I’ve been a Sleater-Kinney fan since puberty – when I wore ties, always had headphones in my ears, bleached and styled my hair with egg whites. Back when I sported a t-shirt that read: Show Me Your Riffs, across my chest to gym class.
When Sleater-Kinney broke up in 2006, I lost it. I locked myself in my room, drank a flask of whiskey, and cried listening to Sleater-Kinney’s entire discography: everything from their self-titled 1995 release, to 2005’s The Woods, with stops at The Hot Rock, All Hands On The Bad One, and Dig Me Out before passing out. My favourite band had left me. Nothing would ever be the same.
Thankfully, after a few year hiatus, Sleater-Kinney reunited in 2014. Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, explores the early Riot Grrrl scene in Olympia, and navigates the band’s early days, dynamics, and relationships.
Growing up in Redmond, Washington, Brownstein dives into her mother’s anorexia, and hospitalization. She exposes her love of Madonna, 80’s soap operas, old Bette Davis films. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl charts the formation of Sleater-Kinney (each album is a chapter), and takes readers inside Brownstein’s experience – her love of pleather, and polyester. Brownstein confesses the struggles being a performer, and a person, and how the two conflict.
Readers get an insider’s soundtrack on her favourite bands, and what sounds shaped her as a musician; including: Calvin Johnson, Heaven to Betsy, Bratmobile, and naturally, Bikini Kill. “I feel very lucky that Bikini Kill came first,” she writes. “By the time I was playing in Sleater-Kinney, a lot of those battles – for space, for respect, for recognition within the context of punk and indie music – had already been fought.”
Growing up in the post-riot grrrl era, being a Sleater-Kinney fan was a philosophy, a lifeline. You either wanted to be, hang out, or date one of the three band members – singer/guitarist Corin Tucker, Brownstein vocals/guitar, and drummer Janet Weis. The band informed my politics, encouraged feminist ideals, inspired me to start a band, and got me through an era of self-loathing. I even interviewed Brownstein for a feature story on women in music for the defunct Young Gay America Magazine.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is an elixir. Brownstein is known for her writing and acting skills on the hit TV series, Portlandia, though her book joins the ranks of Kim Gordon’s Girl In A Band, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and Kirstin Hersh’s Rat Girl. While Brownstein charts fandom, travelling, family, sexuality, relationships, and how sometimes music isn’t enough, she writes: “There is a gulf of misunderstanding between musicians and their fans, and often so much desperation that the musician can’t heal.”
Perhaps music can’t heal everything, but it’s an incubator. Sleater-Kinney inspired a generation to question the status quo, push boundaries, and move beyond stereotypical, societal expectations. Their sonic alchemy is equal parts wild, and radical –a call to arms, a rally for action. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl leaves your belly grumbling for more.