Dey Street Books/1st Edition edition
Kim Gordon was always the “Girl in a Band” – it was the question she was always asked (“what’s it like being…?” and in a doubting sense she saw herself as that; a blatant non-musician. Her being the girl in the band is a huge part of what made Sonic Youth, her look and sound, her presence – and of course the enduring partnership, her marriage with Thurston Moore, the band’s “chief” singer/songwriter/guitarist.
Gordon arrived at music through art. We arrive at her memoir, her look back down the tunnel, via heartbreak. Well, that’s how she arrived there. Her 27 year marriage to Moore is over; it killed the band also. Sonic Youth had gone from being a hip name, to ironic, back to hip again somehow. They were making vital, interesting music – still disappearing off to the fringes in-between albums aimed – nearly – at the mainstream.
And then Kim Gordon’s husband chased someone younger; was caught out leading a double-life.
The band with connections to Nirvana and Neil Young and New York’s noise/improve scene, the band that sidestepped any particular movements whilst always seeming to be there in the sidelines, a part, but apart, is now over.
And that crushing blow, the deception, the lies, the heartbreak – it is on nearly every page of Gordon’s memoir.
It’s a story that would have been interesting anyway – coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, a young mind shaped by art and fashion, later music. Her high school boyfriends included Danny Elfman. Gordon seemed to be the conduit, the connection point, she was friends with Kurt Cobain. She disliked Courtney Love. She writes about the New York art scene of the 1980s with the same fondness and sadness that she will carry on to write about her band.
These are postcard elegies – sent from a person slightly lost, hoping to find the new version of self through this lens of examination. These are lost times and places rekindled.
There’s enough music in here – eventually – for most Sonic Youth fans. There’s so much happening around that (family dynamics, Gordon’s gradual understanding of her own trust issues with men, her examination of being a feminist spokesperson/icon and artist) for Girl In A Band to appeal to people less aware of Sonic Youth’s music, dare I say it less interested.
But the heartbreak is inescapable. And it’s to the memoir’s credit, and there of course to Gordon’s, that she has allowed this to taint – to colour, to shape – these writings. It’s the emotional honesty in aftermath. In that sense the book is as much informed by Joan Didion as it might be Viv Albertine or Patti Smith; as much a companion to Susan Sontag’s explorations around grief, stress and pain as it is any “rock’n’roll memoir”.
This portrait of the artist is at times filtered through what can only be an angry energy. But it’s post-anger. It’s the attempt to make sense of what it all was worth. And as a band eulogy it does a fine job also.