Rock Bio: Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Amazon listing:

I am down to one of the last rock books I have binged on during this holiday; hope they were informative. Thanks to my relatives for the giftcards I used!

Link to previous one on Tom Petty, which links to the others:

This was worth reading. Carrie Brownstein, who more folks probably know from the show Portlandia by now, was originally famous for being in the band Sleater-Kinney*. The book focuses on her growing up through the breakup of Sleater-Kinney, with their recent reunion discussed as a code. Portlandia is largely out of the scope of the book.

The book is well-written and engaging. She grew up in a dysfunctional suburban home and ended up gravitating towards the progressive, neo-commune-ish, pro-woman scene happening in Olympia WA. We get a sense for what she experiences as she is figuring out who she is and what she and her band stand for.

I know Sleater-Kinney obliquely; I like what I have heard but haven’t sought them out. Reading Brownstein’s book is a bit Holden Caulfield-ish: she’s someone forging a new path while emerging from a damaged situation. She writes in a self-aware, self-deprecating way that makes some of the twee stuff go down easy, but also makes you want to ask why she doesn’t step over some of the troubles she finds herself in. Hearing her process it, as a person and an artist, is interesting and outweighs the issues I note.

Worth reading even if you don’t know her and excellent if you do.

Last holiday purchase/rock book up: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, by Bob Stanley.

*it weird typing that but feels necessary. To folks into music from S-K’s era, or Riot Grrrl music in general, she is FAMOUS and held up as a huge influence. But when I mention her to most folks I know, they either strictly mention Portlandia or simply haven’t heard of her.

Thanks for the heads up. Just bought this. Make sure you get the commission check.

Sweet! Thanks for reminding me. They’re probably my favorite band of the late 90s/early 00s, and I had the biggest Carrie Brownstein crush back then, so I’m happy to hear it’s an interesting read. Can’t wait to dig in.

Crazy. I just bought the book yesterday. Love Sleater-Kinney. Seen them live twice.

Well, thanks to an exceptionally slow start to the new year, I read this at work yesterday. It serves well as a captive to a long string of pacific northwest oriented music history books I burned through in the latter half of last year. Maybe was my way of putting Seattle to bed as I moved away after a 21 year span.

It’s a good read; I recommend it. But it’s also a little unsettling for me and I’m still processing it. On one hand, she freely chose to share parts of her life with the readers, and who am I to criticize the delivery of information I am in no way entitled to, but still I wonder as did another reviewer if this material might have been better served by being written by someone else after in depth interviews. This story is interesting as much as in what’s been carefully left out as in what’s made it to the page.

I finished it this morning, and it was an entertaining read, especially as I knew of most of the bands in that Olympia scene, even if I didn’t exactly know all their backstories. But I had the same observation–the book was written very – diplomatically? if that’s the word I’m looking for. That’s fine by me, but you can tell there’s a lot of details being held back, or only being very obliquely referred to, particularly the inter-band dynamic and stresses. I can respect that–this is certainly not a “tell-all” type of book. But I really enjoyed the history, her introspection, her thoughts on the life of being a working musician in a critically acclaimed band, finding her voice with other musicians, her struggles with health issues, her family life (or lack of), etc. A lot of the topics do feel like they’re approached in a bit of a cursory manner, but there’s enough there to start forming a reasonable outline of the person and the band. A memoir that really got into the nitty gritty of these topics would have to be at least triple the size, and it seems to me that Carrie is not one who really wants to share all the details.

Yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking. It reminds me of times when I have to write a report detailing some sort of fuck up at work when it’s politically inappropriate to actually lay blame. Lots of careful language and circumlocution; very wordy passages to to hide the holes in my narrative.

Another reviewer noted that in particularly difficult passages, like describing breakups, she shifts to second person perspective. And I was really scratching my head over the section where her dog killed her cat. I felt like I wandered into a blog somewhere.

Yeah, that was a bit out of left field for me. She does try to kind of tie it in to the greater personal narrative and it seems like it has some sort of metaphorical value for her, but it caught me by surprise (although I saw where the story was going, given this exact same thing has happened to someone I know. I mean, the inclusion of that story caught me by surprise.)

That’s a perfect way to summarize what I meant. The one part of the book that really threw me off guard, in regards to the above, was:

When she goes on about how their drummer at the time, Toni (right before Janet), couldn’t get the drumroll on Call The Doctor right show after show and how Carrie finally lost her patience at a gig and yelled “Fuck you!” at her. She follows it up by saying she was not proud of that memory, but that paragraph just jumped out at me given the tone of the rest of the memoir. Whether intended or not, it makes me feel there must have been some real frustration there because of how it was singled out.

Interesting to read your thoughts. I found her to be very self-deprecating, while also pointing out a lot of tough, high maintenance behaviors. Her inability to manage her animals, the shingles and other things that affected the band and so many other anecdotes point to a Woman Child who hasn’t figured out how to grow up. And yet her voice as an artist and her ability to tell the story keep her persona worth reading about.

Oh, she absolutely was self-deprecating. But that kind of also gave that polite, “diplomatic” feeling to me. Like I said, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the memoir, but it definitely leaves one with the feeling that there is a lot being held back.

For sure.


Yeah. I in no way deserve any of this information, but I can’t help wonder more about many many things. What happened to her sister after she evaporated from the story in the early going? I understand there was a dysfunctional family environment to the point of Carrie leaving home for days at a time, but other than a clueless dad that travels a lot and an unwell mother, I’m not sure where the major dysfunction lives. We get a lot of these carefully worded breakup stories, but I’d flip back pages and find no evidence of a mention of any relationship leading into that. We get lots of detail about working at the animal shelter and the lead up to the S-K reunion, but there’s a gigantic donut hole there that is Portlandia and her work with Fred Armisen.

Ultimately, I still really enjoyed the book, but I feel as if I read a copy of a much larger book that was missing a bunch of pages because the glue in the binding went bad.

That’s actually a helpful insight, thanks. It helps me put the pet stories into the framework in a way I hadn’t really considered.