Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

To fans, Sonic Youth represents the longevity of alternative culture—the pulse of New York’s punk, post-punk, new wave, and no-wave scenes. With their 15 studio albums and activity over three decades, they carry dozens of musical revolutions on their figurative shoulders.

Following an unexpected and untimely break-up in 2011 (and front-figures Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s divorce) Gordon released a memoir in February of 2015 titled Girl in a Band which I decided to read alongside Thurston Moore’s 2023 memoir Sonic Life

Upon comparison, I found that Gordon’s book offers a more personal and accessible retelling of the band’s history. The book provides a candid account of her childhood in California, her relentless artistic pursuits, and her eventual prominence in New York’s no-wave scene following her formation of Sonic Youth. She tells her story simply, straightforwardly, and without false modesty. Kim Gordon tells it like it is, intently and comfortably.

Growing up in Los Angeles in the sixties, Gordon discusses her childhood and teenage years living through an era-defining culture shift. Gordon’s experiences in LA and its changing landscapes of art and music hold an insight into the time akin to the observations of Joan Didion. Gordon vividly captures the era’s cultural shift, while her distinct personality invites readers to see the world through her eyes. 

The memoir never fails to be personal; she recounts the hardest parts of her childhood and its influences on her writing and art. She references her brother’s struggles with mental health and his eventual institutionalization as the inspiration for Sonic Youths’ “Schizophrenia” – one of the band’s more notable songs.

One of the memoir’s most personal highlights is Gordon’s connection and deep friendship with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. Describing it as a soul-level friendship based on a shared “quietness,” Gordon’s portrayal goes beyond a surface-level camaraderie and expresses a mutual reflective understanding. Thurston Moore, in his recent memoir “Sonic Life,” echoes the uniqueness and special nature of the friendship between Cobain and Gordon. Both Moore and Gordon recall attending one of Nirvana’s first shows, even giving Neil Young, who they were on tour with at the time, a tape of a then-unknown Nirvana’s first recordings.

Both Gordon and Moore recall their role as parental figures in the emerging 90’s alternative scene, being a married couple and having become steady figures in alternative music since Sonic Youth’s conception in 1981. They describe their observations of the growing romance between Cobain and his future wife, Courtney Love, as well as their growing struggles with substance abuse. Gordon notably expresses a candid dislike of Love citing her extreme personality and experiences producing Hole’s first album Pretty on the Inside. Kim Gordon provides a heart-wrenching account of learning about Kobains death in 1994.

Gordon goes on to tell stories of motherhood, marriage, and life as a woman in rock music with unquestionable ferocity. Throughout, she weaves countless connections with significant figures in music, fashion, film, and art, with a knack for knowing everyone “before they were cool.” She details her first interaction with director Spike Jonze, her formation of X-Girl, her iconic clothing line, and its first “guerrilla fashion show” in the early 2000s spearheaded by a pre-directorial Sofia Coppola. 

In “Girl in a Band,” Kim Gordon gives one of the most unique, compelling, and unfiltered accounts of life in music as a musician, artist, and woman. Gordon gives us a personal history simultaneously outlining the development of alternative culture over nearly forty years. At 70, Gordon is still pushing musical boundaries. Her latest singles “BYE BYE”, released in January, and “I’m a Man”, released in February, precede her upcoming album The Collective, which came out March 8th.

Suzanne Anstead-Jaacks is a student at The University of South Florida studying English literature and Communications.