For 30 years Gordon played bass, sang and wrote songs in Sonic Youth, one of the most important and inspirational bands of their generation, and for 27 of those she was married to lead guitarist and frontman
Gordon and Moore appeared as solid as their music was tempestuous:
So it came as a genuine shock to fans when, in
She regrets divulging certain details last year - an affair with a younger woman, an incriminating text message, a bitter split - and her reticence is certainly understandable, but the divorce is the elephant in the room. It's not that it's relevant to her visual art or the intense, improvisational music she's making in her new duo Body/Head, but it is, to a large extent, the catalyst for these endeavours - the reason why, at 60, she is entering an unexpected new phase of her life.
One positive outcome has been the enormous goodwill from fans. Detached from Sonic Youth, Gordon has been venerated anew as an icon of
a prickly rehab patient.
Gordon complains, however, that magazines like to present women like her in a certain manner. "You can't be a strong or cool woman and be represented except in a harsh way, looking mean and cold and hard. It's like reverse sexism. They don't want to show a picture of you smiling because it's not good for their editorial." So let the record state that she laughs often but has a subdued, melancholy air. "I don't really feel comfortable anywhere except when I'm working alone at home," she says. "It's exhausting to be out around people."
In Sonic Youth, especially during their brush with the mainstream in the early 1990s, Gordon seemed dauntingly impressive and self-assured, but she laughs when I tell her that. "People just project things on to you.
I was always pretty insecure about my image and where I fitted in. It was really when I started going to
people started asking what it's like being a girl in
a band. I really didn't think about it because
I grew up being sort of a tomboy."
Gordon was born in
"I never thought about doing
anything other than making art."
She's writing a memoir (excellent working title: Girl in a Band) and she's had difficulties confirming certain childhood memories because her parents are dead and her brother is a paranoid schizophrenic. "He actually has a good memory, but it's hard to talk to him. It's scary when you realise what you forget."
After studying at the
"Well, kind of. Because I was thinking
about male bonding and male sexuality
as premises for artforms. At one point
I thought I didn't just want to be a voyeur.
I wanted to be in the middle of it."
Formed in 1981, Sonic Youth were the perfect amalgam of melody, intellect and noise. They could write catchy rock songs and epic, avant-garde maelstroms that made you marvel anew at the potential of the electric guitar, and when you bought a new album or attended a show you were never sure what combination you were going to get. In 1985
By the end of the 1980s Gordon had become a role model to younger musicians, especially women. Did she think of herself as a mentor? "Oh God no! Truthfully, I only feel now that
I should be doing that. I didn't think of myself as having any authority or position. I just didn't see myself as being influential, I guess." My surprise is so visible that it makes her laugh.
She was significant partly by default. Indie-rock may have been politically progressive, but it was overwhelmingly male apart from Gordon and another shyer-than-she-seemed bass-player named Kim:
When Sonic Youth signed to Geffen Records after 1988's alt-rock landmark Daydream Nation, Gordon's lyrics became more explicitly feminist in songs such as "Kool Thing", "Tunic (Song for Karen)" and "Swimsuit Issue", which she wrote after discovering that one Geffen executive was being sued for sexual harassment. "I guess I had an authority problem," she says. "In rock music people have certain assumptions that it makes people more enlightened and it really doesn't. It was the same thing playing for
Does she think the industry's any better now? "I feel like it's two steps forward, one step back. Are women using their sexuality to sell records because they're empowered?
In which case yeah, great. But with some women it's almost inbred and there's pressure of competitiveness: who can be the sexiest? Male executives don't have to say anything because women know. And it's all aesthetically pleasing but it gets a little boring after a while if that's the only side that gets promoted."
Gordon believes her life would have changed somewhat even without the divorce. Sonic Youth, she thinks, "would have ended fairly soon. When you do something for so long it's nice to stop." And her daughter, Coco, recently left home to study
do other things."
Does that mean she was doing the lion's share of the childcare? "I don't really want to talk about it, but you can't do everything you want to do."
It turns out she wanted to do a lot. There is the painting, the memoir, an essay collection called Is It My Body? and occasional acting gigs. Echoing her ability to walk on both sides of the street musically, she's appeared in art movies (Boarding Gate, I'm Not There, Last Days) and hit TV shows with "girl" in the title (Gossip Girl, Gilmore Girls, Girls). Does she feel compelled to stay busy? She shrugs. "One has to make money. That's the main reason I did the book. I never thought I'd write a memoir, but people were asking me."
One thing she didn't intend to do was form
a new band, but she started recording improvisations on cassette and sharing them with her friend
"I mainly wanted to concentrate on doing art, but I do like performing."
I wonder if after 30 years of being "
It echoes something she said earlier when I asked how she felt onstage with Body/Head when an improvisation was going well. "It feels like you're going through some place and you're bringing the audience with you. You're not really sure where you're going, but it doesn't matter." Then she fondly remembered the 1991 tour with a pre-fame Nirvana. "No one really knew who they were in
Is It My Body? Selected Texts is published by
Picture caption in here This is appropriate dummy text that is being employed in order to ascertain an approximate length because the actual copy has not yet
'I was thinking
about male sexuality
as premises for artforms. But I didn't just want to be a voyeur; I wanted to be in the middle of it': Gordon (left) with Sonic Youth in 1984
'With Kurt you didn't know what was going to happen': with Nirvana's
'It's kind of exciting to be. . . not in freefall, but not knowing exactly what's going to happen':
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