Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

Carrie Brownstein

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir
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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

Carrie Brownstein

Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance.

With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as  America’s best rock band  by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue.  Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era’s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later.

With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding one’s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating power of rock and roll.

Review

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I were to say that watching Carrie Brownstein in Sleater-Kinney play a live show in Brisbane in the early 2000s after the release of their album One Beat was a life-changing experience for me. Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s voices seemed to come from every corner of the full, sweaty venue; watching that show was like having everything I never knew about feminism, the riot grrrl, queer, punk and post-punk movements, and the transcendent potential of women in rock implanted into my ravenous twenty-one-year-old brain.

In Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein lays out her own version of this type of experience: of music fandom and a desire to perform, of her education by and participation in a scene that was progressive, radical, and agitating, and of following those politics and that art through to engage with a much broader audience. She writes, ‘by the time Sleater-Kinney were a band, there was very little question that the context from which we came was one of fairly radical politics’, but at the same time, she acknowledges a tension in that scene of the time, a ‘cringe at the elitism that was often paired with punk  … a movement that professed inclusiveness seemed to actually be highly exclusive’. The title of the memoir is a lyric from a song on Sleater-Kinney’s 2006 album The Woods. The idea that ‘hunger makes me a modern girl’ embodies everything that is crucial, desperate and awakening about the band, about Brownstein’s place in the Pacific Northwest punk scene through the 90s and early 2000s, and about what brought her there. She writes in a way that is clear and direct, but also, typically, sharp and lyrical, about her own sense of yearning and emptiness that saw her seeking out the fringe punk and riot grrrl scene of Olympia and later Portland. Music, and songwriting, was a way to be a part of something vital, to fill a void, to be loud, to be whole, witnessed, and present.

While I’m obviously a massive fan of Brownstein’s work, I am not especially partial to music biographies. Yet reading this particular story was an absorbing, fulfilling and urgent experience. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is eloquent and honest, and it is effortless to read.


Amy Vuleta is the Shop Manager at Readings St Kilda.

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