Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

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