Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band, begins and ends with two seminal gigs, the final Sonic Youth concert in 2011 that also marked the end of her marriage to front man Thurston Moore and last year’s induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Gordon was invited to sing with the remaining members of Nirvana. These experiences, each cathartic in their own way and each described in Gordon’s carefully crafted but emotionally frank language, set the tone for this remarkable book, one that is passionate without self-pity, revealing but not gossipy and never smug. Gordon’s honesty provides a remarkable window into a personality often regarded as the Queen of Cool but who here shows herself to be as sensitive as she is fearless.
Now just over 60, Gordon recalls growing up in Southern California, Hong Kong and Hawaii, her distant parents and her complicated relationship with her older brother who was eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic but whose untreated illness proved a torment for much of her early life. Gordon moved to New York in 1980 to pursue a career in art, cobbling together typical low-paying jobs in bookstores, copy shops and galleries. She was introduced to Thurston Moore by a mutual friend and they were together for the next 30 years, forming Sonic Youth in 1981 and marrying three years later.
In the second half of the book, Gordon explores select songs, records and projects drawn from three decades-worth of work including collaborations such as her fashion label X-girl and producing Hole’s first record Pretty on the Inside. Continuing her ties to the art community, Gordon’s essays and criticism appeared in venues as diverse as Art Forum and Spin as well as countless small ’zines of the 1980s and ’90s.
Gordon evokes the spirit of the early ’80s in New York and writes persuasively about bringing a feminist sensibility to the boys club of rock and roll and touring as a new mother. Still, many fans will be reading this memoir to find the dirt behind the break-up of her marriage. Gordon seems aware of this and, while she gives Moore credit as a creative partner and father, she can’t hide her broken heart or the fact that their split ended not just their marriage but the band—her identity as a wife and a band member dissolved in a single stroke.
But her work as an artist continued. Post-divorce, Gordon continued to thrive, forming the experimental duo Body/Head with guitarist Tim Nace and making conceptual and visual art in both New York and Los Angeles. Gordon’s willingness to take stock, not just rehash old wounds, and recreate herself, even honestly admitting that she doesn’t know quite who she is yet, make Girl in a Band the story of a true artist’s journey.