It was an unresolved afternoon. The kids were gone. Saturday. I could clean the house, finish a painting, finish my taxes, go on a date with a bad man, have a beer—things I should do, things I shouldn’t. I sat on my couch playing computer Scrabble in limbo trying to decide. As the sun started to go down, I decided on something bad that was really good: listen to the entire Suzi Quatro box set.
Disc 1: The first song, she’s only 14 years old. And she is a badass. So is her guitar-playing. The sound is dirty, like that other great Michigan band the Stooges. Carnivorous. Predatory. It’s shocking enough when lean men play like that (they always do seem to be lean, no?), but for a woman, a girl, in the 1970s, when we’d just come out of golden hair halo Flower Power? Suzi about gives me a heart attack, over and over again. The music is HARD. And celebratory. Insistent. It’s rock! Gritty garage attitude, with studio clarity.
She says a lot of stuff that you shouldn’t say! Like that she’d rather have her beer than her man, or that another lovah is so young, like a teenage runaway, he’s gonna get “torn.” What does that mean? I can think of about five possibilities, each filthier than the last. Next she’s telling a guy (presumably another lovah) don’t expect breakfast, and that he looks ugly!?
“I may not live past 21 but, WAAAAAHH!, what a way to die!” Yes. “All my life I wanted to be somebody, and here I am! I’m a hammer from hell, oh honey can’t you tell? I’m the wild one.” Yes, yes, yes you are. I can tell.
“Locked In Your Love” about being used. Gah, I hate what political correctness has done to eradicate the complexity of relationships. Being used is such a dynamic part of love. It fulfills as it drains you; it’s special. Ike and Tina Turner’s songs knew about that! The grunts in Suzi’s song prove its sincerity.
“Don’t tell me what to do.” “Nobody owns my mind.” Her vagina got her ensnared in a lease, but she broke it. (The lease.) She must be free! Me, too! Thanks for reminding me, Suzi.
Woah, what’s this?—“Can The Can.” It sounds like Ted Nugent! The Nuge is another Detroit musician. “Ain’t Ya Something Honey” is bluesy. It’s great when someone can do anything, any genre, and still be herself, but try anything, be respectful, but pour herself into it, too. That’s a real singer. I don’t actually like the song, but I don’t care about that. Suzi will try anything, including things I don’t like, and I do like that. Also, no matter what style, all her songs retain that Detroit sound. Full to the brim, ready to spill, hard and excited and ready to die, ready to live, panting, sexual, gymnastic, dynamic, pulsating, insistent. Five songs in. I got 82 in all!
“48 Crash”—my god, how does she get her voice to sound like thunder? And she’s so little!
“Daytona Demon” reminds me of Sweet. Not in a derivative way.
“Your Mamma Won’t Like Me”—here I hear Janis Joplin. With a horn section. “Well, you thought you’d got an angel, but I tell ya, it just ain’t so. This cherub little momma ain’t no baby, don’t you know?” Unless you grew up hearing about what an angel you are, you can’t know how liberating it is to hear her throw that off so lightly with that gravelly, wanton voice. In the liner notes booklet, there is a pic of her between Deborah Harry and Joan Jett (who names Suzi as her inspiration). She appears not exactly sexy, not so hard, more like Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings… in leather. Cute smile. How can someone who looks so friendly and NICE come up with a manifesto like this?: “You can make me want you but you can’t make me love you. I feel the rhythm but I’m never gonna feel the pain.” She is the things a girl is not supposed to be: wanting, perambulatory, satisfying herself. She’s not the things she’s supposed to be: loyal, prey, satisfying you.
(A great, informative booklet accompanies the discs—her niece is Sherilynn Fenn— but I only skimmed briefly. I really don’t care to be informed. When Suzi Quatro sings to me, I just want to rock and, like, run out into the night and—anything. Everything.)
DISC 2 She matured just a little. She’s no longer just thinking about how much she hates boys and how much she likes boys. Her sexual repertoire has expanded—now she’s saying “tear me apart if you want to win my heart,” so it’s mutual, no longer JUST threatening to get all the beauty boys in her path “torn” and left to suck on nothing but Suzi’s dust. There’s a great little bit of gin joint piano. “Suicide” is about the economy. “The Race Is On” is about a relationship falling apart and everyone is uncomfortable. At least, I am! I don’t like to hear Suzi Quatro singing about being a wife. There’s an uptempo ditty about calling a girl’s mom after the girl overdosed?! “Hollywood.” Things slow down, guitars soften, lyrics wilt… what? Why?! Then comes one of my old favorites to wash the gray away: “Rock Hard.” And the moody “Lonely Is The Hardest.” Suzi has grown some emotions. She sets them aside long enough to petulantly describe the foreign lipstick she’s spotted on her man, and what she’s going to do to whoever got that lipstick onto the wrong man.
(What was happening behind the music? Born and raised in Detroit, she dropped out of school at 14 to go tour all around the world with her band, became impregnated by a married A&R man on, she claims (one presumes for legal reasons), her 18th birthday, had an abortion. At 21, she moved to England. Married her guitar player “stormily.” Had two children, divorced, married a German concert promoter. Suzi is a psychic.)
DISC 3 What the hell is happening? She sounds like Ethel Merman! Big band, Broadway, lullabies. Good god, the child choir sang about “Pappy” hiding. ‘80s MTV bell sounds from synthesizers. Remember when Neil Young got mad at his record company contract and made those hideous albums as revenge? There’s also a song that sounds like a Bond soundtrack (“Kiss Me Goodbye”). But if you forego this box set because you don’t want to deal with the clunkers, you would also miss some great songs that didn’t make her greatest hits—the solid rock “Let’s Go Back” or the psychedelic No New York-y “Strict Machine”: “I’m dressed in white noise / You know just what I want, so please…. / I’m in love, I’m in love / I’m in love with a strict machine.” Me, too! Actually, I’m not in love with a strict machine. Boy do I wish I were, though. It sounds so good.
DISC 4 I don’t want to talk about it. There is mention of butterflies, chrysalises. Don’t make me say anything else.
She says she divorced her first husband because he wanted her to stay in the leather jumpsuit for life, and it was either the marriage dies or she dies. I must admit I wanted her to stay in the leather jumpsuit for life, too. It can be difficult for us when what we worship transforms, like when heavy metal acts get their feelings hurt or a punk band finds Jah. But she’s a human being, not an act created by marketing execs. That’s what made her early stuff so hard, and her later stuff so soft. But… just… how much do I have to take? On Disc 4, when she sings about the changes in life, is she talking about menopause? Well, you know what, what the hell… why not? She’s sung about heartless fucks and violence supremely. If anyone deserves a shot at trying out a poetic song about your period tapering and hot flashes making you sweat in the night, it’s Suzi Quatro. And about letting go and going to bed and what her dad told her and… a spoken word part using the word “precious” meaning meaningful (not making fun of someone for some dick for thinking he’s a princess), well, for her to go for that just proves that all that came before was her really going for THAT, and no matter what you want, whether it’s one all-out wanton destructive night or just a little tenderness, go all the way. She’s still herself, no dried out fossilized pickled rock god. She is a living, breathing, contradictory, imperfect, assailable, wonderful, human rock god.
Lisa Carver is a New Hampshire based writer. Her latest works, How To Not Write and Money’s Nothing, are out now.