Book Review: All Over the Place

The Rise of The Bangles from the L.A. Underground

For a time, The Bangles were ubiquitous. The all-woman foursome from Los Angeles earned the right to be all over the place (as it were) thanks to their hard work, dedication, authenticity and – most of all – appealing sound. The group drew inspiration from classic ear-candy pop like the Cowsills, Emitt Rhodes and sixties jangle-pop, but when they processed those influences through their own unique sensibility, the result rocked.

Whether they were turning in memorable covers of classics (Simon and Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter,” The Merry-Go-Round’s “Live,” Kimberley Rew’s “Going Down to Liverpool,” Big Star’s “September Gurls”), songs written for them (Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants,” Prince’s “Manic Monday”) or their own superb, too often overlooked original compositions (“Hero Takes a Fall,” “Following,” “In Your Room,” etc.), The Bangles were always a musical force to be reckoned with.

Based on everything we knew about them, it stood to reason that there was a good, compelling story behind the music. Turns out there was/is. And while it’s strictly classified as an unauthorized biography, Eric M. Shade’s new book All Over the Place does justice to that story. Drawing from a wide array of accounts (though written in a style that doesn’t make it appear to be built on firsthand interviews), his book chronicles more than just the forming and progression (and breakups, and reunions) of the foursome. Shade recounts the life stories of its core members – sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson, Michael Steele and Susanna Hoffs, presenting their stories in a manner that makes The Bangles and their success seem not only a logical progression, but one they rightly deserved. The group insisted on being taken seriously and on doing their on their own terms. And when those goals were in danger of being thwarted, they did what they could to set things right.

Shade doesn’t give short shrift to the other characters who figure into The Bangles’ story; bassist Annette Zilinkas, producer David Kahne and – most significantly – all of the members of the so-called Paisley Underground (less a scene than a close group of musically like-minded, extraordinarily talented friends). Shade doesn’t shy away from controversy or scandal, but the fact is that there wasn’t all that much of either where The Bangles were concerned. And they all come off as genuinely nice, kind, creative people. And really: how often is that the case?

Sure, there were personal dust-ups, hurt feelings about Hoffs’ perhaps getting more than her share of the spotlight, fractured relationships and whatnot. But at its core, The Bangles’ story is not a tragedy. It’s a tale of four musicians (and passionate music lovers) who pursued their dream and – though they had some perilously close calls – managed to avoid being irrevocably chewed up and spit out by the machinery of the music business. Eric M. Shade’s All Over the Place might not have the official seal of endorsement from the band, but it serves their story well. And it’s a fine companion to the group’s body of work. At more than 400 pages, the story never once drags. As such, it’s enthusiastically recommended.