The Trailer Park Prog of Ann Wilson and Heart

Fucking Heart, eh? We didn’t even know what we had: me, you, and every body-conscious chick who was told they were too fat or jolly or big-boned or “merry and full of life” or whatever other veiled insult people used to couch their disappointment in someone who didn’t look like Cheryl Tiegs or Kristy McNichol. And yet there was Ann Wilson, who didn’t give a fuck. People talk about Hendrix using his guitar as a weapon, but, then again, the Wilson sisters. What about Ann and Nancy slinging butterfly-headtsocked Ovations, with the plastic shells, over their bosoms while screaming furiously through the last bits of the “Magic Man” chorus? This is to say nothing of “Barracuda” and its slobber and fangs.

There’s always been something a little creepy about “Magic Man’s” church of weird worship here– man puts spell on woman; man controls woman with his musk and his mind– and yet, hearing it as a teenager, and now, I never had any doubt that it was the Wilsons who had power over their subject. They invented this dude and they could snuff him out at their will. Because Ann was a large figure– because she filled the space in the spotlight at the front of the stage– she impacted those who saw her play live beyond how a wraith might have; riding on the top of the measure instead of snaking between the notes. She threw the song around and chucked it back and balled it into a fist: the heaving chamber of sound expressed while singing “Come on home girl…” over the guitar and cymbal shots. I don’t know how the piece was arranged– the Wilsons wrote everything themselves and the band were a slave to the work (this composition, however, is entirely Ann’s)– but it’s got a Mini Moog breakdown, a few wild guitar solos, and just enough details moving in and out of the verses and choruses to elevate it beyond mere 70s radio rock. It’s a staple, and the guitar rests after the build up to the last chorus are pure trailer park prog: a thai stick mind blower and the last thing people expected from a band with two chicks on guitar.

When the teenage me– the teenage boy me, whose idea of sex was limited to Blue Movies, stupid health class and maybe a Penthouse Letter or two– heard Ann Wilson sing “Let’s make love awhile,” it fired an imagination to find impossible places, and if it was easy to envision Carly Simon or Carole King getting down on bear rugs or on waterbeds or in a hammock over some zen California garden, I sensed Ann Wilson getting up to much worse, and much better. Sex and time and time spent on sex meant the round, powerful, erotic, and strong woman making her magic men mortal with the pure sense of who she was and the pure conviction of being a rock and roll person who wasn’t pretty Peter Frampton or perfumed Stevie Nicks or precious Paul McCartney. Lipstick broadened across her mouth and eyes eyeliner’ed dark, Ann Wilson made the crying guitars in “Magic Man”– played manly by men– sound like paeans to her. I know what this meant to me, but I can’t imagine what it meant to girls, and to women, like her. Patti Smith, okay. But Ann Wilson was every bit the bumper sticker for women in rock who rocked hard; dynamic and great and revolutionary in her own way even though no one was ever caught calling it that.

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