A slim memoir from Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein, but be warned: it is definitely not about that work. Instead, this is about her early family life in the Northwest and her young woman life in one of the best unknown bands of the 1990s/2000s, Sleater-Kinney. Of course, they are still around and releasing good music, but their unknown status is probably past, largely because of Brownstein’s new TV fame and because the teens that found them then are now critics and paid writers and can reciprocate with open love and respect and everyone else can pretend to have followed them for years. For those who do follow them, this book will be familiar in its existentialist language, even as the actual events are presented plainly, dramatically and only rarely as funny. All of that seems perfect for a book about this painfully present band that was always more about intense performances with alternately obscure or in-your-face lyrics and was much less- if it all- about any rock posturing or god(dess) complex. Brownstein certainly understands and communicates that just being in a band was a lifesaver, but that she used it respectfully to find her adult voice to say something rather than just using it to seem cool is also clear.
Brownstein writes about herself in a rush, seemingly annoyed by her own youth and spends more time and positive energy on the others who make up that time, like her father, her bandmates Corin and Janet and even legendary bands around her such as Bikini Kill or known names like Eddie Vedder (was oddly glad to hear that he is a good guy). That makes sense because the best descriptions in the book are of seeing bands and in describing the scene (maybe the first era that this term was used without irony) in the staplegun marketing of rock and politics back then. Those chapters definitely brought that time back clearly and does so without false nostalgia. Those pieces reminded me of the best writing of Ellen Willis, which to me is saying something.
Brownstein can dazzle with phrases and apt opinions such as “Within the world of the band there was a me and a not me” and “Anything that isn’t traditional for women apparently requires that we remind people what an anomaly it is, even when it becomes less and less of an anomaly” but also can run circles around herself and an opinion so long that it makes you put the book down for a bit. I can relate to that as a writer and I suspect that she is both afraid of revealing too much and unable to resist showing the many sides of any situation that she notices. Both can be disconcerting for autobiographical writing, but lucky for us, she does her best to curb those impulses and her undeniable charisma comes through at almost all times. I hope for many more books by Brownstein, and much more of Sleater-Kinney and yes, many more seasons of Portlandia.
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