bookrants: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Girl in a Band, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records

Just little bursts of happy rants, originally written for my zine. I decided to add the book descriptions in this post, even though it makes me feel silly (as the descriptions are longer than my rants), so that these will make some sense 🙂

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

From a leader of feminist punk music at the dawn of the riot-grrrl era, a candid and deeply personal look at life in rock and roll.

Before Carrie Brownstein codeveloped and starred in the wildly popular TV comedy Portlandia, she was already an icon to young women for her role as a musician in the feminist punk band Sleater-Kinney. The band was a key part of the early riot- grrrl and indie rock scenes in the Pacific Northwest, known for their prodigious guitar shredding and their leftist lyrics against war, traditionalism, and gender roles.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is the deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music, from ardent fan to pioneering female guitarist to comedic performer and luminary in the independent rock world. Though Brownstein struggled against the music industry’s sexist double standards, by 2006 she was the only woman to earn a spot on Rolling Stone readers’ list of the “25 Most Underrated Guitarists of All-Time.” This book intimately captures what it feels like to be a young woman in a rock-and-roll band, from her days at the dawn of the underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s through today.

hungermakesmeamoderngirl2015 was such a good year for me when it comes to music non-fiction, because several books came out about things/people I loved in high school.

Carrie Brownstein and her band Sleater-Kinney (with Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss) would definitely be in this list. I can remember the first time I listened to SK; someone on the Witchbaby list* recommended them and their site was streaming 2 minute samples of their songs.

Unfortunately, our awful dial-up meant that I could only hear the first 20-30 seconds of each song before the connection timed out. Didn’t matter. The first 20 seconds were all I needed to fall in love with “Get Up”, “One More Hour”, and “Burn, Don’t Freeze”. I reached out to the witchbabies and some of the girls sent me mixtapes with SK songs, and after that they’ve become one of my permanent favourites. This book is really more about Carrie Brownstein than SK, but because so much of her life was SK, it reminded me of high school, and that time when everything was exciting and new. It also renewed my love of Corin/Carrie/Janet dynamics, and the band as a whole!

* the witchbaby list was an egroup for fans of Francesca Lia Block – it really was a lot more than that at one point.  (think nerdfighter, but much smaller and without the involvement of the author) and then, like all nearly perfect things, it disappeared.

 Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon, founding member of Sonic Youth, fashion icon, and role model for a generation of women, now tells her story—a memoir of life as an artist, of music, marriage, motherhood, independence, and as one of the first women of rock and roll, written with the lyricism and haunting beauty of Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon opens up as never before in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her family, growing up in California in the ’60s and ’70s, her life in visual art, her move to New York City, the men in her life, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, her music, and her band, Girl in a Band is a rich and beautifully written memoir.

Gordon takes us back to the lost New York of the 1980s and ’90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, and the Alternative revolution in popular music. The band helped build a vocabulary of music—paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts. But at its core, Girl in a Band examines the route from girl to woman in uncharted territory, music, art career, what partnership means—and what happens when that identity dissolves.

Evocative and edgy, filled with the sights and sounds of a changing world and a transformative life, Girl in a Band is the fascinating chronicle of a remarkable journey and an extraordinary artist.

girlinabandThe first time I thought Sonic Youth mattered was when Amanda made me listen to one of their songs on her music player (one of those early boxy mp3 players that only fitted 10 songs) and my mind was blown, that was Sonic Youth? Really? Why were they not in my life before this? And that started my search for all things weird and good.

I know everyone was in love with Thurston Moore but to me Kim Gordon was the coolest woman on earth maybe (besides Carrie Brownstein and Kathleen Hanna and Francesca Lia Block maybe, oh why did I not have non-white heroes back then?) and I guess she still is one of the coolest people ever now. This memoir is surprisingly non-weird (but still very good) and my only complaint about it is that Kim probably should have waited a bit to write it, because her bitterness towards Thurston Moore was still strong and seeped through the pages, which was okay with me, but I could see how some people might have issues with that.

Oh, and I did not appreciate her comments about Courtney Love because I wanted to keep my image of Kim as someone supportive of other women in bands – in fact, one of the not-cool things about this book is that it had a sort of “I’m not like other girls” vibe. I think overall I appreciated Carrie Brownstein’s memoir more because of her feminism, and Kim Gordon’s less because of her dismissal of it.

Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records by Michael White

From 1987 to 1995, Bristol, England’s Sarah Records was a modest underground success and, for the most part, a critical laughingstock in its native country-sneeringly dismissed as the sad, final repository for a fringe style of music (variously referred to as “indie-pop,” “C86,” “cutie” and “twee”) whose moment had passed. Yet now, more than 20 years after its founders symbolically “destroyed” it, Sarah is among the most passionately fetishized record labels of all time. Its rare releases command hundreds of dollars, devotees around the world hungrily seek out any information they can find about its poorly documented history, and young musicians-some of them not yet born when Sarah shut down-claim its bands (such as Blueboy, the Field Mice, Heavenly, and the Wake) as major influences.

Featuring dozens of exclusive interviews with the music-makers, producers, writers and assorted eyewitnesses who played a part in Sarah’s eight-year odyssey, Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records is the first authorised biography of an unlikely cult legend.

popkissIn a way this book was much more academic in tone than the two memoirs, but it was equally loved. Because it’s about Sarah Records, and there is no day that I won’t appreciate anything related to Sarah Records.

Here’s my Sarah Records story: in high school I received a lot of awesome mixtapes from the witchbabies and some of them would contain the loveliest songs that would shape my musical taste for the years to come. One of these was Heavenly’s “P.U.N.K. Girl” and another was The Field Mice’s “Sensitive” and I loved both of these songs to pieces but as cassette tapes disappeared from my world and were replaced by CDs and iTunes playlists, I couldn’t for the life of me find these songs again, until much later when I discovered that both groups belonged to the best record label in the world, Sarah Records. I listened to as many Sarah bands as I could and have yet to find one I didn’t love, and since then I’ve wanted to know everything I could about it all, but it’s just so hard, even with Wiki and Google.

So – thank you Michael White for this amazing, amazing, book with lots and lots of background info about the label and its bands (I didn’t know that Harvey Williams was in almost all of my very favourite Sarah bands!) and the interviews with Clare and Matt and the bits about fanzines and how music was supposed to make people HAPPY and EXCITED about things. This book made me feel like a kid again while reading it, I loved it so much.


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