After months of anticipation, and a few controversial excerpts online, Kim Gordon’s new book Girl in a Band is finally out. And since we both couldn’t wait to read it, we decided to skip a traditional Bookmarked for a longer discussion of the book. Here’s our convo (complete with some mutual fangirling) on Gordon’s revealing memoir:
MAURA: So my first question for you is: What idea of Kim Gordon did you have before reading this book and did reading it change it at all?
JINNIE: Good Q! My idea of her has always been “rock goddess” first and foremost, ever since I became a fan of Sonic Youth when I was in high school. I got really into both Kim Deal and Kim Gordon at the same time and loved that they were these cool chicks in bands I loved. I didn’t even know that there were girls in either Sonic Youth or Pixies when I was first introduced to them. It was only afterwards when I heard girl voices and then saw band pics that I even knew they rolled with a bunch of dudes.
When I was a freshman in college in Boston, I drove out with friends to western Mass to see them play a benefit show at Smith, along with J. Mascis and Sebadoh, and I couldn’t believe I was getting to see them play in their hometown. It was pretty magical. It wasn’t until only the past few years with her divorce from Thurston that I began to sympathize with Kim as a person, which helped me bring her down from rock goddess level to just a normal human level. It’s cheesy to say, but true. Although one time I was walking down Bedford Ave. with [mutual friend] Cassie and she passed us! We both freaked out. And then we saw her in Greenpoint, like around Java St., right? My heart definitely fluttered.
MAURA: Totally. I remember she was wearing some really great clogs, haha. I was totally starstruck. It’s funny, I’ve never really gotten into Sonic Youth — I remember knowing they were a good band and ripping Sister onto my computer from the NYU library when I worked there and enjoying it, but they were never a band I really fell in love with. Like you, I always thought of Kim Gordon as a very tough, cool girl rock figure with all these ties to fashion and film and art, but I never knew much about her past or even that she was from L.A.
Then I read that New Yorker profile of her a while back — the one where she makes the writer watch Friday Night Lights with her and she falls asleep — and I was like, I love this woman. And I agree — like that article, I felt like the book brought her down to earth as like a normal human with fears and vulnerabilities and a sense of humor. I kept thinking while reading this, What present day rock figure’s memoir will I want to read in 20 or 30 years?
JINNIE: Well. Definitely Julian Casablancas, haha. Just kidding. But for real, if I’m thinking of a very contemporary woman rock figure, hmm, that’s tough. I’ve always loved Mika Miko, and I’ve always wondered what the L.A. scene was like in the mid-2000s to early 2010s at a time when DIY in Brooklyn was way more prevalent.
I wonder if you might be able to listen to Sonic Youth now, knowing what you know from Kim’s book, with a different set of ears and enjoying them. Similar to how you were saying that it was easier to become a fan of Patti Smith after reading her memoir. Smith’s book felt to me like a love story. Whereas Gordon’s book was the opposite.
MAURA: That’s a really nice way of putting it. I feel like it’s hard not to compare the two books, written by two women finding themselves in a swirl of art and music and relationships in NYC, maybe just a decade or so apart. It’s true that I never really got the appeal of Patti Smith’s music until after I fell in love with her book (now I can barely watch a YouTube vid of her performing without feeling crazy emo), so I think I’ll devote some time to revisiting some Sonic Youth songs, especially the ones mentioned in the book.
JINNIE: Yeah! Actually the first Sonic Youth song I ever Napster’d wasn’t even their song. It was The Carpenters’ cover of “Superstar”, and that single acted like a gateway drug into the bigger Sonic Youth discography. I only found and listened to the cover because The Carpenters are one of my dad’s favorite bands and I was trying to make a mixtape of cool cover songs (nerd alert). Their version of “Superstar” was haunting to me back then, and it still haunts me today. I always felt like Sonic Youth always had this funny way of teetering the line between indie and mainstream, as if they were always flirting/teasing with the mainstream. The “Sunday” video with Macaulay Culkin always stands out in my mind also.
I really loved how candidly Kim talked about being a mom and also doing the music thing. It reminded me of how I hate all those articles and think-pieces asking asinine questions like, Can you really be a woman and do it all? Which I feel like was the equivalent for Kim whenever she was asked, “What’s it like to be a mom in a band?” Jeez. It’s like, Why don’t you try having a baby and working full-time and bringing a baby on tour. The transition from being asked what it’s like to be a girl in a band to being a mom in a band was interesting. I have a few parts to my next question: As a girl in a band yourself, do you feel like you get asked that question even? Do you even feel self-conscious about being a girl in a band?
MAURA: Oh man, I think about this a lot. People rarely ask me about being the only girl in Darlings (though a lot of times people I meet assume that because I’m the only girl I’m the lead singer, which I’m not at all). But I could totally relate to Kim’s struggle with figuring out what kind of girl she wanted to be onstage — sexy? a tomboy? tough? I never really know where I fit. It’s dumb, but it’s definitely something I think about whenever I get dressed before playing a show. I think the thing that makes me feel the most self-conscious, even more than being female or what I’m wearing onstage, is not feeling like a natural performer — I can be very much in my head during a show. That’s why I loved reading about Kim’s mental freedom while performing, finding the avenue to finally express herself in a way she doesn’t in real life. In a way, I think that’s the thing I’m constantly striving for while I’m playing music — forgetting my body, forgetting my brain, and just living in this weird bubble of sound and singing and “the present.”
JINNIE: Wow, interesting! I probably would never think about that. Maybe the overall message from Kim is to be comfortable on stage just as a musician, and yes, be in your own headspace. I love that some girl musicians prefer to look sexy with heels and makeup — more power to them. And others like to dress like boys, be sweaty and gnarly and unshowered. I guess the actual music is the absolute most important thing in the end. Whenever I become a fan of a new band or musician, it’s always because the actual music is so good. Then, I think, “Oh, it’s cool that there’s a girl in the band or it’s a girl musician.” The last thing on my mind is, “Wow, and she also has great style.” But great on-stage style and great on-stage presence = two different things.
MAURA: Right! I love when I like a band and don’t find out there’s a woman in it until I see them play live. Okay — final thoughts on the book? Would you recommend it?
JINNIE: I really loved it. The last scene of the book reminded me of how a movie would end, did you get that feeling? It’s like, the protagonist went through this whole journey with a major arc. And then the story ends with the hero, back at the beginning where she has no idea what’s gonna happen next. Lucky for me I just discovered her Instagram account — I’m such a grandma! But I’ve been enjoying it immensely. Her Instagram is the perfect place to pick up Kim where she last leaves us in her memoir. Onward.