Yes I Am... Late to the Party
Updated: Jan 1
While this is not a new book, it could be thought of as a primer to the band's new album, Path of Wellness, available everywhere music is sold.
The first time I heard of the band Sleater-Kinney was when I opened the front cover of the book Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein. I’d assumed the photo on the front cover, of the author with her arm straight up in the air in a rock and roll pose while her other hand gripped a mic as she sang, was perhaps from a Portlandia episode. The book was cited as one of the best recent memoirs (on a website I can no longer locate) and this being my genre, I requested a copy from the library and read it in a single day during a record-breaking heatwave in my air-conditioned Portland living room.
Knowing nothing whatsoever about the band, I was a bit surprised to discover this was the primary focus of her story. Ordinarily, I can’t read about music. For a brief spell upon becoming a stay-at-home-mom, following the birth of my first son, I subscribed to Entertainment Weekly, because it was cheap at a mere $10 a year. This was my guilty pleasure and admittedly, one of many ways I copied my best friend who informed me of the value of this diversion. We discussed the latest movies and television shows and occasionally books to read after studying them in EW. But I always skipped the section on music. I can’t read about music, I thought, I can only listen to it; an embarrassment given that my father is a musician - as if that should somehow equip me with the ability genetically. I recognized that some people wrote about music, critics for example, but putting into words the soul of a song could not truly conjure the emotion inside of a melody much less a guitar riff. Writing about sound seemed insufficient. Music, I believed, should speak for itself.
Reading Carrie Brownstein’s book opened a vein in which music could be understood, very nearly experienced, through her words on the page. Her writing evoked rich images yet her words were direct and accessible. In describing her early band Conspiracy A Go-Go, she wrote, “We weren’t very good. None of us could really sing, and the songwriting was rudimentary but not in a charming, purposely minimalist way. We didn’t care that we were the musical version of a stick figure -...” She is humble, and relatable, partly in how she casts herself as an outsider never entirely comfortable in her chosen setting. But she comes alive on stage recognizing the music was a cloak she wore; offstage she returned to being the real-life version of herself.
I appreciated the author’s periodic descriptions of her outfits and how they were the wrong choice for each situation; too youthful, clean-cut, suburban, her white t-shirt too white. In contrast to the more accomplished musicians in bands she admired wearing black which was “a shorthand for cool.” I ran into Carrie Brownstein once, or very nearly, as I was entering the Nordstrom in downtown Portland as she exited. I was on a mission to find black boots to wear with skirts to work, and she looked perfectly herself like she didn’t need a department store to dress her up.
Listening to the band on myriad YouTube videos, their sound is varied and gritty, my favorite clips are of live performances. After sampling their music I clicked out wondering how I was so culturally bereft that I hadn’t noticed Sleater-Kinney during their early years, or their middle years, or their first ending for that matter. I can point to my children who made me quite busy for a long stretch, too busy to catch the latest movies or shows I would read about in EW. Too busy to be aware of the local music scene.
By the end of her book, I was left with a hunger for more. More story about Carrie’s mother leaving the family following her hospitalization for anorexia, and how exactly did they reconnect? We know they did because she describes how she and her bandmates stayed with her mother and the replacement husband ever-so-briefly during a snowstorm while they were recording Dig Me Out. Carrie contemplated her mother, “Was she substantial enough to carry anything around other than her own needs?” How a mother and daughter reflect one another is an idea I grapple with unwillingly. In her case, a mother who became so distorted in her sense of self as to stop eating, willing herself to disappear. Eventually only deleting herself from the family she created. That they still speak at all is fascinating to me and I would like to better understand this dynamic, this editing of the mother role.
I was hungry to hear music by Sleater-Kinney and form my own opinion of their unique sound (which I did - thank you YouTube and Spotify). It only took one day of working from home while listening to my new Sleater-Kinney playlist on Spotify for their songs to dig into my consciousness. I was delighted to learn they have reassembled this year with new songs to share with the world. Above all, I am voracious to read anything and everything written by Carrie Brownstein who deftly wields words to construct a bridge between the music and her readers, providing an invitation for them to become listeners and fans.