The standard-bearers of Heart, Wilson sisters Ann and Nancy, have been through so many ups and downs, stops and starts, fade-outs and comebacks, that they might be considered the poster girls for the vagaries of rock stardom. Of course VH1’s “Behind the Music,” which has all but trademarked this kind of fame/downfall/redemption saga, seized on the Heart story back in 1998.
But the duo claimed the opportunity to tell their own story when their book “Kicking and Screaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll” (Harper Collins), co-written by Charles Cross, hit the racks last week. The autobiography arrived on the heels of a three-disc, career-spanning box set, “Strange Euphoria,” that was released by Sony Legacy in May.
The story of Heart, which will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, is fueled by the almost epic scale of the women’s four-decade career, during which they have sold more than 30 million records, including such hits as “Barracuda,” “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You” and the romantic ballad “These Days,” and the pioneering nature of their accomplishments.
As the first female-fronted hard- rock band, it predated such groups as the Runaways, Sleater-Kinney and Hole. And given its growth period in Seattle, it was the forerunner of the area’s late ’80s/early ’90s rock renaissance that spawned the grunge movement. (Bassist Mike Inez, from core grunge act Alice in Chains, would eventually join the ever-changing Heart lineup in 2002.)
Not uncoincidentally, the writer-director Cameron Crowe, Nancy’s ex with whom she bore twin sons, rode the Seattle rock boom with the 1992 music-driven film “Singles,” and would inspire his then-wife to embark on a parallel career contributing to the scores of such Crowe films as “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous.”
Nancy’s retelling of their failed marriage in “Kicking and Screaming” is painful to read. Even Ann cautions when you interview her younger sister to be careful how you bring up writing the intimate details of her life. “It’s scary and makes you vulnerable to expose the tough stuff in your life,” states Nancy, who has since re-married after divorcing Crowe in 2010. “For me the infertility story was hardest to tell,” she adds, referring to a pregnancy ordeal that spanned several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of in vitro treatments.
But expose they did, from their rock roots in the Pacific Northwest, the grueling tours, the hard partying (as Ann puts it “shows we were as indulging in the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle as any male performer”) and personal encounters with their heroes, including perhaps their biggest influence, Led Zeppelin.
While many critics may have taken Heart for granted, its fans continue to support the constantly touring group by buying its records. Two years ago the sisters’ album “Red Velvet Car” debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s charts. And on Oct. 2, Heart’s record, “Fanatic,” is due from Sony Legacy.
“I think we’re getting better than ever, really improving at our craft,” offers Ann, whose clear-toned falsetto wail is as distinctive as that of one of her role models, Robert Plant.
“I see our music as reflecting a life in transit. It’s an exciting experience that I was really reluctant to examine in a book. The book doesn’t shrink from telling the true story of two women on a journey in a male music world.”
As for why there isn’t a chapter on how the women wrote some of their biggest hits, Nancy explains their reasoning.
“With so many lifetimes in one life to cover, the life stories of individual songs might have overpopulated the larger story.”
The book ranges from the sisters’ age of innocence, when watching the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show” engendered enduring (and endearing) teenage crushes on the famed British moptops, to their own encounters on the road with the male species. In one account, Ann wakes up to discover her one-nightstand calling a friend to tell him whom he’s just slept with.
Nancy defends her big sister and in doing so seemingly herself: “As per usual, most of the guys on the road were the serial groupie ‘users.’ Ann’s experiences were few and far between.”
What emerges in part is a musical life often bathed in a warm light when the stars meet their idols. Ann’s encounter with Paul McCartney at a soundcheck and Nancy’s attempt to sneak into an Elton John concert as a penniless teenager supply the narrative with some of its lighter moments.
As for what musicians the sisters would like to spend time with, Nancy says “Elton John and Robert Plant. Because I dig those guys!”
Adds Ann: “I’m still deep inside the little girl who shouted out Paul’s name whenever I saw the Beatles. I can’t tell you the many ways the Beatles enriched my life!”