Joseph Edwin Haeger

Book Review: Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon.

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own a Sonic Youth album. I haven’t listened to more than a handful of their songs, but it’s not because I dislike them (from what I’ve heard, I’m on board); I’ve just never felt the urgent need to ingest all their music. I read this book as a general fan of Kim Gordon’s, but I’m not a Sonic Youth superfan.

Girl in a Band opens on Kim Gordon briefly talking about her split from Thurston Moore. She frames the dissolving marriage from her perspective during the final Sonic Youth show (Gordon and Moore were founding members, so it makes sense the band broke up in the midst of their divorce). In the first ten pages, Gordon describes the silent rehearsals, uncomfortable final tour, her hope that she wasn’t going to make a spectacle of herself (like Courtney Love had), and the way Moore’s stage presence had changed. The reader can feel her pain in this prologue. Sonic Youth was together for three decades and we have an inside look at her head wondering if the band, and her life in the arts, was all a facade in the same way her marriage turned out to be. She is questioning what she has dedicated her life to, and the uncertainty hits deep. I was unsure of whether I had the right to read this because it all seemed so personal, and that is the sign of a brilliant memoir.

After the opening, Gordon settles into a more standard autobiography format, starting with her youth. The timeline moves forward in a linear fashion, but Gordon has sliced the chapters down to where we’re getting a sense of raw emotion. She’s pulled all the fluff out and we’re left with these short specific moments she ruminates on, and this is why Girl in a Band is so effective: it’s almost like she doesn’t really know what it all means and through her process of self-dissection we watch her hope it all adds up to something meaningful. This gives us a stream-of-consciousness retrospective look at her life. An example: Early on, she’s talking about a moment when her older brother played a prank on her when she was young. He told her some kind of monster was going to get her and she was afraid of the space beneath her bed. Though, as an aside, in this chapter she gives us the information about her brother being a paranoid schizophrenic. Her current self (the one at the computer typing) knows about this illness, but her young self doesn’t, so there was no reason for her to expand on the diagnosis. This added piece of information shows us that she is making the connection for herself—and later, when she gives us the full story behind his illness, we’re led to begin making the same connections.

The book is called Girl in a Band. She is aware of her status as a major female rock star, but she never considered her gender revolutionary. She was an artist first and became a symbol (Female Artist) later. As Sonic Youth gained notoriety, the press focused in on the novelty of a woman succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated field. After she gave birth to her daughter, Coco, she got asked what it was like to be a mom in rock—not that far off from, “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” She had trouble giving a satisfactory answer, partly because it’s a silly question, as if being an artist and a woman or a mother are two mutually exclusive things. Men are able to make music (or art) and speak to their individual mind, whereas women are somehow forced to make art that represents the entire female perspective.

Girl in a Band is one of the most honest, raw, personal books I’ve read this year. At the end of the book, she details why her marriage fell apart and all the trust lost and pain gained. We believe the stories Gordon gives us here because the majority of the book is her showing grace and dignity for all that came before. She talks about her history in such a matter-of-fact way that builds a rapport with the reader. She was fair to the story when everything was good, so we know to trust her when it gets bad.

Gordon is not only a gifted musician (I can say that now because I’ve finally been binging on Sonic Youth), she’s also a damn good writer, and you don’t have to look any further than Girl in a Band.

 

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Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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