Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band is likely to surprise a lot of readers. Some of the surprises – such as when Gordon admits, about halfway through the book,
‘…I never really felt like I had a place in the New York music scene… I felt confused about how I “should” look, and I felt frumpy and nerdy a lot of the time…’
– shouldn’t really come as surprises at all (what?! you mean this person that we all thought was cool actually doubted herself?!). Some of them serve to unpick the mythology that grew up around her band and around her marriage. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling somewhat sad and somewhat shocked when her marriage disintegrated. In lots of ways, their marriage became a kind of proof for Sonic Youth’s own integrity and vitality – their music didn’t bullshit and neither, obviously, did they. Except, of course, they did. The opening of Girl in Band, which follows Gordon and the boys throughout South America is particularly dispiriting (I know we’re seeing Thurston refracted through unhappy soon to be ex wife but rock star shapes are, you would have thought, beneath the ‘Youth). So there are surprises to be had in terms of how much you would like your idealised Sonic Youth dreams dismantled please.
Towards the end of Goodbye 20th Century, David Browne’s biography of Sonic Youth, careful readers could see that there were cracks forming in the band (allusions to adultery etc), and it wasn’t too hard to see that Browne appeared to become somewhat disenchanted with elements of the band. Curiously, in Gordon’s book, there isn’t a lot of room for the band itself (despite the title of the book). We begin with the final tour, we explore her youth and then, in the least satisfying portion of the book, we hopscotch briefly through the various ages of Sonic Youth. We don’t really see how the band worked. We don’t really see Renaldo and Shelley as Gordon views them (or perhaps we do, perhaps she doesn’t really view them). We do see that there is a kind of engine that existed between Gordon and Moore and we see how dissonance as a form intrigued the both of them. We also catch the rough edge of Gordon’s tongue – she isn’t a fan of people like Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, Lana del Rey.
And the surprises keep coming. It’s surprising (although, again, perhaps it shouldn’t be) that the unhappy end to a long marriage lays waste to everything before it. The unhappy end sours the marriage and the book. You get the sense Gordon wonders if she was ever genuinely happy, if the whole thing has just been a colossal waste of time. She’s making visual art these days and the clippy way in which the book concludes suggests that maybe she’s starting to find her happy again, which is good. You do also secretly wish that maybe just maybe Gordon had given herself a few years in order to craft a book like Patti Smith’s Just Kids, rather than a sour postcard from the edge.
Which makes me sound somewhat unsympathetic.
Any Cop?: There’s a lot here to enjoy, and Gordon is a solid guide to her life, but it’s all still a bit raw and you get the sense that maybe she isn’t helping herself all that much by airing her dirty laundry.