Music fans everywhere were surprised at the 2011 announcement of the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, mainstays of legendary New York punk/noise/alternative outfit Sonic Youth. The pair had seemed inseparable, and the split of their 30-year relationship also signified the break-up of the band. But as Gordon reveals in her intriguing and at times moving memoir, Girl in a Band, this wasn’t the case.
The book begins with Gordon looking back at Sonic Youth’s last ever concert in South America. She disdains Moore’s “rock star moves” while also detailing how difficult she found singing and performing that night as Moore was clearly elated at moving on with his new love interest.
The book then reverts to a more linear approach as Gordon details growing up in late 60s/early 70s Los Angeles, and her relationships with her late parents and her brother Keller, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. These moments are among the most poignant in the book, with Gordon revealing that although her brother constantly tormented her throughout her childhood, she feels guilt about the situation he finds himself in living in residential care.
Gordon refers to herself in the book as an artist and describes her fall into music as the result of participation in an art project with her friend Dan Graham. Her involvement in the project was performing in a band as part of an experiment in audience participation, shortly after which she formed Sonic Youth with Moore and Lee Ranaldo in New York. Gordon addresses differences between New York and her home of Los Angeles, both of which have ended up playing their part in her career.
Gordon writes sympathetically of Kurt Cobain, asserting that she was “shocked but not surprised” by his suicide. However, she writes scathingly of Courtney Love, and dishes similar barbs to Lana Del Ray and Billy Corgan. In contrast, Gordon writes enthusiastically of her daughter Coco, of whom she is obviously very proud.
The final part of the book is given over to Moore’s infidelity, discovered by Gordon through various texts and emails, and to which Gordon attributes hers and Moore’s split. Gordon asserts that Moore’s love interest, who remains unnamed in the book, previously seduced another member of Sonic Youth’s inner circle. The book ends with Gordon asserting that she feels like a completely different person since the split, leaving it to the reader to decide if that’s good or bad.
In writing about Sonic Youth’s music itself, Gordon highlights a track from each album that stands out for her, leading to some interesting tangents into Charles Manson, sexism and 9/11. However, those hoping for an in-depth discussion of Sonic Youth’s music may be disappointed, as this book was never slated to be that. On the positive side, those parts of the book dedicated to Gordon’s early life and relationship breakdown are actually far more interesting than those addressing any specifics of Sonic Youth’s music.
It’s surprising in some ways that this engaging and revealing narrative emerged from Kim Gordon given her otherwise very guarded persona. But it seems that the desire to tell her stories and perspective of both Sonic Youth and her own life compelled her to step into the public spotlight.