A founding member of Babes in Toyland takes readers on the roller coaster ride of the rock-and-roll lifestyle and her own journey of self-discovery.
Babes in Toyland burst onto the Minneapolis music scene in the late 1980s and quickly established itself at the forefront of punk/alternative rock. The all-female trio featured a shy, seventeen-year-old Jewish teen from the suburbs on bass guitar—an instrument she had never played before joining the band.
Over the next few years, Michelle Leon lived the rock-and-roll lifestyle—playing live concerts, recording in studios, touring across the United States and Europe, and spending endless hours in stuffy vans, staying in two-star motels, and sleeping on strangers’ couches in town after town. The grind and drama of life in the band gradually wore on Leon, however, and a heartbreaking tragedy led her to rethink her commitment to the band and the music scene.
Leon’s sensitive, sensory prose puts readers right on stage with Babes in Toyland while also conveying the uncertainty, vulnerability, and courage needed by a girl who never felt like she fit in to somehow find her place in the world.
Michelle Leon is a freelance writer, musician, and teacher. She was the bass player for the influential punk band Babes in Toyland from 1987 to 1992 and again in 1997. Michelle holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She lives on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, two children, and three dogs. Follow her on Facebook
More than a "rock bio," Michele Leon has written a book about loss, the messiness of self-realization, and the provisional salvation of art, camaraderie, and love. It’s also about being in an important all-girl punk band at a remarkable time, documenting a scene that still resonates. It’s profound, poetic, badass, tender, and inspiring. You know someone who needs this, and they might just be you.
Will Hermes, author of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York City That Changed Music Forever
Michelle Leon has provided us with a crucial and compelling account of what it was to be a woman making music in the nineties. Leon was the first woman on stage that I wanted to be. I have been waiting for this book for twenty years. Fantastic and ferocious.
Jessica Hopper, music and culture critic and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and The Girls’ Guide to Rocking
Babes in Toyland may have showed Riot Grrrl how to scream, but their dirty, aching noise called to hips and heart as much as fists. Likewise, former BiT bassist Michelle Leon’s haunting memoir is more than the story of a girl in a band. This visceral and thoughtful On the Road illustrates a continuing quandary of contemporary life: Is there a way to forge identity beyond what you choose to consume? And what happens when alternatives to the mainstream prove equally unwilling to acknowledge your tender peculiarities, your spidery contradictions, your griefs both ancient and newborn?
Terri Sutton, freelance writer and former City Pages arts editor
I’ve seldom heard anyone capture the surreality of fleeting rock and roll fame as well as Michelle Leon—I once heard her describe going in 24 hours from cheering English fans at Heathrow to mopping a floor in her south Minneapolis apartment. In her book she juggles the historically significant and the prosaic with equal aplomb and sensitivity. The sensory veil of Bonnie Bell lip gloss, velvet wall paper, fingers sliding on a bass, syringes in waste baskets envelops you. No punches are pulled, yet no band members are eviscerated—their humanity revealed. True to the humble Minneapolis narrative spirit, there is little or no name-dropping for its own sake. While Michelle tells the story with a wide-eyed wonder and naïveté of one first initiated to the vortex of Minneapolis music, you never lose track of the significance and place of her band in the big picture. She’d never say it but: Where would Pussy Riot be without Babes in Toyland?
Adam Levy, singer-songwriter (The Honeydogs)
Maybe you know the words to every Babes in Toyland song; maybe you’ve never heard the band’s music at all. No matter: by the end of this lyrical, tough, and moving memoir, you’ll not only feel like you know Michelle Leon, you’ll also want to talk and dance and listen to music with her. Most of all, you’ll want to recommend this book to anyone who’s ever wondered what it’s like to be a woman in the strange, sometimes brutal world of contemporary American rock & roll.
Scott Heim, author of Mysterious Skin and We Disappear
Beautiful, sad and happy, poignant yet humble. The prose is lyrical and witty, and Michelle refreshingly nails the truth of the “shit happens” loop of life as a touring musician in a van, mixed with moving yet always unassuming explorations into love and loss and the human psyche. I never had too many chances to see Babes in Toyland—I too was living in a parallel yet not entirely different version of “my own inside”—but when I did, they scared the hell out of me, which I can only assume was the point.
Daniel D. Murphy, musician, songwriter, and guitarist (Soul Asylum, Golden Smog)
“What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” Ugh. Next question! Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside tells what it’s like to be a person in a band. And then—suddenly, painfully—a person who used to be in a band. A vivid, poetic memoir.
Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge
Available now from MNHS Press
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