Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: From the guitarist of the pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, the book Kim Gordon says "everyone has been waiting for" and a New York Times Notable Book of 2015â?? a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a lifeâ??and finding yourselfâ??in music. Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as â??Americaâ??s best rock bandâ? by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock. HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the eraâ??s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later. With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding oneâ??s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating powe
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This is a memoir about Olympiaâs 1990s music scene, what led Carrie Brownstein to it, and how her work in Sleater-Kinney (S-K) contributed to the labels born from it. Brownstein paints her youth as simultaneously typical and broken in the suburbs of Redmond, Washington. Shy, gawky, but not one to avoid the spotlight, her interest in music started in childhood performance-art experiences like Lilâ âdâ Duran Duran, a cover-band that didnât actually cover anything, but played along to Duran Duranâs music on all-wood âinstruments.â The privileges of a suburban adolescence drove her to seek her identity in Olympiaâs riot grrrl movement, to find strength in simply being on stage and surprising an audience that wants so badly to underestimate her and her bandmates.
## âŚwhen youâre part of an early movement like [Corin Tucker] was with Riot Grrrl â where she had to create a space for herself and for her audience, where every show felt like a statement, where before you could play and sing you had to construct a room, one youâd be respected in, wouldnât get hurt in, a space that allowed for or even acknowledged stories that hadnât been told before, about sexual assault, sexism, homophobia, and racism, and then, musically, you have to tear that very space down â thereâs not a lot of room for joking around. There is a direness in the construction of safety, in the telling of theretofore untold stories. [Loc. 755]
Brownsteinâs writing wavers between casual â many of her stories show up almost verbatim from her earliest writings for the Believer and Slate â and academic. It can occasionally be disconnecting, a jolting shift between personal and professional, but ultimately indefinable in why those transitions donât work. (This may admittedly be nothing more than a built-in prejudice against memoirs, that I preferred the more academic sections distantly deconstructing her and othersâ decisions.)
Sheâs always uncomfortably introspective and self-critical, however. Much of Hunger covers her own search for identity in a movement she didnât intend to define; she puts herself on the readerâs level in trying to understand the methods and mindsets that went into crafting important discussions in music. Riot grrrl, for its early pioneers, was about creating a dialogue with the listener, about validating and invalidating one anotherâs views and experiences, making room for inclusion*: It was a movement of self-awareness.
## Itâs important to undermine yourself and create a level of difficulty so the work doesnât come too easily. The more comfortable you get, the more money you earn, the more successful you are, the harder it is to create situations where you have to prove yourself and make yourself not just want it, but need it. The stakes should always feel high. [Loc. 1181]
As S-Kâs popularity exploded â a surprise to the crew, for sure â Brownstein, Tucker, and Weiss had to continually reinvent themselves within the label system without falling into the classic trap of âselling out.â They were growing up â not necessarily out of the original intentions and the frustrations of the riot grrrl movement, but in the way that angst was channeled.
Much of Hunger is about the changes within S-K and the Olympian music scene as the world became increasingly aware of them. As their sound got out, they were suddenly at the mercy of the imaginations of thousands of fans who were separated from the scene,â which only further muddled the riot grrrl identity. And the more time the group spent cramped in vans together, scraping together to live on the road â some with increasingly important home lives calling to them â the harder it was for them to not break apart.
Itâs a good story, and Brownsteinâs a fantastic writer and thinker.
(I think Iâm sharing too much.)
## Sleater-Kinney allowed me to perform both away from and into myself, to leave and to return, forget and discover. Within the world of the band there was a me and a not me, a fluctuation of selves that I could reinvent along the flight between perches. I could, at last, let go. For so long I had seen the lacking Iâd been handed as a deficit, my resulting anxiety and depression were ambient, a tedious lassoing of air. But with Sleater-Kinney I stopped attempting to contain or control the unknown. I could embrace the unnamed and the in-between. I could engage in an unapologetic obliteration of the sacred. [Loc. 2900]
Thereâs not a whole lot to her story â here, at least â after S-K broke up the first time, but Brownsteinâs more my hero for what she writes, anyway: She spent the year after S-Kâs breakup racking up over 100 volunteer hours with the Oregon Human Society â enough to be awarded their Volunteer of the Year Award in 2006 â and started building a family of pets. She shares stories both adorable and heartbreaking, and then itâs 2015, Wild Flagâs come and gone, S-K are back together with No Cities to Love just released, and her memoirâs closed until another day.
Bands like S-K, Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile â theyâre special to me. They take me back to when music was more than just background noise to bob my head to, but something that brought to light our plethora of social injustices. Even if that message is now a marketable label for concentrated angst â âriot grrrlâ is far removed from its original meaning after journalistsâĄ and record labels transformed it into two very simple, very cool words â it meant something in and to our youths. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl recalls that wonderfully.
Carrie is also an avid musician, who struggled for many years to form a rock band, and finally succeeded with Sleater-Kinney, her band from 1994 to 2006. The memoir is a wonderfully written, honest, and thorough review of her struggles to fulfill a dream she had from early childhood. She never missed an opportunity to entertain family and friends. Her mother was hospitalized as a result of an eating disorder, and the book opens with Carrie and her sister dealing with her absence. When Carrie was about 20 years old, her father helped finance a trip to Australia to make a record with a musician the band had discovered on the internet. If you have never seen Portlandia, you have missed a treat. The humor involves bizarre, eclectic, and a very funny group of characters, who live and work in Portland. Her co-star is Fred Armisen, and the two play most of the characters with changes of costume, makeup, and wigs.
The memoir itself is unlike many of the other show-biz bios I have read. Carrie seems forthright and thorough in her examination of her life, family, and career. She writes, âThere is something freeing in seeing yourself in a new context. People have no preconceived notion of who you are, and there is a relief in knowing that you can recreate yourself. When youâre entrenched in a community of people who know you, itâs scary to proclaim wanting to be different and wanting to experiment. We went to the other side of the world to make our own sound. Usually this is a methodology you employ as a restart later in your career. We did it right up front. We traveled to a foreign country for our first record. We had to uproot ourselves, not because we were deep into career ruts, or didnât want to give credit to the places we had come from, but because we had no desire to sound like or emulate anything that had come beforeâ (96).
Carrie continues, âIt was an extreme way to start, but I learned later on how hard it can become to unsettle yourself, to trip yourself up, and I think thatâs a good place to write from. Itâs important to undermine yourself and create a level of difficulty so the work doesnât come too easily. [âŚ] The stakes should always feel highâ (96).
Although she is talking about a rock band, I believe this idea can apply to nearly any creative endeavor. I must admit I am not a fan of punk nor of indie music, but I do love Portlandia and Carrie Brownsteinâs Memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. 5 Stars
The book is excellent of the intersections of character, place and circumstance that made, shaped, and derailed the 1994-2006 incarnation of Sleater-Kinney, and the strains the touring life place on all musicians, but especially on a highly intelligent, self-identified introvert and homebody. And I grew to like the author more for her analysis of her strengths and weaknesses, or at least areas of difficulty, as they have played out in her life within and beyond music. Her bandmates, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, are delineated strongly too.
I would have liked to see the book carry on into the next phases of Carrie Brownstein's life and career - or, to put it another way, I'd love a sequel!
She modulates this voice well: it's gently self-mocking as she looks at her awkward childhood antics, but it takes a harder tone as she assumes more of the blame for her own anxiety breaking down her body (and subsequently, the band).
In between these two points in the memoir, she details the not-so-glamorous details of recording, promoting, and traveling on the road. It's not a misery memoir: she has the ability to say that something was difficult without speaking as if she is retroactively posing herself as a martyr for XYZ. She also posits SK very clearly on the late edge of Riot Grrl, which is a clear way of referencing the movement without going into heavy-handed explanation that might bog down a book that isn't being billed as rock history. There are plenty of reference points-- musicians, bands, producers, and more-- for those who wish to follow up further, however; it's not an insular book in that way.
The crisp chronology is welcome, and the brevity of explanation is also a relief. She has an excellent talent for distilling lengthy processes and experiences into snapshot-chapters, highlighting the parts that will be most relevant for the reader. It's not the complete history of SK, chapter and verse, and it doesn't purport to be. These are the moments she has chosen to highlight and display, and she is an excellent tour guide. She gives details about music and composition when necessary (people hoping for more detail about music, composition, etc. might be advised that this may fall short of their expectations), but there is probably more text-percentage about personal interactions while on the road. Her gift for detailed description of the mundane is particularly notable.
If I was troubled by anything, it was by the treatment (characterization?) of the rest of the cast of the characters in this book. I honestly felt that I had the closest connection to the four pets she talks about near the end of the book; everyone else seemed somewhat distant and inaccessible. I respect what may have been a conscious decision to protect the privacy of everyone involved as much as possible, but what happened is that even bandmates seem colorless. For example, SK had a rotating cast of drummers before settling on Janet Weiss. Their departures are discussed in the book, but the circumstances are so vague that I'm not entirely sure I could relate what happened or who (if anyone) was at fault. Again, I respect that no one is getting thrown under a bus, but the level of circumspection here has tipped into murky confusion.
The other issue I might address is the title of the book, and I'm afraid I'm going to make it sound like I'm playing some sort of "mommy issues" card-- please bear with me; I'm not. I do recognize the word "hunger" is multifaceted, but the resentment of her mother is the most clear grudge (there's really no other word for it) in the book. In a memoir that is otherwise quite self-aware, Brownstein somehow does not seem to recognize (or acknowledge) that her mother's own withdrawal from her family (struggles with anorexia) is parallel to her own withdrawal from touring life, which manifested in various sicknesses: "Being sick had become my remedy for tour" (p. 211), ". . . my body felt like a bag my brain was carrying with me: heavy, the weight unevenly distributed, the contents mashed and scrambled" (p. 212-3). The "hunger" of the title seems like a bit of a sideswipe in this context: can only we who have freed ourselves from lashing out at our bodies reach a triumphant end and not be infantilized (the way she constantly characterizes her mother and, finally, herself)? In a memoir that otherwise treads carefully, this is a blind spot, and it's jarring. Whatever her feelings are about her mother, they're valid; however, what has happened is that she has either deliberately or purposefully cloaked some of her own experience in a way that negates parallel experiences of some readers.
Yet she does conclude that "I was in my body, joyous and unafraid. I was home" (p. 241), but that is in the epilogue, which is three pages long. This is not a users' manual and does not purport to be, but it does fall into a trap that memoirs often do: they build up an intense struggle and then present a resolution where "and then everything was fine!" in a matter of pages. Narratively, for the reader, this is unsatisfying, because it feels like a trick or sleight-of-hand; there may be no need for further chapters of explication, but there is still something missing: the how. I am very glad that the memoir is confined to SK and does not cover any other material, but it's puzzling why this articulate and insightful writer jumped this ravine so completely. I suspect the chapter about volunteering at the humane society was the attempt to write that bridge, but it's ultimately somewhat despairing rather than something that provides clarity. No, the book does not need notes from therapy (or whatever the case may be). Brownstein has a keen sense of how to find the transcendent in the mundane-- and speak about it in a down-to-earth-way-- and a snapshot of this is missing from the album (excuse the pun).
All this said: I enjoyed the book a great deal, but, having had a few days to think about it, what has continued to bother me is the feeling that there is some sort of self-censorship hidden by the the writing and the crisp style. It feels unfinished, not in that it stops at a particular year; it's that there is something held back for reasons that are not made clear in the narrative.
Exceptionally well-written memoir about
I was interested to read more about this band, since I own and listen to their music but was previously unaware of their roots and musical evolution. Brownstein covers her early family life, the bandâs formation, songwriting, multiple albums, and tours. It will appeal to those who enjoy books about making music. Fans of Sleater-Kinney, riot grrrl, punk, or indie music will likely enjoy it.