Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Dey Street Books, 2015; 273 pp; $34.99
It begins with a chapter titled “The End” and the unequivocal declaration of that 2011 São Paulo show as “Sonic Youth’s final concert.” Everyone reading Girl in a Band who, like me, has spent the better part of their lives reveling in Sonic Youth’s singular ecstatic charge, will feel a cold knife in their guts. No more reunion illusions. After thirty years of unparalleled experimentalism with rock bliss, Sonic Youth is kaput. But Kim Gordon’s memoir immediately reminds us that our loss is nothing in the face of that endured by those whose actual lives were invested in the group. Sonic Youth ended because Gordon’s marriage to fellow co-founder Thurston Moore ended. It ended the way marriages end: “midlife crisis, another woman, a double life.” The story is banal, perceptive yet emotionally pointed, disquietingly resonant, very painful. As painful as Gordon’s recollections of first arriving in 1979 No Wave New York, after having grown up in Los Angeles, with spells in Hawaii, Hong Kong and Toronto.
You can divide Girl in a Band into roughly three sections, the first, chronicling Gordon’s life pre-Sonic Youth, being the most fluid. Gordon writes elegantly of Southern California as a place where people escape “their histories while at the same time moving headlong toward their own extinctions.” Of adolescent traversals of ocean-bound sewer pipes and canyons. Of people she knew who’d met Charles Manson. Of the odour of gas leaking from an old stove “mixed with sunshine streaming in from the windows, and, somewhere, eucalyptus bathed in the haze of ambition.” Of her brother Keller, whose merciless teasing and savant-like charm shaped her, who was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and, along with Philip K. Dick, inspired one of Sonic Youth’s most beloved songs. She writes of her art practice as interestingly as her music, and of early encounters with Dan Graham, Cindy Sherman, Madonna, Gerhard Richter and Michael Gira. Her evocations of New York’s art scene make Girl in a Band a great companion to Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers. It was no shock to find Gordon reference that novel late in the book.
Girl in a Band’s second section is pure music-lover catnip, memories of the making of various albums, as well as impressions of colleagues like Neil Young or Kurt Cobain (both of whom Gordon adores), Billy Corgan (whom she considers to be, basically, a wanker), and Courtney Love, for whom Gordon expresses detached admiration but clearly regards as poisonous, a charismatic opportunist. Not unlike “the other woman,”—the unnamed, younger, viperous femme fatale Moore couldn’t shake. Girl in a Band’s third section chronicles Gordon’s move to Massachusetts with Moore and their daughter Coco, the art-rockers’ uneasy relationship with domesticity, and their marriage’s slow collapse under the weight of countless emails, furtive texting, dirty photos, secret rendezvous. Gordon regards Moore’s inability to navigate the affair with surprising compassion—she considers him an addict. It’s all familiar, sad and true. But it closes with grace notes: Gordon forging a new collaboration, revitalizing her art practice, and, in a brilliantly executed final chapter, making out with some dude in a car, then cutting it short because she had places to go. “It sounds like I’m someone else entirely now,” she writes. “I guess I am.” Girl in a Band ends how a memoir ideally should end: with a beginning. »
from subTerrain #71