Kim Gordon: Girl in a Band, Patron Saint of Stylish Art Damage, Beacon of Post-Partum Comfort and Inspiration

So guys! Guess what? I had a baby! Yes, I was pregnant for over half of last year and then gave birth this February.

Pregnancy and birth were experiences I chose not to be public about as they were happening for various reasons. Which is funny, because in the past I’ve blogged about things as personal as my love of obnoxiously patterned underwear, grand makeout experiences, horrible exes and other revealing things. There was something a bit sacred about pregnancy and birth for me –though people write beautifully and honestly on the Internet about these things all the time. I guess these experiences involved other people and relationships to enough of a intimate degree that I felt it wouldn’t be fair to them to publicly document them. Writing on the Internet: what a strange beast it’s become!

Suffice it to say that giving birth and becoming a parent is a life-changing, beautiful thing — as well as really stressful, heart-rending, soul-shattering and strangely fragile-making in the weirdest ways. More later? I’m still feeling it out how to write about these things without feeling like I’m compromising something, or somehow invading someone else’s privacy.

Instead I’ll talk about Kim Gordon’s new memoir, Girl in a Band, which I managed to finish in a post-partum haze of sleep deprivation, post-operative recovery and oh, yeah, learning to care for a newborn. Just the fact that I finished the book should be testament to how good it is and how much I enjoyed it — it’s surprisingly vulnerable, really smart and thoughtful about art, life and other things, and Gordon’s writing is both minimalist and often poetic. It’s like if Joan Didion joined a post-punk band in the early 80s — there’s something kindred between their two voices, kind of a bone-dry precision, understated emotion and wry, almost cutting sense of observation, with vague intimations of superiority. And the name-dropping is pretty superlative. (Favorite bits include a cameo by Keanu Reeves and learning how Chuck D did his guest part on “Kool Thing.”)

(My favorite Sonic Youth album is actually Experimental Trash, Jet Set and No Star, believe it or not. I think it’s a nice combo of their DGC poppier things and their earlier art-damaged plus-avant stuff.)

Kim sits at a pretty cool intersection of art-damage, fashion, punkishness and bougie boho, so her book is peppered with discursive art talk, personal revelations, proclamations of hot vs. not and bits of gossip. My favorite parts are the fashion talk — viva X-Girl! — and her thoughts on motherhood and rock ‘n roll. Some people found the discussion of her marriage’s breakdown fascinating but mostly it made me sad and uncomfortable.

But the most resonant parts for me — the ones where I felt Kim’s thoughts echo mine in a kind of choral harmony — was reading what she wrote about New York, and the pleasure in seeing familiar bits of my NYC past remixed into someone else’s narrative. Nikita, Liquid Sky, Other Music, Lafayette Street, Tramps, Luna Lounge, the Cooler, buying shoes on 8th Street: it’s just fun to be reminded of these places in my past, of a time of wide-open, tremulous possibility, when self and identity seemed improvisational and deliciously malleable. You grow up hearing you can be anything you want, and for me, Kim Gordon and a million other people, NYC was the perfect palette of experiences to make that happen.

It was poignant and almost bittersweet to read Girl in a Band and be reminded of a time of libertine freedom, especially at a time in my life when I’ve given over my time, body and attention to caring for a tiny vulnerable being with no means of communication outside of cries and squalling. The weight of that responsibility — and that all-encompassing wave of love as well — is almost crushing in its intensity, and there are moments when it’s dizzying in its radicalism. I’m bleary-eyed late at night now and it’s not because I was out late kicking it up at some club, rock show or art thing — it’s because the baby won’t fall asleep and wants to feed every two hours, so I’m plopped on the sofa surrounded by blankets, croissant-shaped nursing pillows and burp cloths, holding him in my arms and hoping he’ll pass out soon so I can grab a morsel of sleep.

But Kim Gordon’s book proved an odd beacon of comfort as well — at a time when I feel faraway from my past self most, it’s nice to read about a woman who became a mother and managed to hold onto (or maybe recover) her creative drive, intellectual adventurousness, stylish brio and thirst for experience. It’s not really “having it all” — a phrase I’ve come to despise in a way — but it is living with the fullest sense of yourself as possible, which is something I think we all want, parents or otherwise.

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