Monday, March 30, 2015

About Girl

It was a crappy job compared to the others I had been able to get shortly after I started it - sometimes, when it rains, it pours - and after only a few days, I had to quit being a cashier at Dean & DeLuca in Soho because I couldn't justify fitting it in with three other jobs I'd just gotten that paid far better and gave me more hours. The only gratifying thing about it had been seeing a woman I recognized right away, but I had to play it as cool as she did onstage because you can't geek out on someone when you're handling her purchases and making change for her, and you can NOT do that when she's got her toddler with her and just looks...tired. Kim Gordon still exuded a stoic badassedness despite it all, though, and I stood a little straighter at the register that day after she'd gone. If she could make it through her days with a kid (something that, at the time, I was sure I was never going to do), I could hold out a little longer myself.

Gordon was an absolute icon for people like me who'd become art and music fools in the '80s and early '90s. She wrote for ArtForum and Spin, was one of a trio of girl bassists rocking the world in their respective seminal bands (Gordon did it in Sonic Youth, of course - the others were Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth, who'd gone to my art school, and the Pixies' Kim Deal, who eventually sang "Little Trouble Girl" on Sonic Youth's Washing Machine album), worked as an artist in her own right, and reigned as an all-around symbol of the cool New York woman making it in a man's world. I got on a kick near the end of my college years where I was listening fairly obsessively to a lot of Sonic Youth, running through Daydream Nation, Sister, Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, and especially EVOL so much I may have worn out a tape or two. I read Confusion Is Next and got a lot from it about where Sonic Youth fit into the alternative and indie scenes, but not much about Gordon herself.

There were girl groups and divas, chanteuses and belters, but Gordon was clearly a woman in Sonic Youth, another member of the band who clearly functioned as a band member, not necessarily as a standout - at least, not in the recordings. I finally got to see Sonic Youth live in the summer of 2002, when I was in my second trimester (yeah, about that never I mentioned earlier...never say never) and she was off in the distance onstage at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival, definitely not just a player in the band. She spun like a dervish when she could, free and easy, a little off-kilter at times, but still a force, a woman in the world.

I read Gordon's memoir recently and gained a great deal of insight on those times, even the whirling dervish ones (the hiring of Jim O'Rourke to take on some bass duties in Sonic Youth was indeed freeing to her, and it showed) - but somehow, she still retains an aspect of holding the world at arm's length, explaining only the things that could come from her. Girl In A Band is not going to go deeper into Sonic Youth's interpersonal workings, nor will it go into major motivations for Gordon's art - the former, she says, has already been dealt with by many other writers; the latter presumably invites readers to seek out her art, as it speaks for itself.

Where Girl goes is back to Gordon's childhood, in which a domineering older brother picks on her for displaying any emotion at all, birthing her stoic demeanor. It turns out later that that same brother is schizophrenic, but by then, Gordon has moved on from her California girlhood and into the arts, wherever they may take her. And the places she goes...from Otis Art Institute to York University in Toronto to New York City in the early '80s. She careens from job to job, apartment to apartment, then finds a place for herself from out of the influence of NYC's No Wave scene and her relationship with Thurston Moore, a fellow No Wave enthusiast bent on getting a band going. Once Gordon and Moore get together with Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth is born.

It's not like Gordon doesn't speak of the band at all in Girl. She deals with the band's career in discrete packets related to a number of their albums, touching on different people both well-known and obscure in the world of indie music. She speaks most compellingly of Kurt Cobain, giving in to the impulse to mother him from the moment she met him. His life and memory run beneath her narrative, bubbling up when she speaks of the mostly female tribute to Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony or her acting in Gus Van Sant's Last Days. She recognized his strengths and his fragile vulnerability; like in all her deeper relationships, she seems to have had an impulse to protect him as much as she was able to.

Her most heartwrenching account, however, is that of her breakup with Moore, a partnership that defined her life for nearly three decades and ended so stupidly, really - what could be more cliche'd in that respect than the "other woman" bringing it all down? - and, although she did her own thing artistically, musically (see Free Kitten and other bands, as well as co-producing Hole's Pretty On The Inside), and fashion-wise while married to him, the end of that relationship has marked a major transition in her life - and in all of those who saw Gordon and Moore as the uber-indie couple over all these years. Gordon soldiers on despite, devoting herself to the things she always did, but without a man. Her world shook, but she's still here, as stoic as ever.

Long may she keep on keepin' on. I hope she will...because, after all these years, part of me still looks to her just to check up, see what she's doing. An icon's iconic status dies pretty damn hard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giant Step*

A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for my turn to step off a platform and ride in a harness that, if all had been checked and re-checked correctly, would safely carry me down most of the length of a cable. Peering down from that platform had already caused a young kid to turn away & go back down the stairs, someone's small boy who probably shouldn't have been trussed up to go in the first place, but I was an adult who was game. Like my granddaddy before me who had faith in human engineering, I, too, had that faith, as well as the need to get that rush I'd always craved from roller coasters - which I haven't been near in a long time. The closest opportunity was this zipline at a campsite outside Waco, and I was taking it.

I somehow recall being told to lean forward when stepping off the platform, which, for an incredibly long second, was scary as all hell. I felt like I wasn't harnessed for that second, the only thing between me and the ground being a rope attached to casters that I was supposed to hold onto for dear life lest I plummet five stories to the grass below. I'm not quite sure how I overcame that second, but I did. The ride was over far too soon, the line of harnessed adults and kids too forbiddingly long to wait in again. It wasn't 'til later when I realized I was probably the only mom to venture up there.

It turned out I wasn't the only mom to zipline...I was one of two moms to do it out of nearly fifty at the family camp weekend. Yes, it helped that we two were parents of kids who didn't need loads of supervision, but the reaction I got from one or two other moms was mild shock at my foolhardiness. "How could you do that?" I was asked. Well, I just...did it. As did, in many cases, these moms' husbands and children. For most of these moms, though, it wasn't happening. Which made me wonder: did adventurous natures lack in the moms from their very girlhoods, or did having children make them more cautious?

I shouldn't put ziplining and riding roller coasters as the adventurism bar here, though it's tempting. There are other ways to be adventurous, stuff that I'd probably turn around and ask, "how could you do that?" about. Once upon a time, having children was one of those things - on occasion, when people ask me why I don't have more than one kid, I still wonder how anyone can do as my sister-in-law and some others I've met have done and still make their way amidst the kid fray in their own households (cheaper by the dozen, my tuchus). I've been acquainted with roller derby moms, horseback riding moms, moms who get on Jet Skis regularly, and moms who can be parents and still hold down full-time jobs - the latter being something I felt made no economic sense for me to do once I had my son over a decade ago.

These days, though, as I look for something more full-time outside the home, I wonder if I shouldn't have pooh-poohed those who thought I was letting feminism down with my decision to be in the home and occasionally part-timing it when I could. It's not like I was raised to see homemaking as a life goal - I was raised to see career goals and, more specifically, financial independence as being the bedrocks on which I had to raise myself up and then do what I wanted. Having a brother who was nearly fifteen years younger than I cemented the idea I had that I didn't want to have anything to do with children, much less have my own. Kids were messy, demanding, draining crapshoots who sprawled in the way of my dreams of being an artist, throwing tantrums in the face of those goals. Plus, I knew I'd been a difficult kid in many ways, a trial to my family for a long time. Perpetuating such a cycle was furthest from my mind...until I got burned out working myself to the bone as a glassblower and then I followed my husband to a new job, ill from morning sickness in those first few months in a new city.

I now fill out applications online for all sorts of jobs, many of them in retail, some of which I get rejected for via email nearly right off the bat (although I really should go over and schmooze more), and maintain an existence as a bit of a pinch hitter housework-wise - I feed a Twitter addiction, read voraciously, and putter between bursts of doing laundry, nagging my son to do his homework and not take so many damned "breaks" (yet another thing I never wanted to do, but here I am...), doing lots of yard work, cooking, and running vacuums and mops every so often. Because most of this is not bringing in any money, I still feel useless - because who knows what will happen down the line, how much longer I'll be part of a couple or if my spouse can be relied upon to keep up his breadwinning ways? Those thoughts are the ones that have me trying to get a come-from-behind-the family start on something that will keep us cushioned should any of the worst befall us.

I remain suspended in this incredibly long second that has lasted more than a decade, waiting, holding on to this caster'd rope for dear life, because there is no harness. I have no clue what will happen if I fall...hell, I can't even see the bottom, don't even know if there is one. I just want to take a chance off this domestic platform. One step. One good, strong step.


*Soundtrack for this post consists of this song and this one.