PETAL TO THE METTLE Laurie Lindeen

The Zuzu’s
Petals frontwoman tells her story anew.

 

BY
BRIAN BAKER

 

In
1988, Laurie Lindeen, Coleen Elwood and Linda Pitmon made the fateful decision
to start a band. Relocating from Madison, Wisconsin to scene friendly Minneapolis, Minnesota,
the ladies made a holy racket as Zuzu’s Petals, the name taken from pivotal
scenes in It’s a Wonderful Life,
where George Bailey’s existence is both denied and reaffirmed by the remnants
of his daughter’s wilting flower.

 

Zuzu’s
Petals birthed a few singles, two albums (1992’s When No One’s Looking and 1994’s The Music of Your Life) and toured relentlessly. What wasn’t known,
beyond the band’s family circle, was that Lindeen, at 24, had been diagnosed
with multiple sclerosis months before Zuzu’s Petals’ launch. After losing sight
in one eye, sensation in one side of her body and a long period of intense
physical and steroid therapy, Lindeen strapped on the guitar she was still
learning to play, stepped on stage with crippling stage fright and tremulously
began her rock adventure.

 

A
dozen years after Zuzu’s Petals’ unheralded dissolution, Lindeen completed Petal Pusher, her incisively candid 2007
memoir. The book’s rave reviews led to this year’s Petals’ anthology, Kicking Our Own Asses, issued by Rhino
Handmade. With Atria Books’ paperback edition of Petal Pusher hitting shelves in September, Lindeen prepares for
another road stand-doing book signings with a fresh perspective on her
accomplishments. “For the first time ever,” says Lindeen, “for something I’ve
done creatively, I want to tell everybody because I think it’s pretty good.”

 

Clearly
one unique aspect of Lindeen’s life has been her long relationship with Paul
Westerberg. They dated during her Zuzu’s Petals tenure, married shortly after
the band’s break-up and welcomed their son Johnny in 1998. Westerberg’s slavish
fan base was often problematic for Lindeen, who didn’t want to exploit her
paramour’s notoriety to advance her band then-or her book now.

 

“My
agent and everybody were like, ‘You’ve got to use whatever you have,'” says
Lindeen. “I was like, ‘You don’t understand. This is going to draw negativity
to me.’ I’m trying to establish myself as an artist in a different realm
because I couldn’t do it in the same realm as him. People are so weird and
culty about him.”

 

At
Petal Pusher‘s end, Lindeen recounts
Westerberg’s disinterest in a publisher’s request for a rock life essay and his
suggestion that she take the assignment. It totally altered her perception of
what she should be doing. “I finally found my niche,” she laughs. “That was so
much more satisfying than the songs I wasn’t writing. That was the beginning of
me figuring out that maybe I should sit in a room by myself and write.”

 

Although
Zuzu’s Petals did reunite briefly to promote
Petal Pusher‘s initial hardcover
release, Elwood has otherwise dropped out of music entirely, Pitmon now drums
behind Steve Wynn in the Miracle 3, and Lindeen scuttles the idea of a more
permanent reunion. She does, however, admit that she still picks up the guitar
on occasion and enjoys it more these days. “Paul bought me a Strat for
Christmas,” she says. “Last summer I did a little playing when the book
launched and Steve Wynn threw me a Stratocaster and all these dudes said, ‘You
don’t suck. You just had the wrong guitar.'” 

 

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