Punk Rock Tales | Performing Arts

A memoir and a biography showcase the lives of women in the world of punk rock. 

Hanna, Kathleen. Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2024. 336p. ISBN 9780062825230. $29.99. MEMOIR

Bikini Kill frontwoman Hanna’s memoir is a raucous, rousing tale about the power of music and activism. Before becoming a pioneer of the riot grrrl movement of the early 1990s, Hanna grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive household. She used music and singing as a means of escape. After graduating from high school, she attended the progressive Evergreen State College, where she developed her talents in photography, fashion, and spoken-word poetry. It was the feminist writer Kathy Acker who first motivated Hanna to start a band in order to reach wider audiences. Hanna’s memoir is chock-full of details about her romantic relationships and her friendships with Kurt Cobain, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Joan Jett, and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi. She notes her run-ins with Courtney Love and her inadvertent inspiration for Nirvana’s breakthrough single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This is not a memoir about name-dropping, tales of woe, or feminism. Hanna’s story is a full-bodied portrait of a fighter and activist who has used music as a way to tackle adversity. VERDICT A vivid, funny, and powerful memoir that will appeal to rock lovers and music historians.—Leah K. Huey

Tucker-Sullivan, Lori. I Can’t Remember If I Cried: Rock Widows on Life, Love and Legacy. Backbeat: Rowman & Littlefield. May 2024. 242p. ISBN 9781493084142. $34.95. BIOG

Tucker-Sullivan provides 14 spellbinding and inspiring portraits drawn from meticulous research and extensive personal conversations with the widows of musicians who died after an illness or an accident. These women—spouses and partners of Dee Dee Ramone, George Jones, Jim Croce, Warren Zevon, Keith Moon, Marc Bolan, Gram Parsons, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Scott Weiland, Levon Helm, and Harry Chapin, among others—discuss their grief, stress, and oppressive legal and financial complications. Tucker-Sullivan’s loss of her own husband after a marriage steeped in a mutual love of music created a bond with her subjects and opened a path to deeper sharing. Expertly weaving together anecdotal and biographical details, candid interview material, and perceptive commentary, the book captures the essence of each woman’s journey through hardships, joys, the toll of being in the spotlight, and emotions ranging from despair and anger to gratitude and love. Carefully exploring how these women turned their grief into positive action, including creating memorial legacies and helping others, Tucker-Sullivan illuminates their courageous movement forward with their own lives. VERDICT A wide range of readers and book clubs will appreciate this moving, healing, and absorbing memoir/music history.—Carol J. Binkowski

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