Ann & Nancy Wilson: Straight From The Heart

By Jeb Wright

Classic Rock Revisited caught up with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart to discuss their new CD, Fanatic (Legacy), and book, Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll (Harper Collins).

The CD, musically, is a throwback to the band’s 1970’s heyday, while the book sees the band open up in a public manner, more so than they have ever done before in their 36 year career.

Over the years, Heart has changed from being a band conflicted with drama to a true communal tribe. Surrounded by friends, who are more like family, this is the perfect time for Heart to open up, both musically and personally.

"We call ourselves, ‘our little rock family’," admits Nancy. "We are having a really good moment in Heart right now. We have the album, the box set and the book."

Ann agrees when asked if the band is more of a family, now, than at the height of their fame in the 1980's, "Oh, by far. In the 1980’s we were items for sale in a big corporate store window. We made tons of money—we made bucket loads of money, but we had never been that unhappy, before or since. We now choose to be happy."

The new CD, Fanatic, sees the band comfortable in their own shoes, the result is an honest album of Heart Rock, combining many styles, yet instantly recognizable.

Ann explains how Fanatic came to be, "Heart is an ever evolving band, but there is one thing about it that stays true to itself, and that is the way we write the songs and the way I sing them. Fanatic was the perfect thing for us to lay out a lot of ourselves, at our age and with our experiences, that are going on now."

"This band has always had that type of duality; it is the dog and butterfly of it all," chimes Nancy. "We modeled ourselves after Led Zeppelin and how they could sit down and do 'Going to California' all on acoustic instruments and then do 'When the Levy Breaks.' We are the combo platter of rock and roll."

The older sister, Ann, is proud of the how Heart's songwriting has grown over the years, "When we started out we would just try to write something like Simon & Garfunkel, or Led Zeppelin. Now, we have learned to write our own songs. We know how to bring our own ideas out and we stay away from just tracing other people’s drawings."

As good as the new CD is, Heart fans are thrilled that the band has finally written a book. While there is plenty of sensationalism surrounding the history of Heart, this is not a typical tell-all book. Sure, Ann talks about the first penis she ever saw (band mate Roger Fisher's) but she also talks about her lifelong battle with her weight and the stuttering problem she developed during her childhood.

Nancy opens up about partying and even posing nude for a photograph for her oldest sister’s husband when she was only a teenager, yet she talks openly about her love for her parents and her own family. This duality makes the Wilson's very interesting people and the book is a fine mix of Ann and Nancy as real people and as rock stars.

"I learned a lot going through the book," admits Nancy. "I learned what kind of an impossible idealist I have always been about romantic love. At this stage of my life, I am finally able to find it possible. I was impossible up until recently. I was much more of a spoiled brat in that way, expecting excellence out of everyone and every situation in my life. I wasn’t able to manage it in reality, but I just expected lofty, inspirational and transcended things to always be happening."

"We didn’t want to write a big tell all sleazy book," confesses Ann. "We worked with Charles Cross because knows how to get to the real rock story instead of just all of the sloppy things that people did when they were stoned. When you’re talking about people, you’re not only talking about their mistakes, you’re talking about who they are. Since we were coming out with our most personal album we have ever done with Fanatic, we decided we would come out with the book and let people know what kind of people we were behind the music."

Charles Cross, a Seattle native and author of best selling books on Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, was a natural choice to help the Sisters with their story. Nancy explains how they worked with their co-author, "He sat down with us and asked the extremely correct questions. We took many hours talking to him and he took the many stories we told him and compiled them, chronologically. There is not a lot of salacious, gratuitous sensationalism in the book. There is a lot of truth in it, which is already pretty sensational."

One of the revelations in the book is Ann Wilson's confession that she is three years clean and sober. Wilson explains why she was comfortable talking about overcoming her issues and how it has improved her already immaculate voice, "I was comfortable talking about that in the book. If I had not gotten sober then I don’t think I would have been very comfortable talking about it; it would still be quite an issue. Alcohol will dry out your vocal mechanism and it also clouds your thinking. In terms of being onstage, I feel a lot more energy now. I was never a stage drinker. I never got high, or drunk, before I went on stage, because that would have affected my performance. I got in trouble after the show when rockers go play."

The Wilson Sisters musical journey, as well as their off stage lives, has been one of self-discovery, overcoming hardships, survival, drama and success. The naive girls from Seattle have grown up and are living life on life's terms, enjoying the fruits of their labor. Gone are their self-imposed insecurities, dramatic scenes and their anger and frustration towards the status quo.

"You live long enough and you start figuring it all out,” explains the younger Wilson. “A lot of the drama has to be shrugged off. Life is getting shorter and shorter and that is just how it works. Up next is a dirt nap. You have to learn to be strong and glad to be alive. You learn that you need to take every color available in the pallet and make the best painting you can, while you can."