whatever crap work was needed. The fan club was divided into states. Each state had its own area secretary who was responsible for answering letters from dues-paying members. Another responsibility was writing a newsletter, once a year, which the fan club would [then] mail out to the fans in that state. New York and California had two, because the area was so big. So New York had New York City and then the rest of New York State. The girl who was the New York City-area secretary had to resign because she was going out of state to college, and the head of the fan club asked me, "Would you like the position?" And I was like, "Yeah, I think so. I'll take it!" So, that was really my first taste. I didn't know that it was really publicity, but that's what I was doing. I was answering fans' questions that they sent in by letter. They would send letters and I would answer them and send it back. They would ask stupid questions like, "What kind of toothpaste does George Harrison use?"
That sounds like not much has changed for the questions fans often ask!
Really silly stuff! Then instead of doing a newsletter once a year, I did it four times a year, just because I was that enthusiastic! I worked there until the fan club closed down because George Harrison decided that the Beatles really didn't exist anymore - 1971 or so. There was no reason to have a fan club. In the late '70s, when John and Yoko were living in New York, and the government was trying to throw them out of the country an organization was formed. It was a non Beatles' fan organization, a political organization fighting the government, and it was run by a very small handful of very active political activists - they weren't Beatles' fans. They just didn't want the government to be able to throw John out of the country. So they got in touch with me and asked if I still had the contact information for all of the Beatle Fan Club members. I still had all the info, so they asked me if they could have it and I brought it in to them because they wanted to send petitions to them - so that these fans could get their friends to sign the petitions, and then the petitions would be sent to the government. That was the theory. So they offered me a job to work up there to really file the petitions and organize the office. It was grunt work. But, I also worked as an assistant to the woman who was doing the publicity, so that was my first taste of real public relations and organizing a press conference and so on. So, that's how I started.
Mailing lists are gold! Let's jump into your move to Aucoin Management International. When did join AMI?
January 1st, 1980. I think.
Was there anything in particular that made that position particularly attractive to you? How did you end up working for AMI?
When I was working at the Howard Bloom Organization, I was the senior publicist, and they gave me the difficult acts to work. Peter [Criss] had parted ways with KISS... I don't know if it was Bill [Aucoin] or if it was Peter's record label who hired Howard to handle the solo campaign. I was the publicist that was assigned to it. There were about six publicists and like four assistants. So it was a fairly big organization, a fairly big company, and I'm not sure that he put individual publicists' names on the [press] releases, but we all had individual clients. We didn't really share clients. I was doing press for Styx, and they were on tour constantly, so I had one of the assistant publicists, as my assistant. She was responsible for tour press, and I was responsible for national press, because there was so much going on at the same time. It was like at the height of their success. So, anyway, I was the person who handled Peter's solo debut. I got him the interview in People Magazine, which was a couples' piece, with him and Debra. Peter had a house in Connecticut, and I'm pretty sure that's where they did it. So I think Aucoin was so impressed with the fact that I was able to secure a feature for Peter in People that Bill approached me and asked me if I'd like to come and work directly for Aucoin Management, and for KISS.
So you basically went from working with Peter - who had just left KISS. And yes, your name's actually on one of those Howard Bloom releases - the Peter Criss schedule for the taping of the "Tomorrow Show:" "Ida will meet Peter at the NBC Building." So, Oct. 22, 1980...
There you go. So if that was October 1980, then that would mean I started at Aucoin in [early] '81.
What were essentially your primary responsibilities at Aucoin and where were you in the overall reporting structure? Did you report to Jayne [Grodd]?
No, I reported directly to Bill.
Were you specifically given KISS to work with or were you working with any of the Aucoin represented acts?
I was responsible for press for all the artists signed to Aucoin, any events that they had, and for Aucoin Management itself in terms of corporate press. I was the only publicist there. I had an assistant, and it was just me and her.
That must have been a lot of work then, with the size of their roster at that time?
Yeah, it was pretty intense, although it was always understood that KISS was No. 1, 2 and 3! Everybody else came after that.
Can I throw some of the names from the era out at you and just say what your relationship was with them? Let's start with Ric Aliberti.
Ric and I were on an even level in terms of hierarchy. He ran his division and I ran my division. My division was the PR, and his was promotion - radio. He had one assistant and it was the same thing.
Rosanne worked at Howard Marks, which was the financial management company. She didn't work at Aucoin. I didn't have that much day-to-day contact with her, because I didn't have anything to do with the monetary situation of the band. So if I needed something monetarily, I would have to go to Bill, and then he would go to Howard, and secure whatever it was, if I needed a certain budget for a publicity campaign.
That makes sense from the financial organization side of the band and their business. I won't even mention Howard Marks then. Jayne Grodd, where does she fit into the picture?
Jayne had the office right next to mine. We shared a wall. Jayne was already there when I started working at Aucoin. She'd been there for a few years, and she was KISS' "God" - like their right, left and middle hand. She just took care of everything for the guys individually and coordinated everything that they did, both business-wise and personal. So she was super, super involved in everything.
The keeper of the schedules and everything that goes with that, no doubt.
Everything. When Gene was building his apartment, he had bought the air rights on a building on Fifth Avenue and like 64th Street or something. At one time it had been a mansion, and it was broken up into floor level apartments and he bought the air rights to build his own apartment on top of the building. It was only like a six-story building. It wasn't like a sky-scraper or anything. As I understand it, when he bought the air rights he was going out with Cher, and she had her architect design the space. By the time I was working with him, he was with Diana Ross. When the apartment was being built the band was on tour - this was before I was with them - so Gene wasn't there to supervise. Jayne did everything. She supervised everything, she bought whatever he needed. I remember she told me it was Christmastime and people were asking her, "what can I give Gene as a present?" Or maybe it was like, "what can I give him as a housewarming present?" And she was the one who told them, "he needs a down blanket, he needs pots and pans, he needs, whatever!" She was practically living in the apartment, taking care of whatever needed to be taken care of, so she told people what she needed.
That's hilarious. She knew exactly what had to go in there.
She was cooking there, so she needed whatever. They didn't have microwaves then, but like a double-boiler, so she told them that Gene needed [one] - Gene never cooked! So that's just a pretty funny aside. But, that just shows you that Jayne absolutely took care of everything: Doctors' appointments, hiring limos, getting them airline tickets... You know, you name it.
Two more names: George Sewitt?
I didn't have that much to do with him, because he was mostly out on the road with the band.
Chris, I also didn't have that much to do with. He kind of signed the checks. He also worked at Howard Marks, not at Aucoin.
Ken Anderson, was he still around at that time?
Ken had the office next to Jayne, so it was like, Ken had the big office, then Jayne had her office and then I had my office. And then Stephanie had her office, and then Bill's office. So we were all against the same wall, so to speak. Nothing that I did directly impacted Ken, and nothing he did directly impacted me, but he designed all of their stage show.
Let's move on to Bill Aucoin. What were your general impressions of Bill at this time?
Being in the industry, for several years at that point, I knew who he was and I was well aware of his status and his part in the KISS history. So it's not like I went in there not knowing who or what he was. He was always a gentleman. He was always soft-spoken, always very personable and friendly. I never had a problem with him. The one thing he scolded me on was that I didn't hang out with the rest of the office crew often enough after work, going and hanging out at some Japanese restaurant for dinner.
That's a very minor complaint then, isn't it?
That's it. Because I don't drink. Everybody else were the pretty big drinkers. So there was no reason for me to be hanging out until 2 in the morning drinking when I didn't drink. That was the only reason that I didn't hang out with everybody. I had other things to do. I'd rather be going to a party or a concert or something than hanging out with a bunch of people getting drunk.
Do you remember what was the first major project you worked on when you transitioned from Howard Bloom to KISS?
They had started working on "The Elder." So that was my project.
"The Elder" project essentially runs from January 1981 through to April 1982. Doesn't that pretty much dovetail with your time with Aucoin?
So you're there for the whole "Elder" period.
A lot of the other people we've spoken to have recounted the members of KISS were often around the AMI offices. Do you recall meeting them for the first time?
Let's, let's do a quick word association then with each of the members at the time. Let's start with Gene.
His reputation preceded him. Look, I had been in the music industry at that point for maybe 10 years or something. So I wasn't starstruck. I was a little nervous because I knew he was my new boss, but I wasn't afraid of him. He's very imposing just because he's so big. I mean, I'm 5'10", but he's bigger than me. He has this aura about him of being large so that was a little intimidating at first. He takes up the room, so to speak.
When you opened the door to Aucoin's office there was a reception area, and the receptionist. Then there were glass doors. To walk into the office space, when you opened those doors, my office was immediately across from those doors. So I could see everybody who came in and went out. So you couldn't really walk past my office without saying hello. You know, looking in and waving or something. I knew that he had been born in Israel and I'm Jewish and I know a smattering of Hebrew. So one day he came by to say hello, and in Hebrew, I said to him, "Ma nishma?" Literally it means, "What's new," but it's used a greeting for "hi, how are you?" And he looked to the right and looked to the left, and made sure nobody was in the hall, and then he answered me in Hebrew. That was just a connection I made with him.
What about Ace Frehley?
Oh, Ace. When you say Ace, all I think of is his cackle. That was Ace. He was kind of oblivious. He was always in a haze. He was pretty much on a different planet, Space Ace.
I'm fighting for the right words here. I don't know. I don't know how to explain Paul. He was very serious about the success of KISS, the business end of KISS - doing the right things, making the right moves and the right decisions and coming off correctly in public to journalists. Saying the right things [and] making sure that the right information got across.
So very focused and driven, in particular?
Very particular. He wasn't easy to get close to.
That's something that I think a lot of people have alluded to - that he kept a lot of people on the periphery, kept them at arm's length and didn't really let them in close to him.
When I started there, I requested to meet with each band member individually, so that I could get to know them and just spend like an hour or so with them talking, getting to find out what they're like. The way I learned to do PR is by focusing on the musicians' personalities. If you, as a journalist, can get to like the musician as a person, then you're less likely to slam their work. I learned this from Howard Bloom. I was all about finding out about the person. What makes that person tick, what makes them an artist, what influenced him, his life story, etc? Paul was pretty hard to pin down. He was up in the office a lot, but he was in and out of there. You know, he did what he had to do and then he left. He didn't hang around. So, I kept saying, "I need to talk to Paul, I need to talk to Paul, I need to talk to Paul!" And one evening, right toward the end of the day, he came into my office with his dinner - they were always ordering meals for the guys when they were up at the office - and he sat in the chair opposite my desk and put his feet up on the chair and said, "okay, what do you wanna know?" And I was told afterwards that if he ate in front of me, he must like me! I never developed a particularly strong relationship with him. I think of any of them, I would think probably my most comfortable relationship was with Eric and then with Gene.
So let me ask about Eric Carr? Obviously, he's very new to the band at that time. He's just been in the band I think for five months and he's done a tour with them. But he's still very green.
Well, he was more experienced with the band than I was at that point. But he was the easiest to deal with on a personal level because he was still so amazed at his good fortune to have been chosen to be in the band. He was kind of still na´ve and wide eyed. Everything was new and exciting for him.
I think we'll add Peter Criss; obviously, you'd worked with him. What would you associate with him?
Not the sharpest pencil in the bunch. He was okay. He would basically do what you told him to do, without too much resistance. And I guess once in a while, he got into a snit. But that's pretty normal, most people do.
So, let's talk about 1981. You've met with all the members of the band. They're not really recording until I think April or May, and that goes through to September and they're hopping around from New York to Toronto, and maybe a couple other places. How are you approaching PR for the band in that time while they're basically constructing the album that becomes "The Elder?" What are you trying to do to keep their name out there? Or is it that's just what you're trying to do; keep their name out there?
We were trying to get some buzz going about the forthcoming album without giving away too much of the detail. I think we did let the news out about it being a concept [record]. If I recall, we were calling it the "soundtrack to a movie that had not yet been made" so that you would get the impression that if it was a soundtrack to a movie - then there was as story behind it and not just individual tracks, like their previous albums, or like anybody else's album. The concept albums weren't as plentiful as non-concept albums. The band was going through turmoil. They were questioning everybody. "Should we take the makeup off? Should we leave it on? Should we take it off? Should we leave it on? We're gonna take it off. No, no, we've changed our mind, we're gonna leave it on! No, what do you think? Should we take it off?" It was like every day there was a different decision. I was kind of restricted. There wasn't a lot that I could really tell the press because everything was in such a state of flux.
I don't know if you ever put these press releases out. There was a stack of them along the lines of "Paul pulls a tendon," "Gene's burglar alarm mystery - it's a pigeon going through laser beams." And "Eric Carr goes roller-skating." That sort of stuff... Were these just ideas, or did any of those actually go out to the, go out to places like "16" or any of the other magazines?
I don't really remember. I know that I had done a bunch of sample press releases and again, that goes back to how I approach press. Anecdotal press releases to get across the personality of the individual artist, so that the reader - ultimately the fans, but the intermediary being the journalist - would know something about their lives, could relate to them, could feel like they know them, which makes them feel closer to the artist. I wanted to do a whole series of these kinds of anecdotal things. And certain magazines were printing anything that you said about the band, anything that they could find out about the band. They were just hungry for any bit of information because up until then, the band had really kept their non-KISS lives and activities pretty quiet [and] out of the press. They didn't want that information out there, but they were aware that they were at kind of a low point in their popularity. It wasn't a high point and they were anxious to get back into the media in a much more spotlighted way.
YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS INTERVIEW, AND MANY MORE LIKE IT, IN "ODYSSEY: The definitive examination of "Music From The Elder," KISS' cult-classic concept album