Girl in a Band: A Memoir, by Kim Gordon, book review: Snide asides and honest insights in a memoir that rocks

You have to get nearly halfway through the book before the story of the band even begins

Emily Jupp
Sunday 26 April 2015 13:09 BST

When the post-punk-rock group Sonic Youth disintegrated in 2011 following the break-up of the marriage of key members, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, bereft fans sought answers. This memoir, named after one of Gordon’s most hated interview questions (what’s it like...?) offers those answer openly, and often bitterly. But first and foremost it is a book about Gordon’s life, from growing up in California, with years spent in Hong Kong and Hawaii to starting art school and moving to New York. You have to get nearly halfway through the book before the story of the band even begins.

Gordon, now 61, first encountered music through her involvement with the conceptual art scene in Seventies New York. Her descriptions of her early twenties sound like a who’s who of the Seventies art scene – Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Larry Gagosian were all in Gordon’s life, and the some of the juiciest bits are her snide asides about them (“No-one liked Jeff” and Larry has a “complete absence of credibility as an art dealer”). One art project involved creating a band and this gave Gordon the bug for performing.

She acknowledges that she is perceived as “cold” on stage and in interviews but says she’s vulnerable underneath and this begins to ring true in her descriptions of feeling awkward and out of place, her need to please the men in her life and the insights she shares on how women in the public eye still have to fit the “male gaze”.

Moore is portrayed as a deeply flawed, volatile character who Gordon loyally stood by – which she puts down to her relationship with her troubled brother, Keller. Keller manipulated her, but she nevertheless adored him: “I needed to believe he was larger than life, a distorted genius... Looking back, his sadism might have been a symptom of the disease that showed itself later.”

Gordon offers aching details about the sordid mundanity of her break-up with Moore, such as the soap-opera style discovery of his infidelity from text messages on his iPhone. One moment in the early days of their romance becomes a sad metaphor for the disposability she feels about their relationship: “Once, when his stapler wasn’t working, he picked it up and threw it through the window, shattering the glass. It scared me... Maybe I was a person – like a stapler – who just didn’t work for him any more.” It’s a quotidian image that accurately sums up how a relationship, even that of a feminist role model and music legend, can easily crack.

Order for £12.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

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