Simply put—Lisa Robinson just might be one of the coolest dames in the universe, and one of most enviable. She was a rock journalist when rock journalism was barely a thing. She has covered everyone from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga. And now Ms. Robinson is sharing her experience in her exhaustive and entertaining memoir There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll.
Robinson didn’t plan on being a rock journalist, but it wasn’t some she just happened to “fall” into either. A music fan since her youth (she used to sneak out of her parents’ NYC home to attend Thelonious Monk shows), Robinson found herself working for radio DJ, music producer and newspaper columnist, Richard Robinson. When Richard (soon to be Lisa’s lucky hubby) got busy producing an album, he asked Robinson if she’d be interested in taking over his newspaper column. Though a bit hesitant at first, Robinson decided to go for it and hasn’t stopped since.
One of the first bands Robinson cover were the bad boys of rock, Led Zeppelin. Robinson was fully aware of Led Zeppelin’s reputation for debauched antics, but it didn’t deter her. She knew they were just mere mortals who put their trousers on one leg at a time (theoretically speaking—Zeppelin and those surrounding them weren’t exactly known for keeping their trousers on). Robinson goal was on getting the scoop, not sex.
It was Robinson’s professionalism, smarts, and innate talent as a writer that managed her to sustain a notable career in fields not exactly known for treating women particularly well—music and journalism. Robinson wrote for publications like Hit Parader, Creem, New Musical Express (NME), the New York Post, Rock Scene, and currently contributes to Vanity Fair.
Since those crazy Led Zeppelin days and nights, Robinson has covered The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Patti Smith, The Ramones, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, U2, Lou Reed, Television, The New York Dolls, Madonna, Jay Z, Queen, Lady Gaga, Kiss, the Sex Pistols and Kanye West.
With a mixture of both humor and warmth, Robinson was able to get these artists to open up that often belied their public images and sometimes confirmed them. While reading There Goes Gravity I could totally understand why so many musicians felt comfortable with Robinson. Her warmth and wit are inviting. She never came across “too cool for school” nor did she behave like a drooling sycophant.
According to Robinson the late Michael Jackson, well-known for his whispery speaking voice, could sound rather assertive and commanding while talking to lawyers and executives. Lou Reed and David Bowie often had dinner at Lisa and her husband’s apartment. Bono is at turns achingly earnest and overtly self-confident. But you can thank Robinson for convincing the former Paul David Hewson to stop dying his hair black.
Robinson admits what Madonna lacks in vocal talent, she makes up in drive and business savvy. She is also humorless and haughty. And though Lady Gaga gets compared to Madonna, she can actually sing and truly connects with others especially her fans. In one passage, Robinson describes enjoy a plate of pasta made by Lady Gaga while hanging out at Gaga’s parents’ apartment.
For Robinson, Kanye West gives a powerful voice to views most people are too meek to admit. We meet a domesticated John Lennon just years before his sad assassination. Robinson describes how Patti Smith can go from performing on stage to rocking out in the audience. She questions why the iconic New York Dolls are still not in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And she candidly conveys Eminem’s journey from an angry young man known for his misogynistic, homophobic and violent lyrics to a thoughtful and inquisitive man who is fiercely protective of his daughter Hailie. Eminiem’s childhood was rough and he is determined to give Hailie everything he lacked.
I’m sure to some people will find There Goes Gravity filled with bragging and name-dropping, but so what. If it’s true, Robinson is not bragging. And as for the namedropping, well, don’t you talk about the people you deal with from work? Well, just as you might talk about Dave from Marketing or Becky from HR, Robinson talks about Joey Ramone from the Ramones or Tom Verlaine from Television.
While reading There Goes Gravity I was amazed how much information from the major to the tiniest moments Robinson was able to capture so much. Most of this was due to Robinson’s keeping and storing decades of tapes, notes and photographs.
There Goes Gravity is one of the most enlightening books I have ever read about rock and roll history and also one of the most fun, probably because Robinson never saw her vocation as a mere job, it was a calling. I am utterly grateful as a diehard music fan for Robinson catching decades of musical fabulousness. Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson, thank you from the bottom of my rock and roll heart.