The title of Kim Gordon’s strikingly confessional new memoir, Girl in a Band (Feb. 24, Dey St./HarperCollins), is a simplification. Yes, the book covers her role as co-founder, singer and bassist of New York post-punk pioneers Sonic Youth, one of indie rock’s most revered acts. But it also focuses heavily on the rise and fall of her storybook downtown-bohemian marriage to her bandmate Thurston Moore. The pair, who married in 1984 and have a 21-year-old daughter, shocked fans in 2011 when they announced their split. It was later revealed Moore had been having an affair with Eva Prinz, a book editor he had worked with for years. But Moore isn’t the only target: In between sharing stories about growing up with a schizophrenic brother, beating breast cancer and her unheralded exploits in the Los Angeles and New York art and music scenes, Gordon, 61, also reveals brutally honest opinions about Billy Corgan (“such a crybaby”), Courtney Love (“egomaniacal”), artist Jeff Koons (“no one liked him”), art dealer Larry Gagosian (“mean”) and Lana Del Rey’s sad-girl lyrics (“why doesn’t she just off herself?”).
There have been a couple of Sonic Youth books already. What makes your book different?
Yeah, bad ones, all of them. Terrible. With mine, I tried to make it as much not about me as I could. I wanted it to be more Joan Didion-ish, a portrait of L.A. in the ’60s and ’70s, New York in the ’80s and ’90s. The hard part was how I was going to approach Sonic Youth. It was such a big part of my life, but I didn’t want to write a “Sonic Youth book.”
Were you worried about what your former bandmates might think?
I didn’t want to offend the rest of the band — aside from Thurston. He was going to hate it no matter what. That’s why I limited everything I said to the minimum. I don’t need to be a sound-bite person.
Well, there are some sound bites in there. You are blunt and detailed about the end of your marriage and whose fault it was.
Frankly, I was quite restrained and undetailed. I just hit a nerve because this woman Thurston’s with is a toxic borderline. To have that out in the world as a role model: It’s f—ed up.
It must have been tough to see your partner hook up with someone you already knew and disliked.
Yeah. But I didn’t just hate her. If you met her, you would understand.
You write, “I did feel some compassion for Thurston…but that’s a lot different than forgiveness.” What’s the distinction?
Well, unless somebody’s really going to own up to what they did, or say they’re sorry, there’s no reason to forgive them. I think Thurston just doesn’t know how to deal with stuff.
Has there been any blowback from him or the other people you mention in the book?
Not really — I mean, not yet. I only mention Billy [Corgan] in trying to explain a sociological moment in indie rock. And I didn’t want to write about Courtney; that was something my editor was interested in. With Lana Del Rey, it’s all wondering what her persona is. She’s interesting because she uses self-destruction as the next step in sexuality and self-branding. I just think her music is kind of boring.
In the book, you’re like the Forrest Gump of the art and music worlds. People will be surprised to learn that you dated composer Danny Elfman, or that you worked for Larry Gagosian, who recently has exhibited your visual art.
I learned the world is a lot smaller than you think. The people that you meet early on in your life can be so influential without even realizing it. I’ve talked before about Larry: how he was deluded, what a jerk he was. I was at a dinner at his house and his girlfriend said, “I really like what you said about him because everyone is afraid to say it.” I felt bad — I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth!
Was there a part of the book you labored over in particular?
Being diagnosed with breast cancer. I still worry about it, but I’m glad I didn’t do radiation and all the stuff they wanted me to. [Ed.: Gordon had a lumpectomy and is now cancer-free.] You have to take risks in order to get anything out of anything, whatever you do. Deep down, I guess I’m a badass.