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.

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