THERE GOES GRAVITY: A Life in Rock and Roll. By Lisa Robinson. Riverhead. 368 pages. $27.95.
In the new book, "There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll," there's a telling photograph of Mick Jagger whispering into the ear of journalist Lisa Robinson as she smiles mischievously. The 1975 shot perfectly illustrates why Robinson's so good at what she does: her access to big talent, the trust she gains with her subjects and her love of music.
A lifetime New Yorker and now Vanity Fair music editor, Robinson fell into writing in 1969 when her future husband, rock writer and producer Richard Robinson, got her a gig writing for a music magazine, tapping into her passion and setting her on a path as one of the first female rock journalists.
The book focuses on the music, offering few personal details, but an intimate, familiar tone. After 45 years in the business, Robinson is still excited by live performances, and eagerly anticipates the next moment of greatness.
"It never felt like a job; it was fun, it was new, it felt like a 'calling.' Whether I was in a private plane with Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones ... or standing in two inches of beer on the floor of CBGB's - it was exactly where I wanted to be," Robinson writes.
Robinson had the good luck and timing to witness the beginnings of many bands. Armed with a coveted backstage pass and multiple old-school cassette recorders (which she still uses), she was part of hundreds of entourages. The book highlights about a dozen acts she suggests have been the most influential. She returned to interview favorites, including David Bowie, The Clash, Patti Smith, Eminem, Jay Z and Lady Gaga, several times, delving deeper into the souls behind the talent.
Although she admits to trading gossip as one way of endearing herself to her subjects, Robinson is protective, avoiding sordid details of the groupie sex, violence and excessive drugs that occur on tours.
"I was with them to get a story, not to judge," she writes.
Even the most media-wary artists come to trust Robinson because she's more fan than a critic, able to keep secrets and industry savvy. One of the few journalists to sit down with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, she offers fascinating quotes, but her rose-colored glasses are off when describing their reclusive, self-centered life in New York.
Robinson has a knack for getting subjects to share revealing personality traits that speak volumes. After interviewing Michael Jackson several times in his rise to stardom, she notices he has two voices: one high and soft for the public, another normal and commanding for his inner circle.
Always looking for edgy, surprising talent, Robinson started to pay more attention to rap and hip-hop, recognizing the same anger and lyrical skills as punk rock. She hails Eminem (whose lyric is the book's title) and Kanye West as often underappreciated artists who say what others are too afraid to say.
Robinson's strength is putting music into historical context. She makes connections between bands, suggesting blues greats influenced the Stones, punk bands like The Clash led to U2 and the Jackson Five inspired Jay Z. The book serves as a history lesson on how music has impacted American culture, touching on racism, drugs, AIDS, feminism, homosexuality, art, media and fashion.
Robinson must have many more stories to share. If we're lucky, we'll get an encore.
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