When I found out Kim Gordon was coming out with her own autobiography, I knew I had to make sure to read it. I first heard of Sonic Youth in 1986 through a Seattle music video show called Bombshelter Videos, where I saw “Shadow Of A Doubt”. The music, her voice, and the visuals of her “sitting” on top of a train car pulled me in while it also made me ask “what is this?” I had been aware of who they were but living in a town without a college radio station made me curious. Thus, my fascination with her and her music, and in truth more about her music than anything about her but Girl In A Band: A Memoir (Bey St.) is her telling her own life how she sees it, which is the way how she writes her lyrics and poems, how she plays her music, and how she paints.
There were two things I wasn’t aware of when I read this. First, I didn’t know she was raised in California. What I know about Gordon is through her songs, albums, and interviews but that’s always one deliberate aspect of an artist wanting people to get to know they have new product available. Second, I didn’t know she and her family lived on Oahu for about a year. When she mentions how she enjoyed living in Manoa Valley, she says it freely as if she’s a local girl, but also states that for the first time in her life, she felt like a minority due to Hawai’i being primarily Asian. Also, having a name like Kim had kids make fun of her as the name Kim is often given to males within the Asian communities.
Her story primarily begins on what was a surprising note. The chapter is called The End and while I had suspicions of what it might be about, I had to read for validation. The End refers to not only the end of her relationship with guitarist Thurston Moore, but the end of Sonic Youth as a group. The official statement states they are now on a temporary hiatus so while fans are always hopeful for a reunion to happen, it’s most likely going to be “don’t bother waiting for the time being.” Reading that chapter is exhausting, only because I as a fan knew the story and what happened, and she explains part of what dissolved. She does get into it in detail but that happens only in the last part of the book.
From there, we bounce back to her childhood and how she became who she is through her mom and dad, essential factors in her upbringing. Also of importance is her older brother, and together they helped to provide what will become her interests, be it painting, writing, or music. It was a need to be creative, and she gets very detailed on her interests. While I am not someone who knows about fashion designers and obscure film directors, she mentions various people and things in a way that is very understandable, nerdy when it needs to be but always done in a way that has her creating a list for those who wish to look it up further. Her brother eventually became mentally ill to the point where he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, physically and mentally draining. While she did her share of traveling with her family, she knew that when it was the time, she would like to move on to somewhere further. In that time, we find out some of the people she dated, including Danny Elfman, another things I learned in this book.
In time she would make it to the East Coast and into New York City, and she clearly states that what she wanted to do was to be able to live independently, on her own terms, even if it meant living in a dingy Chinatown apartment that wasn’t glorious. It is where we learn about 84 Eldridge Street, the apartment where she got into exploring various New York clubs and venues, discovering new forms of music, meeting up with important people and meeting Thurston Moore for the first time. From that point on, the story explores in detail the journey Sonic Youth went through, from recording their first music in a basic recording studio to performing their first international shows to finding their way onto a major label and a bit of fame. While Sonic Youth were always known for their alternate tunings with their guitars, Gordon states that her bass were always one of the anchors of the band and was always tuned the same way for every song. Before the SY story is explored, she touches on her first live performance and how she wasn’t sure if she could do it but once she did it, she felt something she did not expect and one that she wanted to do repeatedly, which she would do for 30+ years. If you know about her story, she does mention people that is part of her path: Kathleen Hannah, Courtney Love, Julia Cafritz, Michael Stipe, Chloë Sevigny, Henry Rollins, and Kurt Cobain, whom she called a dear friend. Some of these people are discussed with the utmost respect while others were ridiculed in a manner that perhaps they ridiculed her.
She does talk about watching her daughter Coco grow up to eventually wanting to get involved in music in her own way but also going to college for the first time. By then, Gordon returns to what happened between her and Moore and one begins to have a greater sense of compassion for her as much more than just an artist. It may be nothing more than an appreciation for her as a person, but nothing wrong with that either. I also really like how this book was written. Outside of being direct and to the point, Girl In A Band is designed in a way that’s not unlike her music, a painting, or even a film. In fact the last chapter is done in a way where the reader may say :wait a minute: so what happened?” or “is there a moral to the story in the way you just told me?” For all I know, she could have been citing the end of a film like 400 Blows or something, where we see people around but the image stops and pans forward. What do we think? What should we think? Perhaps that’s the point in how Gordon told her memoir, to let everyone know about who Kim Gordon is, insecurities and concerns, hopes and dreams, hits and misses, and everything in between. If she’s going to throw out something random, she will and perhaps did. Or maybe the end of the book was written in a manner that is supposed to be. That’s why this book is called Girl In A Band because in a way, that’s who she wanted to be, became, and was. Through the process, she became a stronger person with a better sense of purpose. You may end up wanting to hear her discography from start to finish once you finish this, one of the best biographies I’ve read in some time.
(Girl In A Band will be released on February 24th. An audiobook version, in both CD and MP3 versions, will also be made available.)