“To see a seamless performance is kind of boring. I like to see things kind of fall apart.”
These are the words of Kim Gordon, after watching clip after clip of live performances gone wrong. As part of the “Unbound” series, last week BAM and Greenlight Books hosted Kim Gordon to talk about her new memoir, “Girl in a Band” with longtime friend Margaret Bodde, although not much about the book was actually uttered the whole night. At the start, Bodde and Gordon reminisced a few minutes about the early 80s and (possibly) meeting each other for the first time at CBGBs. Bodde showered Gordon with accolades for her various works, then dived in to questions, starting with one about Gordon’s relationship to an audience. Gordon talked about how music is different than other mediums of art and admitted feeling self-conscious at times.
Gordon recollected her first big tour with Sonic Youth opening for Neil Young and some of the negative feedback and hostility from Young’s fans when they went on stage. They didn’t play for cheers though, and respected their own fanbase even more for attending those shows. Later in the discussion, Gordon said,“We assumed that no one would like it. We felt like we had more control if we weren’t waiting for applause.”
The night focused on moments when the invisible wall between performer and audience is broken – when there is no more separation, when chaos ensues and how the artists react. We watched series of clips that showed unexpected and mostly destructive audience/performer interactions from concerts from the 60s to the 90s, with artists ranging from Joni Mitchell to Nirvana. Most of the scenes showcased the late sixties, when peace and love were on their way out and a price tag was put on concerts that used to be free. The clips showed drug and alcohol fueled altercations of angry hippies rebelling against the growing commercialism of rock and roll.
The clips illustrated how current culture permeates art, spotlighting how anxiety or tension in society is palpable in live performances. Nothing exists in a bubble, but it is better that way. In “Girl in a Band,” Gordon dishes on the moments and background that affected her own work, sharing intimate details of her life, career and relationships during her time in New York. She calls writing the book “challenging,” but also the “most conventional thing” she’s ever done.