This week, in a much-discussed interview with Elle Magazine, Kim Gordon candidly reflected on her separation in 2011 from her long-time Sonic Youth band mate and partner Thurston Moore, revealing that the marriage ended after Moore became involved with a younger woman. Gordon sounded steady, yet shell-shocked. “I can understand people being curious,” the 59-year-old said. “I’m curious myself. What’s going to happen now?”
The truth of Gordon and Moore’s marriage is, of course, for them alone to know. Its public face, on the other hand, was a touchstone for Generation X.
As core members of one of the most lauded art-rock bands of all time, Gordon and Moore were responsible for tearing open pop music’s protective membrane and letting all the freaky bands in. They led the major labels to Nirvana’s door, made videos for MTV consumption and filled them with cameos from the likes of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna. So they were also a straight white couple with a kid and a dog and a house – so what? They made it progressive. It worked for them.
“In Gordon and Moore,” New York magazine’s Nitsuh Abebe wrote, “you could imagine empirical proof that a lot of things you feared were true about life – things your parents always warned you about – did not necessarily have to be that way. For instance: that a career in an avant-garde rock band might lead not into penury, instability and isolation but instead to a place in a perma-cool family living in a nice house in the Berkshires.”
Never mind all that stuff baby boomers told you about getting a white-collar job and moving to the suburbs – the subtext being: Resistance is futile. Screw their advice. You can do whatever you want. When it comes to deciding how much or how little you want to play by society’s rules, you can choose your own adventure.
“Withdrawal in disgust is not the same thing as apathy” – the quote from 1991’s Slacker, Richard Linklater’s sprawling experiment of an art film, was supposed to have captured something intangible about Generation X, the first generation of Americans expecting to fare worse than their parents. But that strategic retreat didn’t last; they didn’t have to be refuseniks for long. Gen Xers ultimately stifled their disgust and took whatever jobs that came as the 1990s recession faded – a good number of them building the Internet.
They also got married. For the feminists, it might have seemed like a concession; marriage, after all, was about rigidly defining gender roles and, worse, treating women as property. But there was Gordon, who has collaborated with such radical art-world figures as Jutta Koether and Nan Goldin, who asked Chuck D in Kool Thing whether he was “going to liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?” – and who had been married to her pioneering guitarist band mate since 1984. Moore also self-identified as a feminist. He told Bust Magazine in 1999, “I think anyone has the potential, through feminism, to be receptive to enlightenment.” Moore even penned a very limited-edition zine in 2000 called What I Like About Feminism.
The couple’s daughter, Coco, was born in 1994. By 2004, or 2011 for that matter, they seemed like they’d be together forever.
In the Elle magazine piece, writer Lizzy Goodman recalls an interview she conducted with the couple several years ago, when the pair was ensconced in what seemed like bohemian domestic bliss. Gordon was stuffing a chicken at the family home in Northampton, Mass., while Moore assembled packaging for a new release on his record label. “In that moment,” she writes, “Gordon was the ultimate hipster Renaissance woman I aspired to be, a feminist rebel who could make avant-garde art all day, then cook a killer dinner for her family at night.”
It turns out that you can do and be all of those things, and the man you’ve spent nearly 30 years married to could still carry on a clandestine relationship behind your back, until you see a text message you weren’t supposed to. It only took a run-of-the-mill mid-life crisis to fracture your relationship and throw your band – an institution in American music and the centrepiece of your career – into disarray.
Does it matter more than, say, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s marital troubles? Goodman writes that she envies Gordon for the way the men act around her, from Moore to the Beastie Boys to Kurt Cobain, who “seem to have taken their cues from her about how to be good men.” Who would trust one of those good men now? We know too much.
The music still sounds fine, of course, but we all know bands are about more than that, especially when you’re young. They changed our lives, and yet, as ambassadors of a lifestyle, a righteous and honest vision of bohemianism, Sonic Youth is dead to me.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Most of us are long past needing the ideal Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore represented when we were 16, or 26 – and if we’re not, we should be. We know what it means to be an adult, with all the hypocrisy and compromise that entails; I no more need rock stars to model my life on than a baby boomer needs to know whether Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate ended up working in plastics after all.