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Unzipped - Suzi Quatro

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Paperback: 384 pages / Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks / Published: 24 July 2008

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      12.12.2012 13:17
      Very helpful



      A lively, good-humoured and sometimes poignant memoir of the pioneer female rocker


      Suzi Q is nothing if not cosmopolitan. Her grandfather emigrated from Italy to New York - and promptly had his name changed by the authorities from Quatro from Quattrochi (can't blame 'em) - while her mother was Hungarian, she and her siblings were born and raised in Detroit, she came to England in pursuit of success in the music biz (as did Jimi Hendrix), and ended up becoming an Essex girl.

      THE BOOK

      Suzi was born in 1950, the fourth of five children, or six, if an elder half-sister is included. Eldest 'full' sister Arlene was married seven times. By the time she had found the fourth husband, their father Art was so tired of framing and reframing the wedding photo that he just cut out number three's head and pasted that of his successor over it. And so on for subsequent occasions, presumably.

      Art was always musical, and after his children saw the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show on TV in 1964, that was it - they just had to form a band. A few gigs followed throughout the USA and even in Vietnam as the Pleasure Seekers, and then as Cradle. They disbanded after a few years, but not before two major record industry names had seen them and decided Suzi, who shared vocals and played bass, was the one who had the potential to go further. One was Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records (note to whoever is responsible - three pages apart in the book he is spelt as Holtsman, then Holstrum - is there a proofreader at Hodder & Stoughton?), who wanted to make her the next Janis Joplin. The other was Mickie Most, who wanted to make her into the first Suzi Quatro.

      Then came the difficult decision to leave her family behind and move to England. Getting used to the English sense of humour, accents, and tiny streets was difficult, and she paints an evocative picture of what her lonely existence was like for a while in another country. Intriguingly she got herself a boyfriend, a DJ on Radio 1, but tantalisingly doesn't mention his name. (A quick google has left a nosey yours truly none the wiser). But the gamble paid off, she formed a band, and after a false start with a disastrous gig at the Rainbow supporting the Kinks and a single 'Rolling Stone', which flopped, she recorded a song written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, 'Can The Can' as the follow-up. A skilful promotion campaign sent record and career into the stratosphere.

      One misunderstanding in this book made me laugh. After a very successful Australian tour, back in England Mickie Most received a telegram and read the first two words, 'Suzi killed - ' before collapsing into a chair with horror. His brother had to read him the full thing - 'Suzi killed 'em in Sydney!'

      As with her other contemporaries in the glam rock era, her personal and professional life were a mixture of ups and downs. She combined business with pleasure for a while when she married her guitarist Len Tuckey and they had two children, but the marriage later fell apart. Ironically it began to happen just as she was beginning to tire of the non-stop rock'n'roll life, and wanted to develop the acting and stage career which had started with small roles in 'Happy Days' in the USA and 'Minder' in the UK. In 1986 she was offered and accepted the chance of the lead role in the musical 'Annie Get Your Gun' (which I saw in Plymouth and thoroughly enjoyed - and thanks again for the autograph afterwards, Suzi).

      Although she returned to the band after that, she was later involved in writing and starring in a musical of her own, based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead, 'Tallulah Who?' This second career increased the distances between her and Len, and culminated in a painful divorce. She refutes the suggestion that there is ever any such thing as 'an amicable split' when a marriage breaks down. Although she went to the altar a second time, with promoter Rainer Haas, she and the family clearly went through a difficult time. She conveys well the heartrending situation for both partners and the children, exacerbated for her by the death of her mother from cancer at around the same time.

      Another showbiz contemporary gave her more than a little annoyance. Shortly before her second wedding, she had agreed to join the notorious Gary Glitter (at that time, before we knew what we know now, still a very popular live attraction) on one of his annual tours. At a meeting with him where they needed to agree full details she began to feel uncomfortable, and to lighten the mood she told him he had food on his mouth. 'Lick it off,' he reportedly said. Nobody laughed, neither Suzi at the time nor the friends to whom she later told the story. Not long afterwards one of the tabloids carried an exclusive to say they were having an affair. Her instant reaction was to sue, and she was only persuaded not to on condition that the paper carried a full retraction. She cancelled the tour but agreed to take part in another one the following year. But she never trusted Mr Glitter again - and as she says, in the light of what happened to him, his computer and everything else she was right. Had this book been written more recently, as a Top Of The Pops regular, I wonder if she might have had anything to say on the subject of a certain late and now infamous presenter from Yorkshire.

      Although she made it on several fronts - the band, the musicals, the acting roles, and even as a TV and radio presenter - there is the recurring theme throughout that a part of her would have liked to stay in Detroit with the family. There was evidently some lingering resentment that she upped sticks to find fame and fortune while they struggled, not least her only brother Mickey with his recurring drug problems. Or maybe for 'resentment', should that be 'jealousy'? After all, she was the one who took the gamble - and it paid off for her.


      I enjoyed this memoir. She writes with humour, a certain amount of self-effacement and pride - and as the first woman to form and lead a successful rock band in which all the other members were men, she is entitled to that. To all outward appearances she has written it all herself without any help from a ghostwriter. It is only fair to point out that there are a few typos, although I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that could be the publisher's fault.

      However I had mixed feelings about her regular use of poems and song lyrics in full, which may accurately convey how she felt at the time when she wrote them, but tend to grate after a while. However they are easily skipped. She is honest enough to admit that maybe she was not as good a mother or wife as she might have been, but for any family woman it's easy to be wise after the event. One can hardly be a stay-at-home Mum and vocalist/bassist with a band which was briefly one of the hottest properties in the music biz for a short time and could still sell out shows for years afterwards.

      It's not a perfect read, but for anybody who remembers the 1970s with affection or is into music memoirs, it's recommended as an informative, entertaining and sometimes quite moving read.

      [Revised version of a review originally posted on ciao]


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