LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond
the book (again): Girl In A Band – A Memoir by Kim Gordon
published by Faber & Faber, February 2015
[“Making The Nature Scene” is a track from Sonic Youth’s second release and first album, Confusion Is Sex]
The lyrics sprung from real life. “Making the Nature Scene” came from walking past the hookers lined up on Grand Street. In the dead cold of winter, they would flock there most nights, standing in a circle around a makeshift oilcan bonfire in leg warmers and stilettos. They were staples of the neighbourhood landscape, standing tall like funky trees, leaning back, single hands on their hips, standing in a column “making the nature scene.”
The gold sparkle of the ladies’ leg warmers caught the light of passing cars, flashed in the dark spaces around nearby buildings. I’d been reading about the Italian architect and designer Aldo Rossi, who believed that cities never shake their histories, that they preserve the ghosts of their past through time.
[Sonic Youth played in London for the first time in December 1983, at The Venue, supporting Australian band SPK]
In the early eighties, the music scene in England was large for an island, chaotic and cutthroat. Musicians literally paid to get onto a bill. Via a friend, we landed a gig opening for an industrial band, with another girl named Danielle Dax opening for us. Before the show, Danielle cornered me in the bathroom. “Look,” she said, “ there are a lot of important people coming here tonight to see me.”
Her meanness and competitiveness were almost shocking – it was like junior high all over again. Like a lot of English acts, Danielle had a specific look about her, a mask, an almost freakish persona. For the English, rock and roll has a lot to do with climbing over that country’s class structure, kicking out the bars of their birth.
observations: These two extracts give you a pretty fair flavour of Kim Gordon’s style. She might be talking about fashion one minute, and shifting from there to some academic or philosophical thoughts about the arts and artistes. It all makes sense, but it does sometimes make you stop and think, before you can see the connection.
If Danielle Dax had been the least bit unfriendly towards The Slits, anyone who’s read Viv Albertine’s book would be expecting to read a dissection of the reasons why a female would have picked on them like that. Kim Gordon, however, hones in on the fact that Danielle Dax is English. She is kind and complimentary about many people throughout the book, but her remarks about the English music scene are surprising, to say the least; unless she would have us believe that all US musicians are generous sweethearts to each other, and that none of them have either a look or a persona. Neither of those ideas would stand up to the things she says herself about, for example, Johnny Thunders or Courtney Love.
Musicians can’t really win: there will always be people who want to hear more about band politics and less about music, or vice versa; or less about you, in your own book, and more about your famous friends. Personally, I’d have liked to read more about the making of the albums and the mechanics of Sonic Youth’s unconventional guitar tunings; but I don’t suppose this is the right book for that. (Another group member, Lee Ranaldo, satisfied some of those cravings in his interview for the book My First Guitar. I wrote about that book here.)
The main photo is of Danielle Dax who, as you can see, certainly did have “a specific look” – although I’ve cheated, using a shot from a little earlier in the 80s when she was in a duo, The Lemon Kittens. (The other member, a man with a luxuriant beard, wore much the same outfit and make up.) She continued to have wild hair and wear wild clothes.
The other photo is from the session mentioned in the previous CiB article about Girl In A Band, and was used in the gatefold of the album Daydream Nation. It’s shown here superimposed upon the location where it was shot. The composite photo is used with the generous permission of Bob Egan, who curates the brilliant website PopSpots where there are plenty more pictures like this.
Finally, let me declare a very very small interest. Of the hundreds of things Kim Gordon has achieved, there are no less than two that I had already done: headlined at the ICA in London, and met Niagara, the exotic singer from the US band Destroy All Monsters (who once memorably said to Kim Gordon: “I can’t believe you let yourself be photographed without lipstick.”) So I think I can safely say I blazed a trail for her…
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