The wry title makes things pretty clear: the book is about Kim Gordon, not the band that made her name, and rightly so.
For sure, Sonic Youth was an enormous part of her life, but she’s as multifaceted as any person, and she doesn’t shy away from her struggles in defining herself as an individual distinct from that all-consuming identity. Identity, image, marketing: between her unconventional adolescence, her complicated relationship with her older brother, and her adult life in the venn diagram of creative worlds, these concepts loom large, constantly intersecting and blurring lines. Gordon’s clear, candid writing cuts through a lot of it, unapologetic as she is about being an artist, a creator, a woman in a man’s world.
Still, there are times when Gordon displays an astonishing lack of awareness of her privilege. It’s all the more conspicuous because for the most part, she’s engaging and insightful, frank and open, even self-deprecating. She knows she’s a middle-class California girl, she understands she’s had experiences very different from the norm, starting way before Sonic Youth happened. And yet for all of that, a careless humblebrag namedrop here or there breaks kayfabe.
That’s not a universal criticism — there’s an oft-quoted line from the book, about interviewing Yoko Ono, where she’s unequivocal about the banality of what’s often perceived as an exciting lifestyle — but it’s almost as if, when she turns to her experiences of the art and fashion worlds especially, she slips into a kind of persona, a bubble absent of self-reflection, and you can virtually see her eyes gloss over in her words. I don’t think anyone reading really cares so much about her co-direction of a fashion brand, for example, when she writes about it so unpassionately. Why bother at all?
In stark relief, there’s an undercurrent of electricity ever present when she writes about her music career, even when she’s consistently self-effacing about her place or abilities. Unfairly so, in my estimation. Gordon might say she sees herself more of an artist than a musician, as she repeatedly reminds the reader — or herself — about her lack of traditional chops. But she’s the X-factor that really makes Sonic Youth what it is, while being the only one of the band who’s properly escaped its shadow.
All that being said, the book makes room — understandably so in the wake of the dissolution of Gordon’s high-profile marriage with Thurston Moore — for an essay about performance, and the damage caused by the cultural propensity for ‘heroics’; how it forces a destructive distance, or dissonance, between person and persona. The reader is under no illusion as to what Gordon means.
Girl in a Band is more than a memoir, and all the better for it.