Arguably one of the most influential women in the post-punk and alternative music scene of the 1980s and 1990s, Kim Gordon was the bassist for and founding member of the fiercely independent and experimental band Sonic Youth. Like Kim Deal of the Pixies, Gordon anchored the band's rhythm while offering a cool, detached sense of humor and passion to the fiery guitar squall of husband Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. However, Gordon contributed an equal amount of creative input and control over the band while also enjoying leadership positions in a vast array of side projects, from fashion and art to bands like Free Kitten. In doing so, she was revered as a role model for creative women by critics and fans alike, who were shocked by the dissolution of both her marriage and Sonic Youth itself in 2013. Gordon's artistic ambitions and restless creativity soon led to new projects, while her body of work with Sonic Youth preserved her status as a major figure in the development of independent music.
Born Kim Althea Gordon on April 28, 1953 in Rochester, New York, she was the daughter of sociology and education professor Wayne C. Gordon, who enrolled her in a progressive elementary school attached to UCLA. The experience appeared to pique her interest in experimental and alternative art and culture: she explored modern art and progressive jazz as a high schooler, and earned an art degree from the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County. Like her former husband and bandmate Moore, Gordon relocated to New York City at the end of the punk scene in the late 1970s, and curated gallery shows while diving into the burgeoning "No Wave" scene. The movement, as defined by such bands as Theoretical Girls, the Lounge Lizards and James Chance, merged elements of jazz, funk and neo-classic constructions with heavy doses of atonality and noise, held considerable fascination for Gordon, who believed music to be her calling. Despite having no experience or training, she began playing in a band with members of avant-garde composer Glenn Branca's ensemble and later in underground musician Stanton Miranda's group CKM. Moore had recently joined the group, and struck up a relationship based on mutual artistic interests that blossomed into romance and eventual marriage in 1984.
In 1981, Moore introduced Gordon to guitarist Lee Ranaldo, a veteran of Branca's ensemble, and the trio formed the Arcadians, a noise-driven group that would eventually blossom into Sonic Youth. Their self-titled EP debuted on Branca's label, Neutral Records, that same year, and was soon followed by their first album, Confusion is Sex. Their dissonant sonic assault found a devoted audience in the UK before establishing a beachhead in America with their 1985 album Bad Moon Rising. Hardcore punk drummer Steve Shelley completed the best-known band lineup for Sonic Youth's breakout album, EVOL (1986), though recorded for SST Records, a West Coast label that had established itself on the strength of forceful punk acts like Black Flag, Sonic Youth's sound was more experimental in nature - Moore and Ranaldo experimented with alternate tunings and avant-garde arrangements - while also embracing elements of melody and harmonics. By 1988, Sonic Youth had landed on the radar of the national music scene: Rolling Stone praised their double LP Daydream Nation, which led to their major label debut with Geffen for 1990's Goo.
The music press and other musicians took note of Gordon's image and role within Sonic Youth. Far from a utility player, Gordon was a key figure in the group's sound, crafting an efficient rhythmic foundation and on songs like their 1990 radio hit "Kool Thing," chilly vocal counterpoint to the volcanic upheaval of Moore and Ranaldo's guitars. Eventually, the increased exposure afforded to Sonic Youth allowed Gordon to experiment with a variety of side projects, from co-producing Hole's debut album, Pretty on the Inside (1991) and collaborating with artists like Lydia Lunch in the band Harry Crews and Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz in Free Kitten. Gordon also dabbled in filmmaking - she directed the music video for the Breeders' massive hit "Cannonball" in 1991 - and journalism, penning articles for Artforum and Spin, among others, while also briefly exploring the world of fashion with the label X-Girl. She also became a full-time mother in 1994 after giving birth to a daughter, Coco. All of these efforts signaled to fans and admirers - and in particular, aspiring female performers - that a woman could be an equal partner in a rock band and enjoy the same degree of artistic and personal freedom as her male counterparts. In doing so, Gordon was a huge influence on such independent minded artists as Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna and film director Sofia Coppola.
Gordon continued with Sonic Youth through its most prolific and successful period in the late '90s and 2000s, when it attained Top 20 chart success with their 2009 album The Eternal. She was also engaged in a slew of side projects, including numerous international exhibitions of her photographs, drawings and paintings, as well as occasional acting roles in Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" (2005) and with Moore in an episode of "Gilmore Girls" (The WB/CW, 2000-2007). In 2011, Gordon and Moore shocked many fans and the music cognoscenti in general by announcing their separation; the couple eventually divorced in 2013, placing Sonic Youth on indefinite hiatus. Between these events, Gordon toured with drummer Ikue Mori, formerly of the No Wave band DNA, and formed the experimental electric guitar duo Body/Head. Their debut album, Coming Apart, was released in 2013.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Forms Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo.
Double LP <i>Daydream Nation</i> serves as Sonic Youth's college radio breakthrough.
Sign to DGC Records and release major-label debut <i>Goo</i>; Nirvana later signs to the same label encouraged by Sonic Youth's example.