What Every Musician's Memoir Should Aspire To

What Every Musician's Memoir Should Aspire To
Reviewer: 2bitmonkey
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Girl In A Band:
A Memoir
Hardcover: 
288 pages
February 24, 2014
ISBN 10:
0062295896
ISBN 13:
978-0062295897

Evocative and edgy, filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a transformative life, "Girl in a Band" is the fascinating chronicle of a remarkable journey and an extraordinary artist.

Easily one of the top two music biography/memoirs I have ever read (the other being Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook, and you really can't compare the two as they are both excellent for very different reasons). I say this as someone who has read dozens of non-fiction music books, many of which are in the biography/memoir category, so while I'm not an expert I'm not a novice either.

I think that there are several things that separates Kim Gordon's memoir from others. The first and most obvious one is the degree to which she is open, honest and completely candid about every aspect of her life. There is no sensitive topic that she is unwilling to talk about in intimate detail. This includes her upbringing, her mentally ill brother and her dysfunctional relationship with him, her now-broken marriage, motherhood, feminism and gender issues, class issues, and the pain of losing someone. Kim is not unique in that regard — many memoirs contain brutally honest re-tellings of the author's life story — but her way of deconstructing it and painting a full picture of how each aspect affected the next, and affected the music, is next-level stuff and exhibits insight you might not expect from a music as writer.

That ties into the second thing that makes Girl In A Band special. It isn't focused on one specific aspect or time period in Kim's life, such as the dissolution of her marriage or solely her adult life or solely the band itself. There isn't an obvious agenda here. She could have decided to write a memoir to get revenge at her ex-husband and ex-bandmate Thurston Moore and no one would have been surprised. Or this could have been the obituary for Sonic Youth. Or a feminist screed. Or anything else. But instead it is simply an overarching look at her life, her music, her art, her relationships, and all from her perspective, without prejudice or anger. She is hurt by Thurston but she isn't angry. She talks intelligently about what they had, appreciating the good and lamenting what happened. Obviously she blames him, and she doesn't forgive him, but she's also moved on. She is like that with everything. Gordon takes a view on her life that isn't detached, but it isn't stuck in the past either. It's healthy and reflected here for her readers.

Finally, there is what I'll call the musical interlude, where Kim picks out her favorite cuts from Sonic Youth's massive discography and breaks down in her way why that song is meaningful to her, what the process was, where she was in her life when it came about, etc. It's not technical in nature nor does it require the reader to know the songs well (though you should know the basics of Sonic Youth's general sound). It's just another way of her taking you through her life set to the backdrop of certain songs or albums. Talking about a particular song may be her way of explaining that she felt vulnerable as a musician at the time, or particularly attached to Thurston, or bored, or whatever. For readers of the 33-1/3 series, this part is like an author - who happens to be the musician herself - writing the best possible 33-1/3 book about an entire career in music instead of just one album. Did I mention it's brilliant?

I'm not sure there's much else I can say about Girl In a Band. Part of me wishes that every musician would write something just like this, but then I realize that it's not about the content - the problem is that very few musicians could write like this. Very few can probably even think like this, let alone put it in words so eloquently. I am left with a new level of respect for Kim Gordon I beyond the one I had before, Kim Gordon as musician. Now I respect Kim Gordon as author and person.