The Author and the Musician: Hired Guns by Wayne Byrne and Amanda Kramer

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction
Hired Guns Portraits of Women in Alternative Music

By Wayne Byrne

When it came to choosing the subjects of my five previous books, it usually struck me in a moment of introspection. Memories of certain films are mentally bookmarked in my brain, such was their importance and influence on my life, and now on my career. To write about them felt natural as they came from a deeply felt place of passion. However, the inspiration for my new book, Hired Guns: Portraits of Women in Alternative Music, came not from within but from a text message. I was getting out of bed one morning and just as my foot hit the floor my phone pinged with the sound of an incoming communication from my friend, Amanda Kramer. It was not unusual for us to text each other throughout the day, but not normally so early, so my curiosity piqued as I saw her name flash upon the screen. And contained within that message was the subject that would keep me busy for the following year.

“Hey Wayne, I have an idea for a book…”

At the time, I was extremely busy working against the deadlines for two impending books, so I was not at that moment considering my next literary project. However, Amanda and I had been toying with the idea of working together, and that morning she suggested an intriguing premise: to chart the careers of ten significant female touring musicians. What struck me about Amanda’s idea was that it was almost fully formed; she had a near-definitive list of the women she wanted to profile and how she wanted to document them: it would be to consider the social, political, cultural, and educational contexts in which they were brought up and how they found their footing in the music industry…all the thematic contexts that interest me greatly and through which I recurringly write about art. She even had the title already in mind: Hired Guns.

I really liked the idea, and it helped that I was already familiar with the music of all these ladies; most of all, I relished the opportunity to work with Amanda. So, I replied to her: “Sounds great! Let’s talk about it at lunch time.” Which we did. Three weeks later we signed a publishing deal for the book. That’s how quick it came together. In the meantime, we began contacting the titular “hired guns” that we wanted to cover. One by one, they came onboard. Beginning with Joy Askew (who toured and recorded with the likes of Joe Jackson, Peter Gabriel, and Laurie Anderson) we quickly cemented how we would approach each interview. With Amanda having four decades of touring in major rock and alternative bands behind her she knew that world intimately, so she was able to ask questions and broach subjects that I would never. This is her milieu. My role in these interviews was to be both a human encyclopaedia (regarding album titles, years of release, names, and other minutiae) when memory failed, and to make more objective enquiries into life on the road. It worked great and has been our double act ever since. On our current project, a book on the evolution of film music from the New Hollywood movement onwards, we once again use that two-pronged interview approach whereby Amanda can bring up the topics of music industry, aesthetics, and technology, while I come at it from the film history and theory angle.

We spoke in-depth with some fascinating people, including Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie, Tears for Fears), Angie Pollock (Goldfrapp, The Lightning Seeds), Sara Lee (Gang of Four, The Thompson Twins), Caroline Dale (David Gilmour, U2, Sinead O’Connor) and others. Once all the interviews were completed and compiled, we then took all that information and set about crafting ten distinct narratives. Each one provided me with a grand canvas on which I could detail a rich backdrop of heady music scenes emerging through landmark socio-political moments; I was not only charting the lives and work of these women, but documenting the times and the emergence of art that was born of countercultural revolutions of the 60s/70s and the alternative movements of 80s/90s.

While it would be easy for people to assume that this book is a feminist treatise on an industry that is still heavily dominated by men, and especially so in the “alternative” music genres, it was never that specifically political in intent. At the core of this book is a human investigation into what makes the artist and their art: family, culture, education, and environment. And in adopting this approach, the book takes on an element of sociological enquiry. One can’t write about a subject’s upbringing without the attendant allusions to class, time, place, and privilege (or indeed lack thereof) and how these aspects of life informed the route that these women took in becoming eminent in their chosen profession. In charting their respective journeys to the stage, Amanda and I were able to shine a spotlight on the resilience and attitude it took for them to arrive and survive in an industry that often elevates image over artistic integrity, or banality over originality, and to do so on their own terms.

Writing this book took me out of my comfort zone of Film and into the world of Music. But despite being a subject that came to me rather than originating from within, I now realise that this book is as meaningful to me as any of my literary works. That is because of Amanda. This book is her vision, and my passion for it comes from my love for my friend, now co-author. Rather than a transactional, objective professional collaboration, this book was a chance to plumb emotional and intellectual depths with someone I care about. And it continues with our subsequent joint endeavours, the subjects of which are secondary to the collaboration; without the prospect of working with Amanda I would never have considered writing about the topics that we do. Our partnership is unlike any other that I’ve experienced; it is very rare that we sit down to “work”, rather we think, talk, and ruminate upon life, art, culture, society, and other things meaningful to us. Oftentimes what comes out of those conversations ends up on the page. That’s how we do it. Hired Guns simply wouldn’t exist without the human connection that we share. For me, that was the foundation and inspiration. And so, while this project marks a generic departure for me, it is just as personal as any book I have ever written. And it all began with that early morning text message: “Hey Wayne, I have an idea for a book …”

(c) Wayne Byrne

Wayne Byrne is an author and film historian from County Kildare. His books include The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out (2018), Burt Reynolds on Screen (2020), Nick McLean: The of Life and Works of a Hollywood Cinematographer (2021), Welcome to Elm Street: Inside the Film and Television Nightmares (2022), and Walter Hill: The Cinema of a Hollywood Maverick (2022).

Amanda Kramer is an American musician. She is the keyboardist for The Psychedelic Furs and has previously performed and recorded with 10,000 Maniacs, The Golden Palominos, Information Society, Siouxsie Sioux, Lloyd Cole, Eurythmics, and more.

About Hired Guns: Portraits of Women in Alternative Music:

Hired Guns Portraits of Women in Alternative Music

Hired Guns is a look across several decades of the music industry through the experiences and careers of a selection of professional female musicians. Those women profiled are members of influential, acclaimed bands and touring musicians with major acts; they each represent important music scenes and movements, having respectively emerged from and thrived in seminal moments of music such as the California hardcore punk scene, the Minneapolis alternative boom, and much more.

This book presents a frank and unique female perspective on the music business, charting their professional challenges and triumphs, providing an insight into the machinations of the industry, and offering a glimpse into the education, work, and lifestyle required of such professionals. The authors conduct candid interviews with their subjects and compose an insightful cultural and historical discourse, drawing readers into the artistic, social, and industrial contexts of several seminal musical movements as they give voice to these female road warriors who have enthralled millions of fans across the world while remaining largely anonymous to the public. Kramer and Byrne now bring them center-stage to tell their story.

This book features comprehensive chapters on: Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie, Tears for Fears, Indigo Girls) Sue Hadjopoulos (Joe Jackson, Simple Minds, Cyndi Lauper) Clare Kenny (Sinead O’Connor, Orange Juice, Shakespeare’s Sister) Susan Miller (Frightwig, Bad Posture) Tracy Wormworth (The Waitresses, Sting, B-52’s) Joy Askew (Joe Jackson, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel) Sara Lee (Gang of Four, Robyn Hitchcock, Thompson Twins) Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland) Caroline Dale (David Gilmour, U2, David Gray, Page and Plant) Angie Pollock (The Lightning Seeds, Goldfrapp, Peter Gabriel)

Hired Guns: Portraits of Women in Alternative Music is out now from Equinox Publishing. Order your copy online here.

About the author

Wayne Byrne is an author and film historian from County Kildare. His books include The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out (2018), Burt Reynolds on Screen (2020), Nick McLean: The of Life and Works of a Hollywood Cinematographer (2021), Welcome to Elm Street: Inside the Film and Television Nightmares (2022), and Walter Hill: The Cinema of a Hollywood Maverick (2022).
Amanda Kramer is an American musician. She is the keyboardist for The Psychedelic Furs and has previously performed and recorded with 10,000 Maniacs, The Golden Palominos, Information Society, Siouxsie Sioux, Lloyd Cole, Eurythmics, and more.

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