JUST because you’ve lived an interesting life doesn’t mean you’re home free in the memoir department. With “Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story,” Laurie Lindeen has the raw material for a first-rate saga: disaffected, Broadway-musical-obsessed Wisconsin girl dreams of rocking the house, drops out of college and rides the Minneapolis proto-grunge wave of the early 1990s to semi-stardom with her all-girl band Zuzu’s Petals. Add the specter of multiple sclerosis as well as the experience of dating alterna-hottie and certified rock genius Paul Westerberg (she ultimately married him) and how can you go wrong?
It’s one thing, though, to sit on a barstool, regaling friends with tales of your misspent youth, and quite another to ask readers to relive it. You have to be willing to do the necessary work of good writing: organizing your narrative, showing-not-telling, avoiding cliche and making sure your story has a point.
Lindeen seems not to have learned these basics while getting her MFA at the University of Minnesota. “Petal Pusher” is a meandering, often repetitive catalog of road trips, gigs and thrift store coups. Lindeen meticulously recounts her 10-year journey through the rock ‘n’ roll wasteland, detailing every vintage stage outfit and scuzzy club, but the story plods under her unpracticed, three-chord prose.
“Playing several nights a week, living by the seat of our pants,” she writes, “applying nail polish to the tips of our sore fingers for protection, being constantly together, laughing, smoking, drinking, eating, rarely showering. Reader, we rock.” Even cranking your Marshall to 11 can’t cover up this kind of sloppy playing.
Lindeen’s prose is most irksome when it comes to MS, which first struck when she was in her 20s. On the way out to a club with friends, she suddenly became paralyzed on the left side of her body. Yet in describing this terrifying moment, Lindeen whiffs completely: “It was like an invisible god stole my good side. Or an enemy with a voodoo doll just cut me in half. I don’t have the apt words to describe it.”
Don’t have the apt words to describe it? Then you have no business writing a book. It’s surprising that a musician-turned-writer doesn’t grasp the importance of voice.
But voice takes effort and engagement, and Lindeen is evasive and detached. In describing a painful abortion, she goes so far as to switch into third person, blatantly putting us at arm’s length. As for being a girl trying to make it in a boy-band world, she gives no consideration to Third Wave feminism, even as she rides its updraft. She dismisses the Riot Grrls as “a bunch of girl power complainers,” adding intellectual and political lassitude to her failings here.
Lindeen’s story culminates with the predictable wilting of Zuzu’s Petals. She admits to phoning in the band’s second and final album. A review calls her songwriting “cloudy, loaded with lazy references, and a little too much emotional distance.” The same, unfortunately, must be said of this book.
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