Girl in a Band: A Memoir – Kim Gordon
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️
Kim Gordon is a visual artist and musician known for her decades-long career with Sonic Youth, an iconic rock band founded in 1981 and grown from the roots of punk and noise rock into a lasting influence on alternative and indie rock. Sonic Youth is an incredibly significant band, in my opinion, because there are few acts out there who can claim the NYC punk scene like Andy Warhol, Patti Smith, Richard Hell as influences and simultaneously list Kurt Cobain among their contemporaries. Sonic Youth truly pioneered their sounded, and helped bridge a gap between two incredibly important and incredibly distinct eras of art and music. As a woman, it is overwhelmingly cool that this movement was represented by a band with a girl among its ranks, proving that rock is not a boys’ club.
Kim Gordon reflects on her lengthy and substantial career in the arts in her memoir, from a unique point of hindsight that invokes the emotion of ending. Gordon was married to Thurston Moore, the frontman of the band, for almost thirty years, before his infidelity led to their divorce and, ultimately, the splitting of Sonic Youth.
Gordon’s novel is sophisticated and expository in its details. She reflects on her relocation around the globe as a child, bouncing from the continental U.S. to Hawaii, to Hong Kong, and back again. She describes her entrance into the iconic New York art scene, and eventually, the life of a touring musician. Her novel sweeps us up in her incredible globe-spanning and decade-spanning experiences. Kim Gordon has seen enough to last several lifetimes.
What this book isn’t is personal, emotional, or vulnerable. Gordon reflects from an artsy pedestal, collecting her memories like essays and articles. She doesn’t substantially speak to the memories of her family during her adult-life, or her decision-making and thought processes along the way. I don’t feel like Gordon allowed us her insight, except to discuss the hurt of her dissolving marriage. Even when reflecting on the recording process with Sonic Youth, she seems to keep herself shut-off from memories. She remembers their first release with all the fondness of “Sonic Youth, the EP-I’m not sure what it was to be honest.” I feel like I read the autobiography of a scorned artist who happened to be in an incredibly famous band. For a book titled “Girl in a Band“, this book felt fairly far away from the band.
Gordon tries to navigate the novel toward feminism and discussion of women in music, but in the same breath, disrespects several women in music. After stating that Thurston was the only younger man she ever dated, she trashed Lana Del Rey for being into gross, older men. She never quite addresses what it was like to be a girl in an gender-isolated world of rock, only that she’s tired of being asked the question.
Her novel embraces an abundance, and I mean an incredible abundance, of name-dropping. She goes at length to name all of the artists and peers she interacted with, but since the book strays away from personal and toward professional detachment, it was difficult to retain any of these identities. If I happened to know one name in passing, it was cool, but for the most part, the references to obscure artists of the 1980s seemed self-serving and untouchable. Her book concludes on a strange note, wherein she persistently asserts her relationship with Kurt Cobain. I wasn’t sure if her discussion of their friendship was to make a point about the culture of music, her life, or just one more person touting their closeness to the late rockstar. I don’t doubt that they were close, as she says that her daughter and Frances Bean Cobain used to have play dates together, but it seemed an aggressive and strange discussion to end an autobiography on.
Kim Gordon strikes me as extraordinarily bitter and artistically elitist. She has incredibly strong opinions, but refuses to attach her own experiences to them. She doesn’t invite us in, but she is willing to be our tour guide from the outside of the house. I don’t blame her for the hurt expressed in the book, as she reflects on a lifetime of memories shared with the man who broke her heart, but I wish that she had been willing to show us more of her music career and less of its demise. I’m thrilled for the small glimpses into the life of Sonic Youth, and to have read about her transition from the art world of the ’70s to the grunge landscape of the ’90, but I don’t feel close to understanding what it was to be in Sonic Youth. Maybe Kim doesn’t even have the words for it.
Extra Opinion: When discussion the birth of their daughter Coco, she makes an odd comment.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how young we were. I was thirty-one, Thurston twenty-six. We were two creative people, and creative people usually delay becoming responsible adults unless there’s a child involved.
This criticism didn’t exactly fit in the larger picture of my review, but I couldn’t let it slide. If thirty-one is young for a woman to have a child, then toss my greens and call me Caesar. Something about Kim Gordon seems consistently out of touch.