There are only two ways to write a rock star memoir; you do it yourself, despite the torpedoes, or you seek help. Guess which one Ani D. chooses? You got it, friend. She does it her way. How else would this thing go down?
Memoirs that are written with professional help have flow, structure, and a discernable narrative arc. They “feel” like the stories we already know. They have a beginning, a middle, a moment of truth, a climax, a resolution of climax, an end, and then a reflection upon that ending in the form of an epilogue. Sometimes, they even have a foreword written by another famous writer or celebrity you actually know.
Ani’s memoir, No Walls and the Recurring Dream, which basically stops around 2001 or 2003, well before she remarried, had two kids, moved to New Orleans, and entered middle age, isn’t like that – at all. It’s like a flea market of her mind, with bits and pieces of treasure that you as reader can own for a pittance, and other scraps of memory that are worked over, glorified junk. Nice-looking junk, mind you. But junk nonetheless, which is not a bad thing in my world. I grew up in a family of hoarders, and we kept our junk in the basement. And the closets. And under the back porch. We kept it all, because we never knew when it might come in handy, and after all: we bought it, so we owned it and hesitated to let any of it go, until we had no other choice.
That’s how I feel about Ani’s memoir, which is an honest reflection of a precious portion of her mirrored life: she bought it, and now she owns it, and she doesn’t want to throw any of it away. Even if she’s failed to mention a lot in the process of compiling it into a single, coherent, and highly readable text. For each one of its 306 pages, she keeps us (and her editors at Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) on the knife’s edge. What will Ani do next? Who will she sleep with? Where and how will she go wrong, and with what lasting consequences? Where will her endless life-on-tour take her next? How will her song-writing be shaped and shifted by the convoluted, intertwined pathways of her professional and private lives? Did she even like Missoula, Montana? Or Idaho? Or Utah? Who the heck knows? Ani sure doesn’t. She’s such a Buffalonian, such a New Yorker, such a guitar playing alt rock folk-singing rage-against-the-machine goddess, it’s all water under the bridge. A blur. A hazy, cannabis-inflected memory. A crashed bus. Or motorcycle. A husband or lover left somewhere on the road, waiting for a phone call that never comes.
There are only a handful of rock star memoirs I truly love and recommend to other Amazon readers (the Prime ones, and all the rest. I don’t judge). Sting’s Broken Music is so well written, it hurts. But, that’s Sting for you. He’s not going to put his (invented) name on just anything, and he isn’t afraid to be himself; being so self-confident/egomaniacal can sometimes be an asset as a writer. Phil Collins’ memoir, Not Dead Yet, is so intimate and revealing, it’s embarrassing. You feel each hurt, each botched relationship, each empty bottle of vodka, rum, or gin broken and cracked on the floor of life’s regret. It’s all there in true colors. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run autobiography? Well, let’s just say that he got his money’s worth from whomever helped him write and edit it. It’s classic Bruce: cool, crazy, and compelling. You can’t take your eyes off him, and he knows it.
Ani, she does it all DIY; she meanders. She has tangents to her tangents. She goes deep, as in menstruation and procreation deep. She’s fearless when it comes to putting words on the page. She may be only 5’2’’ in stature, but you’d never know it from this text. She’s a giantess. She’d score with Shrek. The Jolly Green Giant would be even more jolly after hanging out a few days with her. Xena would hand over her “warrior princess” title to her and gift Ani a horse or two as sign of her infatuation.
Do you learn anything about Ani DiFranco the artist from this book? A little bit. You learn that she busts her body on touring and playing and has a tough time finishing songs. But beyond the obvious things – father issues, mother issues, too early sexual encounters and aborted pregnancies, gritty urban living and early adulthood raging against corporate/government greed and venality, it’s all about Ani, the individual. The singer. The activist. The little woman who could. Who stares down patriarchy in ways that Madonna wishes she could actually manage, if she weren’t so filthy rich and privileged.
Ani’s memoir deserves to be wrapped up in gift paper and given as Christmas and Hanukkah presents to good little girls and boys all over this planet. Or for your niece’s upcoming quinceañera. It is something you could proudly display on your IKEA bookshelves in your new graduate student co-op. You can give it to your “OK Boomer” friends and see if they finally wake to the realities staring them in the face. It’s not a harsh book, nor a hard one to love. It’s just not what you expected. And I’m sure that’s exactly as Ani intended it to be.
Ani, if you’re reading this, know that the invitation I made in my Canon review on Amazon still stands. Hope that you rocked it out at the Wilma Theater in Missoula, Montana the last time you played there. Love that stage. Love that place. And love this memoir, as much as I adore Phil’s, admire Sting’s, and marvel at Bruce’s. You’ve done it, Ani. You’ve entered the pantheon. What, I wonder, will you do next? How many rabbits do you still have up your sleeves? Where will the circus go next? What will emerge from the darkness when you next pick of your guitar and start the strings a’ humming?