Weird at My School: Zuzu’s Petals

By DJ El Toro

As literary protagonists go, aspiring guitarist and songwriter Laurie Lindeen is as charismatic as they come. Just read how she describes herself — and her partner-in-crime, bassist Coleen “Co” Elwood — on page 10 of Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story:

“Co looks like Natalie Wood if she had traveled to India with the Beatles, sort of a grooved-out late-1950s movie star. A former cheerleader gone off the arty deep end, Co is a mixture of the young Cher and Maureen O’Sullivan. I’m a poor man’s Connie Stevens on a good day, a punk rock Joey Heatherton on a bad day.”

In other words, the kind of guests I want at my cocktail party.

The cool thing is, Lindeen may be charismatic, but she isn’t always likeable. Far from it. Customers at her day job, serving breakfast orders at a fourteen-stool Minneapolis diner, call her Mean Waitress. On road trips, she makes a point of pouting in the car while everyone else piles out to look at Hoover Dam or whatever roadside attraction beckons; she blows off Niagara Falls to browse a Payless Shoes. Which is a bold tack to take with your main character, considering that Petal Pusher (out now in hardback, and due Sept. 16 in soft cover) is a memoir, not a novel.

Lindeen is unflinchingly honest — blunt yet funny — as she details the slow, determined rise, protracted plateau, and abrupt end of Zuzu’s Petals, her early ’90s trio with Elwood and drummer Linda Pitmon. Self-taught purveyors of poppy garage rock enriched by rousing harmonies and smart lyrics, the Petals garnered a lot of favorable notices for the 1992 debut, When No One’s Looking.

Petal Pusher hits all the dubious highs (opening for a very cordial Adam Ant on a failed comeback tour) and indignant lows (helpful advice from a record label to try sleeping with key club bookers). But the band’s misadventures is merely the focal point off of which Lindeen spins myriad stories, about her splintered family life, romances, and living with Multiple Sclerosis. An MFA in creative writing, the author intertwines all these components deftly, some broken down to bite-sized anecdotes, others extended and revisited throughout the 300+ pages.

photo by Steve Cohen

Lindeen believes the rock and roll myth. But even more, she believes in the magic of classic Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals, particular the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein (“except South Pacific“). Which makes her rants and observations about trying to chisel out a spot in the early ’90s music business that much funnier. When she fixes her sights on riot grrls and the “kinderwhore” trend, she is bitingly hilarious. In a world here the bad behavior of Inger Lorre and Courtney Love is not only tolerated, but encouraged, what place is there for three ladies in vintage party dresses who pride themselves on their manners?

That last quality is part of what makes Petal Pusher such a fun read. Sometimes, Lindeen names names. She never plays coy about her courtship with future-husband Paul Westerberg. She details friendships with members of Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks. Yet at other junctures, she displays commendable tact and discretion. When a member of the Petals or their tiny entourage misbehaves on tour, she will often lapse into anonymity: “Two of us promptly crash on top of a cat piss-atomized bedspread… one of us stays up with the techie and ends up doing the wild thing… Within a week, one of us has a burning crotch and some awful infection.” Who? None of your business. It does a great job of ensuring that reader loyalties remain evenly distributed. (Although I’d love to know the identity of the “really drunk, really wasted grunge girl” who attempts to strangle Lindeen mid-song during their first Seattle gig, at the old Off Ramp.)

On the page, Laurie Lindeen is not the nicest person you’ll ever meet. But I guarantee that if you give Petal Pusher a few days of your time, you’ll be damn glad you made her acquaintance, and got to know her better.

In fact, if you want to know even her better, read Spike’s interview with Laurie on the KEXP Blog from earlier this year.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.

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