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Q & A with Michelle Leon, author of I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland

Posted byAlison Aten on 11 May 2016 | Tagged as: Authors, Interview, Music

Michelle Leon I Live InsideMichelle Leon was the bass player for the influential punk band Babes in Toyland from 1987 to 1992, and again in 1997. In her new memoir, I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland, she takes readers on the roller coaster ride of the rock-and-roll lifestyle and her own journey of self-discovery.

Meet Michelle  on Thursday, May 26, at Moon Palace Books. I Live Inside is their Rock n Roll Book Club pick for May!

We asked Michelle to tell us more about how and why she came to write I Live Inside.

I Live Inside documents the five years you spent in Babes in Toyland, but also flashes back to your childhood. Why did you decide to incorporate these vignettes from your youth?

I wrote the book very non-linearly. I was all over the place, creating scenes as they came to me, bouncing from childhood to the present day and back to the Babes days. As I looked through the pieces later, there were so many parallels—family road trips in a station wagon and touring in a van with the band; feeling out of place as a kid and again later as a young adult; moments of loss. So it was very fun to play with that, refining the scenes so they were even more echoing and reflective of each other.

Your prose is so sensitive and sensory and your style poetic. What were your literary influences?

Flannery O’Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Tennessee Williams, Lydia Davis, Mark Doty, Joan Didion, Amy Hempel. I love the Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement; her style of writing in vignettes was something my adviser at Goddard, Douglas Martin, showed me when he saw how I was writing my book, and it gave me confidence working in that style. Patti Smith, Eileen Myles. Darcey Steinke’s new book Sister Golden Hair is killer; she was also an adviser at Goddard. Anything Maggie Nelson, but especially Bluets—more vignettes. Half a Life by Darin Strauss is another. The Seal Wife by Kathryn Harrison. Mary Karr’s Cherry. I read tons of memoirs preparing for this book. I definitely have a literary comfort zone—I should branch out.

Why did you want to share your story?

I didn’t want to share it at first. I was very protective and defensive about the subject for a long time; I felt a lot of sadness and loss. I didn’t want my identity to revolve around being the former bass player in Babes in Toyland. But people always asked me what it was like being in the band. I never had the answer they wanted, like I was supposed to tell stories about trashing dressing rooms and throwing TVs out hotel windows and hanging out with Bono. What I had was a very complicated and intense relationship with two other women that was like a marriage, while running a business together, living together, creating art together, experiencing the highest of highs and navigating horrific loss together. Loving each other like a family, driving each other crazy with our weird habits and egos, the unique bond of making and playing music together; these beautiful and singular life experiences we shared, and it still not being enough to keep us together. The day came when I HAD to write this story as a way to understand it all.

What do you miss most about being in the band?

I miss the energy of playing music onstage, the elation in that, the freedom; not knowing what town you are in when you are touring, not brushing your hair or going to Target for toilet paper. Living in that weird alternative universe. I miss co-writing songs and drinking beer at practice, having inside jokes and laughing my ass off with my band. I miss going to music stores and trying out new distortion pedals and strings and guitars. I miss having a job where a pair of American flag bell-bottoms is the perfect thing to wear. I miss traveling to places I never dreamed in my life I would see. I miss making new friends and seeing old friends out on the road.

But I am someone who loves home, loves staying in and being quiet; being in a touring band is very challenging for me. I don’t like being away from my family, friends, pets, kitchen, bed, bathtub, garden, neighborhood, and lovely old home, even though there are so many things I love about being in a band.

Do you still play the bass?

A little bit. My step-kid, Jae, goes to a performing arts high school, and I just went to the school and played with Jae’s classmates. We played “Smoke on the Water” together and it was awesome. Jae plays my old bass—a 1975 Fender Jazz we call “Lionheart,” a combination of our last names—and that makes me very proud.

What is your relationship with the band like now?

We have always remained close friends through so many different phases of life. Not that it was always easy. There was a lot of healing that occurred over the years. Still, I was really scared about how they were going to react to the book. It is such a personal story and a serious invasion of their privacy. So I have been overwhelmed and moved by their support. Lori was amazing at helping me remember details; she has an incredible memory. I’d text her questions like, “Have I ever been to Belgium?” And she’d know the answer. The experience of writing this text has brought us closer, which was a beautiful surprise.

What have you been up to since your departure from the band?

Everything! I worked at a flower shop, owned a flower shop, lived for almost a decade in New Orleans, where I renovated old houses and worked as a real estate agent, stayed for a year after Katrina. I finished college and grad school, then also earned my teaching license. I work as an elementary school special education teacher, with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorders. I married an amazing man a few years ago, gave birth to our son River the week after my forty-sixth birthday, and help co-parent Jae. We have three crazy, sweet dogs—two are therapy-certified and come to school with me. I am very blessed in this life. I am ready for more.

Galley Giveaway for I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland

Posted byAlison Aten on 11 Jan 2016 | Tagged as: Contest, Literary, Music

I Live Inside

Enter to win a SIGNED ADVANCE COPY of Michelle Leon’s forthcoming book I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland, available March 15. Michelle played bass for the influential punk band Babes in Toyland from 1987 to 1992 and again in 1997.

We are giving away 25 signed ADVANCE READER COPIES of I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland by Michelle Leon. Contest ends Thursday, January 28, and winners will be announced that afternoon.

The hardcover edition will be available March 15. Follow Michelle on Facebook.

Stay tuned for more information about upcoming events with Michelle!

In the meantime, check out what people are saying about I Live Inside:

“A crucial and compelling account of what it was to be a woman making music in the nineties. . . . Fantastic and ferocious.”

Jessica Hopper, music and culture critic and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic

“Profound, poetic, badass, tender, and inspiring.”

Will Hermes, author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire

I Live Inside feels as real and personal as reading your own memories. . . . Parts read like a fairy tale while others are so haunting they will never leave you.”

Kelli Mayo, musician (Skating Polly)

“Leon draws you right into the Babes in Toyland van, shows you the after-party tensions and what is in the mind of this particular girl in a band.”

Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair: A Novel and others

“[Leon’s] prose is stunning, her eye is wry, and her heart enormous; the result is a compelling memoir filled with pop culture, travel, intrigue, and a young artist’s quest to find her voice.”

Laurie Lindeen, musician (Zuzu’s Petals) and author of Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story

“By the end of this lyrical, tough, and moving memoir, you’ll not only feel like you know Michelle Leon, you’ll also want to talk and dance and listen to music with her.”

Scott Heim, author of Mysterious Skin and We Disappear

“A vivid, poetic memoir.”

Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

“This is Planet Leon.”

David Markey, filmmaker, author, and musician

14th Annual Jazz Festival

Posted bylucia.randle on 26 Jun 2012 | Tagged as: Event, Fairs, Music

PrintThe 14th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival is taking place this weekend in St. Paul. This free jazz celebration starts on Thursday, June 28, and continues through Saturday, June 30. Three stages in Mears Park will host some of the best jazz musicians in the region. Headliners include Francisco Mela, the Delfeayo Marsalis Octet, and the Bad Plus. Come out and enjoy the biggest jazz event in the Twin Cities.

Check out Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities by Jay Goetting for more information about jazz music here in Minnesota.

Edina Art Fair This Weekend!

Posted byAlison Aten on 31 May 2012 | Tagged as: Arts, Children, Event, Fairs, Music

Edina Art FairThis coming weekend will mark the 46th Annual Edina Art Fair. Friday, June 1, to Sunday, June 3, enjoy a fun family outing at the corner of 50th & France. The Edina Art Fair, the second largest in Minnesota, is the first official art fair of the summer.

This fair showcases a large variety of art from around the Twin Cities and the country. Over three hundred artists will be displaying their unique works, including painting, photography, ceramics, engravings, wood carvings, glasswork, and jewelry. The fair also includes a special collection of GREEN artwork made by artists using only recycled materials. Artists were chosen from over six hundred applicants from around the country.

The Edina Art Fair also offers different events, activities, and performances each day. Throughout the weekend there will be fashion shows and musical performances, and a Kids Art Zone provides activities for the whole family, including face painting and puppet shows. A full list of activities and performance times is available at the Edina Art Fair website.

A fair would not be complete without delicious food: plenty of booths from local restaurants are gathered in two food courts. Enjoy smoothies, kettle corn, tacos, lemonade, and more.

The Edina Art Fair runs from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, Friday through Sunday, and admission is free. See the website for parking tips.

Whether you’re an art buff or just want to enjoy good music and great food, be sure to stop by the 46th Annual Edina Art Fair this weekend!

Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers

Posted byAlison Aten on 06 Mar 2012 | Tagged as: Arts, Children, Event, Music, Native American

Larry Yazzy and the Native Pride DancersWorld Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers perform this week at Stepping Stone Theatre in St. Paul.

From the theatre’s website: “Rainbow-colored headdresses, pulsating drumming, and fancy footwork are part of the excitement of a Native American powwow. World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers perform flamboyant movements passed down by their ancestors and sacred songs from the Northern Plains.”

Minnesota Spice!

Posted byAlison Aten on 05 May 2011 | Tagged as: Event, Music

Photo at Manny\'s Tortas by Katie Cannon in Minnesota Lunch

Pack your weekend with all things caliente!

First, Friday or Saturday, head to St. Paul’s District del Sol for the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, the annual celebration of Mexican heritage. Activities include a parade, lowrider car show, performances, music, and food.

While you are in District del Sol, visit Don Pancho’s Bakery. Owner Efrain Perez is featured in the new book Minnesota Lunch, edited by James Norton of The Heavy Table blog, in a chapter titled “The Mexican Torta” by Susan Pagani: “If you go in the early morning, Don Pancho’s is steamy with the smell of fresh baked goods, yeasty and sweet. Racks of croissants–chocolate, jalapeno, feta!–fill proofing racks set at the center of the shop, which is lined with cases of doughnuts, cakes, pastry, and cookies. And, of course, the breads used to make tortas: bolillo and telera.”

To learn more about Minnesota’s Mexican community and history, check out Mexicans in Minnesota and Latino Minnesota.

Heat up your Saturday night at the Artists’ Quarter for a book talk and signing with Jay Goetting and Leigh Kamman for Jay’s new book, Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. Then stay at the club for a performance by Atlantis Quartet.

And finally, add a little spice to Mother’s Day by bringing Mom to the Minnesota History Center’s exhibit Underwear: A Brief History. (Exhibit opens Saturday, May 7, but on Mother’s Day, May 8, admission for moms is FREE!)

Munsingwear ad from In the Mood for Munsingwear

Instamatic Memories: The Beatles in Minnesota

Posted byMary Poggione on 21 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: Arts, Event, Music

beatles_cropFrom now through September 12, the Minnesota History Center is pleased to present  ”The Beatles! A One-Night Stand in the Heartland,” an exhibit based on Bill Carlson’s photographs of the group’s August 1965 Minnesota concert. Many of the photos are included in Carlson’s book of the same name.

Explore Minnesota Music

Posted byAlison Aten on 12 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: Music

phpd7d5g0Explore Minnesota and 89.3 The Current from Minnesota Public Radio have partnered to create a Minnesota Music station on

According to the website, they offer “a sampling of popular music from Minnesota bands and recording artists. Many of the songs you will hear are well known, representing Minnesotans who were popular nationally and made significant contributions to music. You will also hear some new artists who are just emerging on the scene. Much of our playlist is in the realm of rock and roll music, but we touch on contributions in other genres of music as well. Come Explore the music of Minnesota.”

Lordy, Lordy: Look Who’s 40!

Posted bypennefesm on 02 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: Arts, Music

phpqjW4sdNot only is this Saturday, April 3, the 40th birthday for the iconic First Avenue, but Mayor R.T. Rybak has declared Saturday to be First Avenue Day (see text of the Proclamation, displayed below). To learn more about the infamous music scene in the Twin Cities, read the award-winning article by Patty Dean, “PunkFunkPopRock” from the Minnesota History journal archive.



WHEREAS; First Avenue is celebrating forty years as an independent music venue; has been committed to fostering art, music and entertainment excellence, from the avant-garde to the mainstream; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue transformed an old bus depot into an international icon and the premier downtown danceteria and music venue in the Twin Cities; and hosted performances by Joe Cocker, R.E.M, Ike & Tina Turner, Motörhead, Modest Mouse, Beck, B.B. King, GWAR, Beastie Boys, Pavement, Wu-Tang Clan, Iggy Pop, U2, Wilco and more; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue is committed to continuing its historical role as a testing ground and launch pad for local artists including Prince, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Morris Day and the Time, Soul Asylum, Atmosphere and other Rhymesayers artists, The Hold Steady, Trip Shakespeare, The Jayhawks and many others; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue has held fundraising events benefiting both local and national charities; provided Thanksgiving dinners for those without; and is constantly finding ways to give back to the community; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue holds countless unforgettable memories; has amplified legendary guitars; has been famously featured in Purple Rain; and has continually provided nights of wild dancing on its legendary dance floor; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue has been recognized as one of the best places to see live performances by music fans worldwide; has captivated millions of customers and has welcomed bands in the tens of thousands; and has even made a couple exceptions to its “no stage diving” rule to accommodate yours truly.
Now, therefore, I, R.T. Rybak, Mayor of the City of Minneapolis, do hereby proclaim Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 to be