Book review: Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band”.

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  After all is said and done, Sonic Youth was a great band and I feel fortunate that I saw them a couple of times in some of their best days.  They always had a magic to them that I, like some others, let be tarnished by time and the ravages of the Internet and its idiot offspring Social Media.  I remember when Sonic Youth were in a class by themselves, their own genre.  And I refreshed that notion by reading Kim’s book finally.  It was a long time coming, renewing my respect for one of the better bands of the past 30 years.  I’m pissed that I sold a chunk of my Sonic Youth albums a while back and some other SY stuff – but fortunately most of it is still out there to find in record stores.  And there it all still is in their music, on their albums. A lot of gold in it.  Nothing sounds quite like what they did.

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So, Kim’s book was not bad. It is what you might expect from KG – some of it very obscured by clouds and enigmatically low-key. Some of it monotone and awkward.  A lot of it still in awe of rock and roll and the long-gone punk era that just preceded SY.  She still has a sense of wonder about it all and likely always did – except it all had to be disguised by the coolness that Sonic Youth kept as a veneer – but never really was.  No, Kim Gordon seems to really have either intentionally or inadvertently shown in her book that Sonic Youth never really was cool at all.  Thurston, Lee, Steve, and Kim.  Total dorks.  Like all other dorks in trembling awe of so much around them having to hide the fear in coolness and distance and rock star crankiness and insolence.  But same goes for Velvet Underground and every other band and anything that ever thought it might be “cool”, anyone that put on shades and thought they were now bigger than their body, thought they suddenly felt beyond it all, better than a few other people in the room, something special.   I always thought the coolest people were the nicest  and the most generous ones.  Mostly, for a lot of the “cool” people it was the beer and the drugs and the shitty attitude and the misanthropy that made them feel cool, whatever that really meant.  Being mildly to extremely antisocial, on a scale of 1 to 11, maybe.   It was all an outfit and a haircut and a few other things.  But there was at least two main sides of “being cool”.    The only truly honest thing seems to be the admission of inevitable vulnerability of any and all of us.  We’re chained to each other and chained to the world and we all have to pull.  “No one here gets out alive.”  Lou Reed is DEAD. Bowie is dead. Lemmy is dead. Motorhead is dead. Prince is dead. All four Ramones are dead. Sonic Youth is dead. No one had that magic immortality backstage pass to the eternal, apparently. The only thing we have is those albums.  And books and shit.   Music and words.

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Kim seems to reveal very little through most of the book, dancing around so many topics superficially, but by the final third of the book, Kim really pulls together some kind of formation that makes the rest of the book feel more open and maybe more honest than it seemed leading up to that final 3rd act of Girl in a Band. You may feel it when you get to that part of the book; you may not. I think it’s Kim’s suspicious style of letting people in, just in a shy and trepidant way – as mistrustful and as hurt as she always seemed on stage and off. There was no righteous anger and no X-girl, no cool thing or even spelled “kool”, no real exception to the all-encompassing rule – she was the vulnerable person along for the ride that it seems we all have been on, whatever we went through. We all got taken for a ride. Kim says she was taken for a ride by Thurston and by her own searching willingness to mine NYC with her ex-husband and a few others that the book leads us to believe magically and serendipitously fell into her path.  But what would have happened anywhere else?  She kind of suggests that NYC was the conduit and the eye of the needle. People check in to the urban culture circus – and then get out eventually, to have an actual peaceful and balanced life.

Her book is ultimately about art and music. But she exposes that there is really no glorious secret magic life that famous rock musicians have.   They can be as shitty and as dickish as anyone else.  Certainly Kim and Thurston always had a reputation as being standoffish and rude and unfriendly, a lot like Kim’s friend J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, another rock guy who has a reputation as being a giant dickhole.  But that’s kind of why we read these books – mostly we’re not looking to be told that people are nice.  Mostly.  (Sometimes…?)  However, there are a couple of decent revelations in this book that you might have if you read the whole thing.

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I got a distinct sense of “he said-she said” as far as the marital trouble they had, but divorces happen and romances end and Moore and Kim did give each other about 30 years – not too bad. I can imagine that Thurston still had a libido after Kim hit menopause, but he didn’t want to trash her publicly, the way Kim trashed Thurston in this book and portrayed him as an asshole and as the sole reason the marriage ended. Kim is no victim, nor is Thurston.  As Nick Cave has sung, “All things move toward their end.”   The romance ended.  No big deal.  It happens all the time to people everywhere.

Kim’s book could have avoided trashing Moore, although she might claim it was simply how it happened. Still remains only one side of the story. Her choice to include it.

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Regardless, Kim, Thurston, Lee, and Steve were all essential parts of the band and the creativity of the band is the only thing I would want to read about, not the gossipy stuff. As individuals, rock stars and so on are never saints or heroes anymore than anyone else, nor even really that remarkable outside of the music, usually.  But memoirs are often used for vendettas, gripes, or simply to try to embarrass someone.  I would have respected Kim more had she shown more restraint or avoided the relationship chat altogether.   But I still respect her for her part in Sonic Youth as I respect the three other band members also.  Musically.

Sonic Youth remains a great band and I still really enjoy revisiting their albums.  The book is worth reading if you’re into the band.  Or even if you’re not.   Just remember that it’s only one side of the story.  ☆

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Michael Reiss

Author: Michael Reiss

Film. Politix. Free Leonard Peltier. Free Tibet. Free America. Free food. Free shit. "Free yr mind and yr ass will follow."