Saturday, 23 January 2016

Girl In A Band - Kim Gordon


I suspect there's a reason for Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon writing her memoir and that reason is 'therapy'. It doesn't matter whether it was written on the advice of her therapist, or the advice of her manager, or of her own volition because the end result reads like a therapeutic exercise and if it reads like that - then that's what it is.
Sonic Youth's whole musical career has always been like one long Arthur Janov primal scream therapy session so it's hardly to be expected that Kim's memoir is going to be more of the same method. It's not. Girl In A Band is calm, reflective and in a way rather subdued; the noticeable detour from this course being when she writes of her ex-husband Thurston Moore in regard to his infidelity and their marriage break up and it's only at these times in the book that the groove changes and revenge is confirmed to be a dish best served cold.

For the best part of the last 30 years Sonic Youth have been the darlings of (for want of a better term) American 'alt-rock', with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore being the uncrowned king and queen of that particular milieu. Their speciality has been 'dissonance' coupled with an enigmatic coolness that they somehow managed to maintain into middle-age.
They were hipsters from the start, years before the term had ever been invented, and as well as keeping a lot of their original audience from when they first started, have never had any trouble in picking up new, younger audiences along the way. They've no doubt been indulged over the years and have had sins forgiven but for all that, they deserve a certain respect. It's a pity, then, at least in regard to their progress as a band, that Kim and Thurston separated after 27 years of marriage and in doing so brought Sonic Youth to an end.

Were it not for Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth would have been just a bunch of American boys kicking up a racket whilst desperately trying to be arty. Kim made Sonic Youth into an actual group of both American boys plus girl, still kicking up a racket but being genuinely arty.
What's interesting in reading her memoir is how this is all so very apparent but has been hidden in plain sight all the time and so never fully acknowledged. The book also makes it very clear just how completely American Sonic Youth were. For example, for all their familiarity with British and European alternative culture, only an American would refer to Mark E Smith of The Fall as being 'Marxist', which Kim at one point does.
She also goes in for a lot of name dropping, it must be said, particularly when writing about the New York art scene. Personally, I was unfamiliar with most of these names but thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Google Images, I kept pace and gained an insight.

When Tracey Thorn reviewed Girl In A Band for The Spectator magazine, she intimated that Kim was making a mistake in writing about her marriage break up so openly and so soon after the separation, but I disagree. Those who listen to Everything But The Girl might like their music to be soothing and well mannered but those who like a bit of Sonic Youth are obviously after something completely different. They want openness, harshness and raw thought and emotion; which is what Kim delivers in her book but in a much more considered manner than when she's communicating via music.

The book isn't just about the marriage break up either, as Kim also opens up about her childhood, her parents, and her schizophrenic brother. She also paints very good pictures of how California was in the Seventies and how New York was in the Eighties. And of course, she also writes about Sonic Youth.
The reason for writing it remains, however, and Kim returns to that reason in the final paragraph of the book where having split up from Thurston, she describes being given a ride back to her home by a charming guy who's super attracted to her, and she likewise to him. Their good-night kiss turns into a full-on grope before she pulls away from him as she has to catch a flight in two hours.
At first it seems a very strange note to end the book on until you realise this particular little anecdote isn't really meant for the reader. It's meant for Thurston.

All four ex-members of Sonic Youth have continued performing and creating music (or noise?) to this day but under separate, individual projects. It's unlikely there'll ever be a band like them again, especially one lasting for 30 years, which is why it's a shame they came to an end in such an ugly fashion. Life goes on but it just goes to show how a dream can be so rudely interrupted by the stupidity of reality.
                                                                                                                                                                             John Serpico

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