BOOK REVIEW: “Girl In A Band” by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon photo Gordonbook_cover_zpsa8e361b6.jpg 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, ChloĆ« 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.)

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DUST IT OFF: Mudhoney’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge”… 20 years later

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Two months after the release of Mudhoney‘s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, the world would be aurally terrorized by the sound of Seattle, and looking back, I think people were surprised by not only the sound, but that something from Seattle could sound and feel so good. But I have to backtrack a bit.

When I moved to Washington State in 1984, the first thing I wanted to know was “where’s the music at?” My family ended up living 200 miles away from Seattle, where there was nothing for a rock’n’roll kid like me. I was thirsting for music and a music scene, I grew up with uncles who loved Jimi Hendrix, a guitarist uncle who had Queensryche‘s first EP on cassette, and I was a fan of Heart. I figured that by being in a new locale, I wanted to know more. On my first true visit to Seattle, I went to Tower Records and discovered a publication called The Rocket, whom I would end up contributing to eight years later. It was filled with musicians looking for other musicians to join bands, loads of ads for everything from concerts to hot tubs with women with new wave hair and clothing. I was 13 or 14, and I wanted that, but always had to appreciate from afar.

In high school, my dream of becoming a radio DJ came true when I joined the Radio/TV production class at a vocational school. The format of the station was hard rock and heavy metal, not a problem for me. Many of my classmates, however, were into punk, a style of music I was only aware of through The Clash and Sex Pistols, which barely skimmed the surface. I lived in a town that was (at the time) straight laced, while the punk kids lived elsewhere. If I wanted to see the punks, I had to go to the town across the bridge, and in a typical high school mentality, it seemed like every one stayed amongst themselves. The radio/TV class was a say to know that I could talk and hang out with the punks, the nerds, the dorks, the jocks, and everyone else: very much to how I grew up in Hawai’i where everyone associated with everyone. This radio/TV class was the only thing that saved my high school experience from being a complete fuck-up, and I am forever thankful to everyone who was in my class and at that vocational center.

One of the reasons it saved me was reading The Rocket and ordering a record that was reviewed in a column called Sub Pop, written by Bruce Pavitt. I received my green vinyl 7″ I bought for two whole dollars with a handwritten note from singer Mark Arm. He included a free 7″ EP by a band he thought I’d like, called Melvins. To be honest, I ended up liking Melvins a lot more than Green River, even though I am a huge Green River fan. Nonetheless, this was the first time I became exposed to what was going on in Seattle in 1986, and I paid attention from that point on. I remember reading news about the collapse of Green River, and that a band called Mudhoney were making the rounds. Bassist Matt Lukin had left Melvins, something I was upset about, and I was more upset that Melvins moved down to Cali. Upset seems foolish, considering I had never met the band nor knew any of them, but it was like “wow, they have to move to Cali?” Then again, I wasn’t aware of any bands from Montesano, Washington who made it big, and I remain a Melvins fan to this day. As for Mudhoney, I first heard their music when I started buying records from Sub Pop, and liked the raw, snarky energy they had. It was distorted, loud, but most of all fun. “Touch Me I’m Sick”, “Sweet Young Thing (Ain’t Sweet No More)”, and “You Got It (Keep it Outta My Face)” became personal classics, but I think the first Mudhoney record I ever bought was their 1988 EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff. C’mon, a record named after a guitar pedal? I may not be a guitarist, but I understood its significance: they were highlighting what they felt was their sound, with a cool cover photo from Charles Peterson that showed movement, showed action, showed the electricity their music might have, and did.

The band followed it up a year later with their self-titled debut album, initial copies of which opened from the front with two panels that made it look like doors. The music was awesome, songs like “This Gift”, “Flat Out Fucked”, “Here Comes Sickness”, and “Dead Love” felt, to my 19 year old mind, grown up. I was an adult, and this sounded perfect to me. I didn’t think “ooh, collegiate, this must mean it’s music since I am of college age.” Granted I didn’t go to college (I had plans on going to the Art Institute of Seattle but regretablly did not, otherwise I might be a recording engineer/music producer with incredible credentials), but in my mind the music felt right, I loved what they were playing and how they did it, and Mudhoney became one of my favorite bands of the late 80’s/early 90’s.

At the same time, Seattle were gaining a bit of mainstream attention. Soundgarden were signed by A&M, which made the Seattle scene wonder who might be next. When Arm and Steve Turner moved from Green River to form Mudhoney, two other members of Green River would form a band called Mother Love Bone, featuring Malfunkshun vocalist Andrew “L’Andrew” Wood. They were signed to a Polydor subsidiary, and naturally all eyes looked to Mudhoney for being the next it band. England and the rest of Europe were celebrating this raw and raunchy rock’n’roll from Seattle long before the mainstream press in the U.S. paid attention or cared, so it was common for Seattle bands to tour the UK and dominate the press and airwaves. Then again, Sub Pop did have a way of marketing themselves higher (and better) than most, but regardless of how it was done, their techniques worked. Seattle was becoming what Athens, Georgia was in the early 80’s: a place to watch for in terms of college rock/underground/alternative music. People did love Nirvana, but Mudhoney had almost become unofficial ambassadors of the grunge rock movement, they were seen as leaders of the new drunken school. You also had Tad (from Boise, Idaho) on one end too, so you ended up seeing, hearing, and feeling a mess of bands who loved rock, punk, psych, and everything else to make the music bleed. Seattle always has had a healthy hard rock/heavy metal scene too, but this seemed more daring compared to the overwhelming cluster of hair metal bands who were more into their spandex than trying to play music that felt good to them. For me, Mudhoney were the it band of Seattle and I wanted more.

In June of 1991, Sub Pop mailed me an advance tape of the band’s second album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. I was doing my own fanzine for a year called Intensity, and I was given a chance to hear this album earlier than the rest of the world, and then I was to review it, which I did. The album started out in the same loud and raw manner that their earlier music did. As a fan I loved it. As a journalist I was thinking “okay, let me see if they’ve changed, developed into something, are they trying to do something that doesn’t sound like what they did before?” Then one song after the other, it was as if the group knew of their capabilities, but wanted to try new things, and I welcomed them. “Thorn” was incredible, “Into The Drink” was silly, and then came the last song on Side 1, “Broken Hands”. It seemed more melodic, more technical, more “progressive” than what they did before, and it was a longer song, running about 6 minutes. I was sold: this was going to be my album of the year. Forget the rest of 1991, I wanted to tattoo my ass with the letter W so when I bent over and people behind me were looking, they would say “WOW”, in honor of Muhdoney.

A week or two after I received my advanced copy of the album, I heard word that Mudhoney would be playing in town. What? FUCKING MUHDONEY, PLAYING HERE? NO FUCKING WAY? I had become a part of my local music scene for about a year, interviewing and mingling with musicians who became friends, or friends who happened to be in bands. I met up with people whom had been in the scene for awhile, and welcomed me with open arms. I grew up a heavy metal kid, but learned that amongst some in the metal community, it was more about putting on an act, a facade, than anything else. It was very “poseur” and I was never someone who completey subscribed to the stereotypes of what metal meant. Then again, I had long hair that would eventually extend down to the crack of my ass and had many Anthrax T-shirts. I think what I looked for was a sense of commonality, which I did not find locally. Once I became a part of the punk scene, it was not about a look, but simply being able to be yourself. I loved that, and was able to find the kind of friendships that did not exist for me in high school. Yes it was about the music, but it was a place to call home, a true bridge towards adulthood and responsibility, and Mudhoney was part of my soundtrack. To know that Mudhoney were to play in town was massive, and I knew I had to be there. What made things worse at the time was I knew my family were going to take a family trip back home to Honolulu. Dates were set, and I thought “nooooo, I’m not going to miss Mudhoney for this.” Well, I would’ve gone back home regardless but I found out the trip was a week before Mudhoney was to arrive, so it was set.

July 27, 1991. Mudhoney found themselves performing at the Kennewick V.F.W. Hall in Kennewick, Washington, a town with a then-population of about 32,000. It’s very much a country town with an agriculture industry everywhere. I had been to the V.F.W. Hall many times before for shows, so the idea of Mudhoney playing there was odd. Mudhoney were playing fairly large clubs and venues in Europe, they were doing the same in Seattle and on both coasts. Mudhoney, in a V.F.W. Hall? The hall had a capacity of a mere 72, and I know this because I’ve seen the capacity sign many times before. Even though this is a small town, Mudhoney will fill this place up easily, right? Not a problem.

Outside, I saw some of the members of Mudhoney walking around, drinking, getting themselves ready. These were guys I had seen in magazines, on album covers and picture sleeves, and maybe in an episode of Bombshelter Videos, these were the guys from Seattle who were going to play in my hokey ass, small podunk town. I watched all of the local bands that opened up for them, but then something happened. I had heard that the headlining band did not want to play last. How in the hell are you the top band, but don’t want to play last? Apparently vocalist Arm had some issues about performing in the Tri-Cities, according to those who remember that night:

TERRY BRUCE: The lead singer refused to perform until there was Aloe Vera toilet paper in the mens room. What a tool! I remember that he relented when (World Funeral vocalist) Mike Larson. offered to “discuss” it with him in the parking lot.
BRANDON PITTS: DNC, if I remember correctly, went on last because Mark Arm was being a prima donna and had a bed time. He had a bad attitude about Tri-Cities. Thought he was in Van Halen. If they don’t sell Aloe tp, then the town is too small for Mudhoney.

Whether Arm received rolls of aloe vera toilet paper, I’ll never knew, but I remember when the lights went down, and the very packed V.F.W. Hall cheered. Magic was going to happen. At this point, I ended up on the corner of stage left where the band had piled up their bags, cases, and equipment. I remained there for their first set and sure, in my mind I’m thinking “I’m on stage with fucking Mudhoney” but I wanted to document this for my fanzine, and of course myself. I did, and when the first chord happened, it was mayhem for the next 90 minutes and I loved it.

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Keep in mind that I was most likely the only person in the room, outside of Mudhoney themselves and any assistants the group brought with them, who heard their new album, so I got a first hand chance to see how fans would react to the new music. They loved it. The album wouldn’t be released for another two weeks, and if it was as if these were the Mudhoney classics. Arm, Lukin, Turner, and drummer Dan Peters were just in sync with each other and even though Arm may have had issues with the city, it didn’t look like it. Wait, I take that back. In their set, he did notice I was on stage and he looked at me as if to say “who in the fuck are you?” After their first set, they went outside for a quick drink, and it was then I decided to move onto the floor towards the right, and take a few picks of Lukin. They did a few of their classics, including “Touch Me I’m Sick”, and everyone went crazy. Then it was over. It was incredibly hot in there like a sauna, and fortunately by the time they finished, it was around 12:15/12:30am. Everyone was outside celebrating what they had just heard, people getting some smokes, drinking, etc. I went across the street to a closed gas station to get a Coke from the soda machine. I then started hearing discussions about how the cops were called. DNC, a local band, were now responsible for closing the show, and it was on this night that they brought an inflatable Black Label beer blow-up as a prop. As much as I wanted to witness this, I knew that if cops were called, DNC were not going to finish their show. I heard them play, and at that point I called for a ride home. As my transportation came to pick me up, I heard and saw DNC play, and then the cops came into the vicinity. When that happened, my transportation came to pick me up, and that section of Kennewick had people scattering into cars, heading to places unknown.

But I got to witness Mudhoney in what is still one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had. I kept playing my Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge advance tape, eventually got the album on vinyl, and it remains my favorite Mudhoney album to this day. In the Seattle air was the knowledge that Nirvana were in L.A. to record their major label debut. Word surfaced in the winter of 1991, but no one knew what was to come of this. Would it mean more attention for the rest of Seattle’s music scene? Will Mudhoney eventually get on a major label? In time Mudhoney would be signed to Reprise Records, and the band celebrated this in The Rocket with a parody of Nirvana’s Nevermind cover, with each of them in a pool swimming towards their major label hook. It was genuine, it was real, it was true Mudhoney. The band didn’t blow up in the same way Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or Alice In Chains did, but for a short time it got their music on various TV shows and movies. The group eventually returned to Sub Pop, where they would continue to record and tour. For Mudhoney, it’s fortunate that biting a chunk of major label nuts did not weaken them in anyway, and pretty much everything they’ve recorded since Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge has been nothing short of amazing. For me, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge remains a statement of a band ready to climb in the name of good rock’n’roll. If not for the fans, very much for themselves, as if the world remained a dank, piss-smelling basement for all to smell and enjoy.

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