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Artist Fri Feb 27 2015

Kicking Against the Pricks: A Recap of Kim Gordon at the Music Box Theatre

"What happens when you go into this space that's so dominated by men?" Alison Cuddy asked her guest, Kim Gordon, in front of a packed house at the Music Box Theatre Thursday night.

No doubt Gordon has heard variations on the question throughout her career: the constant, nagging prod of "What's it like to be a girl in a band?" was enough of a jumping-off point to become the title of her new memoir, the excellent Girl In A Band (Dey Street Books). Still, Cuddy seemed careful to rephrase the question in a way that offered real curiosity at Gordon's outsider status, and without the attendant sexist baggage these kinds of questions inevitably imply. How did Gordon so deeply infiltrate the boys' club of indie rock and manage to tilt the balance of power, however fleetingly or slightly, in her power?

Cuddy, a former on-air host for WBEZ, wasn't shy about her fangirl past, professing her love for the riot-grrrl movement Gordon helped spawn in the early '90s, and calling Sonic Youth's appropriation of seminal schmaltz-rockers the Carpenters "genius" (Gordon, for her part, called Karen Carpenter an American icon "on par with Jane Fonda.") As host and MC, and here appearing on behalf of the Chicago Humanities Festival, which sponsored the event, Cuddy was careful, polite and reverent, and thankfully eschewed the more obvious dramas underpinning Gordon's recent career turns.

The night's discussion traced the outline of Gordon's memoir, veering from her's LA upbringing in a hippie household with very "hands-off" parents, her growth as an artist in New York City in the '80s across several mediums, to her band's flirtations with mainstream culture in the '90s. Francoise Hardy and the Carpenters were recurring subjects, as were fashion and, inevitably, the '90s culture. Tossed-off anecdotes about using Keanu Reeves' bass rig, dating Danny Elfman, and appearing on MTV's "House of Style" with Cindy Crawford to rep her fashion line added color and helped lighten the mood.

Gordon also spoke candidly about the voyeuristic pleasure she found observing the largely male-dominated No Wave bands of turn-of-the-'80s New York City: one of her first "roles" in that scene, Gordon explained, was commenting on the "male bonding" of these groups for various insider zines from a uniquely non-male perspective. Fast forward a few decades and her knack for pointing out the imbalances and contradictions in the (mostly underground) rock tent are nearly unmatched, her observations sharper than ever.

With a singular voice gleaned from years navigating the sweat-stained fraternity of indie rock over the past 30-plus years, Gordon's career is a testament to her ability to navigate such a restricting subculture on her own terms. Her self-proclaimed status as a non-musician, even within the confines of Sonic Youth, fed into other explorations with fine art, fashion and the mixed-media collisions of downtown New York culture over the years. The lack of fame and mainstream attention given to Sonic Youth, she explained, enabled her to explore these different forms without the scrutiny and harsh criticism reserved for celebrities, and allowed her to "slip into other things" and places where she otherwise might not have had access. In her own words, "It's hard to be famous and want to do other things and be taken seriously." Just ask Keanu.

Perhaps because of this, Gordon is careful to note how separate fine arts and musical disciplines can be. In particular, Gordon has explored the fuzzy and often complicated issues surrounding gender, body image, fashion, and femininity throughout several mediums, but has given it renewed emphasis with her recent forays with noise project Body/Head and her latest collection of essays, Is It My Body? The notion of the body, and in particular the female body, as a source of personal power and agency is a recurring theme in her art, and she repeatedly referred to using the body as a "canvas" with which to shatter misogynist expectations of what a woman should or shouldn't do on stage.

And yet, for all she has achieved on her own and during her remarkable tenure with Sonic Youth, Gordon still appears to be taking it in that she can command the attention of a sold-out crowd on her name alone. Surely, the success of her memoir and its attendant press tour are the rewards of a long and inexhaustible career spent furthering her art and kicking against the pricks of patriarchy and expectation. But for the rest of us, there should be no novelty in surveying the reverence and authority that Gordon's name commands in 2015, even if the head-trip is still new to her.

When asked during the brief Q&A session that followed what had motivated her to write such a public and revealing memoir so seemingly at odds with her quiet, guarded persona, Gordon shrugged. "If I die tomorrow, I've told my story." Wink implied, she seems to know there's plenty yet to be written.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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