Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Girl in a BandGirl in a Band by Kim Gordon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Sonic Youth" is the seminal alternative rock band: over 30 years of their activity they influenced countless performers in various genres. Formed in 1981 and grounded in New York's No Wave music movement, they will be remembered as the most innovative avant-garde rock band of the late 20th and early 21st century. Their unique brand of music is hard to categorize: it has been described as noise rock, post-punk, even grunge. "Sonic Youth" is also my most favorite band - I love their music based on quirky tunings, hefty dose of dissonance and noise, all that in addition to their post-punk sensibilities, and some truly beautiful and hypnotic melodies. Also, the members are geezers of almost my age (fifties and early sixties), so what's not to like? Thus, when I read the critics' praise for Kim Gordon's (the bass guitarist and occasional vocalist of the band) book "Girl In A Band" (2015), I ran for the library. Well, this is quite an interesting book, compulsively readable, yet marred by a flaw that I explain later.

"Girl In A Band" is not a biography of Sonic Youth, nor should it be. To get that one should read David Browne's "Goodbye 20th Century". In this memoir Ms. Gordon writes about her childhood in Los Angeles, her parents, and then about the vibrant No Wave arts scene, in which she immersed herself after moving to New York in 1980. She also writes about the most important men in her life, one of them being her brother, Keller, with a history of mental illness.

The book is not just about music and arts; I appreciate various sharp observations made by Ms. Gordon: for instance, she identifies the differences between Los Angeles with its "diffusiveness, its lack of an attachment to anything other than its own good reflection in the mirror" and New York City: "In contrast to always-new L.A., where everything had its place, New York was a jumble, all colors, shapes, angles, altitudes." And I am completely sold on the phrase that refers to Mike Kelley's images: "They were a perfect symbol of American culture, where newness replaces the old, messy, fragrant, real, humanized form of anything, lest we ever be reminded of dying." Great stuff, and there is more!

I find the memoir damaged by vitriol spewed at the unnamed woman who took Thurston Moore (Ms. Gordon's ex-husband and the guitarist of Sonic Youth) away from her, after a 27-year apparently successful marriage. Maybe I am dense or old-fashioned, but shouldn't she rather blame her ex-husband for this serious affair and for destruction of their marriage? There is a bit too much about "the woman" in the book: it might seem that exacting revenge on her has been one of the reasons for writing the book.

Still, this will not stop me from loving Sonic Youth's music. Its quality transcends the band members' personalities and I will listen to them along with Bach, Coltrane, and other "serious" stuff.

Three stars.

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