“What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” is a question that is still being asked today and has been publicly mocked by women over the years, most recently Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac. It’s a question that specifically English journalists posed to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon during her time touring over here in the late eighties and early nineties. According to Gordon in this memoir, the offending journalists would then go on to disregard her answer to this question and go on to write both ageist and sexist reviews.
Gordon’s book answers the question of what it’s like to be in her own band whilst also beginning with her 60s/70s childhood in scenic L.A., where the Manson murders taint the sun soaked city and hippies roam free. She also writes of her relationship with her brother, Keller who later goes on to be diagnosed as a schizophrenic and her early experiences with art and music.
The book stretches from her first initial artistic steps, through to art school in Toronto and finally New York. It talks about her meetings and relationships with various artists and musicians in the Punk and No Wave scenes in early eighties New York. The only problem that one might find with this book is that unless you’re aware of every single one of the artists named you can easily lose track of who’s who and be left thinking “wait, is that the sculptor or the visual artist?”, “which band was that girl in again?”
My favourite part of this memoir is that Gordon gives open explanations about some of the inspiration behind some of the songs from all of the albums that Sonic Youth and her various side projects released, as well as giving us an insight into how Sonic Youth operated creatively.
It also gives the reader a clear indication of just how creative Gordon (and indeed the rest of Sonic Youth) is. Sonic Youth were an art band that never aimed to create an easy listening pop song that could equally as easily be forgotten in a lost city of mediocre pop songs but created images and told stories within their music upon a layer of sound heavily influenced by Punk and No Wave whilst guitar tunings change from song to song.
All of this is found at the heart of the novel sandwiched between Kim’s upbringing and her family life – the upbringing of her own daughter, Coco Moore and the demise of her marriage to Thurston. The importance of her family, from her love for her parents to the love she has for her daughter is something that is an underlying theme of the whole book.
It’s a very personal memoir and often melancholic at times, a vibe that we’re introduced to right at the start of the book with Kim’s memory of Sonic Youth’s last ever show which took place in Brazil in November 2011. The intense prolificness of Gordon is portrayed in this book and should do nothing other than completely inspire the reader. We’re shown how Gordon has always thought in the mind of an artist and never a musician which is probably the only way to approach making the visceral and at times very chaotic music that Sonic Youth created. This is the perfect read for anyone aspiring to be in some form of punk rock band or anyone who’s an artist of aspiring artist in general.
Words: Katie Wilkinson