Book Soundtracks: Girl in a Band

I recently read Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band and my initial reaction was that it needed a warning label: "May cause historical wanderlust." The book, you see, is more than just about the band Sonic Youth and her breakup with her husband / band mate Thurston Moore. It is in fact about so much more. 

Kim Gordon is more than a "girl in a band." She is an artist. She lives to create. From painting in her room in her teens to attending art school. She moved to New York for art and found part of her artistic voice with experimental music. She has also found an outlet in fashion design, acting, installations, painting, and directing. 

Gordon was also lucky to live in  Los Angeles in the heyday of the 60s and 70s and New York in the 80s and 90s; cities and time periods where her creativity found its foothold. You see these in the people and styles and movements she encountered throughout her life. The world around her influenced her work.

Gordon's life and work intersects with people like Danny Elfman, Mike Kelley, Gerhard Richter, Neil Young, Tamra Davis, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Thunders, David Salle, Kathleen Hanna, Spike Jonze, and Kim Deal, to name a few. My inner art history geek flipped when reading that the first place Gordon stayed in New York was Cindy Sherman's on Fulton Street. Then she sublet Jenny Holzer's apartment. Of course, she also includes her ties to controversial personalities like Larry Gagosian and Richard Prince. I give you this list without much more context, because how everything fits together is part of her story, and should be unveiled through the book.

Needless to say, I was captivated from page 1 to 273. Gordon conveys how her upbringing, the events of the world around her, and what motivated her artistically. It's a mix of highs and lows, because, let's face it, that's what makes up every life, every person around you.

I instantly wanted someone else to read it to see if my judgement of this book was clouded by my historical wanderlust - a desire to experience a run-down New York with SAMO graffiti and Todd's Copy Shop, which was a friend to artists. I asked my husband who probably could name one or two Sonic Youth songs to read the book. Turns out, this book also appeals to not just Sonic Youth, art history junkies, like me. 

I thought about curating a list of art, fashion, and videos to compliment this book, but in the end, I decided to keep is simple: a playlist. To be specific a playlist that includes every song mentioned in the book (though I did make one exception - she did not mention a Free Kitten song directly, so I picked one of the most popular since it is one of her ongoing projects). So, despite the fact she mentions No Wave bands (such as Theoretical Girls), Singer/Songwriter Types (such as Joni Mitchell), Riot Grrrl Bands (such as Bikini Kill), American Rock (such as Dinosaur, Jr.), Punk Music (such as Black Flag), Jazz (such as Dizzie Gillespie), Alternative Rock (such as Nirvana), etc, I veered towards actual named songs.

The majority of this mix is Sonic Youth (or its one-off Ciccone Youth), but there are also songs from additional projects Kim Gordon was involved in, including Free Kitten and Body / Head. Then there are the songs that inspired them or warranted a mention in the book: from Iggy Pop's I Wanna Be Your Dog to The Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack. Or Nirvana's Come as You Are to Tone-Loc's Funky Cold Medina. The addition of the non-Sonic Youth material at first seemed a little jarring. I questioned removing those and keeping it simply about the music created by Gordon. Then I thought about it and felt the addition of these songs felt very Sonic Youth, or more importantly very Kim Gordon. Thus, making them a perfect compliment to Girl in a Band.

I hope you will enjoy the mix (though I know it is not for everyone), but more importantly, I hope you will pick up a copy of this book to read (which is more accessible to non-Sonic Youth fans than the mix). You will learn more about Kim Gordon, and you will learn more about history, pop culture, and of movements that shape today.