“Once ‘the Devil ran through’ her family, Maddie free falls from institution to institution, growing into her queerness and discovering her fate- that ‘God has to be music.’ This riveting novel/memoir by underground icon Adele Bertei situates the making of a survivor rebel against the background of the chaotic side of 1960’s America. An honest, hard times page turner filled with heart and revelation.” — Sarah Schulman
THREADS TOGETHER THE TAPESTRY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY, TROUBLED CHILDHOOD IN HER MEMOIR
TWIST: AN AMERICAN GIRL
SEPTEMBER 21, 2022 (New York, NY) — “Some names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty,” says author, musician, artist, and survivor Adele Bertei in her upcoming memoir TWIST: An American Girl (release date: March 14, 2023; via Ze Books). At times tragic, at times triumphant, told with a keenly observant eye and a wicked sense of humor, TWIST is a deeply personal story that takes place between 1965 through 1972, the formative years of Bertei’s youth in Cleveland, OH.
A bare, frank, and unflinching retelling of her life, TWIST is a first-person account told by “Maddie Twist,” a stand-in for Bertei herself. “I needed protection while taking the journey back through the war zones of my youth,” Bertei explains of her avatar, which helped her maintain journalistic integrity and a safe distance to relay experiences that might otherwise be too personal, harrowing or painful to reveal.
Through the eyes of Maddie Twist, Bertei threads together the tapestry of an extraordinary, troubled childhood, beginning with her mother, whose delusions of grandeur and undiagnosed schizophrenia bring both wonders and horrors to Maddie’s home. Once Maddie is removed by child protective services, she begins a wild journey through foster homes and reformatories with a band of outcast peers, learning about and eventually embracing her identity as a queer artist. As she ages out of the juvenile justice system and finds herself navigating the world alone, Maddie’s only constant is a ribbon of music that weaves itself around her heart. She can sing, and she is certain that her voice will be the beacon that guides her towards another life.
An artist whose history stretches back to the ‘70s, Bertei fronted the punk band the Wolves in Cleveland, OH with Pere Ubu bandmate Peter Laughner which became the basis of her first book Peter and the Wolves. His sudden death prompted her move to NYC in 1977 where she immersed herself in the counter-culture movement of art, film, music and literature. A founding member of The Contortions (produced by none other than Brian Eno), she dove deep into the underground, having toured the world with her other band The Bloods, America’s first out, queer, all-women-rock band.
Her musical history is essentially a who’s who of the ‘80s underground, performing and recording as a backing vocalist for artists such as Culture Club, Whitney Houston, Sandra Bernhard, and Matthew Sweet among others. She released records as a solo artist with the Geffen and Chrysalis labels and has had international dance and pop hits with Thomas Dolby (“Hyperactive!”) and Jellybean (“Just a Mirage”). She has also written songs for artists as diverse as Sheena Easton, Arthur Baker, Lydia Lunch, and the Pointer Sisters, among others.
TWIST explores her life and world before her thrust into the spotlight, mining the origins of the stories and experiences that would propel her forward. In frank prose without an ounce of self-pity, Twist is an episodic survival of the fittest, navigating the crooked rivers of poverty, race, sexuality, and gender. It is a world of little girl gangsters, drag queen solidarity, wild roller-skating, and magical thinking. With Twist, Bertei gives us a story of violence and madness, of heartbreak and perseverance, and, ultimately, redemption.
“TWIST is true to the cultural time and how it felt to be me in 1965 through 1972; white, working-class, poor, queer, abandoned, and hungry for belonging,” Bertei writes. “I have remained faithful to the way people talked and how they acted. When I describe people and events, I’m expressing my teenage thoughts through the lens of memory. History is fact and cannot be whitewashed and put through a rinse cycle of lies and omissions to avoid triggering another’s feelings, group sensitivities, or collective guilt… Twist: An American Girl tells of my learning this truth; faith in the goodness of people—and having the courage to keep looking for and finding that goodness—is the antidote to suffering and the heart-song of communion.”
TWIST is first in a trilogy of memoirs by Adele Bertei. Peter and the Wolves, published in 2020, follows immediately after and recounts her time with seminal punk musician Peter Laughner of Pere Ubu, while the third volume, about her musical experiences once in New York is currently being written. She is the author of Why LaBelle Matters, also published in 2021. Her work has been praised widely by the likes of Nikki Giovanni, Jerry Stahl, Greil Marcus, Lucy Sante, Dorothy Allison, Thurston Moore, Lenny Kravitz, and many others.