(Audio)Book Talk: KICKING & DREAMING, by Ann and Nancy Wilson

KICKING AND DREAMING by Ann and Nancy Wilson
Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll
Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson, with Charles R. Cross (Twitter) (Facebook)
Audiobook read by Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson
It Books (September 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0062101676 / 9780062101679)
Nonfiction: Autobiography/music/popular culture, 288 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Harper Audio, unabridged. ISBN 9780062243706; Audible ASIN B009CMO4ZY)
Reason for reading: Personal (recommended by Jodi at I Will Dare)

Opening lines (from the Prologue): “I never thought much about it at the time, but looking back it seems odd that our career came crashing apart and then came magically back together in a club named Lucifer’s.

“Robert Johnson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page. You might have expected all of them on the bill at Lucifer’s,Calgary, Canada. But in October 1975, the flame-red letters on the club’s marquee read FROM VANCOUVER…’DREAMBOAT ANNIE’ recording artists: Heart.” (Ann Wilson)

Book description, from the publisher’s website

The mystery of “Magic Man.” The wicked riff of “Barracuda.” The sadness and beauty of “Alone.” The raw energy of “Crazy On You.” These songs, and so many more, are part of the fabric of American music. Heart, fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson, has given fans everywhere classic, raw, and pure badass rock and roll for more than three decades. As the only sisters in rock who write their own music and play their own instruments, Ann and Nancy have always stood apart—certainly from their male counterparts but also from their female peers. By refusing to let themselves and their music be defined by their gender, and by never allowing their sexuality to overshadow their talent, the Wilson sisters have made their mark, and in the process paved the way for many of today’s female artists. 

In Kicking and Dreaming, Ann and Nancy, with the help of critically acclaimed and bestselling music biographer Charles R. Cross, recount a journey that has taken them from a gypsy-like life as the children of a globe-trotting Marine to the frozen back roads of Vancouver, where they got their start as a band, to the pinnacle of success—and sometimes excess. In these pages, readers will learn the truth about the relationship that inspired “Magic Man” and “Crazy On You,” the turmoil of inter-band romances gone awry, the reality of life on the road as single women and then as mothers of small children, and the thrill of performing and in some cases partying with rock legends. It has not always been an easy path. Ann struggled with and triumphed over a childhood stutter, body image, and alcoholism; Nancy suffered the pain and disappointment of fertility issues and a failed marriage but ultimately found love again and happiness as a mom. Through it all, the sisters drew from the strength of a family bond that trumps everything else, as told in this intimate, honest, and uniquely female take on the rock and roll life.

Comments: I’ve sometimes liked the idea of the band Heart–a coed rock group not merely fronted, but actively led, as songwriters and performers, by two women–more than I’ve liked the music they’ve created, and some of their most popular music isn’t among my personal favorites. But not many women have experienced the music industry the way Ann and Nancy Wilson have. In Kicking and Dreaming, a dual autobiography that reads like oral history, the sisters trace their individual and overlapping stories through nearly four decades in a shared family business.

There have been nearly 30 members of Heart over the band’s history, but the constants–and its public face–have always been the Wilson sisters, so it’s a bit surprising to learn that it wasn’t originally their band. Ann–the middle child of three girls, four years older than Nancy–started the group with a few male musicians she’d played with in their hometown of Seattle, after they’d all ended up in Vancouver; after years of pleading from her sister, Nancy eventually dropped out of college and moved north to join them. The sisters were used to wandering and to relying on one another, having grown up in a Marine Corps family and moving often until their father retired. That may have been good preparation for the constant touring that building a career in rock and roll demanded, and having each other’s backs in settings where they were often the only women (not counting the groupies) helped too. And while having the women out front–Ann singing, Nancy on guitar–didn’t hurt in attracting attention, the Wilsons truly saw Heart as a group effort, with their sister act linked to the Fisher brothers; guitarist Roger was another of the the founding members from Seattle, while his brother Michael was the band’s behind-the-scenes leader. For nearly a decade, Michael was also Ann’s boyfriend (and songwriting muse, the inspiration for “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You”), and for a time, Roger was Nancy’s. When these couplings crumbled, the band’s future grew cloudy, but the sisters still had each other. With new cohorts, they forged ahead and changed with the times, if sometimes reluctantly…but the music kept on going.

I prefer celebrity autobiographies to tell a little less than “all,” and this one complies. Kicking and Dreaming is candid without being excessively graphic; the Wilsons refer to the sex and drugs that accessorize the rock-and-roll life but don’t provide unnecessary play-by-play detail. However, this isn’t just a tale of the rock-and-roll life; it’s a tale of being women in the rock-and-roll life…and of being women, full stop. The sisters’ respective images–Ann’s more earthy, Nancy’s ethereal–may be based on their looks, but as they come across here, seem well-connected to their personalities. Ann is open about her struggles with weight, body image, and addiction; Nancy delves into the creative process. Both are devoted to music, work, and family.

The audiobook edition of Kicking and Dreaming accentuates the “oral history” feel, as the Wilsons trade off narration. Ann’s a somewhat more effective narrator–which isn’t that surprising, since she’s the lead vocalist–but there’s not a glaring discrepancy between her and Nancy as readers, and hearing their story in their own voices give it more intimacy. Listening to them tell it made me want to add some more Heart songs to my music library, and made me like them more than the idea of their band.

Rating: Book 3.5 of 5, Audio 3.75 of 5
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