Book Review: 'There Goes Gravity' provides backstage pass to rock history

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSApril 27, 2014 

  • 'THERE GOES GRAVITY'

    by Lisa Robinson; Riverhead ($27.95)

In "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.

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.

When she asks U2's Bono how he handles home life after being on tour, he answers candidly. "In a very, very, very deep place I'm secure. And on the surface, secure. But somewhere in there, I need 20,000 screaming people a night to feel normal." Tracing the evolution of U2, Robinson shows how, despite talent and good intentions, a band can lose its way in the tornado of success. In the group's '90s "Popmart" phase, they let celebrity and philanthropy get in the way of the music.

Robinson writes affectionately about most rockers but does get in a few jabs. She describes Lady Gaga as a gifted singer and musician who's connected to her audience, unlike Madonna, whom Robinson calls driven, humorless and lacking passion.

Rock fans will likely be holding a proverbial lighter up after reading "There Goes Gravity." Robinson must have many more stories to share. If we're lucky, we'll get an encore.

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