I Live Inside
Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland
Author Michelle Leon
Minnesota Historical Society Press (March 15, 2016)
A founding member of Babes in Toyland takes readers on the roller coaster ride of the rock-and-roll lifestyle and her own journey of self-discovery.
Babes in Toyland burst onto the Minneapolis music scene in the late 1980s and quickly established itself at the forefront of punk/alternative rock. The all-female trio featured a shy, seventeen-year-old Jewish teen from the suburbs on bass guitar—an instrument she had never played before joining the band.
Over the next few years, Michelle Leon lived the rock-and-roll lifestyle—playing live concerts, recording in studios, touring across the United States and Europe, and spending endless hours in stuffy vans, staying in two-star motels, and sleeping on strangers’ couches in town after town. The grind and drama of life in the band gradually wore on Leon, however, and a heartbreaking tragedy led her to rethink her commitment to the band and the music scene.
Leon’s sensitive, sensory prose puts readers right on stage with Babes in Toyland while also conveying the uncertainty, vulnerability, and courage needed by a girl who never felt like she fit in to somehow find her place in the world.
Also of interest:
First Avenue: Minnesota's Mainroom
Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis
Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984
Babes in Toyland article on MNopedia
Minnesota History article: PunkFunkRockPop
MNHS Collections: PunkFunkRockPop
Michelle Leon is a freelance writer, musician, and teacher. She was the bass player for the influential punk band Babes in Toyland from 1987 to 1992 and again in 1997. Her writing has appeared in City Pages, the music essay compilation The First Time I Heard David Bowie, Saint Paul Almanac, VitaMN, Haute Dish, and Your Flesh magazine. Michelle holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She lives on the east side of St. Paul with her husband, two children, and three dogs.
Reviews and news
"An impressionistic account of tour buses, parties, backstage tension and on-stage exultation; Leon doesn't attempt an objective overview of the Babes' mission, and the book is a better read for it."
"Over a little more than 200 pages, Leon’s short, self-contained chapters, often less than a page, are the opposite of diary entries: considered, honed, until every word has its own reason for being where it is."
Greil Marcus on Pitchfork
"In a voice that is both dreamy and well crafted (Leon holds an MFA in creative writing), the ex-bassist fashions her short, nonlinear chapters in a way that is almost filmic, building scenes into a beautiful account of both her band and the formation of her identity. She doesn’t shy away from the sex-and-drugs part of rock ’n‘ roll—or the sexism, for that matter—but her book isn’t a tell-all. Befitting its title, it takes its approach from experience: The narrative moves in and out of her time with the band, recounting milestones both funny (getting a fake id) and profound (the 1992 murder of her boyfriend, indie-punk roadie Joe Cole). The effect is visceral; at its best, Leon’s prose allows readers to experience the personal and ineffable—including the transcendence she experienced when playing—putting us in a special and specific time and place in American music."
Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture
"[I Live Inside] shares qualities and quality with Viv Albertine’s autobiography on this side of the pond, being equally as compelling and arguably more elegantly written, deflating the clichés and myths of life in a band but coming out of the other side enriched from following a dream."
Steele Talkin' on WCCO-AM (6/19/16)
Michelle Leon has provided us with a crucial and compelling account of what it was to be a woman making music in the nineties. . . . I have been waiting for this book for twenty years. Fantastic and ferocious.
—Jessica Hopper, music and culture critic and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
It’s profound, poetic, badass, tender, and inspiring. You know someone who needs this, and they might just be you.
—Will Hermes, author of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York City That Changed Music Forever
This visceral and thoughtful On the Road illustrates a continuing quandary of contemporary life: Is there a way to forge identity beyond what you choose to consume?
—Terri Sutton, freelance writer and former City Pages arts editor
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
The sensory veil of Bonnie Bell lip gloss, velvet wall paper, fingers sliding on a bass, syringes in waste baskets envelops you. No punches are pulled, yet no band members are eviscerated—their humanity revealed.
—Adam Levy, singer-songwriter (The Honeydogs)
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
The prose is lyrical and witty, and Michelle refreshingly nails the truth of the “sh*t happens” loop of life as a touring musician in a van, mixed with moving yet always unassuming explorations into love and loss and the human psyche.
—Daniel D. Murphy, musician, songwriter, and guitarist (Soul Asylum, Golden Smog)
[Michelle 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, author of Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story
A singular, insightful, brave tale of an artist coming to terms with her art and herself.
—David N Meyer, author of Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music
Complicated, consoling, and true in all the enchantments of dress, the candid colors, songs and background in girl loving music and that lost Cole.
—Douglas A. Martin, author of Once You Go Back
In finely drawn vignettes, Michelle Leon’s memoir I Live Inside captures not only the exhilaration of performing but also the quiet loneliness found offstage.
—Jacob Slichter, musician, drummer (Semisonic), and author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside tells what it’s like to be a person in a band. And then—suddenly, painfully—a person who used to be in a band. A vivid, poetic memoir.
—Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge
Unique and poetic, Michelle’s prose is a voice, rhythmic, resonant, and our conduit to a forbidden world. . . . We knew her, were her, but we never did this.
—Kevin Kling, author, playwright, and storyteller
Michelle feels and tells the story as one who was at the center of the swirling energy that characterized a unique moment in music.
—John Munson, musician and bass player (Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic, the Twilight Hours, the New Standards)
Michelle Leon’s intimate, heartfelt, and heartaching portrait of an emerging Minneapolis female (punk) rocker. Real names’d be proof. This is Planet Leon.
—David Markey, filmmaker, author, and musician
- This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
- 224 pages
- 45 B&W Photos
- 5.25 x 7.25 inches
- ISBN: 9780873519984