(wo͝om′ən) – LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man he made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And all Hell broke loose. Adam, has probably been thinking since that time, ‘I was happier staring at a badger.’
Women. We’re everywhere including rock n’ roll. Since the inception of crooning to the opposite sex, men have always been the captains of these ships but in 1976, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, better known as Heart, completely turned the rock industry on it’s side and brought many men to their knees. They were the first band led by women, all the decisions were made by women and the songs; written by women. Where did these beautiful creatures come from?
Spending their childhood years on military bases across the globe, Lynn [older sister], Ann and Nancy visited many a country. They lived in places like Panama and Taiwan but there was no real music there so they made their own, constantly. Though the sisters were born in California, the family finally settled in Seattle, Washington, where the girls mostly grew up. Sometime in Ann’s teen years she contracted mononucleosis and was given a small guitar to play since she was sick for a few months; but it wasn’t Ann who took a shining to the guitar, it was Nancy. She picked it up and to this day has never put it down.
Ann’s voice could move mountains. She was a beautiful young girl and is a gorgeous woman but the one fight that she constantly has to be ready for is her weight. She inherited DNA that her sister did not; a weight problem. She also had a stutter to overcome as well. If you’ve never had a weight problem you’re lucky. It plagues women and Ann was judged terribly for it. In any business where you are on stage or in the limelight, your physical appearance is judged first, then the performance and sometimes, because they want to be mean, they’ll heckle the performer regardless and the morning papers all talk about the way you looked, not the show itself. Ann said on the VH1 show, Behind The Music, “In the morning there would be this review that would say, ‘Oh how tragic, in the place of the once svelte raven haired siren, there’s now this redheaded monster.”
Ann and Nancy Wilson; two sisters—one Heart and what a wild ride it’s been. They’ve survived romantic breakups, band and personnel changes and the being put under a microscope for being…women in the world of rock. Ann & Nancy’s career almost came apart at a club named Lucifer’s, [Calgary, Canada] then magically all the broken pieces were put back together, guess where? Lucifer’s. One of the issues they had with Lucifer’s was that the manager wanted the girls to play disco so they’d cover the Bee Gees Nights On Broadway or Jive Talkin—to get people on the dance floor but Heart would not be contained in a little box playing disco covers in Canada. Not even for Lucifer.
Leaving the Devil behind them, Ann and Nancy Wilson made their way through the deep dark waters of the music industry and swam with the sharks in the male dominated rock n’ roll world, never flinching regardless the situation, though Ann Wilson laughs in-between sentences as she reminisced about the past. “In the seventies,” says Wilson, “there really weren’t very many women in rock around; I mean you had Suzi Quatro and Patti Smith but there weren’t a whole lot of people on radio except for disco divas and folk singers. But there wasn’t a whole lot of rock on the radio; they’d play one female song an hour and if you didn’t make it that hour you had to wait for the next hour—it was really pretty weird. There were a lot of walls to break down because everything was very patriarchal in those days; it was a very male dominated industry and women weren’t treated with respect or given much credibility. That all had to be earned and bit by bit and insult after insult until you just said, ‘don’t insult me anymore because I’m gonna go out here and be good’ and then more women got the guts to come out here and be good. The first question we started getting asked was why weren’t there more women in rock? We never really knew what the reason was but actually the reason was, because it takes BALLS!” Ann Wilson’s laugh is contagious as is her humor and soft-spoken husky voice.
It must have been very frustrating and hurtful at times for Ann and Nancy; being kicked around because of their gender. It must have been awful but these girls were and are tough in a very soft and feminine way. They paid no attention to the bullshit being swung around.
Nancy Wilson was quoted from the girl’s memoir, Kicking and Dreaming, “In the four decades that ANN and I have been in music, we’ve been asked countless times what it’s like to be ‘a woman in rock.’ This question is asked in virtually every interview we do, by men and by women. We sit and try to come up with an answer we hope will encourage others. But what I really want to do is scream questions in reply, like ‘What’s it like to be a human being in rock?’”
“In forty years, we’ve never been able to come up with the perfect answer to the ‘woman in rock’ question, or the other common question: ‘Why did you first think women could rock?’ We have no perfect answer for the simple reason that we never thought gender was a barrier to picking up guitars. We started playing because we loved music. If we would have known how difficult it would be to be a woman fronting a band, it might have stopped us. But we probably would have done it anyway.”
“Yet there is a secret chapter in our family history that might explain our urge to fight against the norm, so to speak. The story itself is in American history textbooks, but our connection to it has never been revealed. It has long been a part of our family lore, passed down to us. I’ve since passed the story to my children, as has Ann, and my sister Lynn. It’s a story of murder, kidnapping, and revenge; with enough gruesome details to make any Behind The Music episode look tame. So imagine an alternative world, where Ann and I are sitting down with an interviewer who asks: ‘Why did you think you could be a woman in rock?’”
“Our Answer: ‘Because we are descended from a notorious woman who murdered men with a hatchet, scalped them, and later sold their scalps for a reward.’ My bad joke inside the Heart tour bus has long been that I am not the first family member to slay people with an axe. The original axe slayer was Hannah Dustin, our great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother. Dustin was our mother’s maiden name.”
Ann Wilson continues, “But you really do have to have a strong constitution and strong self-confidence almost more than a man to do this because rock n’ roll was invented by men to get women, so women have to create a whole parallel universe of female rock by themselves–but it’s not about that, it’s about something else. We’re not turning this around on men but a parallel universe to hear what women want to say and it’s got to be as equally rebellious, equally technically proficient and equally as interesting—the key word is ‘equal.’” Ann Wilson takes a breath and continues. “So that’s what the 70’s were like and the 80’s, all of a sudden we have this big MTV thing where women are all dressed up like mannequins and big hair, big makeup, corsets, fake nails and stiletto heels—everybody looks like a hooker and….” Ann’s snicker turned into a chuckle. “So that was a setback. At the same time as that there were these really important groups coming out like the GoGo’s, the Runaways, Patti Smith…so female rock did get a new lease on life, in those women.”
“Nancy and I really had to work hard through the eighties to find a new image,” says Ann with a sigh, “Having already been in it for ten years at that point, we had to find a new way to find a new voice. Which we did. And then again in the 90’s. But in the 90’s, the grunge thing came along and sort of blew everything out of the water so everyone started all over again and where women were concerned, that kind of meant Lilith Fair.”
“The most successful women were singer/songwriters like Joan Osborne, Sarah McLachlan, which was really cool because then you had Sinead O’Connor—women who had new ideas and weren’t afraid to come out and rip a picture of the Pope in half, I mean, that’s all rebellion, all rebellion—and totally rock n’ roll.”
In the 90’s, Ann and Nancy took some time away from Heart to form an indie group called, The Lovemongers, which was their version of the Traveling Wilburys. “We went out and did gigs for next to no money” laughs Ann. “We did it just for fun and we didn’t do any Heart songs; well, maybe we did one or two but the rest were just what ever we wanted. By doing that we refreshed ourselves and got ourselves ready to start up again, which we did, in the early 2000’s and started making records again, with Heart. We made three or four records since 2002.”
Ann and Nancy Wilson did not grow up with the Internet. Selling your music was done in the 70’s and early 80’s, as we know, in a completely different manner. Did the Internet bastardize the industry so terribly that you can’t make a real dollar anymore? “Well that’s true, yes,” says Ann as she ponders the thought. “It used to be that you could make a living off of writing songs and going out and playing them and making record royalties—yeah, the record industry as we knew it is dead and it belongs to every man [the Internet] and it’s a beautiful thing too; it’s just change. Like the rest of life; constant motion, constant change and people have to readapt. And this is bad news for people with big lifestyles to support and all of a sudden, there’s no way to support them with their music and they have no other skills. It’s bad news for quality control on music because now anybody and his brother can just go and make whatever crappy music they want and get it out [giggling] there in a huge way! OR! Or…it could be anybody and his brother who wouldn’t have gotten the chance before because of quality control, can make music in their basement and it’s brilliant! It might not have ever been seen before and now, it is.”
“So, there are some trade-offs being made here. I think it’s good; the big picture… I think it’s good for every person to have the tools the Internet brings, in their hand. So those few people who are authentically and sincerely talented, can get out there. The rest of it we have to wade through.”
Many new aspiring female groups and artists have descended onto the music scene in all genres; pop, rock, folk, punk—you name it, though the one genre Ann & Nancy Wilson are all too familiar with, rock n roll. This seems to be the one genre where you can starve to death. Having other skills to fall back on is a woman’s best friend. How long is enough? When do you know fame and fortune are running faster than you and always will?
“I don’t think that’s changed much at all since I started or when Janis Joplin started or when Billy Holiday started,” states Ann Wilson. “A woman has to rely on what’s between her ears. And if she has a goal and that goal is to be lets say, a big music star, it’s like falling in love; you gotta take the big chance and totally devote yourself. You’ve got to give it all up for that, and sacrifice everything for that. If it still doesn’t work then you better use what’s between your ears and figure out how to get a job flippin’ burgers or something. Because as Gloria Steinem used to say, to get an MRS degree, is not going to make it in this world.”
“And don’t let age scare you regardless of what you do. It will always be the illumination coming out of your face; that’s what people will see; if you radiate your strength out, that’s what people will see and that’s what will stay. And that is truly beautiful.”
2015 marks Heart’s 40th year in this business. When you have longevity like that, it’s hard not to want to celebrate but Heart doesn’t see it as a stopping point—they’re planning on another 40 years. Ann looks at time differently than most; she’s spiritual in nature and wise. “That’s a really interesting question,” Ann says with a smile, “and I’ll tell ya the funny answer and that’s our booking agent, who I really admire and think he’s brilliant, but I never expected this from him, he said, ‘Don’t make a big deal out of your 40th year. It makes people feel old.’” Ann give a chuckle, “If it’s a bad thing to have a 40th birthday, maybe we should just go underground! We’ll do something but it isn’t going to be fireworks or a goodbye album or something; that’s not where we’re at, at all. We’ll do what we’ve always done, if there’s some good music coming out of us we’ll get it out and go play it. If we want to relax and just do other projects, we will.”
“I feel that time is something and birthdays are something that isn’t really real. What I mean by that is it’s a way people have found to make sense out of the time continuum. So that we don’t get too scared we say, ‘Oh 40, 41, 42, I’m only 42..’ If we don’t have that silly way of quantifying life, we get too freaked out. I don’t think it’s important. This is life. What else are you going to do? What’s the option?”
“We’re not slowing down just because we’re 40,” states Ann. “There are a lot of things being developed and shopped around and already recorded. I’d like to make another solo record myself; I’d like to do gigs as a singer with a blues band. Just because it would be so different and so fun! I’m going to travel more apart from the group this year to a couple of places I’ve never been; just for a few short stays and I’m going to do a couple of things in my life that I haven’t been able to do yet because I’ve always been 100% completely devoted to Heart. This year I’ve gotten a little more personal freedom to do these things so I’m hopefully going to go to India for a little bit and then to Mexico for a little while, and write some songs while I’m there. I’m going to look around and see what the world is like, offstage.”
“There’s a whole lot to reach for in this world and there’s no reason not to do it because of being a woman. There’s every reason to do it, because you’re a woman.”
Heart plans on touring and doing just what they’ve always done, make music people love and admire, whether it be singing a song for a movie soundtrack or writing the soundtrack; Ann and Nancy Wilson are a force to be reckoned with. They’re unbridled and unstoppable. They even decided to tell their story in a memoir entitled, Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll.
In their true, outspoken, trailblazing ways, they don’t hesitate to weigh in on the current cannabis debate. They feel it should be legal in every state in the country.
Ann feels cannabis is less dangerous and harmful than alcohol; it has many good uses for people; especially those who are ill from many different diseases or to calm the side effects of nausea from chemotherapy. It’s great for anxiety, pain, insomnia, and mood and if you are having trouble eating, cannabis is the best thing to make you hungry. Both sisters have been smoking marijuana since they were teenagers partying with friends and though the scenery and friends have changed, they still sit down to smoke a doobie and take some time to smell the coffee.
Ann and Nancy Wilson stand for feminism, equal pay, cannabis, the right to do what you want and live their lives to the fullest. We’ve come a long way baby, if only Adam could see us now.