“All we ever wanted was just to play songs and shows that mattered to people, that mattered to us. Music that summed up the messiness of life, that mitigated that nagging fear of hopelessness, loneliness, and death.”
Carrie Brownstein is a rock star in every sense. Her talent in anyone else might be an embarrassment of riches; her music, her writing, her acting, her originality shine with brilliance. Yet she shares herself with such raw honesty and unpretentiousness that one is glad of her gifts and is loathe to begrudge.
I came into this memoir of Brownstein’s not particularly a fan of her music, but a fan of her and of what her role in music means for women. I leave it in awe of her as a creator and a writer. Her portrayal of her relationship with her mother is fraught, raw, and heartbreaking; but it is also melodic, employing musical metaphor with a maestro’s touch:
“My mother and I started to fight all of the time. She was retreating from the world, a slow-motion magic trick. Meanwhile, I was getting louder, angrier, wilder. I experimented with early forms of my own amplification – of self, of voice, of fury – while my mother’s volume was turned down lower and lower, only ever audible when she broadcast searing feedback and static; broken, tuneless sounds. We vacillated between shouting and silence, the megaphone and the mute.”
Brownstein and her band, Sleater-Kinney, were key players in the Riot Grrrl scene, a movement of gritty creativity by women across the country.
“Sometimes the works were smart or pithy, profound, poetic, and often they were really messy. But they formed a boundary and a foundation for a lot of girls who had been undone by invisibility, including myself. Girls wrote and sang about sexism and sexual assault, about shitty bosses and boyfriends, about fucking and wanting to fuck. They called out friends and relatives and bands and businesses, corporations and governments for what they felt were injustices.”
Her feminism is often angry but always approachable. Brownstein and her band mates faced constant criticism and questioning; their presence as women in rock was often construed as threatening. The threat was to “an entrenched cultural assumption that the female experience can merely encompass the known, the domestic, the ordinary. … Persona for a man is equated with power; persona for a woman makes her less of a woman, more distant and unknowable, and thus threatening.”
These intrepid women fought constantly to find themselves and to share what felt real. There was a tight rope they walked, testing expectations and challenging assumptions that tried to bind them.
“The role of a woman onstage is often indistinct from her role offstage – pleasing, appeasing, striking some balance between larger-than-life and iconic with approachable, likable, and down-to-earth, the fans like gaping mouths, hungry for more of you.”
Carrie Brownstein bared her soul in this book. At times it was brutal, making me flinch; at other times her euphoria is contagious, her successes visceral. Throughout, her writing is deep, lyrical, and poignant. I am grateful that she shared herself, her gift for writing, and her hunger.