Girl in a Band
By Kim Gordon. Dey Street Books, 275 pp, hardcover
Let's get the "juicy" stuff out of the way right off the top. Yes, Kim Gordon discusses her separation and divorce from erstwhile Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore in Girl in a Band, and yes, it's painful to read about. She lays much of that out in the introduction (which is ironically titled "The End"), detailing the band's final performance, which took place in São Paulo, Brazil, on November 14, 2011. That was months after Gordon discovered that, for years, Moore had been carrying on an illicit extramarital affair with someone Gordon will only call "the woman", although her identity can be found easily enough with the click of a mouse. It was the revelation of Moore's infidelity, and the deception that went along with it, that led to the dissolution of the couple's 27-year marriage.
"I don't think I had ever felt so alone in my whole life," Gordon writes of standing on-stage with Sonic Youth for the last time. No wonder she started with the ending, then. Closing her memoir with this story would have finished things on a profoundly depressing note. And Girl in a Band isn't a depressing book, overall, even if its endpapers bear the word darkness, scrawled in dripping black ink. There is darkness here, including Gordon's reflections on growing up in California during the heyday of the Manson Family; her older brother Keller's inexorable spiral into schizophrenia; and the deaths of friends like Joe Cole, Mike Kelley, and Kurt Cobain. Such is life, though, and what really stands out are not Gordon's grievances, but her passions—for art, and for the sheer, visceral thrill of making music.
But if it's dirt you're after, there's also some of that. Gordon makes it clear she hasn't forgiven her ex-husband, but she saves her most acidic vitriol for Courtney Love, whom she describes as a "car crash". Gordon, who (with Don Fleming) produced Hole's debut album, Pretty on the Inside, portrays Love as one of the keys to Cobain's downfall: "One element of his self-destructiveness was choosing Courtney in order to alienate himself from everyone around him, at the same time fame was alienating him from whatever community he had."
Such insights are what make Girl in a Band a compelling read. Gordon was a witness to or active participant in many of the American underground's pivotal moments, from the death of No Wave to the rise of grunge fashion and alternative rock's invasion of the mainstream.
And here comes the nitpicking. As fascinating as her many anecdotes are, Gordon proves herself to be an unreliable narrator, or at the very least a sloppy fact-checker. In bringing in historical events as a backdrop to her own story, she sometimes gets the chronology wrong. The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, not in 1963 as Gordon asserts, for example. She also misquotes Iggy Pop as singing "We're gonna have a real good time tonight" in the Stooges song "Real Cool Time".
These are minor points that are unlikely to detract from anyone's enjoyment of the book. On the other hand, Gordon makes a more egregious error of omission when discussing the cover of Sonic Youth's breakthrough 1990 album, Goo.
Of Raymond Pettibon's illustration, Gordon writes that it "was based on the couple in Terrence Malick's film Badlands". While Badlands may have been one of Pettibon's inspirations, the image itself is indisputably based on a famous 1966 tabloid photo of Maureen Hindley, the sister of notorious Moors Murderer Myra Hindley, and her then husband David Smith.
Gordon is almost certainly aware of this, and to omit this fact—perhaps in an attempt to distance the now-iconic rock 'n' roll image from a real-life murder case—seems disingenuous.
Again, though, this is a relatively small quibble, based on a single sentence in an otherwise enjoyable memoir that ought to be required reading for anyone curious about alt-rock's coolest mom.