In the late 80s, after moving to downtown Minneapolis, the teenage Michelle Leon met drummer Lori Barbero and singer/guitarist Kat Bjelland at the CC Club. She had seen an early incarnation of their band at a party and immediately wanted to join them.
After rejecting several band names, including Swamp Pussy (Michelle refused to say that name to her parents), they settled on Babes In Toyland, after one of Lori’s favourite films.
I Live Inside follows Michelle’s journey from awkward shy teen to blossoming rock star, one that never quite had the chance to reach full bloom.
Michelle beautifully describes those early days with her new bandmates, of dusty record stores, thrift shop dresses, velvet and silk, lacy eiderdowns, perfume and powder, white candles and plastic barettes.
It was an exciting time for talented youngsters, when people were brought together by the burgeoning music scene, starting bands and learning how to play as they went along.
After a slow start playing local parties and scaring the hell out of people with their fiery, screaming style, Babes began to develop a loyal fan base, first in Minneapolis, then branching out through constant touring and their first raw recordings.
They shied away from the feminist Riot Girl movement, preferring not to let their gender dictate their style or lyrics. Fans of the band often don’t like them to be described as a girl band, as though it’s an insult, but they really were, with all the passion and violence and love and power that comes with that.
Soon, the group were big enough to tour Europe, with the highlight being Reading Festival, where they were filmed for 1991: The Year Punk Broke, alongside Nirvana and Sonic Youth.
During this time, Michelle had begun a long-distance relationship with Joe Cole, a roadie for Hole and Black Flag. Her memories of Joe are bittersweet, and heartbreaking. This was young love in its first flush, a best friend whose calls and letters broke up the monotony of touring and being essentially rootless.
Joe’s tragic murder outside Henry Rollins’ house in LA marked the end of the romance and, indirectly, of Michelle’s musical career. Growing tensions within the band combined with Michelle’s grief culminated in them growing apart.
She left the band in 1992, just before their most successful album, Fontanelle, was completed, to be replaced by Maureen Herman.
The book pulls no punches when it comes to the relationship between Michelle, Lori and Kat. She clearly illustrates the pettiness and jealousies between the girls, the tumultuous friendships, her initial inferior position in the band, and the gradual confidence she learned through becoming an accomplished bassist and experienced musician.
The three women have had a difficult relationship that has stretched through the decades, including one brief reunion tour, another breakup, and now a tentative friendship. Incidentally, both Lori and Kat have supported the book’s release and appeared at signings, putting any past differences behind them for good.
I Live Inside is beautifully written and structured, an honest memoir about sisterhood and rivalry, a sneak peek behind the scenes of a touring rock band, and the story of readjusting back into the real world when all the gloss and dazzle has faded.