Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You ready to rock? She was with the bands

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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 York-based 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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 G7


Updated on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 8:07 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.

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