This appears to be the year for several of rock's legendary artists — Elton John, Debbie Harry, Ringo Starr — to publish their memoirs. So it only seems fitting that one of Detroit's resident rock legends — the ageless, irrepressible Carolyn Striho — should choose 2019 to release her first-ever book, as well.
Detroit (Maiden Energy): Street Princess Poems & Lyrics, published in October by Detroit-based Aquarius Press, is a collection of singer-guitarist-pianist-songwriter Striho's original lyrics and haunting personal introspections, amassed over decades of challenging and captivating audiences here and overseas.
The 11-time Detroit Music Award winner's most recent album, Afterthought, made it onto the Grammy Awards' 2018 first ballot for Best Rock Album of the Year. So what's harder, Carolyn Striho? Recording a great album or compiling a first book?
"You mean as far as putting a whole record together versus putting the book together?" asks Striho, who'll be promoting both words and music in concert Saturday night at Cadieux Cafe. "Well, yeah, this was different. It was a little harder for me because I'd never done it. When I was working on a memoir, I realized it was going and going. I had pages of writing, and it was going to be ... I don't know you'd want to call it an ordeal, but it would be really difficult."
Detroit (Maiden Energy) was initially conceived as a memoir by Aquarius Press owner-publisher Heather Buchanan. "I really pushed the idea of an actual memoir, but Carolyn felt she's not quite ready," Buchanan says. "She said she had a lot of interesting stories to tell, but she wasn't sure how much to reveal. She's still mentally sorting out her past."
Well, yeah. Hers is a rock 'n' roll past, and Striho has lived it so long that she co-hosted Detroit's first alternative music radio show, Radios in Motion, on WDET and once released a vinyl EP.
"Going through a lifetime of rock 'n' roll, there's a lot to say — and some of it's kind of crazy," she confesses. "You know, you go through stuff and think, 'What should I put in here about this? It would make for great reading, but it's like, 'Hmmm ...' So I switched around to, 'Well, I've been wanting to collect my poetry and lyrics for years, so let's make it become that kind of thing.'"
Even with that sea change in direction, however, Striho was still faced with the age-old frustration defined by Bob Seger in "Against the Wind": what to leave in, what to leave out.
"I just kept putting more in, putting more in, because I had so much," she says. "Then after everything was pretty much said and done, I found a ton more stuff. So I'm really pleased with how it turned out, but I feel like I wanted more, you know? It's like, 'Oh, I thought I had that poem in there,' or 'What — I didn't put that lyric in?!' But I figured people are probably not going to want to read 300 pages, so at some point I had to stop."
Well, that could be material for Book Two. But why Book One now, after all this time? "Because people close to me were asking, and the 'you shoulds' were starting to come out," she says. "I began thinking, 'Maybe they're right.'"
Striho's stanzas were reviewed and catalogued by Buchanan, who presumably never worked with a rock 'n' roll street princess before.
"Yes, that is correct," Buchanan says, laughing. "Carolyn was referred to me by one of the first poets I ever published, John Jeffire. She told me she liked what I had done with John's work and asked if I would be interested. A musician myself, I like her broad range of talent beyond rock. She blew me away at her recent Hamtramck show with her classically trained piano skills, which I knew nothing about."
Detroit (Maiden Energy) is neatly structured into three broad headings, "Poems About Growing Up," "Poems About Love and War," and "Songs of Love." Would that real life could be so easily organized. Striho is a breast cancer survivor and advocate. After her decades-long marriage to husband-manager Freddie Brooks ended, she found love again and wed guitarist Scott Dailey, an integral member of her band.
"Cancer was a surprise, but I guess it is for everybody, huh?" muses Striho, who's working on a new LP for 2020. "You go through a lot, and you adjust to everything, so I guess I've just adjusted. I mean, what else could I do? I've had difficulties with certain things, and you can have aftereffects, but you know what? I'm grateful. I'm doing pretty good, and I'm really happy to tell you that."
On top of it all, her full-time "day gig" is teaching English to high school special-education students. It's hard to believe anyone who has seen Carolyn Striho onstage would mistake her for a special-ed teacher.
While she concedes time and circumstances have toned her down a little — at least, she sits behind her keyboards more than she used to — Striho remains an aggressive, melodic, wildly sensual force of nature in concert. The opening stanza to her poem "Running on Ice," perhaps inadvertently, evokes a sense of what it's like to see Striho in performance:
"Like running on ice,
fell down, so frozen
I needed direction
or some kind of discovery
I heard electric sounds and excited hounds barking
all night long"
"I truly adore this book, and not just because I'm the publisher," Buchanan says. "It contains the heart and soul of a songwriter, a Detroiter through and through, who experienced the ebb and flow of life in this great city. Carolyn has seen a lot and been through a lot, but her spirit soars."
Buchanan describes Detroit (Maiden Energy) as "a poetic memoir set to music. It's rock, it's soul, it's gypsy, Irish, Middle Eastern, French Canadian. It represents just about every cultural flourish imprinted upon this city. Every verse, whether it's a song lyric or not, is musical."
Carolyn Striho and her band will perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Cadieux Café, 4300 Cadieux Rd., Detroit; 313-882-8560; cadieuxcafe.com, Striho will sign copies of her new book, Detroit (Maiden Energy): Street Princess Poems & Lyrics.
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