Thursday, March 5, 2015

This One Is Personal



Girl in A Band – Kim Gordon (2015)

            This one’s personal.  To begin I must state my background as it relates to this book.  Kim Gordon was a founding member of Sonic Youth, my all-time favorite musical group.  (It still pains me inside to speak of them in the past tense.)  I always loved music growing up, the more energetic the better.  By the time I heard Sonic Youth, when I purchased Daydream Nation after seeing a review of it in People magazine of all places, I had plowed through Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hardcore.  The sounds I heard upon listening to Daydream Nation, my all-time favorite piece of recorded music, cleared my head, and altered my life. 
Everything about them spoke to me, from their lack of rock-star posturing, to the squalls of feedback-drenched noise-as-rock, to the fact that, like the Beatles, they had three different voices singing, to the amazingly bizarre smell that emanated from the Blast First-released cassette.  (I was certain that someone had dropped a shipment of these cassettes in industrial grease or something.  It was a truly odd odor, which I found out years later was a result of using shitty presses.)  Some songs seemed to end before they began, while others utilized noise breaks that I memorized as if they were an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.  The band was very careful to never present themselves as a front-man with a back-up band.  Everyone was equally important to the music.  They were, as a group, older than most other bands I knew.  To top it all off, two of the members were a married couple!  How rare is that! 
Sonic Youth was a band that was “famous” but that no one I knew liked, much less loved.  They lacked a lot of the things that draw young people to bands.  They had no specific logo, they did not have a specific aesthetic.  They did not make their performances about anything other than the music.  They valued experimentation, and expected their audience to follow them.  Whether or not one liked everything they put out was irrelevant, as you knew that in a year or two Sonic Youth would progress in surprising ways yet again.  Through my growing love of the band I grew to love Kim Gordon. 
There are people that infatuate because of their looks, while others do so because of their attitudes.  I loved that Kim ROCKED as hard, or harder, than anyone I had ever seen.  I especially loved that she neither tried to make herself look more boyish-rocker, nor did she strike a clich├ęd feminine pose.  Standing between Thurston and Lee, two monsters of guitar freak-outs, she was an equal, with no fear visible, with no quarter asked nor given.  While Thurston and Lee would take the lead in interviews, and in discussing their musical ideas, Kim would seem detached from the circus that surrounds rock bands.  She was there because she wanted to rock, and we were lucky for it, and fuck you if you wanted something else out of her.  I loved all this about her.  However, this also made it very hard to actually get to know her inner self. 
Everyone in Sonic Youth seemed like an archetype.  Thurston was a record-collecting absurdist with a deep love for the culture of punk and marginal rock.  Steve was the young one, who was blessed with filling a drum seat in a band he idolized and to which he brought a flexibility they previously lacked.  Lee was like the Tragedy/Comedy masks in theater, singing with the most beautiful voice of the group, with the most poetic lyrics, yet absorbed in the deepest darkness of humanity, always bringing the most outlandish and intense noise of the four, usually right in the middle of a  beautiful melody while he sang about murder, death, and insanity.  (I still have a poster from the “Goo” era, yellowed and torn.  My wife says that Lee looks like a serial killer in it.)  Kim was the goddess balancing out the testosterone, always keeping the band grounded, and usually singing the most seemingly heartfelt stuff, obviously personal, yet obtuse sometimes to the point of incoherence, and above all, ANGRY.  I loved that about her.  Kim was experiencing catharsis through her music.  I deeply related to that, and still do.  The facts that her husband was right there next to her, never lorded over her, and never sought to diminish her role in the band were all very anachronistic in rock music.  The “wife” was always relegated to singing back-up, playing some barely audible keyboards or acoustic guitar, or, at worst, standing on the side of the stage clapping a shitty tambourine.  Not in Sonic Youth.
I think this is the reason that Kim and Thurston’s marriage-within-a-band meant so much to so many people.  It was like witnessing an achievement that many had attempted, but none had realized.  This is a lot of pressure to apply to a couple, and they bore it well, for at least a few decades.  They were the ideal that every underground rocker aspired to, to have music and love intertwine and to make it work for the long term.  When the announcement of their impending divorce hit the world, it was as shattering as if we had all found out our own parents were splitting up.  It really was, and like all divorces, the effect it had on the “children,” in this case the fans that had grown up with Sonic Youth, was chaotic and unpredictable.  Anger, sadness, dismissal, avoidance, and more rose up from the fandom.  Mostly it was straight up disappointment.  This was not just about the end of the band Sonic Youth, but about the end of a dream that they helped create in so many minds and hearts.
This all happened several years ago, and the world has moved on.  Thurston, Lee, Steve and Kim have all found new groups of musicians to play with, and for the most part the legacy of Sonic Youth stands untarnished.  Through it all, the band has kept their usual taciturn manner regarding the breakup.  No comments are made, and civility is maintained.  Because of this, when Kim announced that she would be writing a memoir, it created a storm of expectation.  Many thought that this time Kim was going to let it all hang out, to spill the beans and sling the shit.  Kim has never been one to push herself to meet other’s expectations though.
This book does detail the circumstances behind the marriage/band break-up, and they mostly book-end the story within Girl In A Band.  The first chapter describes Sonic Youth’s last show, before the news had leaked out, and the last chapters describe the slow, inevitable demise of their marriage.  To a devout fan like myself, this shit was fucking rough to read.  I thank Kim for actually sharing everything in the least sensational manner possible, as always maintaining her class and self-respect above all else.  People are people, and marriages worldwide end under similar situations.  One person has grown, or grown apart, while the other does not realize this until it is too late to do anything about it.  What must never be forgotten, is that everything in a marriage is a two-way street.  It is a very rare thing indeed when all the blame lies on one individual while the other stands blameless.  It is hard to write this, but I feel that it is still too soon for Kim to fully “see” what has occurred and her place in it.  I do not wish to judge anyone.  I myself am divorced, and reading about Thurston’s lies and cheating make me glad that I never disrespected my former wife that way. Either way, the splitting of a married couple hurts.  It always hurts and is always ugly.  Sometimes it is hard for someone to see what they failed to provide, or share of themselves, that the other person then goes on to find in someone new.  There is a reason that relationship stories are universal and that the details seem banal and constant.  We are all imperfect humans, right?
Having said that, the very best parts of this book were when Kim describes the events that made her who she is.  These are the stories and details that I used to scrounge for!  Kim, I always wanted to know more about you, to hear your tales, and to know why you turned out as awesome as you did.  Thank you for this.  I have read countless articles where the writer discusses the songs of Sonic Youth and the memories of past shows and records only from the point of view of Thurston or Lee.  To read Kim’s take on songs I love is priceless, and like my fellow Sonic Youth die-hard Jennifer Benningfield states in her review of this book, it only increased my desire that Kim write a book purely about music, and her experience in it, and what she loves and hates and dreams about.  There are passages where she speaks of the feelings she has on stage, while the dissonance and noise wash over her, and remove her persona, and she is just a living being sharing the skronk with a mass of people whose hearts and minds and ears are open.  These passages are the very best thing in this book.
There are some parts of the book that I did not find particularly interesting, but which I understand are necessary for Kim to share the art-world side of her that she has always kept subsumed for the sake of the band.  Her reactions and thoughts on these people are more important to me than their names and where she met them.  Either way, memoirs are not high literature and one can’t fault Kim for including the people she found important in her life.  I am so grateful that she wrote this book, and am even more grateful that she had the restraint to keep from writing a sensationalist tell-all.  I am sure there would have been a lot more money in her pockets if she did that.  Sonic Youth was never about money, and Kim has stayed true to that aesthetic.

I love you Kim. I always have, and always will. Thank you.

(To purchase a hard copy, an e-book, or a downloadable audio file of this book read by Kim Gordon, click here: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062295897/girl-in-a-band )

3 comments:

  1. Love this Rob!
    'Through my growing love of the band I grew to love Kim Gordon.' Same here!
    Kim is such an inspiring artist and strong woman.
    I found myself watching the last Sonic Youth gig in Brazil, trying to imagine how it could have felt for her to be there in those circumstances... Even singing with her, as if it could help in a way -yeah funny I know, but that's how much I love Kim!-
    I have even more admiration and respect for her after reading Girl In A Band.
    I can't understand why this book seems to be an issue for some Sonic Youth fans. The band's exceptional music will remain.
    Nothing could ever change my love for Sonic Youth.

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  2. Thanks so much for reading my review! Like I state in it, some people can never get past their expectations, and just accept what an artist is willing to give them.

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  3. Thanks Man.

    Skuj

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