Girl in a Band

by Kim Gordon

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“New York was in crumbling shape in late 1979 and 1980. During the day, Wall Street bustled with secretaries and other business types, but at night it turned into a post apocalyptic hell, with rats, wrappers, and cans interspersed every few feet with piles of stinking trash, thanks to what felt like a continuous garbage strike.”
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“A band almost defines the word dysfunction, except that rather than explaining motivations or discussing anything, you play music, acting out your issues via adrenaline.”
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Kim Gordon was a founding member of Sonic Youth, an alternative post- punk band that existed from the early 1980s until 2011, at which point the band and her marriage to the band co-founder Thurston Moore collapsed.
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I knew very little of Gordon’s music, but this memoir instantly grabbed me when I spotted it at my local library. She writes candidly about everything: from the break up of her marriage of 27 years, to her childhood in sunbaked California, to the devastating effect of her eldest brother’s schizophrenia on her self confidence:
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“(my brother) is one of the most singular people I’ve ever known. He was, and still is, brilliant, manipulative.. almost unbearably articulate. He’s also mentally ill. I turned into his shadow – shy, sensitive, closed to the point where to overcome my sensitivity, I had no choice but to turn fearless.”
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She writes at length of the alternative art and music scene in 1980s and 1990s New York. Fascinating vignettes, specially on the experimental art scene, and of of people she encounters like Warhol and Basquiat.
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It’s worth noting that Gordon is not just a musician, but also a visual artist, producer, fashion designer and feminist. Her memoir is self assured, fierce and very funny. She pulls no punches in her exploration of her own foibles and those of others, specially the husband that betrayed her. She also has a lot to say about the sexualisation of women in the music scene, and the different forms that has taken over the years.
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Really enjoyable book by a very strong and interesting woman.
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4⭐️
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My Life on the Road – by Gloria Steinem

“Imagine we are linked, not ranked” – heading on Gloria Steinem’s website.

“More reliably than anything else on earth, the road will force you to live in the present.”

from: My Life on the Road

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It’s hard to believe that Gloria Steinem is now 83. She seems ageless, and is as uncompromising in her feminism as ever. This book is not a conventional autobiography,  but a collection of anecdotes from Steinem’s travelling life.

She poignantly writes of her father’s nomadic life, travelling all over America looking for a lucky break, and how in a sense she has imitated him, even though having a very different life. She also refers to her mother’s unhappy life, unable to have the freedoms enjoyed by women today and suffering from depression.

The stories of the people she has met along the way, in her life of activism and organising, are very engaging. They range from students, to countless women, to politicians including Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama. Most people know her as a feminist activist, but she has also done a lot of work in the area of native people’s rights and fights for improvements.

One chapter focuses on ‘talking circles’, a Native American solution to solving problems. It emphasises everyone being heard and respected. This is something Steinem has adopted and deeply believes in: “the revolutionary act of listening to others”.

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There is a moving chapter on Steinem’s friendship with Wilma Mankiller, a Cherokee woman who became the first female Native American Chief. I learned a lot from this chapter. Apparently Benjamin Franklin cited the Iroquois tribe model as a model for the American Constitution,as that model brought together different Native tribes for mutual decisions, and yet allowed autonomy in local areas. He even invited two Iroquois men to Philadelphia as advisers. Who knew? Their first question: “Where are the women?” , as in Native culture women were part of the decision making process.

Some people may think Steinem is radical, but you don’t have to accept every idea of hers to see what a difference she has made, and the integrity with which she has lived her life. Deeply principled people like her are needed now more than ever. I recently saw a placard that read “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Amen.

This was a fascinating, if slightly jumbled insight into the life and work of an extraordinary woman. 4⭐️

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