Saturday, March 26, 2016

Review of "Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl" by Carrie Brownstein

Many people probably know Carrie Brownstein best as an actress on the TV sketch-comedy show "Portlandia". Prior to starring in this hit show, however, Brownstein was (and is) a successful guitarist and singer in the feminist punk rock band Sleater-Kinney, which emerged from the Pacific Northwest region that spawned a slew of alternative rock bands.

In this memoir, Brownstein reveals a love of performing that began in childhood, when she would regale family gatherings with her acting and singing. Brownstein goes on to unveil aspects of her formative youth, her mother's anorexia and abandonment of the family, her father's coming-out when she was a young adult, her love of music, her problems settling into college life, and the longing for closeness that seemed to propel much of her behavior and friendships. Though she reveals few names Brownstein mentions relationships with various women and the difficulty of maintaining a romance while touring for months at a time.
Brownstein describes the formation of Sleater-Kinney, writing the songs, and coordinating the guitar and drum music. She talks about her need to connect with the audience and release her inner anguish through the songs, which tend to be somewhat raw and strident. Much of the book is about recording Sleater-Kinney's albums and the tours that followed each release.
The tours were grueling, difficult, and done on the cheap. The band members generally drove to each venue in their cramped van, loaded and unloaded their own equipment, performed (and did photo shoots) in odd thrift store clothes, and slept crowded together on people's floors. The long drives were tedious, the food was bad, there was some tension among the bandmates, and - worst of all - Brownstein often became ill. At one time or another she developed incapacitating back pain, shingles, and severe allergies.
It wasn't easy being a feminist rock group during Sleater-Kinney's original run (1994-2006). Though the band garnered critical and popular acclaim it nevertheless experienced the condescending attitude directed at 'all girl bands', which Brownstein demonstrates with blurbs from music critics - some of whom were trying to be complimentary.
Brownstein talks about numerous punk/grunge/alternative bands that contributed to the music scene of the 1990's and 2000's, some of which - like Nirvana and Pearl Jam - came to be very well known. Moreover, Brownstein's book can almost serve as a primer on the 'business' aspect of running a small band: how to choose bandmates, organize a tour, pick an agent, manager, producer, PR person, and so on.
When Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus in 2006 Brownstein adopted two cats and two dogs for companionship (there's a dreadful anecdote in this section) and pursued other interests - including joining the show "Portlandia". The band began recording again in 2014.
Brownstein seems to be very honest in this book, detailing her successes as well as her problems and occasional bad behavior. She comes across as a talented, intelligent, funny woman and I enjoyed the book, which I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys an interesting memoir.

Rating: 4 stars

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