Ann & Nancy Wilson, with Charles R. Cross,
Kicking & Dreaming:
A Story of Heart, Soul & Rock 'n' Roll

(HarperCollins, 2012)

They wanted to be the Beatles, at a time when other girls wanted to marry the Beatles. For Ann and Nancy Wilson, making music was almost always an important part of their lives. The challenge, then, lay in figuring out how they could make successful careers out of doing it. But if their ancestor Hannah Dustin could wield a tomahawk and kill her captors to gain her freedom in colonial Massachusetts, then surely the Wilson sisters could don guitars, approach microphones and slay audiences in the 20th century. Eventually, of course, they would.

Here they share their story in their own voices: a duet on the printed page, toggling back and forth between the two women. It's as if we are sitting across the table from them in a coffee shop, just listening to the two of them recount their experiences and memories. Other voices of friends and fellow musicians chime in when necessary. (After all, the sisters are "merely" the front-women for a full-fledged rock band.) But this one belongs to the Wilsons.

This memoir is everything fans of rock music and of Heart could ask for. We learn of their beginnings and growing up in a mobile military family, and then settling down in Bellevue, Washington. The sisters played at any venue that would have them in the early 1970s; at one point they were known as "Little Led Zeppelin" because they played so many Zep covers. We follow them to Vancouver, British Columbia, and tag along as the band called Heart began to gain real popularity, initially in Canada. After that, over the course of four decades, the path became a whirlwind course of music, touring, fame and fortune.

Naturally, we are treated to some juicy tales from that insider world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. We meet the real-life men and witness the incidents that inspired the lyrics to "Magic Man" and "Barracuda." The surrealism of the performers' rising position shows up in their inevitable interactions with other celebrities: the members of Led Zeppelin themselves, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the Van Halen brothers, Mick Jagger, Stevie Nicks. Still, Ann and Nancy were not beyond trying to track down the homes of some of their own favorite musicians, like Joni Mitchell or Paul McCartney. Their fan-like attempts are met with varying results.

Then there are all sorts of other "Devil's bargains" that arise, even beyond the easy availability of drugs and alcohol. The women learn firsthand about ethics and legalities of binding contracts in the recording industry. They are almost constantly confronted by the blatant sexism of the chauvinistic business they happen to be in, having to endure insults about appearances even while fending off unwanted advances. Ann and Nancy are seemingly honest about their intimate relationships, especially with brothers Michael and Roger Fisher. They name a few other names as well, but hardly as part of a vicious "tell-all" approach. We get the impression that they could both offer much more, if they were only given the opportunity.

The chronology leads from the great days of the 1970s to the "cocaine-infused eighties," and the era of recording MTV videos and constant touring. Heart turns into "a Seattle band that was never in Seattle." Then it's into the grunge years of the 1990s, as Ann becomes a single mother and Nancy supplies musical soundtrack scores for the films produced by her husband, Cameron Crowe. The sisters splinter off into separate projects but reincarnate themselves without the rest of the band as the "Lovemongers," together with friends Sue Ennis and Frank Cox. Their personal and professional lives change course with the inevitable progress of maturity.

It's always a gift to be able to see behind the curtain: to find out what went on in our favorite performers' lives while we were living out our own dramas, out in the audience. Now in their 60s (!), Ann and Nancy Wilson share their memories with a clear retrospective view. Not only are these women still performing, but they are still kicking and dreaming and above all, still keeping the love alive. It's easy to turn these pages to the strains of "Dog & Butterfly," "These Dreams" or other Heart songs ringing in your head, supplying a background to the narrative.

Kicking & Dreaming is highly recommended reading for rock music fans of any kind, whether or not they have ever followed Heart. This book is sure to create new HeartMongers as a result. These talented sisters deserve them.

[ visit the band's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

29 September 2012

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