Wilson sisters' memoir tells story of Heart

Howard Cohen / The Miami Herald /

Published Sep 30, 2012 at 05:00AM

“Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock&Roll” By Ann&Nancy Wilson with Charles Cross (It Books/HarperCollins, 280 pgs., $27.99)

Heart's story opens in October 1975 at Lucifer's, a Calgary club that couldn't exactly be called Carnegie Hall. The classic rock band's core, Ann Wilson, who sang and played flute, and her younger sister, guitarist Nancy, had relocated from the States to Canada because Ann was living with the band's manager Michael Fisher, a draft dodger. Nancy, meanwhile, entered into a relationship with Michael's brother Roger Fisher, Heart's guitarist.

“The club treated us to dinner before the show. We were thankful for it, because we often ate brown rice cooked on a camp stove in our hotel room,” Ann writes in the pair's new memoir. “But the food the club served had a suspicious odor. Actually, it tasted like Pine-Sol. I began to wonder if Lucifer's was trying to poison us because we weren't a disco band.”

Heart was not long for Lucifer's, maybe because of Ann's comment on stage about the aromatic fare before performing “Crazy on You,” which was still many months away from becoming a hit, or because Roger splashed a bottle of Grand Marnier on the dressing room floor and lit it on fire in homage to Jimi Hendrix at Monterey.

Decades later in 2008, Jake Brown's “Heart in the Studio” offered valuable insight into Heart's recordings. Brown's book secured interviews with the Wilsons, along with former producers, so the paperback proved unusually informative.

But Heart's story beyond the music hasn't been sufficiently detailed until the thorough and entertaining “Kicking & Dreaming.” The joint autobiography traces the history of a pioneering '70s rock group fronted by two sisters at a time when women didn't commonly lead rock bands. The Wilson family story also dovetails with the culture of America at the end of World War II, through the Korean War and the Vietnam War, which ultimately determined the setting of Heart's origin.

The briskly paced book arrives in a busy year for the sisters, who, in addition to writing this memoir, compiled a Heart box set, recorded “Fanatic,” a solid new album of heavy rock due in October, and embarked on a tour that brings them to Hollywood's Hard Rock Live on Nov. 4.

The various projects combine to capture all facets of Heart. But the book, co-written with Seattle-based music biographer Charles Cross, is the most satisfying for its breadth and spirit.

Using first-person voice, the Wilsons write movingly and with a sense of humor about their uprooted upbringing as daughters of a Marine who would become a school teacher. Ann dealt with issues concerning her weight from childhood onward (the two days she dreaded the most in school were Health Assessment Day and Valentine's Day).

Finding fame didn't solve the problems. Sexism was rampant in the music industry. Heart came to be derisively known as “Led Zeppelin with (breasts).” Worse, Mushroom, the group's defunct first label, placed an industry ad suggestively implying that the sisters were also lesbian lovers.

The ultimate take-home points from the Wilsons' memoir — familial love is plenty cool and believing in oneself is not particular to any one gender — is poignant.

“The bond between Nancy and me grows deeper each year,” Ann writes.

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