For our second book in our year of biography/autobiography/memoir books someone chose Kim Gordon’s Girl In A Band. It’s a look back on her time in the band Sonic Youth (never heard of them) and about her life as an artist. Seriously though, not my thing. I looked up a few of their most well-known songs on YouTube and was like “nope.” I just need a bit more structure in my music. It’s probably the same reason I don’t like jazz. I’m also still not quite sure what the difference is between New Wave, No Wave, Punk, and Post punk, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this book, or at least two more that we’re planning to read. It’s mostly because I know nothing about the subject matter, but it’s also because I don’t find the subject matter interesting. That being said I did find enough in this book to keep me mostly engaged.
What I’m starting to wonder, and we’re only two books in, is if all of the people we’re reading have familial issues. It’s interesting that both Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and this book dealt with mental health in families. If that’s the case, maybe I should get out my pen and paper? Both artists wrote about the importance of getting away from your family to find yourself and I really can’t agree more.
“Families are like little villages. You know where everything is, you know how everything works, your identity is fixed, and you can’t really leave, or connect with anything or anybody outside, until you’re physically no longer there.” (59)
At some point, you have to pick up and move in order to truly make sure you’re okay as an individual. If you find you miss your family, then go back to them. Ultimately, you’ll be a better person for finding out that you CAN live on your own.
What really surprised me about the book and what I wanted to know a lot more about were Gordon’s views on gender and feminism. She had some incredibly interesting thoughts on the roles men and women play in music,
“Guys playing music. I loved music. I wanted to push up close to whatever it was men felt when they were together onstage—to try to ink in that invisible thing. It wasn’t sexual, but it wasn’t unsexual either. Distance mattered in male friendships. One on one, men often had little to say to one another. They found some closeness by focusing on a third thing that wasn’t them: music, video games, golf, women. Male friendships were triangular in shape, and that allowed two men some version of intimacy.” (102-103)
“It’s like the famous distinction between art and craft: Art, and wildness, and pushing against the edges, is a male thing. Craft, and control, and polish, is for women. Culturally we don’t allow women to be as free as they would like, because that is frightening. We either shun those women or deem them crazy. Female singers who push too much, and too hard, don’t tend to last very long. They’re jags, bolts, comets: Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday. But being that woman who pushes the boundaries means you also bring in less desirable aspects of yourself. At the end of the day, women are expected to hold up the world, not annihilate it.” (127)
And I would love to know more about this. Her take on gender in music and the commodification of the art world were incredibly interesting and I would loved for her to have gone into more detail. She apparently did write more about this while it was happening and there’s a book, Is It My Body?, which collects a lot of them in one place.
At one point I though the name dropping would get old, but it honestly didn’t feel like name dropping. These were people she just ran into and some she became friends with and some she didn’t, it’s really amazing when you find out how small their world is/was.
Recommendation: Unless you have a dying love of Sonic Youth or this type of music or unless you’re fascinated with art and music and gender then this is probably a pass. I’m glad I read it because it pushed me well outside my comfort zone, but I don’t know if I’ll remember much of it in a few months.
Opening Line: “When we came out onstage for our last show, the night was all about the boys.”
Closing Line: “I know, it sounds like I’m someone else entirely now, and I guess I am.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
Additional Quotes from Girl In A Band
“They say when a marriage ends that little things you never noticed before practically make your brain split open.” (2)
“He had the Mick Jagger lips, and the lanky arms and legs he didn’t seem to know what to do with, and the wariness you see in tall men who don’t want to overpower other people with their height.” (3)
“I’ve always felt there’s something genetically instilled and inbred in Californians—that California is a place of death, a place people are drawn to because they don’t realize deep down they’re actually afraid of what they want.” (15)
“Desire and death are all mixed up with the thrill and the risk of the unknown.” (15)
“The image a lot of people have of me as detached, impassive, or remote is a persona that comes from years of being teased for every feeling I ever expressed.” (42)
“High school was a dark period for me—I never felt like I fit in, and the other kids seemed alien to me, because, in fact, they were—but I got through. In those days people threw around the words identity crisis about teenagers, and some still do. a bizarre phrase, and one I used to spend hours thinking about. I thought that the older generation was framing the idea of growing up in such a fearful way. That term instills so much anxiety and dread around becoming who you actually are and who you’ll be someday. Why is Who am I? considered a crisis? I had no crisis. My identity was straightforward: I had made art since I was five years old, and aside from dance, art was the only thing that interested me. If that didn’t fit into the conventions of the day, who cared?” (57-58)
“(A lot of artists listen to music while they work, and many think, Why can’t I make art that looks as intense as the sounds I’m hearing? I don’t have an answer.)” (80)
“They say you always learn something from relationships, even bad ones, and that what your last one lacked, or you missed out on, is what you’re primed to find in the next—unless, that is, you insist on repeating the same pattern over and over again.” (112)
“The codependent woman, the narcissistic man: stale words lifted from therapy that I nonetheless think about a lot these days.” (112)
“I wonder whether you can truly love, or be loved back, by someone who hides who they are.” (114)
“The most heightened state of being female is watching people watch you.” (182)
“Truth was, I never wanted to be a housewife. I never wanted to be anything other than who I was.” (234)
“No one could really understand how Thurston, who had always had a good nose for the user, the groupie, the nutcase, or the hanger-on, had let himself get pulled under by her, too. She was a current that dragged you underwater and you were miles from home before you even realized it.” (248)
“Kids believe everything is a family matter and that they should have an equal vote or some control over everything that goes on in their family’s lives.” (257)