Kim Althea Gordon (born April 28, 1953) is an American musician, songwriter, and visual artist. Born in Rochester, New York, Gordon was raised in Los Angeles, California, and studied art at the Otis Art Institute. She later rose to prominence as the bassist, guitarist, and vocalist of the New York City-based alternative rock band Sonic Youth, which she formed with Thurston Moore in 1981; she and Moore were also married from 1984 to 2013.
Gordon also formed the musical project Free Kitten with Julia Cafritz (of Pussy Galore) in the 1990s, and debuted as a producer on Hole's debut album Pretty on the Inside (1991). Gordon also worked on a fashion line called X-Girl in 1993, and continued to write and release material with Sonic Youth throughout the 1990s and on into the late 2000s.
Gordon has collaborated with Ikue Mori, DJ Olive, William Winant, Lydia Lunch, Yoko Ono, Raymond Pettibon, Kathleen Hanna, and Chris Corsano. In 2012, after the breakup of Sonic Youth, Gordon formed Body/Head with friend Bill Nace, releasing their debut album Coming Apart in September 2013. Gordon's memoir, Girl in a Band, was published in February 2015, by HarperCollins imprint Dey Street Books.
Gordon was born in Rochester, New York, where her father, Wayne Gordon, had been working on his PhD in sociology at the University of Rochester. At age five, her family relocated to Los Angeles, California when her father was offered a professorship in the sociology department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Gordon described her mother was "a homemaker with creative tendencies." She attended a progressive elementary school that was attached to UCLA, which she described as: "“It was learn by doing. So we were always making African spears and going down to the river and making mud huts, or skinning a cowhide and drying it and throwing it off the cliff at Dana Point.”
In her memoir, Gordon recounts spending summers with her family in Klamath, California, near the Oregon border. In Los Angeles, Gordon attended University High School, and after graduating, attended the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County. She was also briefly a student at York University in Toronto, Canada, where she played in her first band. She briefly worked for Larry Gagosian during her study as a side-job.
Sonic Youth (1981–2011)
After graduating from art school, Gordon moved to New York City and became fascinated by "no-wave" bands:
When I came to New York, I’d go and see bands downtown playing no-wave music. It was expressionistic and it was also nihilistic. Punk rock was tongue-in-cheek, saying, ‘Yeah, we’re destroying rock.’ No-wave music is more like, ‘NO, we’re really destroying rock.’ It was very dissonant. I just felt like, Wow, this is really free. I could do that.
In New York City, she joined the short-lived band CKM, with Christine Hahn and Stanton Miranda, and met her future Sonic Youth bandmates Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore through Miranda. Gordon began dating Moore and, together with Ranaldo, the couple then formed Sonic Youth in 1981. Originally the band released their first two albums, Confusion is Sex (1983) and Bad Moon Rising (1985) on Neutral and Homestead Records, respectively, before signing with SST to release EVOL (1986) and Sister (1987). In October 1988, the band released Daydream Nation album through Enigma Records.
In 1989, the band signed onto DGC Records, a subsidiary of Geffen, and released Goo (1990), which became the group's first commercial hit. The band toured extensively for the album between 1990 and 1991, and a documentary titled 1991: The Year Punk Broke documented the band's tour with Nirvana, Babes in Toyland, Dinosaur Jr., Gumball and Mudhoney.
Gordon is known for a fascination with Karen Carpenter and Sonic Youth wrote the song "Tunic" about the musician. Gordon provided insight into the song in a 2010 interview:
I was trying to put myself into Karen's body. It was like she had so little control over her life, like a teenager—they have so little control over what’s happening to them that one way they can get it is through what they eat or don’t. Also I think she lost her identity, it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine. When people come and ask me about being famous or whatever and I don’t feel that, it’s not me. But it makes me think about it. The music is definitely about the darker side. But I also wanted to liberate Karen into heaven. . . . You know there’s all these families out there trying so hard to do everything right and be perfect.
The band popularly covered the song "Superstar", which had been covered by The Carpenters in 1971. Between 1983 and 2009, Gordon, with Sonic Youth, released a total of sixteen studio albums, their last release being The Eternal (2009) before their official disbandment in 2011.
Other projects (1989–present)
In 1989, Gordon, Sadie May, and Lydia Lunch formed Harry Crews and released the album Naked in Garden Hills. In 1991, Courtney Love, who had been influenced by Sonic Youth and the no wave scene, sent Gordon a letter asking her to produce her band Hole's debut record, Pretty on the Inside. Gordon, along with assistance from Don Fleming, produced the album in March 1991, which later received critical acclaim and cult status.
Gordon collaborated with Cafritz to form the band Free Kitten that also recorded with Mark Ibold and Yoshimi P-We. Free Kitten released three albums on the Kill Rock Stars record label and a fourth album on Moore's Ecstatic Peace label.
The Supreme Indifference was a musical collaboration that involved Gordon, Jim O'Rourke and Alan Licht. The band appeared on the 2002 compilation Fields and Streams.
Following the announcement of Sonic Youth's hiatus, Gordon commenced touring with Ikue Mori, Tokyo-born drummer of late-1970s band DNA—Gordon had performed with Mori previously at events such as the NoFunFest in 2004. The duo completed a European tour in mid-2012 and Gordon explained during a corresponding interview, "You sorta want to get lost and you hope that the audience gets lost with you ... You can feel if they’re listening, you can feel if there’s some connection.” Together with Bill Nace, Gordon and Mori were selected for the June 2013 All Tomorrow's Parties event that was curated by the band Deerhunter.
Gordon also formed a noise guitar project with Nace, entitled Body/Head, and a single called "The Eyes, The Mouth" was released in 2012 on Belgian label Ultra Eczema. The band's debut album Coming Apart was released on September 10, 2013 on the Matador Records label and the band completed a US tour during September/October 2013.
On the 12th of September 2016, Kim Gordon released her first solo single, "Murdered Out".
Gordon is an established visual artist and curator, and her work has been exhibited across the U.S., Japan, and Europe. She graduated from the Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, Gordon wrote for Artforum and worked for several Soho art galleries. She curated an exhibition at White Columns gallery in 1982 that involved contributions from Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler, among others.
In 1996, Gordon was involved in an exhibition entitled Baby Generation at Parco gallery in Tokyo. Gordon's exhibition Kim's Bedroom was shown at MU in the Netherlands, and included drawing and paintings alongside live music and special guests. A limited-edition book and CD of the exhibition were published by Purple Books.
In 2003, Gordon was featured in the Gothenburg Biennale and exhibited Club In The Shadow, a collaboration with artist Jutta Koether, at Kenny Schachter's Contemporary Gallery in New York City, U.S. In 2005, she submitted another collaboration with Koether for the Her Noise exhibition in London, United Kingdom (UK). In the same year, an artist's book Kim Gordon Chronicles Vol. 1 was published and featured photos of Gordon throughout her life. The following year, Kim Gordon Chronicles Vol. 2 was released and featured her drawings, collages, and paintings.
In 2013, Gordon explained the significance of her art in relation to the conclusion of Sonic Youth: "When you’re in a group, you’re always sharing everything. It’s protected. Your own ego is not there for criticism, but you also never quite feel the full power of its glory, either. A few years ago I started to feel like I owed it to myself to really focus on doing art.”
Recent exhibitions include “The Show Is Over,” at Gagosian Gallery in London (2013) and the major survey “Design Office with Kim Gordon–Since 1980,” at White Columns, New York in 2013. In 2014, she presented newly created Wreath Paintings throughout Rudolf Schindler's iconic Fitzpatrick-Leland House under the byname of Design Office.
In the early 1990s, Gordon co-directed The Breeders' "Cannonball" music video with Spike Jonze. Over a decade later, Gordon appeared in Gus Van Sant's Last Days. She also has a small part as a textile exporter in the 2007 film Boarding Gate starring Asia Argento and in I'm Not There.
In the season six finale of Gilmore Girls, she played a street troubadour along with Thurston Moore and their daughter Coco, performing the song "What a Waste" from the album Rather Ripped.
Gordon, along with the rest of Sonic Youth, made an appearance in the television series Gossip Girl and performed an acoustic version of the song "Starpower". In 2013, Gordon appeared in the season 3 premiere of Girls as Mindy, a recovering drug addict in a rehab support group.
Gordon co-owned—with Daisy Von Furth—a short-lived clothing company in Los Angeles, U.S called X-Girl. The company also opened retail outlets and the first X-Girl store was opened in Los Angeles in 1994. In September 2008, Gordon launched a limited edition fashion line called "Mirror/Dash" (also the name of a musical side project that was created with Moore), inspired by Françoise Hardy and based on the idea that "there's a need for clothes for cool moms."
In October 2014, it was announced that Gordon's memoir, Girl in a Band, will be published on February 24, 2015, by HarperCollins imprint Dey Street Books. The autobiography explores her childhood, life in art and Sonic Youth, and marriage to and divorce from Thurston Moore. Its title, Girl in a Band, stems from a lyric in "Sacred Trickster" from Sonic Youth's final album, The Eternal (2009). The lyric goes, "What's it like to be a girl in a band?/ I don't quite understand," a sentiment also depicted in a piece at Gordon's 2013 retrospective art show at New York's White Columns.
Gordon married Moore (singer, songwriter and guitarist of Sonic Youth) in 1984 and gave birth to their daughter Coco Hayley Moore on July 1, 1994. Gordon and Coco resided in Northampton, Massachusetts, U.S., where Coco attended the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The pair were frequently seen in the area and Sonic Youth played a benefit concert with Cat Power for the Greenfield Center School in 2005. The band played a second benefit for the school in 2007. As of 2013, Coco is a student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
An announcement in October 2011 confirmed that Gordon and Moore had separated. Gordon revealed details about the decision in April 2013, after a divorce was finalized: she first confronted Moore about a text message that she discovered from an unnamed woman; this was followed by counseling sessions, and the separation then occurred as a result of Moore's inability to cease his extra-marital relationship. Gordon explained that her ex-husband was "like a lost soul." Gordon also revealed that she had been diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer during her divorce, which was successfully treated with surgery.
Legacy and influence
Film director Sofia Coppola, musician Kathleen Hanna and Irish singer Róisín Murphy have praised Gordon for the influence that she has exerted on their own art. Hanna explained in 2013:
She was a forerunner, musically. Just knowing a woman was in a band trading lead vocals, playing bass, and being a visual artist at the same time made me feel less alone. As a radical feminist singer, I wasn’t particularly well liked. I was in a punk underground scene dominated by hardcore dudes who yelled mean shit at me every night, and journalists routinely called my voice shrill, unlistenable. Kim made me feel accepted in a way I hadn’t before. Fucking Kim Gordon thought I was on the right track, haters be damned. It made the bullshit easier to take, knowing she was in my corner.
- Albums with Sonic Youth
- See Sonic Youth discography
- Albums with Free Kitten
- Unboxed (1994)
- Nice Ass (1995)
- Sentimental Education (1997)
- Inherit (2008)
- Albums with Body/Head
- Coming Apart
- Albums with Glitterbust