After four decades and 30 million albums sold, Ann and Nancy Wilson have decided to tell their story. This week Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll (HarperCollins) hits shelves. With co-author Charles Cross (Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain), the Wilson sisters dish on Heart’s formative years, the inspirations behind their hits and their personal travails, along with some sordid rock gossip. Here are some of the more notable – and curious – stories revealed:
During Ann’s junior year in high school, their parents became aware that their daughters were regularly smoking pot. Having hit a bit of a counterculture experimental phase, one night after dinner, the Wilson parents suggested that the whole family toke together. Ann recalls it being rather embarrassing: “It wasn’t the best pot, but I wasn’t about to share my connection with my parents.”
“Crazy On You” was inspired by Ann’s first serious romance, with Michael Fischer, who would soon become Heart’s iron-fisted manager. The pair shacked up on a hippie commune in Canada. Wilson writes that while the lyrics “were straight out of the scenes of wild sexuality that went on in the cottage,” they were also about her feminist awakening and finding empowerment through her music.
During Heart’s earliest incarnation they were primarily a cover band, cementing their reputation in the Vancouver club scene with their set of Led Zeppelin songs. In March 1975, Heart was onstage performing “Stairway to Heaven” when Zeppelin themselves walked in, fresh from their show at the Pacific Coliseum. Wilson writes that the foursome seemed oblivious, disappearing into the club’s inner-sactum, where Jimmy Page was tended to by “his doctor” before promptly passing out.
When Nancy was on location with her then-husband (and former Rolling Stone scribe) Cameron Crowe while he was directing the 2001 bomb Vanilla Sky, the film’s star, Tom Cruise, gave the couple a personally guided tour of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre.
The early radio success of “Magic Man” was paid for with hookers and cocaine. The band’s publicist would ferry the Wilson sisters to radio appearances where they would meet the DJ, do a station ID and then be told to go wait outside. According to Nancy, “When we were out of the way, he’d pass the DJ a gram of cocaine or the number of a hooker he’d lined up and say ‘She’s yours, on Heart.’ It wasn’t until years later that the Wilson sisters found out about the shady dealings that had gone on behind their backs.
The photo negative for a topless picture of Ann Wilson, taken surreptitiously by Annie Leibovitz, is rotting in a safe deposit box. When a shoot with the photographer for the band’s Bebe Le Strange-era Rolling Stone cover went south, the band demanded the famed rock photographer destroy her copy; when she refused, Heart took her to court. The judge ordered the negative to be kept in a safe deposit box that could only be opened with two keys – one belonging to Wilson and the other to Leibovitz – insuring it would never see the light of day.
In the fall of 1982, Heart had a brush with the legendary ego of John Cougar Mellencamp. The young singer was opening the band’s tour behind Private Audition, Heart’s first album that wasn’t an immediate million-seller, when Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” went to number one. He came to the band with a proposition: “Seeing as your album is a turkey and mine is a hit, care to swap places?” The Wilson sisters declined, reminding him that the tour had sold out before he’d even been announced as the opening act.
While Heart was on tour with Van Halen, Alex and Eddie, in their own fumbling, wasted way, suggested a four-way-of-sorts between them. The sisters declined, but later that night, when Nancy learned that Eddie didn’t own an acoustic guitar she was incredulous, and she gave him one of her own before sending him on his way. The next morning, after a night-long binge, he called her hotel room and serenaded her over the phone.