the book: Girl In A Band – A Memoir by Kim Gordon
published by Faber & Faber, February 2015
From regular Guest Blogger Colm Redmond
[Gordon was born in 1953, and the first extract refers to the late 60s.]
At home I stared for hours at record covers and photos of Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, Peggy Lipton, Joni Mitchell, and other cool girls, wanting to be just like them. It was an era of no bras, free-flowing hair, vintage lace, and crushed velvet borrowed from traditional boudoir scenarios of passive female sexuality and placed front and center. Anita Pallenberg’s look was wild enough to influence the Rolling Stones. Men wore women’s clothes, sheepskin vests, short white pants, lamé scarves, and exotic Moroccan jewelry, while women slipped into pinstripe suits …
[At a photoshoot with Michael Lavine in 1988, ahead of the release of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation album]
“Do you want to look cool, or do you want to look attractive?” Michael asked me, as if the two were mutually exclusive. The silver paint; glitter-dabbed, faded cutoff jeans; and crop top with the sheer jewelled panel marked a turning point for me and my look. I decided I didn’t want to just look cool, or just look rock and roll; I wanted to look more girl. Looking back, I was trying to make more of a definite statement about what my look was and how I wanted to present myself. Tomboy, but more ambiguous than tomboy, too. The increased media attention, and seeing more photos of myself, and of Sonic Youth as a band, had made me more self-conscious.
observations: For thirty years Kim Gordon was a member both of Sonic Youth and of probably the nearest alt rock has ever had to a power couple, with Thurston Moore. They and the band were regarded as exemplars of cool and class, longevity and stability, and people felt shocked and betrayed when the couple split in 2011 and broke up the band. Gordon’s memoir starts at the final gig, before heading back to her childhood. There is much to be enjoyed in the early years. Although her parents were not exactly bohemian, they belonged to a social set who spent as much of their free time as possible in the country, relaxing, drinking, fishing, eating and most of all just chatting. Then, when the family moved to California in the late 50s, her father befriended some younger people who were then “hipsters,” but would soon be called “beatniks.” Gordon went with him to visit one, and was fascinated by the guy’s “glam girlfriend with her long, straight black hair, her red-polished fingernails, and her guitar. She was the first beatnik I ever met. I sat in her lap, thinking, I wish my mom were as cool as this.”
Girl In A Band makes a fascinating counterpart to Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, last year’s big music memoir, by Viv Albertine of The Slits – on the blog here, just out in paperback. The two women are similar ages, and have both been successful but never mainstream; and neither is averse to expressing strong opinions about how different their experiences have been from those of the males they work with or encounter. Although Albertine talks about clothes a lot more, Gordon is nonetheless fascinated with all visual aspects of art and image, and even founded a fashion label, X-Girl.
The main picture is of Kim Gordon, and aptly looks like the kind of glamorous but self-consciously kooky author photo female novelists had to have in the 60s. Its origin is described here: “[Artist Isa Genzken] and I were taking photos of each other. Isa, always deliberate, went first. Perched before a typewriter in the dark blue gallery, I wore a light-blue button-down shirt with a white collar, a black dance skirt, tights, and black rubber riding boots. Isa and I both assumed the same pose … Isa was statuesque and way more photogenic than I felt in my plain clothes.”
The other picture shows four women in perfectly archetypal 60s clothes. If I tell you this is usually captioned “Beatles Wives And Girlfriends” you still might not recognise them all. And you might, like me, waste a lot of time trying to work out which one’s Jane Asher… none of them, is the answer. They are Cynthia Lennon and Maureen Starkey, plus George Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd. The fourth is Boyd’s sister Jenny. [If Jenny Boyd ever had a romantic connection with Paul McCartney, it doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere except in that caption. As well as being a model, she used to work in the Apple boutique, where these clothes apparently came from.]
In another Clothes In Books article, I’ll talk more about Kim Gordon’s career with Sonic Youth. Meanwhile over on my own blog, here, you can see another item where I mine Girl In A Band for some possible alternative titles. For more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.