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.)


REVIEW: Neil Young’s “Storytone”

 photo NeilYoungS_cover_zpsdf140b57.jpg Neil Young is about to release a brand new album, his second of 2014, and if you are to listen to it on the surface, it sounds like a man who is a bit heartbroken. Maybe that’s partly due to the recent news that he divorced his longtime wife of 36 years, so one may want to add that to the aura of some of the lyrics on Storytone (Reprise) but I’m sure that some of these songs may have been written years, if not decades ago. Nonetheless, Young is very much a lone trooper and has been throughout his musical career so regardless of how you look into this new material, it sounds like the same man who has been feeling life from every angle, and these are more stories from the book of Bernard Shakey.

The interesting thing about this album is that the songs feature full orchestral backing, the first time he has done so in such a big level. You may remember the orchestra he used 42 years ago for “A Man Needs A Maid”, and you can say it sounds a bit like that. If there is a similar vibe to the songs here, it reminds me a bit of his great album Greendale, not so much the concept aspect but the continuity of an overall theme, a feeling that all of the songs have some connection and thus should be heard as one. If you obtain the deluxe edition of the album, listeners are able to hear the songs in its original form, without the orchestral backing. Some of the songs sound quite good with lush strings while others are perfect with just an acoustic guitar, a piano, or an ‘ukulele. The demo recordings come off like a man sitting on the lake, out on a country field, or a late night in the basement studio just feeling what he feels and creating it from the heart. In fact, as with much of his work, this is a very heartfelt album but you could sense there was something else going on as he did these songs. Some tracks sound as if he’s writing about someone and the good times he’s had with them, or maybe it’s just tales of what love can feel like. Regardless of the inspiration behind these songs, Storytone could easily fit alongside an album like Old Ways, not due to the country music parallels as this album lacks it but just the openness of the sentiment involved in each song. Unlike A Letter Home which was recorded in an old record recording booth, the new album was done in a modern way so it sounds like more recent projects of his. This is music from a man who is about to turn 69 years old in two weeks, so while this may be nothing more than a continuation of his output of the last 45+ years, it remains a cherished work from someone whose essence will never be equaled again.


REVIEW: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “CSNY 1974”

 photo CSNY1974_cover_zps99f6e99f.jpg Rhino Records have released three different Crosby, Stills & Nash box sets highlighting each member, as a group, with collaborations, and solo projects. Now there’s a fourth box set, but this time welcoming in Neil Young and highlighting the reunion tour they did in 1974. CSNY 1974 (Rhino) is a way to not only hear again the songs CSN and CSNY did as a group, but to also check out their solo material performed in a group setting. These include “Don’t Be Denied” (from Young’s great live album Time Fades Away), “Military Madness” (from Nash’s Songs For Beginners), “Almost Cut My Hair” (from Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name) and “Love The One You’re With” (from Stills’ debut solo album). Even if you know these songs in their original form or live recordings they may have done on their own tours, it’s nice to hear them in the CSNY setting, especially when the harmonies kick in.

Even if you’ve bought bootlegs or downloaded ROIO’s over the years, it’s nice to hear them nicely mixed, complete with in between dialogue that had often made those shows interesting to listen to along with the songs in question. Then there’s the guitar work from both Young and Stills, each with their own distinct way of playing but when they were together, it worked nicely. Despite the inner bickering they may have had with each other from time to time, CSNY 1974 shows that when it was possible, they were able to work together in beautiful harmony.


SOME STUFFS: New release from the Neil Young archives to be released this week

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If you are a hard copy fan, you’ll have to wait another week to have it but digital fiends will be able to buy a new installment of Neil Young’s archives series. Live At The Cellar Door is, as the title indicates, a live album recorded in 1970 at the Cellar Door in Washington, DC, in what were acoustic rehearsal shows for his then-forthcoming Carnegie Hall performances. As you know, Young was celebrating the success of his great After The Gold Rush album and was only a few months away from releasing what would become Harvest, but the way Young works, he may have had three more albums ready to record. The Cellar Door shows features performances of “Tell Me Why” and “After The Gold Rush”, along with renditions of Buffalo Springfiend’s “I Am A Child” and “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”. You’ll also hear what were the public debuts of “Old Man” and “See The Sky About To Rain”, which wouldn’t be heard until February 14, 1971 when Harvest hit stores.

You may pre-order the album digitally, vinyl, or compact disc (in that order) below through Amazon.

COVERED: Neil Young vs. Clan Nugent

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This one was a bit tricky, for the homage is not so much in the image, but the lettering. What I saw was the similarity to Neil Young’s handwriting on many of the albums he has released, so the one I initially thought of was his great live album, Time Fades Away.
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On the Clan Nugent release, the design of the handwriting is rounded, so I immediately thought of other Young albums, including Tonight’s The Night. I then realized it had a close resemblance to his live album with Crazy Horse, Road Rock Vol. 1, the one that had a great 18 minute version of “Cowgirl In The Sand”. I’m not sure if Cian Nugent & The Cosmos had this in mind when they created their tribute to Ireland for Matador Records’ Singles Going Home Alone series, and maybe it is a stretch but I’m sticking with it.

VIDEO: Sound City (trailer)

If you read your liner notes, you’ll know about some of the recording studios that are considered “the best”, or at least those that offer a certain feel that welcomes artists from around the world. Sound City is one of those studios that was a mandatory visit for all, and perhaps some of your favorite records in your collection may have been recorded, mix, or mastered there. Sound City is a new documentary film which focuses on the magic and chemistry created in that room, and it stars everyone from Dave Grohl (who is presenting the film) and Josh Homme to Lindsey Buckingham and Barry Manilow, all celebrating the wonder of the room and some of the analog equipment that made it what it is and has become. I love the quote in the trailer which says “how do we keep music sounding like people?” The film will be released on February 1st, while the soundtrack album is scheduled for a March 12th release.

SOME STUFFS: New book on Neil Young to hit stores in November

Photobucket Three new books about the great Neil Young will be hitting stores in time for the holiday season this year, but one makes a claim in being a “definitive” story about the man from Ontario who celebrates what it means to live this American life.

Neil Young: The Definitive History (Sterling) was written by Mike Evans, exploring his music, collaborations, life passions, and activism, covering over 45 years of creativity and thoughts that continue to the present day. Evans has written a number of books, including Woodstock: Three Days That Rocked the World, Elvis: A Celebration, and Fleetwood Mac: The Definitive History, so for those who have enjoyed his style of writing, editing, and research, you’re sure to enjoy is forthcoming book on Young.

RECORD CRACK: Neil Young new album to be released as 3LP set

It’s a pill worth taking. Neil Young with the almighty Crazy Horse will be releasing a brand new live album on Reprise called Psychedelic Pill, said to be completely different from the album he released earlier in the year, Americana. Psychedelic Pill is said to be more abrasive to what Young and Crazy Horse are known for, or at least the Crazy Horse that fans love. A recent article at Rolling Stone states that the new album will feature a number of songs clocking in at over 15 minutes, with the opening track going for a mammoth 27-minute duration (YES!) It will definitely be meaty.

Of course, Young has been known to drop news of projects and call them back weeks or days before the official release, so let’s hope this one will materialize. The CD version will drop first, followed by the 3 record set a month later.

REVIEW: Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “Americana”

Photobucket What some casual Neil Young fans want to know about this album is this? Is it any good? I think so, but I would ask fans “what’s good?” When it comes to Young, you never know what to expect, and either you ride with him or wait around until he comes up with something you enjoy. Americana (Reprise) is an album teaming him up with Crazy Horse, the first time he has done so since his great 2003 album Greendale. When Greendale was released, it seemed everyone expected to hear Rust Never Sleeps and it wasn’t that at all. But again, this is Mr. Young, and what he feels like recording and releasing, you deal with it.

Here’s the deal. Americana consists of traditional songs that have become a part of the fabric of this country, meaning the United States. It can be patriotic, it can be honorable, but all of the songs are performed with brand new arrangements so that you can truly listen to the lyrics and perhaps get a different perspective of the words. You’ll hear them tackle “Oh Susannah”, “Clementine”, “This Land Is Your Land”, “Wayfarin’ Stranger”, and “High Flyin’ Bird”. While “Gallows Pole” may be known by a generation or two as a Led Zeppelin song, its origins go much further than that and Young adds to the fabric of a folk song that continues its path into the 21st century. He even has a go at doing The Silhouettes‘ “Get A Job”, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year and continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest songs in rock’n’roll history. The album concludes with “God Save The Queen”, which may seem like an odd choice on an album that is meant to celebrate Americana, but then again the term Americana is something that is looked upon with fondness in England. Perhaps it’s used here as a way to show how a song can continue to be sung by its residents (and its territories) with honor and respect, while one of the countries they have given a nice term for tends to not do this in a unified manner. At least that’s my take.

Musically, Americana sounds like a jam session that can go anywhere, and with a few songs going over the five minute mark, it often does. Will this be worthy of multiple listens? If you’re expecting this to sound like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” or “A Man Needs A Maid”, perhaps not. As an album that is meant to challenge the listener as well as the material used, it’s something that deserves to be documented. I was going to say “there aren’t any anthems of this”, but I speak in a rock fashion. There is “God Save The Queen” on here, and many have often talked about “This Land Is Your Land” sounds more like an American anthem than the official song. Americana is as laid back in sound as the selection of songs suggest, very much a “baseball, hot dogs & apple pie” kind of album, but with a cranky uncle who says “now I have a story I want to tell you, you may have heard it before, but I will tell it differently.” Young is that cranky-yet-humble uncle, and we’re thankful he’s still here to dish out the stories when he has the chance.

RECORD CRACK: P.S. I Love You – Neil Young & Graham Nash’s “War Song” (Japanese sleeve)

For today’s installment of P.S. I Love You I wanted to put up another CSN(&Y-related sleeve from Japan. This one was from the short-lived collaboration between Neil Young and Graham Nash, and while only Young is shown on the cover, again I post it here for a few reasons:

1) It’s from Japan, a country that would release a crazy amount of releases with unique/exclusive sleeves, and seeing kanji along with the artist photo and record label logo are bonuses from me.

2) It’s a picture sleeve associated with a song, also released in the U.S. and other countries as a single, that isn’t normally associated with a picture sleeve. This is the kind of thing that has driven collectors to go picture sleeve crazy, just for that one image most people don’t know about. I like it.

3) It’s a non-LP track, recorded at a time when everyone in the CSNY equation was coming out with music, and this was no exception. The Wikipedia entry for the song states the song was written in support of George McGovern‘s 1972 presidential campaign when he had hoped to take Richard Nixon out of the White House. The song’s only digital appearance has been on Young’s Archives Vol. 1 box set. Those who wish to have it on LP will have to hunt down the old Warner Bros. Loss Leaders compilation, Heavy Goods.