Book Reviews

Kim Gordon: Girl In A Band (Dey Street)

kim gordon

Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon has written a memoir. Her demeanor, as we’ve seen it in videos, carries over to the word. She seems kind of removed or even disapproving of most people, really doesn’t seem to understand them, so the parts where she’s writing about them, even the famous ones, which they all seem to be, aren’t that interesting. Where she writes about places, strangely, always is.

“It was pouring, slanting sheets of rain. South American rain is like rain anywhere else, and it makes you feel the same too.”

“L.A. in the late sixties had a desolation about it, a disquiet. Sidewalks and houses centipeding over mountains and going on forever [in] a kind of shrugging anchorlessness.”

“When I first drove down the Hudson Parkway it was bumpy and nerve-wracking, as if your car were being shot from a pinball machine down a slope into some rough forest. It was all unknown and possibility.”

She woke up in a New Orleans business district hotel to the parade “snaking and swirling…. Upside-down secretaries and businesspeople flared around us like an alphabet on fire. …weird sorcery….”

I also love when she describes how her mind and eyes work that made the songs of my youth. Her disconnected connections. The hookers on Grand Street “in the dead cold of winter huddled around a makeshift oilcan bonfire in leg warmers and stilettos” looked to Kim like tall trees “making the nature scene. The gold sparkle caught the light of passing cars, flashed in the dark spaces around nearby buildings. Walking by hookers would probably not have called to my mind the Italian architect Aldo Rossi’s belief that cities never shake what happens in them; all the ghosts remain alive. But it did to Kim’s mind, and so came “Making the Nature Scene.”

She describes No Wave bands as sounding “purposefully abandoned.” And rather than punk rock, which “played at destroying corporate rock,” No Wave was ALREADY destroyed. “Its sheer freedom and blazing-ness made me think, I CAN DO THAT,” she writes. I know the feeling. It’s so great. And, she goes on, “every No Wave gig felt precarious, a rush, a cheek-burn, since you knew the band onstage could break up at any moment.”

Just as she somehow (I don’t know how!) found nature in the middle of a city with no fields or mountains at all, she also found anicca (Buddhist impermanence, which is precious and elegant) in a clanging, screeching, drug-fueled, dank nightclub.

What’s really weird is there’s no sex in here. And no love.

In the book’s many photos, Kim’s defiance cancels out the pretty—her face cannot be contained (as an object to stare at); she stares out. Hard.

Actually the only interesting to me descriptions of people were a couple of unknowns, because of how very dry Kim is, staccato. At 18, she broke up with her live-in boyfriend when he started having seizures, and got back together with a boyfriend who did not have seizures. I just wanted to put that into this review without comment like she did in her book. (!) Then she brings up, for no reason I can see, someone named Ellen who she didn’t really know, only to conclude the paragraph thusly: “A few months later, Ellen died in a house fire.”

She’s an odd one!

As a human being, as a woman, she is ambivalent, reticent, uncertain, more aware of spaces between than intersections, and it seems to me she built an ideal of female aesthetic around that. And attacks certain women who are different and created a different female aesthetic. Courtney Love is a “car crash,” her “shtick” is “distasteful”—I mean, I don’t like Courtney Love either, but, I don’t know… accusing that woman of not being classy is… it’s kind of unclassy. I mean, she never claimed to have class. And Kim DOES claim to be the right kind of feminist, and in my mind, that means you don’t put down another female musician for not being a lady on stage or off. And you don’t call Lydia Lunch too sexual and gothy and playing to male fantasies. You wouldn’t say Lana del Ray (or any woman!) “doesn’t even know what feminism is” because she dares to think she can “sleep with gross older men or be a transient biker queen” if that’s what she wants.

I have peripherally worked with or been friendly with both Kim and her ex-husband Thurston Moore, but I think my recoiling from the way Kim writes about Thurston would be the same for me if they were complete strangers, if for no other reason than judging and picking and doing surveillance of the other’s failings and not your own is bad writing. But I guess I have unusual ideas about divorce, or a favorite band breaking up, and I have my own strange ways of being cold, the level I accept and expect impermanence in all things. I don’t get how you can promise to never fall in love with someone else, or how if it happens, how you can be expected to destroy that and stay with the one you don’t love anymore. Cheating is awful. Being dishonest to your partner is the worst. Falling in love is not in itself an aggressive act against your partner, though. I feel. It’s love. Nor should it necessarily be dismissed as a midlife crisis. Was it a younglife crisis when he fell in love with Kim 27 years earlier? Why is a midlife crisis a bad thing, anyway? To realize your life is, in statistical probabilities, halfway done, and to look around, and look within, and realize whatever you dreamed to do, better do it now… I think, YES. I think, do it! Me, I went skiing for the first time at the age of 42. I was pathetic. But I did it. I reexamined a very important relationship and went ahead and did it differently, even though I was so scared. Actually, I’m reexamining ALL my relationships, including to myself. I am going to die! And before that, any day now, I’ll be old. I plan on enjoying old age once it gets here. Until then, I’m enjoying my midlife crisis.

I think probably this book was written too soon, and it would have been so much better if the pain was not so fresh. When describing her youth, Kim fights against the term “identity crisis,” which is what a youthlife crisis is, I think, because those words “instill so much anxiety and dread around becoming who you actually are.” But don’t you keep becoming who you actually are your whole life? Kim references discovering in high school Alan Watts and banishing the ego, and a nontraditional narrative. “From that point on, I would never feel sure, or comfortable, about making conclusions or bold, definite statements about anything.” I love that! And I can hear the indefiniteness and the unstructure in the music she went on to make. I love how she describes needing to leave L.A. and her family where she “knew where everything is, how everything works” in order to also leave her “identity” behind and go get lost to be found. It happened again now, by surprise and force, at 61 years old. I know it’s wrenching, but she is very brave, and to be lost again means you get to be found again, and not the same person you found yourself to be the last time.

Lisa Carver is a New Hampshire based writer. Her latest works, How To Not Write and Money’s Nothing, are out now. 

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