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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir Hardcover – 5 Nov 2015
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The author writes focused and uncluttered prose, choosing the best, most telling details, as she recounts stories that show what it means to perform for the first time and what it means for a woman to be both a fan and a star in a staunchly male-dominated world. Unlike many rock star memoirs, there's no sense that this book is a chore or a marketing effort. It's revealing and riveting. On the page as in her songs, Brownstein finds the right words to give shape to experience (Kirkus)
Carrie Brownstein writes the way she plays guitar, with raw honesty, passion, and great humor (Vanity Fair)
She can play, but man, can Carrie Brownstein write . . . Her blazing memoir is lit by the same flair for adventure, fearless inquiry, and honesty that mark her gritty licks and trenchant vocals (Elle)
[A] glorious, grungy paean to losing yourself in music (Sarra Manning Red)
In the vast library of recent rock memoirs - just listing their authors would take up most of this review's space - Ms Brownstein's may be the one that most nakedly exposes its author's personality (New York Times)
[Brownstein's] honesty is disarming, and buoyed by the same dry wit that makes her scenester-lacerating IFC series Portlandia so good. That's how she artfully manages to transcend the backstage tropes of the rock-bio genre, and why Hunger should become the new handbook for every modern girl (and yes, boys, too) looking for the courage to pursue a life less ordinary (Entertainment Weekly)
Heartfelt and disarmingly honest . . . her greatest achievement here is in opening up about her most enduring adversary: herself (Independent)
Heartfelt and disarmingly honest, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is far from a regular tale of rock'n'roll dissolution. It is, instead, a tale of a young woman with a complex interior life struggling to grow up and find her identity . . . It is the story of her struggle to belong (Independent on Sunday)
Revelatory, poignant and genuinely funny . . . this memoir reads like a rich and rewarding coming-of-age novel . . . Disarmingly honest and self-deprecating, it's inspirational reading for aspiring musicians, outsiders and anyone trying to make sense of their life (List)
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl succeeds on enough levels to make familiarity with Brownstein's career largely unnecessary . . . Brownstein's candid, poetic and ideas-strewn narrative supports a gripping tale (The Skinny)
From the guitarist of the pioneering band Sleater-Kinney, a candid, funny, and deeply personal look at making a life-and finding yourself-in music.See all Product description
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4.5 stars and very much recommended
Up until a couple of years ago, Sleater-Kinney only barely registered on my radar, and Carrie Brownstein not at all. That changed with a visit to Seattle’s EMP museum, surely the coolest museum in the world. On the back of wandering through EMP’s Nirvana exhibition I bought the catalogue that complements it. That spurred the purchase of a few S-K CDs and curiosity regarding the origins of the songs.
In Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, Brownstein in part at least addresses that curiosity, but more importantly provides an insight into a rock’n’roll mind. Some of the perspective is slightly different from Springsteen’s: as with him there’s a little bit of a hint that Brownstein was trying to impress the girls in choosing music as a career, but the table is slightly more tilted to the overwhelming desire to play music and send a message, where with The Boss the initial impression at least is that it was for him the other way round.
Brownstein’s account of her early years sees her faced, amongst other things, with the instability of her parents’ marriage on the back of her mother’s anorexia. The anorexia in a way leads Brownstein to become a child expert on that and a number of other ailments. That in turn provides her with an opportunity to give us an amusing, if somewhat macabre, vison of her young self as a quasi-therapist to the adults around her, engaging in informed discussions of their symptoms and remedies. It is reminiscent, in a way, of the doctor character Lucy assumes in the Peanuts comic strip.
As a teenager she wrangles with common teenage issues regarding the direction she wants her life to head in. She is mostly torn between following a respectable(-ish) path through college and into a regular job and taking herself off that path in order to be a musician. She talks of the many early musical influences in her life, including Nirvana, Bikini Kill and, pivotally, Heavens to Betsy, whose singer Corin Tucker begins as an inspiration, later becomes her mentor as their bands tour together, and eventually becomes the song-writing half of the driving duo behind Sleater-Kinney alongside Brownstein.
Throughout this period, although the details are different, the general feel of paying your dues is a theme in common with Springsteen’s account, underlining in both the intense motivation to succeed. Life on the road is gruelling and, often, quite yukkily unhygienic, and then there is the issue of finding the right musicians as accompaniment, one which adds further amusing episodes.
Having noted the similarities with Springsteen, however, there are numerous outstanding differences. First is typified in Brownstein’s account of S-K recording their first album, Call The Doctor. Where Springsteen at the equivalent stage was all confident, professional alpha male, Brownstein is more diffident, and the approach is far more DIY, learn-on-the-job stuff, where Springsteen has an experienced crew on hand.
The other critical difference relates to gender and sexual orientation and how these are treated by the media. First example: it is doubtful that Springsteen was ever asked why he chose to be in an all-male band (pre Patti Scialfa); yet it seems at least one journalist feels it legitimate to ask S-K why they chose to be in an all-female one. Second, at a time when Brownstein herself had yet to decide on her sexual orientation, another journalist decided it was in the public interest to “out” her as a lesbian. I don’t remember Springsteen ever being outed as a heterosexual. And third, there are the frustrations Brownstein expresses at live reviews that focus more on the clothes the band wore than on the music itself.
That the press, in Barney Hoskins’s words in his intro to Reckless Daughter, tend toward “the crass and the facile” is of no surprise, unfortunately. Who can forget this headline in the Daily Mail: “Charli XCX flashes her underwear as she takes to the stage at Glastonbury in naughty schoolgirl outfit”? Hoskins’s words referred to the sort of reportage experienced by Rolling Stone’s erstwhile “old lady of the year”, Joni Mitchell, another female star who, as that accolade illustrates, suffered throughout her career at the hands of the dreg-end of the fourth estate. All ambitious female stars, in whichever profession, continue to face this kind of treatment.
So, to the music. Amongst other things, Brownstein writes about the influences and inspirations behind the decision not to have a bass in the band, the song Jumpers, the album One Beat, and the sound on The Woods (as I suspected, Led Zep were involved). There’s an account of the role played by the Olympia/Seattle scene, punk and Riot Grrrl in the formation of the S-K style. And she amusingly recounts the experience of supporting Pearl Jam: she has nothing but admiration for the band, and especially Eddie Vedder; they found out quite early that the things S-K were able to say to their own fans didn’t necessarily go down well with the wider kind of audience at Pearl Jam shows; and while S-K struggle on with a road crew of three, Pearl Jam have an entire army.
Towards the end of the book, with her health spinning downwards whilst the band are on tour, Brownstein brings about their disbandment. Fortunately we know there’s a happy ending, and in the Epilogue she briefly writes about their reconstitution and “low key” comeback gig in Spokane, to which fans travel from all over the world.
Beginning in her childhood and following on to numerous tales of life on the road with Sleater-Kinney. Fans hoping for mention of her work with Fred Armisen on Portlandia will be disappointed as it is not touched upon. However the charm of the book is not lost, even for those without much interest in the band itself.
Definitely worth a read.