The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club: Kim Gordon's 'Girl in a Band'

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David Campbell with Kim Gordon's book
David Campbell takes a reading break on the floor of The Current's studio (Jay Gabler/MPR)

At The Current, we love music and we also love books about music. In partnership with MPR's The Thread, we're starting a new series we're calling The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club. Each month, we'll pick a book about the music we love, and one of our staff members will share his or her take on the book. We hope you'll read along with us, and share your thoughts both in the comment section and via social media: #RockandRollBookClub. For our inaugural pick, Jade writes about Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon's new memoir.

This is not a review. I want to make that clear from the start. You and I? We are coming at this from the same place. We like music — and if our way into understanding that music comes in the form of literature, we're okay with that. In fact, we're more than okay with it. We're rabid, foaming at the mouth (if you'll allow the hyperbole). That's the point. So, let's talk about books.

I've wanted to read Kim Gordon's book pretty much since the day it was announced the Sonic Youth co-founder was going to write a memoir. Kim Gordon is the sort of person you dream of being when you grow up, even if you're the same age as her. She has a rock-and-roll attitude that seems unattainably cool. She's the leather jacket that you want to wear that is way too expensive — and beyond that, you'd look utterly unworthy of it even if it fit perfectly. With that in mind, I read her new memoir Girl in a Band, the following are a few thoughts I had in the process.

There are books that begin with a beginning and there are books that begin with an ending. Girl in a Band starts with the end and immediately alludes to the beginning. To walk in Kim Gordon's shoes you will know both that she was in love, and it ended, horribly. Do you want to continue? Then you know full well where you are going, but you will get to there slowly and in circles. You'll want to know more, you'll hate yourself for wanting dirt and gossip, but you will (with a voyeur's intensity) wade through the banality of a life to get to it.

Girl in a Band is written in fragments. Each chapter feels like a distinct memory. These chapters criss-cross and reiterate each other and make you feel like you're having a drunken conversation with a good friend who's finally opening up to you. The stories unfold and then begin to layer upon each other in a way that feels like you discovered it on your own. There's an ownership in the reading of this book — but there's also a certain distance. Gordon notes that she is shy, and the book has a stoic, unemotional quality that can possibly only be felt by readers who are equally used to concealing their feelings. It seems like she's pushing herself to be vulnerable in the hopes of achieving some greater art and maybe even some peace.

"Stoic, enduring, no questions, no complaints."

Haven't you ever wanted to find your place in the world? Gordon spends a good part of the book wandering through various memories of her youth. She's the forever tomboy, trying to understand how to be accepted by the boys but still retain a sense of womanhood. What does that mean? Is it a catch-22? Why do journalists still ask her how it feels to be a "girl" in a band? It's a frustration strong enough to inspire the naming of her book, and there never seems to be a satisfying resolution. The music world is still a boys' club and women are still rarely let inside.

"Why can't I make art that looks as intense as the sounds I'm hearing?"

The act and the artifice are hard to distinguish. What's real on stage and what's real in "real life" can become confusing when you are "playing" at being a certain type of person. It's crazy to imagine the Kim Gordon who seemed so cool, so chill, and so beyond caring to be prolific about how frumpy and uncool and unsure she was of herself. What? Seriously? Chapter after chapter, Kim Gordon — the ultimate female guide for being the cool girl who could hang with the guys — describes her lack of confidence in her fashion choices, her tendency to avoid conflict and acquiesce to the needs of the band, and her status as a "cool" musician.

"Self-consciousness was the beginning of creative death to me."

There are many statements in the book that seem ironic or, at least, seem deeply incongruent with the thoughts of someone writing a book about themselves. Gordon worries constantly about her place in the world of art and music. She worries about the message she's leaving behind. While reading the book you feel her specific emphasis on certain songs and moments (sometimes because she mentions them repeatedly), and feel that they must hold some weight or meaning, because she's told you to believe that she never does anything without thinking about it from multiple angles. Even so, Gordon's not immune to the pull of the "what ifs" that drag people out of the everyday and into the world of legends.

"I'd spend my entire life never doing what was easy, never doing what was expected."

Gordon mentions early on in the book that writing about her life is hard. It is a challenge that makes her entirely uncomfortable and therefore, perhaps will be an inspiration for art. The Greek translation for passion is "a suffering." With most artists there seems to be a correlation between the pain and the pleasure of creation. Does a promise to do everything on the road less traveled lead to a happier existence? Or just a more artful one?

Here are some questions I was left with:

- Does it mean something different to be a girl in a band in 2015 than it did in the 1980s and 1990s?

- Is it better to imagine Kim Gordon as effortlessly cool or awkward and uncomfortable with her place and position?

- Does Sonic Youth mean something more, less, or the same to you as it did prior to reading the book?

Welcome to the book club.


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