Despite the fact that she is merely 42 years old, Carrie Brownstein, guitarist of the band Sleater-Kinney, has written her memoirs – right in time to coincide with the band’s reunion and new album. She narrates the band’s history from its origins in the town of Olympia to its separation in 2006, interweaving it with very personal revelations about her mother’s anorexia, her father’s confession about being gay and the break-up of her relationship with bandmate Corin Tucker.
Insightfully and honestly, Brownstein writes about her admiration of “riot grrrl”, an underground feminist movement in Olympia, and her decision to join it. She also discusses her experiences with sexism as a female musician and about how brutal success can be.
But although Brownstein’s writing is vivid, with her similes on point and full of wit, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl still is quite cumbersome to read at times. The reader who is not lucky enough to have a broad knowledge of the Olympia music scene will probably yawn at Brownstein’s paragraph-long enumerations of people she has met, bands she has played with and concert halls she has been to. The book follows a chronical timeline starting with Brownstein’s childhood and ending at the reunion of Sleater-Kinney, but still Brownstein gets carried away now and then, jumping back and forth in the band’s history until the reader is entirely confused.
Despite this, her descriptions of music are a real treat to read. Brownstein is capable of filling a whole page with a beautiful, almost Thomas Mann-like depiction of how her guitar, Corin Tucker’s voice and Janet Weiss’ drums work together in Sleater-Kinney’s songs. Readers who have been fans of the band for a long time will also be thrilled to hear the background stories of some of the songs, with Brownstein revealing information such as who they were written for and why.
Unfortunately, Brownstein’s book ends in more of a lame guitar weep than in a great drum solo. Talking about her life after Sleater-Kinney, she loses herself in rambling on about her cat Hector’s death for pages. Even though touching, this elaboration makes it rather hard to get through the final pages of the book.
Nevertheless, Brownstein’s memoir remains to be a fascinating book about a remarkable female’s career. Along the way she refrains from any kind of bragging, stays modest, self-ironic and likeable. It is not hard to believe her to be just a music nerd who incidentally ended up in one of the most renowned and influential punk rock bands of all times. At no point does Brownstein even try to write one of those cheesy, outworn “Follow your dreams and you’ll make it”-narratives. And precisely by that, she manages to write a memoir that is in fact inspiring.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (Riverhead Books, 2015)
Photo credit: Taylorhatmaker