Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
by Carrie Brownstein
Published October 2015
Review by Roy Peak
What do rock stars like Keith Richards, Justin Bieber, and Beyoncé do when they take time off from touring and recording? Go on drug-filled trips to lush islands with an entourage in tow. Rent the entire floor of a Manhattan hi-rise for all-night, every-night debaucherous parties for them and their friends. You know—the usual. So, what did Carrie Brownstein from the rock band Sleater-Kinney do while on a hiatus from her band? Take college courses and volunteer at an animal shelter. She bought a modest house in Portland, Oregon. This is my kind of rock star.
Sleater-Kinney (pronounced “Slayter-Kinney” for those who don’t know) is considered one of the best rock bands of all time by noted music critics Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau, releasing 8 albums of incendiary and fun and noisy rock ‘n’ roll. They were linked with the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and played the 2006 Lollapalooza festival. Sleater-Kinney was highly influential, fearless, and a true rock ‘n’ roll force to be reckoned with.
Now, most musician autobiographies leave me wanting more. Rock musicians aren’t usually noted for their written prose, but rather how they command a stage. Writing songs and writing books are two differing entities entirely. So even a fantastic writer such as Patti Smith left me hungering for more details on the recording of her albums, especially Horses and Easter. Bob Dylan’s Chronicles left gaping holes in his story, leaving the reader asking more questions at the end than he answered. Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon was written too soon after Gordon’s breakup with band mate and ex-husband Thurston Moore. Gordon should have given it more time and distance before telling her story as it came off too angry and bitter in places. Dishing dirt is one thing, not letting go of blame is something else. Juliana Hatfield’s book When I Grow Up is much like Hatfield’s music—a bit hit and miss. She comes off as trying too hard and just barely misses her mark, mistaking detail for energy and candidness for openness.
So when I started Brownstein’s tale of her days in the great Northwest, playing in one of rock’s best bands of all time—I was hoping for greatness but not holding my breath. This ended up being one book I couldn’t put down and that I wished would have been at least as twice as long. Brownstein’s passion for her art is clearly evident, she writes honestly and openly in an intelligent and candid manner, telling her story with an easy grace. Talking about personal issues—life’s failures as well as triumphs—can be difficult, but Brownstein pulls it off wonderfully, sounding like the sort of person you could sit down with at a dinner table or on a bus ride to nowhere and have an awesome conversation with. As a musician myself it was uplifting to read of Brownstein’s early struggles with identity and making musical friendships. Of the learning curve involved when you start out. What’s a stage monitor? Must you use standard tuning just because everyone else does? How do you start a band? More importantly, how do you break one up that just isn’t doing it for you anymore? This is the tale of a musician who hungered to play music, on her own terms, and to make a difference with her music and her life.
I have a few music related books that are essential reading for me, books I re-read every few years. Mystery Train by Greil Marcus. Peter Guralnick’s Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad. I’m adding Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein to that stack.
Roy Peak is a musician and author. His album All Is Well has been reviewed by Sacred Chickens and he is pictured wearing the shirt that he won in a contest after naming the village of Whistlestop.