By Jacque R.
Sonic Youth is a noisy band with a cool name. It’s the kind of band you see printed on shirts worn by people who are either too cool for school, too old for school, or both.
To some, their music is the epitome of experimental rock, to others they’re just a bunch of bourgeois people making noise and passing it off as rock. (Remember Juno angrily lambasting that they sucked? A lot of people feel the same way.)
With her new memoir, “Girl In a Band”, Kim Gordon – bassist and founding member of Sonic Youth – proves that not everything that stems from the cerebral inner workings of dissonance-loving, experimental musicians needs to be hard to digest.
The chapters are short – never more than 5 pages long – which make it a fast and fluid read from the get-go. Admittedly, the fact that she opens with a chapter that discusses the demise of her marriage to bandmate Thurston Moore was a good come-on. Let’s face it: it’s first-hand gossip camouflaged under the guise of a hardbound book.
After the first chapter, she jumps to the beginning. In Gordon’s case, that’s growing up in Los Angeles, in a middle-class, academic family with a schizophrenic, older brother named Keller.
In her early 20s, Gordon – always creatively inclined – sought to pursue art and left Los Angeles for New York. There, and in the midst of the whole doing-odd-jobs-to-survive-and-make-art thing, she met and fell in love with Thurston: her future husband and co-founding member of Sonic Youth.
Apparently, Kim and Thurston just so happened to pick up some instruments one day, did some jamming jamming and then some recording recording, played a gig at an obscure bar, and went on to tour in England the following month.
Either Sonic Youth’s first foray into the music world was really bloody brilliant (which is unlikely, because their first recordings are weird AF) or Gordon decided not to dwell too much on the details about how they became rockstars – which is a pity.
The whole how-we-became-rockstars story – the struggle, the sweat, the blood, the tears, etc. – is what makes other musicians’ memoirs so interesting. (Plus, the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, of course.)
Think Sting’s memoir where we learn that he pretty much only took up teaching because the long vacation periods allowed him to still pursue music. (Plus, the fact that he’s also kind of a sex addict.); or Kurt who had to janitor his way through album recordings. (Plus, the fact that he’s Kurt Cobain.) Those are memoirs and biographies that manage to really establish a connection and deep respect for musicians who’ve made it.
What Gordon fails to deliver in terms of a proper band creation story, she more than makes up for by nonchalantly dropping names like it’s her bloody job. Apparently, she’s close friends with – and even responsible for some of their successes – a great number of highly acclaimed and highly successful people: Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, Marc Jacobs, Keanu Reeves, Jason Lee, Chloë Sevigny, and of course, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love (whom she hates) to name a few. They all have, at one point, crossed paths with her.
Questlove once referred to Gordon as the Forrest Gump of the 90s. Not because she’s a gifted runner and a war hero (you don’t say?) but because all of 90s rock history happened around her, through her and to some extent, because of her.
After a more or less chronological order of events, Gordon goes off-track to offer a few chapters that each describe the backstories of some of the more important (to her mind) Sonic Youth songs. Die-hard fans will appreciate a more in-depth look at how their favourite songs were shaped, others, frankly, may simply perceive it as an unwelcome change in reading pace.
Thankfully, after the chapters about their songs, she goes back to talking about her life. This time, however, she talks not about the band but about her marriage. How and why it ended (because Thurston’s a cheating d*ck) and how it made her feel (shi***y, of course) and what came after (lots of solo art and music projects).
Whether the memoir – especially the chapters about her marriage – is merely a strong and intelligent woman telling her story; or whether it’s Gordon’s elaborate (sometimes bitter) way of getting back at Thurston and his new girlfriend – normal people use Instagram to get back at their ex-lovers – that’d be up to the reader to decide.
In any case, Gordon can write. Obviously, she’s super-cool, discerning and intelligent. Furthermore, her being the Forrest Gump of anything 90s rock, makes “Girl in a Band” a great journey through an important music era.
Most importantly, though, if you’re someone who takes some perverted pleasure in reading about other people’s marriages falling apart (and most are), you will find this book easy to like.