First, a couple of disclaimers to explain how I came into the experience of reading Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band:
Disclaimer 1: I am not now, nor have I ever been a rock star so I am perhaps not qualified to judge how a rock star writes her memoir.
Disclaimer 2: I despise the term girl crush, but at one point in time that is the only term that could describe how I felt about Kim Gordon. I imagined that I wanted to have sleep overs with her where we ate ice cream and talked about all the important things like how hard it is to be female in male dominated fields. (This was back when I was convinced I was going to be a hard boiled, hard as nails war correspondent.) This strongly influenced how I felt starting this book even if I’ve perhaps matured just a bit past this feeling.
Kim Gordon is a bass player, artist, clothing designer, feminist icon and over all cool female archetype. She’s also now a memoirist. Memoirs always seem like tricky things with a high degree of hit or miss possibility. There’s a balancing act in the best ones of honesty and entertainment. The stakes are especially high when you’re someone with a following like Gordon’s I would imagine.
I honestly found myself a little disappointed. It was interesting for a quick read, but I don’t feel like I walked out of this knowing Gordon herself much better than when I started. I know about her projects and the hows and whys of them, but she spends a large amount of time holding back who she herself is. The juxtaposition of it starting and ending with the end of her marriage and band (something inherently emotional and personal) makes it feel a little disjointed.
The best points of this memoir are when she talks about her relationship with her mentally ill brother and how she doesn’t feel like she always fits with the world she’s in. It’s entirely possible that both of these things are due to over identification. I’m not going to preclude the possibility. I also was raised in a household with mental illness. I also struggle with feeling like a constant outsider no matter where I am or who I’m with. I think it also has to do with this feels like when she’s the most emotionally naked and vulnerable. Selfishly, this is what I want in a memoir and these are the moments she comes closest to giving it to me.
It’s also interesting learning about all her reasoning behind her artistic and musical pursuits. I’m eternally interested in how pieces come together to make art and music. This was definitely the main focus of the book. It felt like her comfort zone.
There were parts I felt were overdone and detracted from the story. There are points where it feels like a grocery list of name dropping. I do genuinely understand that Gordon has been a major player in the music and art scene for over three decades now. She’s bound to know many people that the average person does not. If they had a real impact and they’re brought up that isn’t name dropping to me. There’s territory here where it feels like people who had minimal impact are mentioned just because of who they are. Maybe it was something that was lost in editing.
Also, if you didn’t know it before, you will know by the time you are done with Girl in a Band that Kim Gordon really does not like Courtney Love. It’s okay to not like someone. I don’t think there is an obligation to show absolute solidarity with someone just because you are both women in music. I do think it might be a bit much to devote as much time in a story about her life focusing on Courtney Love and talking about how much of a train wreck she actually is.
All in all, it’s a decent memoir. It’s not going to change anyone’s life and Gordon is characteristically holding back, almost exactly like she does on stage. She’s not ever going to be a transparent person. That is at the end of the day what makes her the paradigm of coolness and perhaps it’s better that it wasn’t taken away here.