You Can Take the Song Out of the Girl, but…

The Girl in the Song—The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics
By Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson. Chicago Review Press, 144 pages.

I had it on very good authority–a street musician whom I befriended back in the late ‘80s—that Steely Dan’s hit “Ricki Don’t Lose That Number” was based on an incident in New Haven when a woman related to one of the songwriters joined a religious cult and was given a phone number to call (and not lose) if she ever changed her mind and had trouble leaving.
That story, according to this authoritatively reported book, turns out to be a complete fabrication. The “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” legend which graces The Girl in the Song—The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics identifies the Rikki in the song as novelist/poet Rikki Ducornet, a classmate of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen at Bard College in the early 1960s, with quotes that support that version. So many rock histories are spottily researched compendia of weblore; it’s great to read one with fresh firsthand interviews. One of the creepier stories, which ends up happily, is My Sharona, which The Knack’s Doug Fieger wrote while smitten with Sharona Alperin when he was 25 and she was just 17. They were a couple for four years, maintained a firm friendship afterwards, and Alperin says her time with Fieger is what got her interested in her career as a real estate agent.
Such where-are-they-now anecdotes are much more intriguing than all the obvious celebrity references. Even when the stories are disputed (like Meta, the Abbey Road Meter Maid who claims Paul McCartney told her that her name could inspire a song; McCartney flatly denies her recollection) they’re fun to read about. Best of all, Heatley and Hopkinson don’t take the art out of the equation. They freely acknowledge that inspiration is just a small element in how a lyric gets written, and doesn’t mind bursting a few bubbles by saying that, for instance, Roseanna Arquette was just not that crucial an aspect of how Toto’s “Roseanna” got written.
Good. I like Roseanna Arquette as an actress and I hate that song. Hate Rikki Don’t Lose That Number too. Just like reading about the artistic process, you know.
Of course, considering how many songs about girls there are, there really need to be several more volumes of this kind of reportage. Heck, The Nail’s “88 Lines About 44 Women” would be a book in itself.