Narrator: Kim Gordon
Published by Harper Audio on February 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Composers & Musicians, Entertainment & Performing Arts, Personal Memoirs
Length: 7 hrs. 16 mins.
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Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll, written with the lyricism and haunting beauty of Patti Smith's Just Kids. Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon opens up as never before in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her family, growing up in California in the '60s and '70s, her life in visual art, her move to New York City, the men in her life, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, her music, and her band, Girl in a Band is a rich and beautifully written memoir. Gordon takes us back to the lost New York of the 1980s and '90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, and the Alternative revolution in popular music. The band helped build a vocabulary of music paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts. But at its core, Girl in a Band examines the route from girl to woman in uncharted territory, music, art career, what partnership means and what happens when that identity dissolves. Evocative and edgy, filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a transformative life, Girl in a Band is the fascinating chronicle of a remarkable journey and an extraordinary artist....
The band Sonic Youth formed in 1981 in New York, and they first got my attention with their 1988 breakthrough album Daydream Nation. Two of the founding members of Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, were a couple and were married for 27 years. Fans were shocked when the indie rock Super Couple announced their split in 2011. In Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon discusses growing up in LA, art school, the art and music scene in 80s New York, Sonic Youth, founding the clothing label X-Girl, marriage, and motherhood.
Kim Gordon was always a cool, mysterious personality to me- and since I love rock bios I was eager to read Girl in a Band to get to know her better. And yes, I wanted to know the scoop on what happened with her marriage, and the dish on the bands Sonic Youth performed with over the years. The title refers to Gordon always being asked the rather sexist question– What’s it like to be a girl in a band?
The first chapter of Girl in a Band begins with the end of Gordon/Moore’s marriage and their last tour together as Sonic Youth. It is appropriately titled “The End.” This chapter is brutal, raw and riveting. The band was contracted to play a South American tour, and Gordon says “I don’t think I had ever felt so alone in my whole life.”
The couple everyone believed was golden and normal and eternally intact, who gave younger musicians hope they could outlast a crazy rock-and-roll world, was now just another cliché of middle-aged relationship failure- a male midlife crisis, another woman, a double life.
After The End, the story picks up from the beginning. Gordon grew up with her parents and older brother Keller in Los Angeles. Gordon says that Keller shaped her personality more than anyone- he was/is a big, larger than life personality in her life, and also a paranoid schizophrenic. Gordon withdrew into shyness and detachment as a result and also dealt with social anxiety.
Gordon went to high school in LA and dated Danny Elfman. Later, she attended Otis Art Institute in LA but soon she longed to go to New York where a lot of cool art and music things were happening. Her 1980 move to New York was financed thanks to a car accident insurance payout.
Gordon talks about the art and No Wave scene in New York in the early 80s. She did some writing in New York to pay some bills and spent her nights taking in the art, music and film scene. Gordon met Moore around this time and they soon moved in together and formed Sonic Youth.
I was aware of Sonic Youth in the late 80s/early 90s but lost track of them over the years. Here are some of my favorite songs of theirs and I was definitely itching to listen to them while reading this book:
Once the band takes off, Gordon spends more book real estate talking about the music. She discusses the recording of each album, behind the scenes trivia, life on the road, and the different band personalities they met. Gordon met Nirvana early on and felt a kinship with Kurt Cobain. There is no love lost between her and Courtney Love, however. The year of Cobain’s death was the year Moore/Gordon’s daughter Coco was born.
I listened to the audiobook, read by Kim Gordon herself. If you’ve heard Gordon speak before then you know she has a deadpan, sarcastic tone to her voice. This is her distinctive style- there is a lack of inflection in her voice and consequently the audiobook. When Gordon delivers a little laugh in the performance it is jarring because for the most part it’s a straightforward reading. I can’t imagine anyone else performing this audiobook though because Gordon’s voice is such a part of who she is and it wouldn’t feel authentic without her. You can hear the emotion in Gordon’s voice during pivotal points of the book and I noticed her voice sounded a little bit lighter and hopeful at the end.
Here’s an audiobook sample of Girl in the Band– this chapter talks about Kim Gordon seeing Nirvana for the first time:
Girl in a Band is a powerful read that I think anyone who likes music memoirs, and especially the 90s music scene would enjoy. Kim Gordon has led a fascinating life and I enjoyed getting to know her better in this personal and honest memoir.