book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart write their life stories in Kicking & Dreaming…

I am reposting this May 2014 review I wrote of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s, book Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. For some reason, I never shared it on my blogs, so technically it’s not a repost from them. It was originally published on PopRockNation, and appears here as/is.

I have admired Ann and Nancy Wilson, talented sisters from Seattle, for as long as I can remember. These two women are among the most respected women in rock & roll. They have enjoyed a career that has spanned over four decades and are longstanding members of a band that has had chart topping songs since the 1970s. Heart is one of a very few bands that has enjoyed that kind of success and Ann and Nancy Wilson were integral to making that success a reality.

Since I am myself a singer and I do love my rock & roll, it seemed natural that I’d want to read Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll. The book was published in 2012, but I just got around to reading it. This book was a lot of fun to read and made me like the Wilson sisters even more than I did before. Ghostwriter Charles R. Cross did a masterful job in making this book sound as if it came straight from the Wilson sisters. When I finished reading, I felt like I’d love to know them as friends.

Back in 2008, Ann Wilson released an album called Hope & Glory. It consisted of duets she did with a number of different famous singers like Elton John, Alison Krauss, Gretchen Wilson, and Wynonna. I remember thinking at the time that the album was very left wing and political, since the songs were mostly covers of anti-war songs. I am married to a man who is about to retire from the Army, so the subject of war is a personal one for me. I bought this album when it first came out and listened to it fairly regularly for a time. At the time, I had no knowledge of the Wilson sisters’ own history with the military. I didn’t know they were Marine brats.

Ann Wilson covers Neil Young’s “War of Man” with help from Alison Krauss.

Ann, Nancy, and Lynn Wilson were the three daughters of John (Dotes) and Lois Wilson, a Marine and his wife. As kids, they had the typical military brat upbringing, with constant moves stateside and abroad. They spent time in Asia, with a couple of years in Taiwan, then came back to California, where Ann had been born in 1950. Eventually, their father left the Marines and became a teacher. The family made a permanent home in Bellevue, Washington, where Ann and Nancy Wilson blossomed into talented musicians who would one day be world famous rock stars.

Kicking & Dreaming is a very engaging book. Each chapter starts with an amusing rundown of what the chapter is about… kind of like a synopsis one might read in a TV Guide. Each sister’s voice is identified before she spins an old story of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, then growing into a music career. The Wilson sisters were fortunate enough to attend schools that promoted the arts, and that helped lead them to learning their craft.

At the age of 12, Nancy Wilson was a good enough guitar player that she was teaching others how to play. Ann was becoming a notable singer, with a big voice that seemed custom made for singing rock & roll. She and Nancy cut their teeth on songs by Led Zeppelin and Elton John. In Heart’s early days, the band’s bread and butter was capably covering songs made famous by other people. They would sneak their original material into their set lists at high school proms and in clubs. Many of the earliest shows were in Canada, because one of Heart’s original members had been a Vietnam draft dodger and couldn’t be in the United States. Consequently, Heart was originally more of a Canadian act… and they even got to play Michael J. Fox’s prom!

Heart sings Magic Man, a song they explain in their book.

The Wilsons are both big fans of rock music, too. There are some charming stories in Kicking & Dreaming about Ann and Nancy growing up, going to concerts, and going on quests to see certain rock worthies in concert. In one chapter, Nancy relates the story of how she borrowed money to buy a ticket from a scalper to see Elton John in concert. The ticket turned out to be fake and she almost got arrested when she tried to use it. Undaunted, she scaled a fence and snuck into the venue to see Elton anyway… and many years later, he became a friend and was the very first person to hear their 2012 album, Fanatic, as they were producing it in a hotel room! Another anecdote is about how Nancy and a friend went on a fruitless quest to find Joni Mitchell’s farm in Canada. Ann and Nancy eventually did meet Joni years later. What struck me about the Wilsons is how grounded and normal they seem; here they are big stars themselves, yet they write of being starstruck when in the presence of people like Paul McCartney.

Kicking & Dreaming doesn’t shy away from the more painful topics, either. Ann and Nancy Wilson had to deal with sexism from music business executives and fellow rock stars alike. In one anecdote, the Wilson sisters write about touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd and, because they were women, being tasked to watch the young son of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer, Artimus Pyle. Pyle basically dropped his kid off with Ann and Nancy and expected them to babysit while he went out on an “errand”. The boy ended up spending the night with the Wilson sisters. Artimus Pyle was later in the 1977 plane crash that killed several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd; he was seriously injured, but ultimately survived.

I also read about Ann Wilson’s struggles with obesity and alcoholism and the health problems that came from those issues. I read about both sisters’ quests for motherhood, which they both achieved, though not through giving birth themselves. They share details about their love affairs and friendships, some of which were with fellow famous people. It made for fascinating reading. I have a lot of empathy for both of them, even as I realize how lucky they are to be so talented and successful. Of course, being talented and successful is no barrier to personal demons and psychic pain; they have both dealt with their fair share. Fortunately, they are close to each other and their older sister, Lynn. They also have many lifelong friends, including Sue Ennis, a songwriter they met when they were just girls. Sue Ennis is a member of the Lovemongers, a band the Wilson sisters formed in the 1990s. She also teaches songwriting and music business classes at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, Washington.

An energetic Heart performance of “Straight On”.

I got a big kick out of the chapter in which Nancy Wilson writes about Sarah Palin’s political campaign ripping off Heart’s big hit, “Barracuda”. When Sarah Palin was a teenager, she played high school basketball and was so aggressive on the court that she was called “Sarah Barracuda”. Naturally, Heart’s big song seemed perfect for her campaign, except Heart never gave permission for her to use the song. No one in the band agreed with Palin’s Republican ideals. Moreover, the song, which was written in the 70s, is about the sleaziness of the music business. Nancy notes that it was kind of ironic that Sarah Palin’s camp would want to use it to promote Palin as a potential Vice President of the United States. In the long run, it turned out Palin’s use of “Barracuda” was lucky, since it got new people listening to it and wanting to know what the song meant.

“Barracuda” in 1977.

Kicking & Dreaming is a fantastic read for Heart fans or for anyone who just likes a rock & roll memoir. Ann and Nancy Wilson have dealt with all kinds of adversity throughout their long careers, yet they still seem like really cool women from Seattle who just want to rock and roll and are lucky enough to get paid to do it for millions of people. I highly recommend their book.

According to Nancy Wilson, Ann and Nancy got paid a lot of money to make this ad!

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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My special brand of shitty sunshine…

I sort of casually follow the Confessions of a Funeral Director’s Facebook page. I’m not sure what got me turned on to it. I probably saw a post or two shared by someone else and it resonated. Maybe I just thought he was a cutie patootie. He is a good looking guy, not that I get a lot of crushes anymore.

Last night, I happened to read a post he– that is, Caleb– shared about why he writes. He started it off with this: “Speak and write about your scars, not your open wounds. That’s the axiom you’re supposed to follow as a writer.” Those two opening sentences really hit home for me, since I have occasionally gotten complaints from people that I “share too much TMI” in my blog. Some people have said I’m “inappropriate”, and have offered the unsolicited advice not to publish certain things, because it makes me look like an ass.

Well, folks, if the truth be told, sometimes I am an ass. However, I think most people are asses at some points in time. Nobody’s perfect. I used to try to be a certain way because I felt like it would make me more likable to other people. I was also encouraged and pressured to be that way by other people, namely my parents and sisters. But then I realized that being something or some way I’m not makes me less than authentic. It’s also exhausting and depressing.

Caleb, the funeral director continues with this: “Burnout, secondary trauma, PTSD, depression, fear, disassociation, social anxiety . . . these are all a part of my concoction of diagnosed open wounds (more on the diagnosed part of things when I’m feeling up to talking about it). And these wounds rarely have time to heal when their source is your job. For some of us, like me, writing from our scars isn’t entirely possible because some wounds just remain . . . open.” Boy, oh boy, can I relate to that passage. I write about my pain. I’m not sure if it helps make the pain go away so much as it helps me to process it in some way. Some wounds are slow to heal. Some never completely heal. I would imagine that as a funeral director, Caleb gets a fairly regular shot of pain to the psyche and sees things that may make him think about his own mortality. Like me, he writes to process.

I thought Caleb was really profound with his comments about “scars” until I read what he wrote next: “…I love spreading my darkness and pain around the Internet. SEE MY PAIN AND WALLOW IN IT WITH ME!!! I’m basically becoming the Grumpy Cat (RIP, beloved feline patronus) of the funeral industry, here to give you the pleasure of seeing transparent online suffering.” Oh my God, YES! I totally relate. People have asked Caleb why he doesn’t just “quit”. I wonder if they mean caring for the dead, or writing about his experiences. In the next paragraph, Caleb sort of indicates that they mean “caring for the dead”, which can take a huge emotional toll on a person. He says he stays in his job because he’s good at it. He knows he can help people. And maybe, he says, he “might have a slight Messiah complex.”

I see this place as where I spread my special brand of shitty sunshine. I know I have written things that others have found entertaining, informative, or even thought provoking. I’ve also written offensive things that upset people. I own it. Some writers love to write only positive, uplifting, wise things. Me? Sometimes I feel kind of like Alison Krauss when I write. She sings a lot of sad songs and they really resonate with people. I once read that she likes to record songs that make people feel like crap. She even put it that way, although she was kind of joking. Alison Krauss, for all of her sad songs, has always struck me a bit as a frustrated comedienne.

Alison Krauss channels Michael McDonald in a tragic song that makes people feel like crap… and love it.

At a concert, Alison Krauss told a story about how she’d wandered into a used record store in Nashville and found an old song by Michael McDonald called “It Don’t Matter Now”. The prospect of recording it was exciting to her, because “we don’t want anybody listening to us feeling good!” I see from the link that the reviewer attended a 2005 Alison Krauss and Union Station (AKUS) show in Seattle. I remember that year, Bill and I also saw AKUS, only we caught it in Richmond, Virginia. I also remember her telling that story. We were in the nosebleed seats, because that was during our “poor days”. Alison doesn’t seem to be recording as much these days, but her comments about singing songs that make people feel like crap have always resonated with me. If you were to meet me in person, you may catch me on a day when I’m being hilarious and entertaining. Or you may catch me when I’m feeling depressed and mad at the world. Maybe I’m like this because I’m a Gemini… or maybe I’m simply nutty. So far, I haven’t actually hurt anyone by being who I am. Maybe I’ve hurt people’s feelings, but people have hurt my feelings, too. I think it’s very hard not to sometimes hurt people. As long as it’s unintentional, I don’t think it’s a problem.

For me, writing is kind of healing, even if I’m writing about an open psychic wound and express emotions like anger. Anger, by the way, is not a negative or toxic emotion in and of itself. Sometimes anger can be very empowering and motivating. If we were all peaceful and placid every day, why would we be motivated into taking action when action is warranted? If a person lets anger turn them into someone who does destructive things, like slashing tires, getting into fights, or drinking themselves to death, that would be negative. But writing about being angry or depressed– expressing anger on paper– is not, in and of itself a destructive action… even if someone reads the words and gets upset about it. Reading someone else’s words is always a choice, especially when you’re accessing their “place”. In my case, it’s my blogs. I can write things down, but I can’t control other people’s reactions. And, unless I make everything private, I can’t control whether or not they choose to read this stuff… my special brand of shitty sunshine, which is sometimes very hot and bright, but also stinks.

Maybe Joni Mitchell?

Anyway… reading Caleb the funeral director’s thoughts on his writing, which he admits is sometimes kind of depressing to read, really hit home for me. Some of us are just grumpy and we exorcise our crankiness by writing. It beats slashing tires or driving drunk, and it’s quieter than singing.

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