Who would have known that Lani Hall, the former lead singer of Brasil '66 and wife and musical partner of famed trumpeter Herb Alpert, had grown up on the north side of Chicago? From hearing her sing in Portuguese, Spanish and English over the years, I imagined she had a foreign heritage. But no, she was a Windy City girl, growing up in the '60s somewhat after the decade made famous by Nelson Algren in The Man With the Golden Arm. She lived there before it was the city of community organizer Barack Obama and now the exciting metropolis (despite those teachers) of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Her Chicago was a desperate, dirty, corrupt, dynamic, sexy and sick city ruled by the imperious elder Mayor Daly and his on-the-take-aldermen of all persuasions.
The young Lani made her first public appearance as a singer in Old Town Chicago in 1965, and at one of those performances the famous Brazilian bandleader Sergio Mendes heard her and asked her to be the lead singer of his new group, Brasil '66. Six months later they signed a contract with A&M Records and they became an instant success. That band toured alongside the record label's founder, Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. (Incidentally, she left Brasil '66 in 1971 and married Alpert in 1973.) I still thrill to the memory of her singing the title song in 1983 of the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again. As I write this, I am listening to the Concord CD of Herb and Lani titled I Feel You.
I was privileged to read an advance copy of Emotional Memoirs & Short Stories (Amazon, $12.95 hard copy, Kindle edition is $4.99) and stayed up most of the night riveted by the powerful descriptive writing of a brilliant, natural talent telling a tempestuous story. I kept thinking that she brought the power of her remarkable voice to the printed page. Did she ever!
In these 10 stories of fiction-and-fact, Lani and her fictional counterparts crackle with sheer energy. I was spellbound by the intelligent modern women I found in these pages -- women who were struggling to navigate the uncertain waters of many life-altering situations. Each story in some fashion is related to the next, even though some are fiction and some are interspersed with true personal reflections -- a fascinating device which really worked for me. Powerful stuff: Adultery (the chapter, "Something in Common"), therapy ("Standing Appointment"), cosmetic surgery ("Inland"), postpartum depression and a lot of interesting sexuality. There is one fictional story about a bear attack called "The Ringing Bells" which actually shattered me for days afterwards.
I loved the mixing of the real and the imagined, as it gave me a rare glimpse into the double-edged sword that is the life of the artist. I was both riveted and disturbed in parts and exhilarated in others. Always truthful and intensely revealing of the true character of these women, I came away from it thinking that -- as a mature, somewhat worldly man -- I had a sudden insight into women I could have used much earlier in my life.
I went to Lani's website and learned that she had been writing poetry and lyrics since she was a young girl. When, later in life she had a debilitating case of Epstein-Barr Syndrome and had to take a hiatus from performing, she turned to writing to keep a grip on her sanity. I can only hope that she continues to write as well as perform, for this is a true literary talent who is now one of the major writers of the naturalistic Chicago school and will leave a lasting impact on us all.
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