As research of a personal project I have been devouring memoirs and biographies by women in rock & roll. It has been at turns hilarious, inspiring, and infuriating. For this edition of Buy, Borrow, Bypass I’m presenting you with a bunch of ladies who rocked the 70s and early 80s.
Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways by Evelyn McDonnell
The Runaways were meant to be the female answer to The Rolling Stones, with the extra gimmick that they were a bunch of teen girls. And what a bunch they were. This band spawned the careers of both Joan Jett and Lita Ford. But how did they go from being a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed act to a mere footnote in the annals of rock & roll history?
Evelyn McDonnell explains it in this meticulously researched and surprisingly balanced biography of the band. She interviewed all the surviving members and the creepy, weird dude who put the band together. She explains what the girls were up against and how they got in their own way. Plus, there’s a heaping helping of (as our own Rebecca Schinsky calls them) of Hey Didjaknows. Like: Cheap Trick opened for The Runaways quite a bit. Also: The dudes in the band Rush were total assholes and wouldn’t even let The Runaways do a soundcheck.
Verdict: Borrow. This might be a shocking verdict, especially when you consider that I worship at the altar of Joan Jett (and have a Joan Jett Barbie Doll sitting within arm’s length of where I type). However, I am a believer in only acquiring books that make your heart race and sigh dreamily, and this is a fun, fact-filled wonderful book but not a dreamy sigh.
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt
So there was a time in the 70s when Linda Ronstadt was dubbed the Queen of Rock & Roll. I had no idea, until I read her memoir. My Ronstadt knowledge pretty much started and ended with “Somewhere Out There,” the theme song from the movie “An American Tail” (you remember Fievel the mouse, right?).
And now, after reading the memoir from the only female nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, I feel like I’ve added a lot of Ronstadt factoids to my memory, but it all feels really trivial. This is a pretty slim volume for someone who has spent more than forty years in the music industry. It clocks in at 200 pages even (though there is an exhaustive discography that adds a to the page count). Ronstadt talks a lot about the music she sang and why and how it made her feel and pushing herself vocally, but doesn’t dish much dirt about her personal life or the people in it. The book feels like a bunch of random asides with a few interesting anecdotes thrown in for good measure. The best part of it was learning that Ronstadt was responsible for the formation of the Eagles when a bunch of them were put together to form her back up band. There, I saved you 200 pages worth of reading.
Verdict: Bypass. Unless you’re a Ronstadt super fan or really want to know about all that early singer-songwriter country rock music of the 70s, this one is a skipper.
Between a Rock and a Heart Place by Pat Benatar
What Pat Benatar’s memoir lacks in the sex and drugs department she makes up for in pure, white-fury over the sexism in the music industry and it is awesome. And it is, oddly, a really sweet love story by a nice woman who loves music — a tricky thing to pull off, and somehow she does. This one starts a bit draggy — high school vocal lessons, an early marriage that’s not such a hot idea, quitting it all, and singing in a comedy club. You know, the usual. But once Benatar’s career takes off, this book takes off. Hooey, it’s a good’un, even if you’re not a huge Benatar fan. Though come on, “Love is a Battlefield”? How can you not be sort of a Benatar fan? She chronicles her constant struggles with the bunch of sexist assholes who run her record label. Men who insisted she not marry her musical collaborator and guitarist because that would make her unsexy. Men who demanded that she hide her pregnancy and never, ever be photographed pregnant, because moms aren’t sexy. This demand came even though Benatar and her husband tried unsuccessfully for years to get pregnant and had actually given up on the idea of being parents (they’re not the parents to two daughters).
And it’s not all woe is me this was my struggle. In fact it’s very little woe and more can you believe this bullshit? And all of this is soaked in Benatar’s love of music, the joy it brings to her life, and her never-ending wonder that “wow, this is my life.” It’s charming as hell and empowering and this one has skyrocketed moved to #2 on my list of women who rock books.
Verdict: Buy. It’s a fun walk through music history, MTV, and how the love of music can overcome the struggle with sexism.
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