Girl In a Band
The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)
As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.
While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.
When Girl In a Band was released last year, many people bought it for the opportunity to hear Gordon’s side of the story of the breakup of her 27-year marriage to bandmate Thurston Moore. The dissolution of the relationship also meant the end of Sonic Youth, and fans desperately wanted to hear from the notoriously private artist about what she went through.
Being one of the coolest indie rockers on the planet doesn’t matter a whit when real life comes calling, though, and the Gordon-Moore marriage broke down because of the same reasons every other relationship falters: apathy, growing apart and adultery.
Anyone struggling to balance work and family and life will relate to Gordon’s ennui about having moved to Massachusetts for the benefit of her daughter, only to find that the place itself didn’t really nurture her, despite the couple’s best attempts to fill their home with art and creativity. Dump crazy rock star schedules on top of that, plus the public’s expectations of you and your partner as the Mom and Dad of indie punk rock, and you’ve got to figure that the pressure of it all might get to be too much.
Gordon admits that she doesn’t have the answers to a perfect life, that she’s been hurt and scared and confused, just like the rest of us. So maybe it’s her writing style that leads us to believe, despite the things life has thrown at her, that she’s taken it all in, coolly catalogued it, and has everything under control. Throughout her career with Sonic Youth, Gordon has always come across as a badass broad who takes no shit, but who won’t get histrionic about the fact. Not that anyone would dare to give her shit in the first place.
Girl In a Band is low on the dirt dishing and complaining that might be expected from a biography by a girl in a band, but it is Gordon at her most forthright and open, giving readers that bit of herself that had previously been held back, even in her music and art. Definitely worth a read, even if you’re not a huge Sonic Youth fan.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.