Kicking and Dreaming by Ann and Nancy Wilson

Please tell me you know the band Heart. One of the most famous classic rock bands of the 70’s, and even more famously known because it’s fronted by two women, Heart is a musical anthem to feminism everywhere. Ann and Nancy Wilson co-wrote Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll, a memoir about their family, band, and the progression of their careers.

The memoir starts way back with their parents, a young woman who was wooed by a marine. They had a daughter, Lynn, and four years later had Ann (1950, for reference), then four years after that came Nancy. The family moved constantly for their father’s career in the military, but they sound fairly happy until Lynn becomes a teen. Their father likes to make up words and names for people, and their mother had them tap their feet together to “dust off their shoes” before leaving each house. Just quirky, really.

To fast forward, Ann fell in love with a guy who didn’t want to be drafted in Vietnam, so he left the U.S. and lived in Vancouver. Ann followed him, and they basically had a love nest where she wrote some of Heart’s best-known songs, like “Crazy On You” and “Magic Man.” Nancy joined the band as a guitarist, and Heart was then formed and known as a Vancouver band, despite being composed of Americans.

As the years go by, Heart changes band members frequently, with Ann and Nancy being the only constants (and really, to fans, Heart = Ann and Nancy). Aside from the Wilson sisters, there were 27 members in Heart over four decades. Despite wild success, they had some failures, and the 80’s were a challenging time to navigate, especially since “excess” was the hallmark of the decade. Ann admits that because they never got high or drunk before or during a show, they felt they partook responsibly. Plus, no one OD’d. It’s all perspective, right?

I listened to the audiobook version, which is read by Ann and Nancy — beautifully. Each sister’s voice is distinct, though a 3rd narrator does indicate a change in readers (and writers, actually). What I loved most about the book is how much I learned. I knew Ann was constantly picked at by the media for gaining weight, but not to what extent. I would call this a fat positive book because Ann talks about the challenges of being publicly judge by appearance and how reviewers would use body-focused language to describe her performance, and how she rejected that. Heart was not a band that wanted to put on flashy shows or wear sexy costumes; they were so focused on music alone.

If it wasn’t about her weight, then people were constantly trying to sexualize the sisters, even implying they were incestuous lesbians at one point. Constantly on the lookout for producers who wouldn’t turn Heart into a package based on appearances, Ann and Nancy were trailblazers for women in rock entertainment, receiving praise and credit from people like Katy Perry, Gretchen Wilson, Carrie Underwood, and Kelly Clarkson.

In the 90’s, the Wilson sisters moved back to Seattle, their home. It was in this section of the book I learned that a lot of grunge bands said Heart’s catalog from the 70’s influenced their musical styles. Ann became good friends with Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, and sang with Chris Cornell on a few tracks. Jerry Cantrell would spend the night, wearing Ann’s pajamas, because he was too wasted to drive. The connection to grunge was not one I was aware of, and understanding why these bands saw Heart as the “godmothers of rock” helped me expand my understanding of Heart’s influence on culture.

Another surprise for me was learning that when Nancy took a hiatus from Heart in the 90’s, she worked on the scores to husband Cameron Crowe’s movies, like Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire. Though they were together for 27 years, they eventually divorced, and it was then Nancy realized that much of her focus was supporting her husband’s career, and the male characters he wrote were typically men saved by women. Both Wilsons are admittedly hopeless romantics, and they didn’t have nearly the chaotic overturn of spouses that most famous rock stars do.

What Kicking and Dreaming really does is humanize some of the biggest musicians in the country, reminding us that they developed careers around morals, values, and family. It gives an inside look into becoming mothers while career-focused, what a healthy relationship between siblings can look like, and how careers can look different over time — and that’s okay.

27 comments

  1. I have to confess I have not heard of Heart, but I don’t listen to much classic rock so I’m not that familiar with any bands of the era! I’m glad the audiobook was effective – I think celebrities reading their own memoirs can go pretty wrong if they aren’t professional actors, since reading audiobooks is a skill in itself.

    Like

  2. Sorry, never heard of Heart, but then there was a 20 year gap in my music listening over the 70s and 80s – trucks, kids – and I never really caught up. But I agree a thoughtful musical memoir can be worth reading.

    Like

    • I feel like music memoirs are getting better. The ones produced by 80’s bands, particularly the hair metal types, are full of stories about horrible, almost unbelievable things they did, and how they just got away with it. The last two I read, Kicking and Dreaming and Storyteller, were both excellent and read by the musicians themselves.

      Like

  3. I have heard of Heart but I don’t really know much about them. I didn’t even realize they were at all connected to Vancouver! Their influence on grunge sounds really interesting too. This sounds like a good celebrity memoir book.

    Like

    • What’s interesting is I’m not totally sure how I got into Heart, other than maybe hearing some songs on the radio. They were big before I was born, and I haven’t heard much about them in recent years. I definitely have the greatest hits album.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “These Dreams” and “Never” were huge hits in my early childhood- I was a Casey’s Top 40 addict from a young age. 😁 it’s a real shame (but not surprising) that she was hounded so much about her weight gain. The same thing would happen today I think to any other woman rock star. I did not know the grunge connection. That’s super cool (I was big into grunge in high school.)

    Like

  5. I love Heart! I downloaded a few of their songs off itunes, and I have such fond memories of listening to their music on the radio with my Mom when I was a kid. I know we are the same age, so I’m curious if you identify with 80s music as much as I do.

    I had no idea about that grunge connection either – very cool!

    Like

  6. This looks excellent – I have heard of Heart and I did know they were sort of godmothers of grunge from somewhere, but I have read quite a lot about grunge. How lovely that they did the audiobook together and so well!

    Like

    • I really appreciate that Ann and Nancy sound totally different, too. It make it easy to know which person was reading when, even though the chapter titles DID state from whose perspective we were reading.

      Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s