Kim Gordon's memoir, Girl in a Band, begins and ends with her divorce from her longtime husband and bandmate Thurston Moore.
The break up also spells the end of their band, Sonic Youth, an indie mainstay of the musically tumultuous '80s and '90s.
When news of the couple's separation come out in October 2011, it signified the end not so much of an era, but of the belief that post-punk slackers could be normal grown-ups, too.
Compared with the tragic episodes of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love's rock 'n' roll marriage, they were a normal couple, but ultimately the marriage "combusted" when Gordon discovered text messages between Moore and "the other woman," whom Gordon doesn't name.
It seems like a dour way to frame the story of one's life, but Gordon has always been something of a cipher, and this decision colors the entire novel in sad tones.
"What was different from past tours and festivals was that Thurston and I weren't speaking to each other. We had exchanged maybe 15 words all week. After twenty-seven years of marriage, things had fallen apart between us."
From there, Gordon explores her early years. These chapters are typically the dullest parts of rock 'n' roll memoirs. Gordon, however, sees herself as an artist first and a musician somewhere further down the list. Instead of disposing of the necessary details of her upbringing and moving on, she lingers.
Part of the reason for this is that while Gordon is an icon of New York's gritty post-punk scene, she came of age in sunny Southern California.
"Growing up I was always aware of L.A.'s diffuseness, its lack of an attachment to anything other than its own good reflection in the mirror."
After establishing what it was like to grow up in California with a father who taught at UCLA and a mentally ill brother, she has to do it all over again when she moves to New York. Gordon comes across as a headstrong young woman committed to the idea of pursuing a life as an artist, even if she doesn't exactly know what it is she hopes to accomplish.
Unlike Patti Smith's memoir, Just Friends, with its narrow focus on her years as a struggling poet with her friend and confidant Robert Mapplethorpe in pre-punk New York City, Gordon attempts to describe too much and frequently falls short. She occasionally employs tired and predictable language, particularly when describing the way her adopted home has changed over the decades. "New York City today is a city on steroids."
Like Smith, Gordon also had a co-conspirator in the art world: Detroit-born, California-educated visual-and-performance artist Mike Kelley, who would go on to provide the album art for "Dirty." But where Smith's book is immersed in a specific time and place, Gordon's account feels thin, disjointed and lacking in depth, which seems odd for someone who's accomplished so much.
Gordon's first band, Below the Belt, was "an explosive mess, pure mayhem and caterwauling." In Sonic Youth, she and her bandmates would learn to channel these anarchic impulses into something more structured and under control. In many ways, the band's growth mirrors the evolution of the wild aggression of punk to the slightly more nuanced yet jaggedly forceful No Wave movement.
Sonic Youth fans looking for an epic origin story will be disappointed. "There were so many moments of formation for Sonic Youth; it's hard to pinpoint one."
Perhaps that's because Gordon is preoccupied with the band's decline and dissolution, trying to put her finger on when it all got away from her.
The most interesting parts of the book are the brief chapter-by-chapter accounts of the circumstances under which each of Sonic Youth's albums were recorded, produced and released. It's the only time when Gordon lets the reader into that most intimate of spaces—the recording studio—and reveals something new.
In between, there are some real gems, such as the impression the hardcore band Black Flag made on Gordon when she saw them play at a house party in Hermosa Beach, in the early 1980s.
"The Black Flag show was one of the best gigs I'd seen before or since—scary, surreal, intimate." Her account is engaging and sincere; I just wish there was more of it. Instead, we get a frontrow seat to the implosion of her marriage. While Gordon is generous in her praise of Moore's musicianship and dedication as a father, one can't help but wonder what this book would be like if she'd let a bit more water flow under the bridge.