“Is what we get out of performance today any different now than it was then? No, it’s the same thing: the need for transcendence, or maybe just a distraction – a day at the beach, a trip to the mountains – from humdrum life, boredom, pain, loneliness. Maybe that’s all performance ever was, really. An unending kiss – that’s all we ever wanted to feel when we paid money to hear someone play.” – Girl in a Band
The first song I heard by Sonic Youth was their cover of ‘Superstar’ by The Carpenters from the tribute album If I Were a Carpenter. As it played on the stereo I recall being mesmerised. The song was slow and gorgeous. Thurston Moore, the lead singer, almost crooned the words over the occasional heavy guitar riff and keyboard passage. The song assumed a profound and intense significance for me.
In Girl in a Band, the memoir of Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth’s base player and one of the band’s founding members, Gordon reflects upon ‘Superstar’. She remembers a letter she wrote to the then deceased Karen Carpenter concerning womanhood and pressures to please, Carpenter’s relationship with her brother and her doomed battle with anorexia. Gordon is interested by the fact that Carpenter was a woman in music along with the stigma that this entailed. Girl in a Band is a meditation upon this situation, as well as being a tribute to New York City in the 1980s and 1990s, a bittersweet recollection of love and loss, an ode to art and music.
Gordon was born in upstate New York in 1953, but she spent most of her childhood and adolescence in a dystopian L.A. landscape, beautiful, but superficial and affected by the sinister undercurrents of the Manson family murders. Her father was a university professor and her mother worked as a home-based seamstress. Gordon’s older brother, Keller, was enormously influential over her. He was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Gordon emigrated to New York City to pursue her art and eventually got involved in the music scene. She met Thurston Moore, whom she would later marry, and Sonic Youth was formed.
The book opens with Sonic Youth’s last concert in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the disintegration of Gordon and Moore’s marriage. In a sense, Girl in a Band is Gordon’s attempt to come to terms with the ending of a relationship that lasted 27 years and produced a child as well as music that influenced a generation. It is honest and insightful. Perhaps what I most appreciated about the book, aside from Gordon’s reflections on her role as a woman in a male-dominated industry, was the details she provided about the songs she worked on and the people she knew and met.
Memoir is a genre I became interested in when I was an adolescent, and one that I continue appreciate to this day. While the escapism offered by fiction is glorious, I very much enjoy reading a person’s recollections of their life. In honour of memory, then, I am pairing Girl in a Band with a recipe for pasta with salmon from my childhood, one that is reminiscent of late lunches at a old Italian restaurant in the Brussels suburbs. I make it often when in a nostalgic mood.
Pasta with Salmon
(makes two generous portions)
150g smoked salmon
2 large tomatoes
100ml cooking cream
fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
Half fill a large pot with water, adding a generous pinch of salt, and place it on a high heat with the lid on. Finely chop the shallot and put it in a shallow pan with the olive oil on a low heat. Cook it down until it is translucent. Finely chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Cook until they reach a pulpy consistency. Add the cream, and salt to taste. When the sauce begins to bubble, turn the heat right down and add the fresh basil. Once the water in the pot is boiling, add the pasta (short pasta such as penne or fusilli suit this dish). Drain the pasta when it is ready. In order to keep the salmon at its most tender, put pieces of it into the sauce just before mixing in the pasta. Stir everything on a low heat and serve. Although my Italian relatives shun putting Parmigiano on pasta that has a sauce with fish in it, I do so with this dish because it complements the butteriness of the salmon and also just because I love Parmigiano.