A Ladyfest Feminist Summer Reading List: Carrie Brownstein

Yup. I'm breaking down another lady music memoir in honor of SLO Lady Fest kicking off this Saturday, Aug. 6 at The Grange Hall in SLO featuring like, A ZILLION rad local and out-of-town luscious lady bands! I'll be posting one each day(ish) till the big show. If you have more lady reads you suggest, I'm all ears.

Carrie Brownstein isn't smiling. Is that OK with y'all?

Carrie Brownstein isn't smiling. Is that OK with y'all?

I really shouldn't have been all that surprised by Carrie's professorial writing style, but I was. She's written for important music magazines and blogs since the 90s, and while her lyrics are poetic, they're usually quite wrought and intentional--each word beginning with a capitol letter and ending with a resounding period. 

In a word, her memoir, "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl," is "literary," even bordering on "Women's Studies Text Book" in some places. I'm not putting her style down at all, BTW; just calling it like it is. Somehow, I just wasn't prepared for her sharp-as-a-tack societal observations and illustrious vocab. It's not like I was underestimating her...or maybe I was?? Am I worse that those terrible music journalists in the 90s that refused to call Sleater-Kinney anything but a "girl band" with a bone to pick? I guess I just didn't know what to expect. Reading this book while traveling to and from Seattle made the guitarist's growing pains and triumphs seem all the more real, as so much of the story unfolds in the gloomy, gorgeous Pacific Northwest.

I was impressed and challenged by all of it. Carrie's story is clear-eyed and compelling, often moaning with self-depreciation and angst even after she reaches her late 20s and 30s. With clinical precision, she slices into the surreal journey that is her own life, taking us from absolutely clueless, confused and lost suburbanite to indie punk band to "rock star sell out," to dealing with rampant sexism from music journalists of the day.

What struck me most about the book: Carrie was and is compelled by a small, vulnerable yearning. Really, she just wanted a family, a  tribe. A place to go where she could call home, be heard, be seen and understood without judgement (I should mention here that she's sexually fluid and totally unapologetic about it). Carrie didn't feel super connected to her own familial roots, so she sought something greater in the music world, the punk scene. I can relate to this feeling--as a pre-teen and teen much more than now, but I get it.

Unfortunately, Carrie became SO intertwined with her band (even falling in love with one of her bandmates), that she forgot that she, herself, has the power to move mountains. For a time, there was no "her" without the band. Her struggle to find her true herself and true voice, into her 40s, is moving. It kind of makes you sad but also kind of gives you hope. This whole "becoming who you are thing" doesn't really end. And if you mine the details and nuggets...that can be an amazing and rewarding thing. Just look at her role as actress and writer on Portlandia. Her personality shines through and it's absolutely jubilant. Radiant!

One of my fave parts of the book: Carrie shares some of the music press she's gotten over the years. She doesn't give much commentary on it, just allows the reader to interpret for themselves.

These reviews--often good, sometimes bad--show the subtle, insidious way that preconcieved attitudes toward women seep into every corner of society, even the "alt press." It's not a brick over the head that says "SLUT!" It's more of a quiet whisper, a slight of hand...and it just drives Carrie (and I) absolutely nuts.

Many times this kind of sexism  isn't even ll-intentioned or mean spirited. The band just appeared to be animals at the zoo. How could you not ask a female band only questions about being female? I can understand this mind-fuck completely.

Try to read between the lines on this one:

"Fortunately, [Sleater-Kinney's] frequent lyrical challenges to gender roles didn't devolve into rote male-bashing, and both sexes [in the crowd] jumped and bobbed with joyful abandon. It helped that the three were quick with smiles, obviously enjoying the charged room." - Washington Post, 1998.

I'll leave you here. Just think about that for a second. Re-read. Digest.

Go pick up the book at Boo Boo Records, too.