For August/September, Our Shared Shelf read Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. Who is Carrie Brownstein? A member of the feminist punk-rock band Sleater-Kinney, unintentional leader of Riot-Grrrl, and co-creator and star of the TV comedy Portlandia. Reflecting on the formative years of her life, Brownstein struck me with both her writing and her passion. Her honesty was refreshing and the complex introspection of her younger days was engaging. If you are remotely interested in understanding the music scene– from fandom to touring to the break up– I strongly recommend this book.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is divided into three parts: Youth: Where Carrie’s fandom and family life leads her to the creation of Sleater-Kinney. Sleater-Kinney: The bulk of the books which addresses the band as an active music-making/touring group, as well as personal reflections on the trials and tribulations of being such a group. And finally Aftermath: where the downfall of Sleater-Kinney and Carrie’s personal collapse are described.
My favorite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a while new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is tobe a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as a witness.
Youth is my favorite section. In these pages, Carrie describes fandom as I have never heard before. I understand the idea of superfans. I have friends and family members who are certainly superfans of different music groups, different people– but I’ve never understood it. Carrie craved attention and acknowledgement in her formative years. She wanted to understand her world and what was happening around her but had no means to do so. Her family was falling apart, no matter how she tried to keep them together or to be engaged. Eventually, realizing she was not able to control the world around her, she turned to music. Already an avid performer, Carrie drew her power and passion from the music in her life. And when the music she listened to didn’t fill the void she felt, Carrie hunted for more music. She attended concerts to make a connection. To understand the crazy moments of adolescence. She was struggling to find her place and the meaning in her life– and she found her drive through music.
The most amazing thing to me is that I don’t think Carrie feels like she ever found her place or meaning. Certainly, there were times that Sleater-Kinney felt right. But most of this book was about Carrie, Corin and Janet, their music, and their struggles to make their dream come alive. In fact, reading this book, I often wondered if they held a dream. It seemed like this was the only life they knew or expected. This is what they had, and they just followed the path. Learning about their music journey, and how they groped around in the dark to find their sound, is fascinating. At its root, this book is about passion. How it will both alternately drive you and crush you simultaneously if you aren’t careful.
It’s hard to express how profound it is to have your experience broadcast back to you for the first time, how shocking it feels to be acknowledged, as if your own sense of realness has only existed before as a concept.
After talking about this book in my book club, I did walk away with one critical piece of knowledge: This is an Insider’s book. If you aren’t fluent in music, you don’t understand avid passion, or you aren’t familiar with Sleater-Kinney or Riot-Grrrl, then you won’t connect with the text. Or, your connection might be minimal. While this is a beautifully written memoir, I had some background information coming into this. In fact, I have two degrees in music. So I got it. I got the obsession with music and how it connects to you. I also was familiar with Riot Grrrl already; the cultural movement and how it shaped punk and feminism. But many of my friends were unfamiliar with all of these concepts. I feel like I got more out of this book than my book club friends and it’s only because of my background.
In this end, this is a wonderfully written novel about loving music, making music, and the relationships you develop along the way. We never got into Carrie Brownstein’s Portlandia world, but that’s okay. This is really a book about Riot-Grrl, Sleater-Kinney, and how Carrie developed into the person she is today. Do you have any interest in music? Then read this book.