"Kicking and Dreaming" (subtitled, "A Story of HEART, Soul, and Rock & Roll") is perhaps the best rock biography that I've ever read. While it's not a dirt dishing piece of work, or the most detailed or descriptive memoir I've had the pleasure to read, it may be the most well written. While the book starts out with a prologue written by Ann Wilson about a 'road story' in 1975, "Kicking and Dreaming" quickly delves back into the childhood of the Wilson sisters, and at the same time giving you a crash course into their fraternal and maternal family history. With most of these celebrity or rock star bios, I've found the chapters about their early or formative years to be rather dull and boring, making me want to ship ahead to the parts when they start their journey on the road to what made them famous. This certainly not the case with "Kicking and Dreaming." From their tales about their great (x10) grandmother Hannah Dustin, to the military lineage of the Wilson family, their story is completely captivating, making it almost impossible to put the book down.
The Wilson sisters (including eldest sister Lynn) were not your typical 'girly' girls. The stories of their youth were reminiscent of something I would have read in "The Adventures Tom Sawyer," as these were not tales of lipstick, tea parties and Barbies, but instead it was about pot, hitch hiking, and the Beatles. Although Ann did need to seek treatment later on life to help deal with her alcohol issues, neither sister got that hard into the drug scene, as they rated their partying a "4" on the "Keith Richards scale."
The book chronicles the entire history of Heart, and gives great insight on how all 27 members of Heart wound up becoming part of the band and how the ones that are no longer in the lineup, eventually wound up leaving the group. They mention some of the brief, and at times, odd encounters with their male rock and roll peers, as well discussing their long and short term romantic liaisons. You read about their rise to fame in the 70's, their love/hate memories of the 80's, and how the Wilson sisters stopped performing together in the 90's as Heart (although they did perform periodic shows together as the Love Mongers). Ironically enough, it was that separation that sparked the return of Heart in 2002, as Nancy Wilson fell in love again with the idea of being in a band (full time) with her sister, as she watched one of Ann's solo performances from the crowd, just like she did in 1974. The book ends with the story of how Nancy, once again found love, and became engaged, and then married her second husband, Geoff Bywater, as the reader gets left off with Heart in the midst of writing and recording their 14th studio album, "Fanatic."
The "Fanatic" CD opens up with the title track that has an unbridled rawness and energy, which immediately gives the listener the 'heads up' that "Fanatic" is truly a rockin' disc. Much heavier than 2010's "Red Velvet Car." The verses in the song have a neat keyboard/organ part that locks in with the guitar finger picking which is very reminiscent of the Who's, "Who are We." In fact, there are several 'references' on many of the songs to perhaps their biggest musical influence, Led Zeppelin. From the slide guitar in "Dear Old America" to the added string instruments in "Mashallah" and "Corduroy Road," you can definitely hear Zeppelin being channeled.
Producer Ben Mink did a great job capturing some killer tones on "Fanatic." While the mix is fairly straight ahead, Mink's layering and the funky guitar tones he dialed in, really give the album a lot of added character. It seems almost repetitious to mention how great Ann Wilson's voice is on "Fanatic," but she sounds just as good at 61 as she did at 21. Lyrically, it was pretty interesting to hear lines being sung which could of easily come right from the pages of "Kicking in Dreaming." In "Dear Old America," part of the lyrics in the song go, "When I get back I'm gonna own this town/Shine that metal and wear the crown." That reminded me of the time Ann wrote about when she went to her 10 year high school reunion. She wanted to show all the people who ridiculed her, and especially those who had made fun of her because of her weight, that she had made it, and was astonished at how many of those people who were mean to her, were kissing her ass, because she was famous. And in the song which features Sarah McLachlin, "Walkin' Good," one of the lines are, "I found myself in a brand new neighborhood/Don't worry about me cause I'm walkin' good," seems to be an ode to the Wilson's childhood, as they had to relocate and move countless times, because of their father's military career.
The only downside to "Fanatic," is although it's definitely a 'mood' record, is that not a lot of the songs have strong choruses, and the weaker ones didn't really seem to hold my attention as much. I also think it was a mistake that they didn't include at least a couple of the bonus tracks from the deluxe version of "Fanatic" on the standard release, as I feel "Beautiful Broken" is a really great song, and Ann's Jim Morrison-y spoken vocals on "Two Silver Rings" are out of this world!
The "Kicking and Dreaming" book and "Fanatic" CD are definitely must have items for the diehard Heart monger and are also great introduction pieces for anyone who's on their way to becoming a fan!
Following the boxed set they released over the summer, Heart delivers a one-two punch with the fall releases of their autobiography, "Kicking and Dreaming" (written by Ann & Nancy Wilson, with Charles R. Cross), followed by a new studio album, "Fanatic." While it may or may not have been originally planned this way, both the book and CD go nicely hand in hand with one another, giving their fans quite a bit to rejoice about.