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Hunger makes me a modern girl : a memoir
2015
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  New York Times Review

LAST FEBRUARY, Sleater-Kinney took the stage at Terminal 5 in New York City for the first time in nearly 10 years. Carrie Brownstein, stage right as always, was all our rock-star dreams come true, her arms windmilling, her legs high-kicking, brandishing her guitar above her head, her voice a rough demand. It blended with and crashed against the preternatural wail of her bandmate, the guitarist Corin Tucker, backed with the insistent drums of Janet Weiss; three women making a noise we felt all through our bodies. Playing with them again, Brownstein writes in "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl," was like being home. That show didn't feel like a reunion, like so many halfhearted affairs when a once-great band reconstitutes as a zombie version of its best self. But it wasn't exactly as if they'd never left, either. Brownstein's new memoir takes its title from a Sleater-Kinney lyric and tells the story of the band, which she begins at its end. In their years together, Sleater-Kinney put out seven records that transcended their origins in the Pacific Northwest's mid-90s riot grrrl scene, transcended punk rock and built on one another until they reached the apocalyptic pitch of "The Woods" (2005), an album that dared the biggest of stadium rock bands to match them. And then they called it quits. Brownstein tells, for the first time, what she did to "destroy Sleater-Kinney." It's improbable but true that Brownstein is better known to some for her role on the sketch show "Portlandia" than as one of the best rock guitarists of her generation or any other, part of what Greil Marcus declared the best rock band in America. Fans of "Portlandia" might recognize the actress they adore in her tales of childhood singalongs, interpretive dances and gender-bending murder-mystery parties, but Brownstein's focus is on how music saved her and remade her, or rather allowed her to remake herself, again and again. Growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, Brownstein constantly searched for connection with the people around her - her distant mother, hospitalized with an eating disorder; friends and friends' parents; even celebrities. She wrote needy letters to soap-opera stars before finding her way to music and realizing - at a George Michael show, of all places - that "I would much rather be the object of desire than dole it out from the sidelines." She describes her experience as a fan, pressing against the rail at punk shows, "risking crushed toes, bruised sides, and the unpredictable undulation of the pit," reaching closer to those she wanted to be. The hunger of the title resonates on page after page - hunger to be known, to be seen, to escape. The book is spare and arching like a stripped-down rock song, but it rarely has the rawness Sleater-Kinney fans might expect. Running throughout is the tension between wanting to be seen and wanting to hide, wanting to reveal and wanting to retreat, wanting to tell but wanting to decide how much. To break through the mythology of Sleater-Kinney but to leave it mostly intact yet truer, closer to reality but still not quite real. Music, Brownstein repeatedly writes, was a way for her to find but also to lose herself. When she met Corin Tucker, then playing in the riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy, she found the perfect foil for her own tendencies to hold back and then to explode. Of Tucker's sound, she writes: "Any sadness was also defiant; it was not the wail of mourning but of murder. And there was so much I wanted to destroy." Her book is filled with women - the only significant man is her father, the parent who remained in her life (her mother moved away when Brownstein was a teenager) - a choice that feels all the more radical because it is unremarked upon. Brownstein's relationship with Tucker, first as fan, then as romantic interest and finally as musical partner, is central to the book but leaves the reader aching for more detail; at times she seems to be waiting for Tucker's voice to come in, as well as for Weiss's drums to crash. She has left room for them to tell their own stories. The empty spaces in her narrative raise the question yet again of how much of a woman performer we fans get to claim. Women musicians, Brownstein writes, are assumed to be always telling their personal stories. "An audience doesn't want female distance, they want female openness and accessibility, familiarity that validates femaleness." The rock critics obsessively described Sleater-Kinney as "girl band," a label they kicked against repeatedly. Brownstein's fight against being pigeonholed rings on every page: her challenge to the limitations of punk purity and "scenes" and critics' obsession with her femaleness, her anger at being outed not because she was embarrassed but because she didn't want to be defined as one thing or another. By telling her story on her own terms, she is both acquiescing to those questions and continuing to refuse them. After all, she is telling only one part of the tale: how being in a band saved her and then broke her and then, once she'd healed, allowed her to feel herself again. And that story isn't even over. 'I would much rather be the object of desire than dole it out from the sidelines.' SARAH JAFFE, a reporting fellow at The Nation Institute, has written about music and culture for Billboard, Dissent and other publications. Her book on social movements will be published next fall.

  Publishers Weekly Review

In performing the audio edition of her new memoir, Brownstein, creator and star of TV comedy series Portlandia and a member of the band Sleater-Kinney, maintains an engaging presence with her conversational style. Despite both the emotionally charged nature of Sleater-Kinney's feminist-punk music and the coming-of-age/relationship themes in the story line, Brownstein opts for an understated emotional tone, preferring to leave the screaming on stage. The recording does include clips of original music by Brownstein, in addition to an interview in which she discusses the process of penning her book. One of the most intriguing questions she tackles is the almost total absence of references to Portlandia from her autobiographical narrative. Even listeners not steeped in indie music can at least appreciate the display of artistic devotion. A Riverhead hardcover. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p> 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 2015-- a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a life--and finding yourself--in music.<br> <br> 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 "America's best rock band" 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. <p> 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 era'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. <p> 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 one's true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating power of rock and roll.</p> <p> From the Hardcover edition.
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