Go on, be the millionth dude to ask Ann and Nancy Wilson what it's like to be "women who rock" and see where that gets you. Straight out of the gate in Kicking & Dreaming, a tell-all about the birth of musical behemoth Heart, the sisters respond to that sexist query with a yarn about Hannah Dustin, a long-ago relative who "murdered men with a hatchet, scalped them and later sold their scalps for a reward."
Wielding an ax — of the blade or guitar variety — is in the Wilson sisters' blood. So is defining life not along gender lines but by who can rock the hardest on stage. Cue the raging Heart classics: Crazy on You, Magic Man, Even It Up. Yeah, like that.
After reading Kicking & Dreaming, I'm hearing the Wilsons anew. Alternating back and forth with filter-free reminiscence, Ann — struggling with her body image and the constant annoyances of a patriarchal society — and Nancy — trying to find herself in her older sister's dynamic shadow — weave slyly seductive storytelling. And wow, do they remember everything.
For all the sib rivalries in rock, Kicking & Dreaming is a celebration of sisterhood, from a childhood spent following their Marine dad all over the globe to getting their start in Canada to owning the radio in the '70s and '80s. And the twists are sublime.
In '76, as fame was beckoning, Ann had a run-in with "Tone-Knee," a loutish "radio promo guy" in Detroit. She writes: "To Tone-Knee, it was the most natural thing in the world to walk up to me and ask me where my lesbian-lover-sister happened to be. If Nancy had been there, she might have smacked him with her guitar. I, however, was immobilized with rage." He then shows her his naked lady watch. Uh-oh.
"I left the venue and went back to the hotel. I sat down with pen and paper, and started writing a song. No song is completely about any one person, and what later came to be known as Barracuda was not just about Tone-Knee: It was about how this thing we thought was about art was, when mixed with sexuality and marketing, just a sleazy commodity," Ann writes.
That's a killer story, one of many Wilsons-versus-the-World gems. And yet it should be noted that Ann and Nancy are definitely not feminist scolds, relaying a host of R-rated tales and a laundry list of '70s-fueled sex and drugs. There's also plenty of hot celeb dish, from touring with "little bastard" John Mellencamp to trying to outwit deranged Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle to cameos by Freddie Mercury, Stevie Nicks and Bono.
Heart deals with all manner of soapy drama — child-rearing, Nancy's divorce from writer-director Cameron Crowe, the death of their parents — but through it all, Ann and Nancy lean on each other.
Heart is nominated for 2013 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; winners will be revealed next month. For the Wilson sisters, though, their talent has already been validated. "I am more a fanatic of Nancy Wilson than anything else," Ann writes. "I need only look over at my sister — onstage, or off — and know she is a fanatic of me."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.
In addition to memoirs, this season brings rock star biographies, letters, interviews and poetry.