Saturday, September 1, 2007


I loved Heart when I was in high school. I was obsessed with Ann and Nancy Wilson. There was a group of girls in my high school who were a few years older than me, the older sisters of my group of friends, sort of pothead bad girls but beautiful and, I thought, glamorous in their frayed jeans and gauzy tops. I idolized them. I still swoon a little when I smell patchouli because Carly, who I thought was the most beautiful of those girls, wore patchouli. Ann and Nancy Wilson were the apotheosis of that type of girl. I thought they were the most desirable people on earth. I sat in my bedroom and stared at the Little Queen album cover and longed to join their caravan of rock and roll gypsies, imagined what it would be like to be married to Ann and Nancy would be my sister. I drew pictures of them, I listened to Little Queen and later Dog and Butterfly over and over, I knew every word, every inflection, every guitar riff. Ann Wilson is the only woman I was ever sexually attracted to.

Around 1977 or 1978, I saw Heart play at the Indiana State Fair. I can't think of any show I've seen since that surpassed the thrill I got from that concert. I don't even remember who I went with -- maybe my brother? -- I was so single-minded through the whole thing. I devoured it.

The concert started with Nancy in a tight spotlight, playing the acoustic introduction to Crazy on You, her hair blowing like a flag. (It's not short, that intro. Nancy Wilson is a great guitar player and this is her moment, at the very top of the show, to show off, because once Ann is out there she's going to get all the attention.) Nancy hits those harmonics at the end of the intro. She pauses, and you can see her wind up for the opening riff. The beauty and suspense of that moment. The band kicks in, the whole stage is flooded with light, and Ann strolls up to the microphone. I probably cried.

When I moved to New York and became a cynical, detached young art student, I found I could keep my Heart obsession if I turned it into camp. If you're going to say you're a Heart fan, it's better if you're wearing black and chain-smoking in an East Village cafe than if you're wearing a Doobie Brothers t-shirt and a mullet. Or so I told myself. I was such a smart-ass. I probably used to say that Ann was like a drag queen. It helped that she gained weight and turned from a sexy rock and roll woman-child with a huge voice to a big, flamboyant rock star with a huge body to match her huge voice. But what never fit into that reductive view of Heart is that they were a great band, and that Ann was and is a great rock and roll singer, the best. Who is better? Okay, Janis Joplin. But who else? Etta James? Anyway, Ann is up there with very few peers.

One thing I love about the youtube age is that you can easily find clips that confirm or refute your memories of public events. The clip above must be from around the same time as the concert I saw, maybe even from the same tour. It's exactly as I remember it. The clip below is from some sort of tribute concert a few years ago. Ann doesn't look like a drag queen -- Wynonna, who appears in another clip from the same show, looks like a drag queen, bless her heart -- Ann looks like the motherfuckin' queen of rock and roll. And Nancy is still kickin' it.


Tom Meltzer said...

Boy, Nancy sure can play, but when did anyone ever think that Ovation guitars sounded good? You want evidence that everyone was on drugs in the 70s, the fact that professionals played those things on stage is it.

Steven said...

I agree. Not only do they sound awful, they look ridiculous.

m00nchild said...

I recently lost my music collection on my hard drive -- 20,000 songs (!!) and am in the process of rebuilding it all. Just this week I received all the Heart CDs I'd ordered. They from my favorite Heart period -- the mid 70s until the early 80s -- when they were a little more sexy and a little less pop.

I'm into all kinds of music -- and most of it in a very different direction than Heart's. That said, Barracuda and Magic Man are two of my most favorite songs.

I'm hearing guitars in my head even as I type.