Books: Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
Following up Patti Smith's M Train came Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band, read primarily while holidaying in Byron and travelling Far North Queensland. The connection between the two women is that of culture, place, and my interest in the female artist. Plus the fact that Gordon's band, Sonic Youth, was named in part after Patti Smith's husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith. It was perused in the sunshine, both mine and my other half's head stuck in our books, was good company on nights alone with dinner and a glass of wine, and a time killer while waiting for various modes of transport.
As is often the case with books I think will be of interest, Girl in a Band is a memoir which mixes personal story with the creative culture of the time on a wider scale. In this case it is that of 1980s New York, the post-punk, visual arts, noise scene with Gordon citing -
"New York's bohemian downtown art scene and the people in it - Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Allen Ginsberg...Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell, Blondie..." (P10.)
We are immersed in her, their, world and in renowned Sonic Youth fashion Gordon is not adverse to highlighting more controversial topics. She comments on the issues she finds within the culture, its dangers, the death of Kurt Cobain, the underlying fears of California, the Manson murders... as well as modern day commercialism's inability to replicate such a legitimate artistic movement.
"That city I know doesn't exist anymore, and it's more alive in my head than it is when I'm there."
A truly historic, unique time which we are privy to explore through Gordon's stories. My own interest in this piece of literature stems from an interest in women in bohemian and creative cultures, in changing times, particularly this sort of period and America, all linking back to so much of what I focused my University study on. Gordon's assessment of being a woman at the time in the creative industries, her comments on having to be fearless and whether she's empowered, played on these interests. She also directly references the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Patti Smith, citing famous names but making them and the whole scene accessible. Burroughs, for all his strangeness, reminds her of her dad.
Aside from an intriguing commentary and perspective on the culture, Gordon provides a candid portrait of a marriage falling apart. An iconic marriage which many loyal fans were eager to read her account of. She is frank in her descriptions sharing heartbreaking sentiments which demonstrate our humanity, famous or not. The idea of the other woman and such apparent parts of human life, even her assessment of her brother's schizophrenia and how his treatment of her affected her, demonstrates how we are ultimately all just humans living our lives. Gordon has done an excellent job of combining her portrayal of human emotion and interaction, with that of a narration of her time and her art.
An issue I did have with the book was perhaps Gordon's willingness to name and shame other women such as Lana Del Ray. Comments made in light of critical response to these has led Gordon to claim she was commenting on the division between what artistry was and supposedly is today. Examples are of course of help but I still feel strongly about her use of specific names and putting other women down so publicly.
Aside from that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. At times I found it hard to get through but I would soon become re-connected as Gordon makes intelligent, heartbreaking, and informative insights. Gordon's book has made its way onto my bookshelf and it'll be staying there for future reading. I recommend you read it, particularly if you have a strong cultural and musical interest in the time she discusses.