Girl in a Band: A Memoir

Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band: A Memoir came out last week, and I snatched it up as my next read. Actually, Gordon read it to me. I debated buying the hardcover or the audiobook. I chose the Audible version, because a) I can listen in the car and office and b) Kim Gordon talking to me. No-brainer, really.

I liked listening to her voice. I’ve heard her talk before, but when I think of Kim Gordon’s voice, I think of her voice on stage:

I just want to know, what are you gonna do for me? I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?

Or her playful voice joking around with J. Mascis in the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Instead, I am immediately struck by the quiet, introspective, sweet voice reading her own story.

Gordon opens her memoir by telling the story of the last show Sonic Youth played. It’s intense. You feel the tension and pain she experiences during the momentous show. It is a compelling moment, and her vulnerability comes through immediately. I expected bombast or effortless cool (and we do get effortless cool later in the book), but what you get right out of the gate is a sad, overwhelmed, angry, heartbroken girl. A number of reviews of Girl in a Band mention that her discussion of her divorce with fellow Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore and her feelings about the affair that caused it seem petty or small. I didn’t feel that way. I felt she told her story and that was a small, but important, part of it.

As she delves into her childhood, I am repeatedly surprised by her shyness and sensitivity. I’m also surprised by her intelligence. I think of her as cool, yes, but I never took her as being super cerebral. I also didn’t realize until reading her story that she is very much an artist first and a musician second. Sonic Youth was just a side project to Gordon’s life as an artist.

I won’t spoil the book by revealing all the interesting little tidbits, but I loved hearing where she was born, where she grew up, the music she listened to as a kid, and the people and things that influenced her. I find her relationship with her brother and its influence on her fascinating. She discusses fashion, music, and art in a smart, accessible way. She met or worked with a number of interesting and influential musicians, artists, designers, and writers over the years, and I love hearing those stories, particularly mentions of meetings or friendships with bands and authors whom I admire. At times, it feels a bit like reading UsWeekly for cool people. (“They’re just like us!”)

Honestly, though, the book is lacking in some ways. I came away slightly dissatisfied, as if she’s not quite telling the whole story. She is definitely a person with a very private side. That shines through in the book, and what she omits feels almost as if it is it’s own character in the story. Maybe that is due to writing in the ruins of her marriage; Perhaps with some distance, the book would not feel quite so overshadowed by her heartbreak.

All of that being said, I loved her story. It meets me at the perfect intersection of my life: I’m going through some depression, a bit of an identity crisis, and a disillusionment with middle age and all that comes with it. Who am I? Is my life what I thought it would be 15 or 20 years ago? Am I living the American Dream? Why do I feel so lost, frustrated, and bored?

In other words, If Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore have fallen apart, what hope is left for the rest of us.

Here is a female rock icon, one whom I love, admire, and put on a pedestal as one of the coolest of The Cool Girls, and yet the voice speaking to me is sad. Vulnerable. Sensitive. Disillusioned. Resigned. She writes her story down and tells it to the world. This venerable Indie Rock Goddess is a hell of a lot like me.

I think what I love most about this book is not all the punk rock insider information and not what it’s like to be a Girl in a Band. No, what I love is hearing Kim Gordon tell me what it’s like to be a girl. It’s validating to hear she experiences the same struggles: Self-doubt. Sensitivity. Being informed by place of origin. Finding outlets for emotion. Figuring out who she is in her teens and 20s. Family dynamics. The ups and downs of marriage and friendship. Job stresses. The I-Just-Got-Hit-By-The-Mack-Truck-That-Is-Motherhood experience. Family scheduling. Deciding where to settle one’s family. Guilt. Being let down by the ones we love. Heartbreak. Parental pride. Aging parents. Mental illness. Figuring out that everything is not black and white, and that there is a whole lot of gray, and we have to figure out how to survive there, and how to pick up the pieces when things change or if we lose everything and have to start over again.

The real reason I love this book? Moving forward, I can always think to myself, “Even 62-year-old Kim Gordon of Sonic fucking Youth struggles with this shit.”

Recommended for: Gordon Lovers, Sonic Youth fans, Music Junkies, Biography-Readers, Artists, Life-Examiners, Searchers.

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3 Responses to “Girl in a Band: A Memoir”

  1. Daric says:

    Yeah, I read that opening story on some website. Unfortunately I then read the comments section. I’ll have to get the audiobook, that sounds great.

  2. Dogwood Girl says:

    It was good. I really liked it.

  3. Becky says:

    I’ve been jumping up and down waiting for this book. My better half gave me a rather generous gift certificate for a bookstore for Christmas that I fully intend to use on this book. I never do audio books – but now maybe I might…..

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