GIRL IN A BAND – A MEMOIR by Kim Gordon (Day Street Books, 2015)
The somewhat reductive title is surely intended to be ironic since Kim Gordon’s autobiography is most certainly far than that of just another ‘girl in a band’.
This is evidenced by the fact that the postscript defines her as an “artist, musician, producer, fashion designer, writer and actress”. Not only that but she is even a little dismissive of her musical prowess : “I’ve never thought of myself as a singer with a good voice or even as a musician”, she reveals.
Most of the time her desire to be a name in contemporary art world seems more important than being a rock star.
Despite this, Gordon is best known as founder member of post No Wave , pre-Grunge and super cool experimental rockers, Sonic Youth. This is a band who, she writes,“could only have come out of New York’s bohemian downtown art scene and the people in it”.
But anyone seeking a straight bio of the band will be disappointed by her non linear recollections. What dominates the plot is her relationship and marriage to Thurston Moore, the rise and fall of which parallels that of the band they founded together. The first chapter is entitled ‘The End’ and refers both to Sonic Youth’s final concert and the messy marital breakdown.
Moore is praised as an innovator, an inspiring band leader, a caring father and, for the most part, a good husband. She is unwilling to portray him as an out-and-out villain and the pain of the separation is obviously still acute: “It’s hard to write a love story with a broken heart”.
She can’t even bring herself to name ‘the other woman’ even though a quick Google search will identity Eva Prinz as the guilty party. The sense of betrayal is strong although you have to read between the lines to detect how much bitterness she feels.
In many ways this detached tone is consistent with her public image as an aloof, even cold character, more given to brooding than raging. She admits that she has always been more comfortable expressing or acting out emotions on the page, in the gallery or on stage than in ‘real life’. When she writes things like “extreme noise and dissonance can be an incredibly cleansing thing”, you get the idea that she loves the cathartic and chaotic aspects of recording or playing live. “I like when things fall apart” , she says, and adds : “The best kind of music comes when you’re being intuitive, unconscious of your body, in some ways losing your mind”.
I read this book directly after finishing Viv Albertine’s ‘Clothes….Music…Boys” and while the ex-Slit is open, self-deprecating and humorous, Kim Gordon is much more guarded and serious. At her worst she displays her pretentious side , as when she states things like “Daisy and I decided to make a faux-Godardian film filled with tongue-in-cheek Marxist references” or says she liked singing about “the darkness shimmering beneath the shiny quilt of American pop culture”.
Had she and Thurston Moore remained as rock’s coolest couple, this would have been a wholly different book; or, more probably, she wouldn’t have felt the need to write it in the first place. As it is, she is eager to set the record straight once and for all on how it feels to be a woman/ mother/divorcee in a band.
Paradoxically, however, the most interesting parts of the story are when she describes her troubled relationship with her older brother and encounters with fellow performers like Henry Rollins, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love.
As with many autobiographies, it is what she leaves out that is the most revealing and I’d be interested in reading Thurston Moore’s ‘A Boy In A Band’ if he ever gets round to writing his version of events.