Sunday, October 15, 2023

Recent reading: "Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren - Our Bananarama Story"


by Sara Dallin & Keren Woodward

Sara and Keren were the founding members of the wildly successful 1980's British female pop trio Bananarama. In this book and in their own words, the two women recall not only their professional success but also an enduring friendship that began during their early childhood in Bristol and continues to this day. They grew up not destitute, but not well-off by any means, but they had loving, solid families that resulted in solid, healthy upbringings. In their teens they embraced music, makeup, hair and fashion. As young adults they were active in the London music scene and eventually moved from being part of the audience to performing, which eventually (with the addition of Siobhan Fahey) led to the formation of Bananarama. 

One of the most interesting things about this book is that although the girls partied hearty throughout most of their lives, there's no sordid crash-and-burn tales of lives and careers ruined by drink and drugs as would be expected from a biography of a successful musical act. In fact, although copious amounts of alcohol were consumed, it was without tragic consequences and I don't remember any mention of drugs. If there was drug consumption, it was minimal. Even Fahey's departure from the group in 1988, while not the most pleasant moment of Bananarama's existence, seemed inevitable after she married Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and moved to Los Angeles with him. Again, not the angry, destructive experience you expect from a band's memoirs, in fact Fahey later rejoined the band in 2017-18 for an "Original Line-up Tour". Fahey was briefly replaced by Jacquie O'Sullivan, but she left in the early 1990's, and Sara and Keren have continued Bananarama as a duo to this day.

Another thing that's absolutely mind-boggling about this story is the sheer number of influential 1970's-1990's musical artists the band worked with, partied with, and rubbed shoulders with as they evolved from club kids to a one of the most successful acts of the 1980's. It's like a who's who of celebrity royalty from that era.

This is a refreshingly non-dysfunctional, non-self-destructive band memoir devoid of long-lingering bitterness, and that alone makes it a standout. If you (like me) were a fan of Bananarama, or if you're just from that era and want to relive it, this is a great read. 

Sara: Women had been so sidelined that even seeing Debbie Harry do her thing on Top of the Pops didn't make me think, 'Oh, right! I can do that!' That level of achievement seemed so very far out of reach. Still, it did start to feel like there were more and more women putting their heads above the pop parapet. Patti Smith had a profound effect on me, not just for her music but for introducing me to the whole subculture of New York. I discovered authors like William Burroughs, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, artists and photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe. I loved Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, whose album, Germfree Adolescents, I played over and over in my bedroom with my little sister. Siouxsie Sioux, Gaye Advert, and Viv Albertine with her band The Slits all made me feel there was a place for women in music. They opened my eyes to a new and exciting world and I had an unquenchable thirst for it.

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