You ready to rock? She was with the bands

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

THE list of mu­si­cians Lisa Robin­son has in­ter­viewed over the last four decades reads like a who’s who of pop­u­lar mu­sic: the Rolling Stones, Led Zep­pelin, David Bowie, John Len­non, Patti Smith, U2, the Clash, Eminem, Lady Gaga and more. The New York­based Robin­son co-founded Rock Scene mag­a­zine and has writ­ten for Hit Pa­rader, NME, the New York Post and Van­ity Fair, gain­ing exclusive ac­cess to the world’s big­gest acts over the last four decades. She carved a path for fe­male rock jour­nal­ists at a time when male scribes like Lester Bangs and David Fricke were the norm. There Goes Grav­ity is the story of her jour­ney. The book pro­ceeds in roughly chrono­log­i­cal or­der through her ca­reer, be­gin­ning in the mid-1970s and wind­ing its way to the present. “Hav­ing one foot in the Led Zep­pelin camp... and the other foot in deep at (leg­endary punk club) CBGB’s... is what made me dif­fer­ent as a mu­sic jour­nal­ist,” Robin­son writes in the open­ing chap­ter. She doesn’t claim to be ob­jec­tive, which helped her get up close and per­sonal with mu­si­cians in a way many other rock writ­ers can’t. She went on tour with the Stones and Zep­pelin, was at (or hosted) the hippest par­ties and emerged with hun­dreds of cas­settes and note­books to show for it. In some cases, Robin­son de­liv­ers in­cred­i­ble in­sight into the mu­si­cians’ lives. Robin­son’s chats with John Len­non, for ex­am­ple, of­fer the reader a new per­spec­tive of Len­non’s life af­ter the Bea­tles, and she chron­i­cles Michael Jack­son’s early solo ca­reer with equal care. Most of her in­sight on the birth of punk on both sides of the At­lantic Ocean is stel­lar. Robin­son shows she’s still got her fin­ger on the prover­bial pulse of mu­sic. Eminem and Lady Gaga get a sig­nif­i­cant look, and Robin­son does well in chron­i­cling their rel­a­tively brief ca­reers. (The book’s ti­tle comes from the lyrics for Eminem’s 2002 hit Lose Yourself.) In some chap­ters, re­sults are mixed. Says Robin­son: “Af­ter hav­ing spent hours and hours in­ter­view­ing Mick (Jag­ger), when people ask me what he’s re­ally like, it’s still hard to ex­plain.” True enough here, al­though (when co­her­ent) Stones gui­tarist Keith Richards dishes out some pretty good stuff. The Led Zep­pelin chap­ter is the weak­est of the lot, in some ways mir­ror­ing the band and its songs: showy, self-in­dul­gent and a bit long-winded. Robin­son could use a good edi­tor; she re­peats her­self and some­times starts telling what seem to be juicy sto­ries be­fore be­com­ing side­tracked. She also makes some in­cred­i­ble claims, al­though it’s hard to tell how se­ri­ous she is. In one chap­ter, she claims to have (suc­cess­fully) in­sisted CBS Records pres­i­dent Wal­ter Yet­nikoff sign both Elvis Costello and the Clash in the U.S. She also claims re­spon­si­bil­ity for U2’s gui­tar sound, based on her hav­ing given Bono and the Edge boot­leg tapes she made of the band Tele­vi­sion at CBGB’s. In the end, Robin­son di­vulges only small nuggets of the re­ally juicy stuff. She might have been more suc­cess­ful fo­cus­ing on ei­ther the big rock acts or the New York punk scene. Still, There Goes Grav­ity pro­vides a brief, tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse into life on the road with some of the world’s big­gest, most ground­break­ing artists from a woman who broke plenty of ground her­self. Be­fore be­com­ing the Win­nipeg Free Press books edi­tor, Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson wrote about mu­sic and toured in bands.

There GGoes GGrav­ity: A Life in Rock

and Roll

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