Punk Rock Memoirs To Inspire A Fearless, Creative Life

January is not necessarily going to be the big refreshing escape from the year we’ve had, going by the news and the pandemic numbers. It won’t be the celebratory holidays we may have anticipated months ago. But what hasn’t changed, and what may bring some comfort, is that January is always prime reading time. That brief window – for most of us – between work ending in 2020 and starting up again in 2021 is just enough to get through at least one or two juicy reads that give you the energy and inspiration to return to work without losing your mojo.

Confession: I learnt piano for many years and I was pretty good, but I gave up – mostly to spend all my time smoking and drinking with a ragtag collection of fellow 15-year-olds at whoever’s house was devoid of parents. That’s about as close as I got to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. I never was a girl in a band, but when I think to my life’s inspirations in regards to attitude, fashion, dedication to a creative existence, bravery and originality, they are women in music.

Chances are, if you’re an Audiofemme reader, you too are inspired and influenced by pioneering, persevering women in music. If there’s ever been a time we need to feel inspired by women to overcome the odds, deal with shit and continue to do what they love for the sake of it, it’s now. Consider this a belated Christmas present, then. This is a guide to the best books on modern women in music, in my experience.

Having mentioned girls in bands, let’s start with Kim Gordon’s Girl In A Band, which was released in 2015 and made it to the New York Times Bestseller list. Gordon was the co-founder (and sole female member) of Sonic Youth, a ’90s post-grunge act that fused dreamy fuzz with anthems to teenage lust and frustration. With her slash of red lipstick, tangle of blonde hair and too-cool-for-you attitude, Kim Gordon was the ultimate ’90s alt-rock icon. Girl In A Band covers her childhood, her first creative love – drawing, painting and sculpture – and her days in Sonic Youth, too often stymied by the men around her. She bravely confesses truths about her marriage to the revered Thurston Moore, frontman of Sonic Youth, and the disintegration of their relationship.  

In October 2020 she released No Icon, a curated collection of images and scrapbook-style memoirs of Gordon’s Californian youth in the 1960s and ’70s, Sonic Youth in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to previously unseen photos, there are also hand-written lyrics, newspaper cuttings and all sorts of Sonic Youth/Kim Gordon paraphernalia that make this a keepsake for fans and a treasure chest of discovery for fans-to-be.

The foreword to No Icon was written by none other than Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein (also of Portlandia, bless). Brownstein’s 2016 memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl was so compelling, I admit I lay in bed reading it all day and had to force myself to leave the last chapter until the next day so that I didn’t miss it too much when it was over. Brownstein is candid in talking about the politics and sometimes fractious nature of working with a group of impassioned women, sharing rooms and weeks on the road in close proximity. Brownstein’s ability to tell a story, with a measured dose of hilarity and awkward truth, was evident in Portlandia, so it was unsurprising that her memoir had the raw, vulnerable truthfulness of a personal diary but the strong narrative of someone who is skilled in telling a story from start to finish without losing the momentum of fascination.

If Sleater-Kinney were the 1990s underground punk-rock phenomenon for so many U.S. girls, then Viv Albertine’s The Slits were the original she-punks. Emerging in the 1970s in the midst of a wave of angry boys on stage, Albertine’s no-holds-barred memoir doesn’t paint a pretty picture of being a girl in a band, nor a woman in the world. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is the ultimate inspirational read. It made me laugh out loud, take deep, reassuring breaths and reach for the tissues, grip my fingernails so hard into my fist I thought I’d broken skin… it made me react.

For Albertine, growing up in a council home with her single mother and sister, the only reality for her seemed to be watching boys in bands and – at best – dating them. She developed a love affair with the electric guitar, though, and taught herself how to play with the support of her boyfriend at the time. From those early days of hanging out in Vivienne Westwood’s SEX shop, getting raucous with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious in abandoned squats, and being belittled and degraded by roadies and engineers as inferior to male musicians while on the road with The Slits, the book traverses Albertine’s abortion, her struggles to have a much-wanted child via IVF later in life, her marriage and subsequent divorce, and her return to writing, recording and performing as a solo artist in her 60s. It’s no surprise this brilliant book is being translated into TV.

Memoirs are my favourite way to climb into a musician’s mind and poke about in their memories, finding the nuggets of gold that will sustain my creative soul for life. A good set of essays, or insightful analysis, when written with people and genuine experiences at its core, can also be food for thought. I’m currently reading Revenge of the She-Punks by Vivien Goldman, which was released in 2019. Goldman, now in her 80s, is on the cusp of releasing her first punk album in 2021. Known as “The Punk Professor” due to her transition from a music journalist/band manager/musician/broadcaster/biographer (and more) to adjunct at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, this is a woman who lives, breathes and creates punk rock music. She-Punks looks at the feminist history of punk rock, encompassing The Slits, Bikini Kill, and L7 all the way through to Pussy Riot in the 2000s. Consider her the expert.

Other titles to add to your reading list include Patti Smith’s Just Kids (among others), Poppy Z. Brite’s Courtney Love: The Real Story (as well as her diaries), Debbie Harry’s Face It, Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless: My Life as a Pretender and The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine’s All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir.

Whether you’re actually a musician or an aspiring one, or women who make brave choices are your spiritual sisters, these books are likely to move you. They’ve certainly moved me, and fundamentally assured me that in my strangeness, my deep need to create, my ability to survive while making mere pennies for a living, are all perfectly valid ways to live in this chaotic, strange world that is not so friendly to women. I hope they’re nourishment for you, too.

Share your favorite punk rock reads with Cat Woods on Twitter or Instagram.

ONLY NOISE: Music Fuels My Postpartum Self-Care

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Liz Tracy reconnects to her former self via the music she loved before she became a mom.

In the tiny basement gym in my parents’ apartment building, I gingerly stepped on the elliptical machine. I felt like a barefoot child about to climb a mountain, unsure of my intentions, safety, and abilities. In the two years since I gave birth, I haven’t had many opportunities to move my body or use my mind without the goal of keeping my young son alive or entertained. I put my headphones on and pressed play on iTunes. Music long kept silent on my phone quickly flooded my brain with memories and emotions. Suddenly, my legs knew what to do. I felt like I hadn’t in a long time: I felt like I was back in my body.

Since I found out I was pregnant in a Walmart bathroom, almost everything in my life changed. I grew a human baby in my uterus and breastfed him for 19 months. My partner and I stopped drinking and attending beloved music shows regularly. We also moved to two new states. I work from home now while caring for a small, energetic person who demands more from me than I even demand from myself. Yet I still have the same old anxiety disorder, amped up on new worries with no outside substances to quiet my fears. By 5pm each day, I’m usually so worn out and overwhelmed by my full-time childcare duties, I feel like I’m floating above my life. After our most recent move, I decided to find a space where I could reconnect with my pre-baby self, and manage my anxieties. I found it in that tiny gym thanks to a soundtrack of my old favorite songs.

I’m not the only person seeking ways to process unwanted feelings in the wake of a pregnancy. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in five women and five percent of men experience postpartum depression, 10 percent of women have postpartum anxiety, while others suffer from postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder and postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’ve ever spoken to a new parent or looked at posts in a Facebook parenting group, you know these numbers are much lower than the reality. Studies have shown not only that exercise can help parents deal with postpartum mood disorders, but also that music can help with the baby blues and maternal attachment in the weeks following childbirth. It’s not new news that music can be therapeutic, but in my postpartum haze, I didn’t even consider it as a solution to my ailments.

I have nothing to focus on in the gym but the music and myself. I become immersed in each note and lyric, each bead of sweat. I can explore my muddied emotional landscape and crowded thoughts in a space all my own. I channel all of my rage from a traumatic childbirth experience and the shameful lack of childcare options that are stalling my career by swinging my arms furiously to noise gods Sonic Youth. I particularly enjoy getting angry to “Swimsuit Issue” off the band’s 1992 release Dirty, which I first owned on cassette.

The Sonic Youth Information Database quotes the album’s deluxe reissue liner notes on the song’s meaning, “…inspired by the odious ejaculative habits of a then-current [Geffen] employee who was subsequently remanded to therapy.” Kim Gordon lists the models in from the March 1992 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in the outro. I’ve never had envious thoughts about supermodels – I know they live the same shitty lives as the rest of us. They get old and their husbands cheat on them. Thurston Moore left Kim Gordon in much the same fashion, but she subsequently became more famous after his departure. The dark humor of the song reminds me of long nights I spent sweating and laughing through weirdo noise shows in Miami, where I used to live. I was as feral as the wild sounds coming from those stages.

When I play Chicago electronic musician Felix Da Housecat’s “Ready 2 Wear,” a New Wave-y house masterpiece, my legs move twice as fast and my chest swells with longing for late nights when my feet stuck to dirty dance floors at kitchens and clubs. I’m saturated with feelings about years spent with friends whose drama seemed crafted to hurt but was actually an effort by screwed up codependents to connect and maintain intimacy. I recall the many times we scrambled to keep each other alive and hopeful by clinging to the unhealthy, temporary healing powers of parties, intoxication, and conversations until dawn.

Always a fan of filthy music, I remember thinking Juicy J was an egalitarian hero with his line “you say no to ratchet pussy, Juicy J can’t” in “Bandz a Make Her Dance.” But now, as I cycle on a stationary bike through this trap tune, I wonder how I would explain that line to my son when he’s older. Parenthood brought out some latent puritanical side of my personality that mixes awkwardly with my affinity for crass humor and music. So, for the thirty minutes I spend in the gym, I try to set aside my uptight feelings and just enjoy the Lil Wayne feature on this song.

The inspiration for alt-country, the late Gram Parsons, is also on my list. He and Emmylou Harris harmonize beautifully on “Return of the Grievous Angel,” a tune about a man who has traveled the world but can’t quit his lover. It is then that I remember my pre-baby trips. A decade ago, I drove across the country with my brother’s friend for a month to visit the Joshua Tree Hotel where Parsons overdosed and died. I remember seeing the milky way on my second trip there by laying on the hood of a rented car with my old roommate. Because these musical workouts alleviate my anxiety, I can feel the freedom of those times again. I think briefly about all the world I won’t be able to afford to see and won’t have the time to visit now that I have a child. I start to process that without a conclusion.

Then I walk upstairs and open the door to the apartment where we now live with my parents. I hear the immense giggles of a big-eyed human that I somehow created and whose life I now sustain. I can actually feel my legs and the ground beneath me and sweat on my shirt. My partner comments how different I look with my skin flushed. The disorderly fragments of my past and present that floated around inside me, the heavy rocks of anxiety that weighed me down just an hour before, have fallen into place.

PLAYING DETROIT: Fred Thomas “Voiceover”


Fred Thomas has a lot of feelings (and he really wants to talk about them). He may fear transformation in the same way he might fear another perturbed thought of how he could have prevented a previous love affair from going to pieces. He may relish in the scratching of the many surfaces that camouflage and protect his tender, gooey existential crisis-inflamed interiors. But what is made clear by Fred Thomas’ latest beautifully neurotic mind-mapping narration “Voiceover” (the first taste from his forthcoming record Changer due out later next month)  is that he doesn’t quite have it all figured out and if he did, well, he might not know what to do.

“Voiceover” is a sleepless, chorus-deprived and worrisome dashboard “check engine” light. Self-deprecatingly confrontational, this pared back rock jam feels like a tightly woven string of doubts that overcame by means of emotional overload. The video is a life on loop. Repetitive thoughts are mirrored with commonly overlooked/performed imagery. From lipstick application (and lipstick removal) to uncorking wine, and to book to bookshelf placement to the subtle beauty of gently falling hemlines against the back of kneecaps, what is captured visually here is the same crisp mundanity expressed in Thomas’ artfully composed run-on sentences.

View Fred Thomas’ latest GIF-like emotional exploit below:

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LIVE REVIEW: Hudson RiverRocks


It would seem that Pier 84 is the place to be this summer. With 4Knots boasting an impressive lineup of bands a few weeks ago, Hudson RiverRocks is upholding the more independent side of things, considering the bands and the cost, which is zero dollars. The lineup consisted of Santa Monica’s Weyes Blood, Speedy Ortiz out of Massachusetts, and Alabama’s own Waxahatchee. The shows start around six, and they’re a great way to spend the hours between work and bed. Weyes Blood is a sleepy start to the evening, and for a moment I wonder if the weather is bending to meet their mood. Violet grey clouds hang overhead, and everyone is wondering at the possibility of a downpour.

Natalie Mering, who essentially is Weyes Blood, is wearing a red polka-dot dress under a white trench. Her long black hair is in a low, slack ponytail that lends her a Joan Baez quality. At first she plays solo, singing over her keyboard, but shortly after the first couple of tracks her band mates trickle onstage. Mering’s music is cinematic, almost score-like. Her voice is stunning, sweeping and angelic, but admittedly, depressing. It’s a winter sound, and though I enjoy it very much, I’m not sure it’s fitting for a Pier 84 summer stage. The crowd is mixed, half of them swaying calmly while the rest chuckle. It’s not for everyone I guess.

Speedy Ortiz on the other hand, sound like the headliners at a house party after a long day at the beach. They could be the band playing your prom in an eighties movie, or in a dark club in a nineties movie. In a word, they’re fun. Sadie Dupuis is a powerhouse front-woman who looks a bit riot grrrrl in her pleated skirt and knee socks. You can hear a lot of Sonic Youth and Pavement in their set, but Dupuis’ girlish vocals matched with stern delivery make for a fresh sound. And I can’t take my eyes of drummer Mike Falcone, who’s bang-on and provides quite the punch. Having just made a riotous appearance at South by Southwest (Hannibal Buress sat in on drums) and released their sophomore record Foil Deer, the band is turning out to be much loved by fans as well as fellow musicians. At Happyness’s Cake Shop gig in April, drummer Ash Cooper sported one of their t-shirts. “They’re great!” he beamed. Rightly so.

Towards the end of their set, we all feel a sprinkle. Just like that it’s lights out and go home. There’s fear of a massive thunder and lightning storm, and given the very electric nature of all the equipment on stage, the good people of Hudson River Park decide it’s not worth the risk. The show mustn’t go on after all. It’s sad and unfair news for Waxahatchee.

Be sure to check out the final installment of Hudson RiverRocks featuring Yuck and U.S. Girls this Thursday, August 6th at Pier 84. And don’t forget to bring an umbrella. Just in case.



Kim Gordon X-Girl

 Every Thursday, AF profiles a style icon from the music world. This week, check out Kim Gordon’s inspiring trajectory as prolific noise musician, visual artist, and fashion designer, peruse the looks she’s had over her incredible thirty-year career, and check out the looks she’s helped create.

Kim Gordon style

As a founding member of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon’s been a style icon for over three decades now.  She attended Otis Art Institute and moved to NYC in 1979, where she had planned to pursue making visual art, but all that changed when she heard noise acts like DNA and Mars, making sound her main medium.  But she’s always retained a chic, artistic eye when it comes to her wardrobe, which takes a DIY aesthetic to bold new levels.

Gordon’s always been seen as unassailably cool, whether clad in grunge-era staples like plaid jackets, black chokers, vintage tees, shredded jeans (and her signature striped dress!) or designing high-end lines for Mirror/Dash and Surface to Air.  Her turn as fashion designer stretches back to the 90’s, when she created X-Girl with Daisy von Furth, a skater inspired line geared toward the Sassy-reading crowd.  These days, she’s doing noise improvisations with Bill Nace as Body/Head, playing in sculptural platforms, sequined minis, and billowing tops.  She’s also been focusing on creating visual art and writing a memoir with the working title Girl In A Band.  There is pretty much nothing she can’t do, and the grace and wit that’s carried her through intense life changes is reflected in her clothing choices.

BODY/HEAD (KING LUDWIG 2013 #3) from King Ludwig on Vimeo.

To get Kim’s look, the key is DIY.  Think hand-painted shirts with loaded phrases, ironic cat tees, and letting your roots grow out just so.  At the same time, know when and how to do elegance with silky, structured pieces in bold colors and classic patterns.  Check out our style board on Pinterest for more ideas!

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LIVE REVIEW: Kim Gordon closes out Mike Kelley’s Retrospective at MoMA PS1

Kim Gordon Mike Kelley MoMA PS1

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Mike Kelley & Kim Gordon in August 1985, shot by John Harnois

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Kim Gordon Jutta Koether
Kim Gordon & Jutta Koether


Sometimes the most provocative art is that which is pieced together from various, unusual mediums and outcasted found objects, speaking as it does to obsolescence, alienation, and a crush of cultural detritus.  This can apply to music as well as visual art very easily in the right hands, where signals are mixed and symbols are meshed to examine the tenuous relationships we have to the things and people that inhabit our lives.

Nothing proved that better than the Mike Kelley retrospective at MoMA PS1, the largest single-artist exhibition the museum has ever curated.  Collecting video works, installations, sculpture, drawings, paintings, and assemblages spanning Kelley’s entire career as a visual artist, the show opened in October and closed yesterday with a thought-provoking set from Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether.

The performance took place inside a dome centered within the courtyard, surrounded by the former school’s various galleries.  An image of two tanks, one blue and one red, both swirling with bubbles, was projected behind the stage; the imagery was borrowed from Kelley’s more recent Kandor series in which he used varying representations of the Krypton city from Superman comics to explore feelings of disconnectedness.  Though the hermetically sealed contents of the tanks highlighted separation, it also suggested a synergy, a transfer of materials.  This conclusion might have been drawn in part to the connection that Gordon and Koether formed during the performance, as well as Gordon’s connections to Kelley himself.

Before Gordon founded Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, she studied visual art and worked in SoHo galleries, curating shows of Kelley’s work.  Kelley had been in a no-wave band called Destroy All Monsters, making the kind of music that would later inform Gordon’s.  In 1985, Sonic Youth composed a live score for Kelley’s performance Plato’s Cave, Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s Profile.  The bashful orange doll from 1992 Sonic Youth album Dirty is one of Kelley’s hand-knit creations, included in his photography series Ahhhhh, Youth!.  When Kelley committed suicide in 2012, Gordon eulogized him in a moving piece for Artforum, providing a tender look at the decades of collaboration, mutual admiration and friendship between the two.

For the bulk of the performance, Koether and Gordon chose to reinterpret selections and ideas Kelley presented in his 1996 album Poetics.  Between washes of Gordon’s guitar noise, looped sounds from a small boombox (a nod perhaps, to the visual cues that appear in several of Kelley’s works) and Koether’s nebulous synths, the two women read excerpts of a conversation that Kelley and Gordon had in Interview shortly after “Kool Thing” had been released as a single; the interview discusses at length Gordon’s transformation from librarian/art nerd into rock star/sex symbol as well as identifying racial appropriation in the the video that sounded particularly prescient in light of last year’s most criticized music videos.  Gordon initially read Kelley’s questions with Koether responding as 90’s-era Gordon; halfway through the set they flipped identities again.  After each of these intervals, the pair would recite a passage from Kelley’s ’93 fax-essay PSY-CHIC in unison describing a woman’s profile, crescendoing with the phrase “The sideward glance that says FUCK YOU.”  At one point, Koether tossed handfuls of xeroxed copies into the audience.

Kim Gordon Mike Kelley MoMA PS1
Kim Gordon performing at Mike Kelley’s MoMA PS1 retrospective, shot by Laura Wyant (@MsLDubbs)

In this way, Gordon used Kelley’s methods of raking the flotsam from the surrounding world, imbuing it with meaning, and repurposing it through a completely different medium.  She blended text with noise much the same way that Kelley often used words in his visual works to create a contextual anchor.  The cassette tapes Gordon played from her tinny boombox stood in for the stuffed animals or yearbook photos that Kelley used in various installations.  The approach was mirrored brilliantly, and both uncovered awkward truths about art-making, identity, and sexuality.  For Kelley, that meant exploring the perverse and the grotesque and the repressed; for Gordon that meant reconciling her responses to questions answered over twenty years ago with the woman and artist she’s become.  How fitting that she was able to do so while paying tribute to a dear friend whose work grows more prolific and seductive with each passing year, whose work we have barely begun to cherish for the melange of half-truths and false memories and rejected consumerism and offbeat language that it is.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]