Recent reads: Books about girls in bands

When my end of high school year book was being compiled, we were all asked where we would be in 10 years' time. I may or may not have answered "Living in a castle in the UK, married to a rock star." Ahem. More than 15 years later I've nailed the living in the UK part, failed at living in a castle (too cold and drafty) and am unmarried to a dude in band. I'm not sure where this vision came from, but I mostly put it down to reading too-many British Vogue magazines growing up and years of being obsessed with bands. What I realise now is that I should've tried to be the girl in a band, not married to a boy in one.

Music has always been a huge part of my life, having spent years listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen with my mother, grunge and goth music as a teen, and most weekends watching bands in my late teens/early twenties. Not a day goes by where I don't play a record at home or listen to Spotify. When I first embarked on my journalism degree I had visions of working as a music journalist. I soon realised that music journalism is pretty much dead, that the pay is rubbish and that actually it wasn't really me. My copies of Rolling Stone from the nineties, including the one that marked the death of Kurt Cobain, are still packed away safely at my mother's house. I gave up buying music mags a long time ago. But lately I've missed it and have embarked on a solid reading regime of the biographies, and autobiographies, of musicians.

Kim Gordon

Sonic Youth is one of those bands that I listened to obsessively as a grunge-bunny teen and later in my early 20s. Kim Gordon is undoubtedly pretty much the coolest woman on the planet and unsurprisingly, her biography is bloody brilliant. It's one of those books that's impossible to put down, and when it's finished, you just want to blab about to everyone you meet. "Hurry up and read it immediately so we can dissect it in detail." New York in the eighties, hanging out with Kurt Cobain, and marriage-to and divorce-from ex-husband and bandmate Thurston Moore, juggling motherhood and band life, lyric writing. There's countless amazing bits but my favourite part has to be the snippet about being at a house party in LA and Black Flag are playing in the kitchen. Good times.

Viv Albertine

My other half read this book before me and told me I'd love it but warned me about the child-birth parts. Albertine's memoir of life in punk all-gird band The Slits and being part of the punk 'scene' is a brutally honest tale. From sexual encounters with boys to IVF treatment to music, music, music, it's another unputdownable tale from a girl in a band. It was super cheap to download on my Kindle and again, I demolished it within days. The punk years are fascinating but her life after punk is just as interesting. Apparently she lives my 'hood of London fields these days. Warning, there are chapters in this book that you'll be reading on the tube and hoping like hell no one is reading over your shoulder. Gross.

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  • I'm with the Band - Pamela Des Barres
    Probably my favourite of the bunch so far is the memoir of infamous groupie Miss Pamela, who went on to become a  rock journalist for magazines like Rolling Stone. I actually found this book after reading an article where Kim Gordon said it was one of her favourite books so, of course, I had to read it. Des Barres grew up in LA and has slept with, been friends with or just hung out with pretty much every rock'n'roll star from the 60s and 70s that you can name. This beautifully written book lacks the ego and testosterone that seems to drench so many books about rock stars from that period. And, luckily for us, des Barres kept journals her whole life so details that would've otherwise been lost to time are recorded here in fantastic detail. She was also a member of the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), the all-girl group that was the brainchild of Frank Zappa. She was not a dumb girl groupie by any means and her story provides the oft-ignored female perspective on such a fascinating time in music history. Everyone from Mick Jagger to Jim Morrison to Gram Parsons gets a mention. I loved it from start to finish and think I'll read it again on my next holiday. And she was a total babe, too (see above)
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  • Just Kids - Patti Smith
    Admittedly, it's been a few of years since I read this one but I still think about it often. Sometimes I'll be doing something terribly boring, like the dishes, and the singer-songwriter/poet's story will start floating through my mind. I'm pretty obsessed with New York and tales of the infamous Chelsea Hotel, so Smith's memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe really stuck with me. It's been well-documented what a mesmerising book this is and it really does live up to its reputation. The story of love and New York in the seventies makes me yearn for a New York that no longer exists. Now, can you remind me, who on earth did I lend our copy of this book to so I can reread it? I really enjoyed her earlier book Woolgathering, too.

I've yet to read Marianne Faithfull's autobiography but it's on the list, along with a number of tales about boys in bands. Have you read any music memoirs that I must read? x

Images found via Pinterest: 1. Kim Gordon photographed by Steve Double in NYC subway 2. Viv Albertine modelling for Laura Ashley before she was in The Slits 3. The beautiful Miss Pamela Des Barres 4. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe at Coney Island