Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein review

The Sleater-Kinney riot grrrl delves into her early years and musical motivations with an engaging, unself-pitying intelligence

Brownsteins lyric turned title is of course ironic, her use of the G word in particular. Sleater-Kinney, the Washington trio that she co-founded in 1994,were riot grrrl not girl power the opposite end of the spectrum to the Spice Girls dumbed down feminism. I didnt want to be a girl with a guitar, Brownstein writes. Girl felt like an identifier that viewers, especially male ones, saw as a territory upon which an electric guitar was a tourist, an interloper. Its perhaps the only duff sentence in the book, its stylistic failings evidence of the freight it carries.

The sexism of the industry is all-pervasive, but territory is also a key word for Brownstein, her search being less for a room of her own than a way of inhabiting her flesh. Retreating to her head at an early age, she spent her formative years (and many thereafter) separated from her body, a state of affairs remedied only by music. As a teenager, she recalls, it was not enough for her to listen to her favourite guitarists; she had to witness them, to brave the mosh pit bruises to glimpse who I wanted to be.

The reasons for the intensity and physicality of Brownsteins desire become clear as she describes her upbringing. Her father, a corporate lawyer, was a cipher who seems to have been unaware for the first 55 years of his life that he was gay. Her mother was an anorexic who left the family in Brownsteins early teens. All of this is related with candour, wit and also the slight detachment that Brownstein developed as a survival strategy: she is too smart to waste time bemoaning or psychoanalysing the situation, although she is fully aware of how the dots join up in her own life. (And, when the inevitable artistic differences arise in Sleater-Kinneys existence, the band take the eminently sensible step of seeking couples therapy.)

Music is the heart of this book it stops short of Portlandia, Brownsteins comedy show and knowing where she is coming from adds an edge to otherwise familiar laments about the internets effect on pop culture. In the 1990s, she reflects, books, music and films had to be sought out, and the seeking was a physical process. Nowadays its easier than ever to be divorced from both provenance and predecessors, to essentially be a cultural tease.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is published by Virago (7.99). Click here to order a copy for 6.55

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