A musician, visual artist, and writer who questions consumerism and women's place in society with a keen eye and poetic detail, Kim Gordon first came to prominence as the bassist/vocalist for Sonic Youth. During her time with that band, her smoky, half-spoken, half-sung vocals and feminist viewpoint added depth to their experimental rock and made her a major figure on the American indie rock scene from the '80s onward. A small handful of her standout moments include "Shadow of a Doubt" from 1986's EVOL; the Karen Carpenter homage "Tunic" and Chuck D collaboration "Kool Thing" from 1990's Goo; and the Kim Deal duet "Little Trouble Girl" from 1995's Washing Machine. In addition, she made a name for herself as an inventive collaborator with Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz as Free Kitten and in projects with artists such as Ikue Mori and Yoko Ono that strengthened her ties to the avant-garde. Her work as a fashion designer and producer also hinted at the breadth of her talent; after Sonic Youth disbanded in 2011, she branched out even further. Gordon pursued the career as a visual artist that she put on hold while changing the sound of underground rock, and became a best-selling author with her 2015 memoir Girl in a Band. With guitarist Bill Nace, she dove into the most free-form side of her music as Body/Head on exploratory albums including 2018's The Switch. Four decades after she began making music, her 2019 solo debut, No Home Record, proved her juxtapositions of subversive commentary with experimental and pop sounds were as trenchant as ever.
Born in Rochester, New York, on April 28, 1953, Kim Gordon moved to Los Angeles at age five, when her sociology professor father took a job at UCLA. While growing up, she attended University Elementary School and University High School, both of which were progressive institutions associated with UCLA. After completing high school, Gordon studied at Santa Monica College for a couple of years before she transferred to Toronto's York University. In 1974, while in Toronto, Gordon formed a short-lived band with fellow art students, but the group broke up after a single show at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. However, being so far away from home — and the California sunshine — wore on her, so she returned and enrolled in L.A.'s Otis Art Institute, from which she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1977.
To follow her dream of becoming a visual artist, Gordon moved to New York City in 1980. Along with making herself a fixture of the city's art scene — she wrote articles for Artforum and worked for the art dealer Larry Gagosian — she also immersed herself in New York's no wave music scene. Emboldened by no wave's eagerness to crush accepted musical boundaries — and having just come into possession of a well-worn guitar — Gordon partnered with Christine Hahn and Stanton Miranda to form the band CKM. It was through Miranda that she met fellow aspiring noise musician Thurston Moore; the pair began dating (and eventually married in 1984). They soon made their partnership creative as well as romantic: with guitarist Lee Ranaldo, Gordon and Moore formed Sonic Youth in 1981. When drummer Steve Shelley joined in 1986, the lineup of one of alternative rock's most influential bands was complete.
Sonic Youth became an underground institution, releasing 22 studio albums between 1982 and 2009. Gordon's bass playing, aloof-yet-fierce vocals, and songwriting — which dealt with feminism in both practical and abstract terms — were as fundamental to the band's music as their inventive use of alternate tunings, dissonance, and feedback and subversive use of pop melodies and hooks. As Sonic Youth's popularity crested in the late '80s and '90s thanks to acclaimed albums like 1988's Daydream Nation, 1990's Goo, and 1992's Dirty, Gordon branched out into other projects. She published magazine pieces that included a tour diary entitled "Boys Are Smelly" that ran in The Village Voice in 1988, and an interview with LL Cool J that ran in Spin in 1989. Among her other musical endeavors were Harry Crews, a collaboration with Lydia Lunch that produced 1989's Naked in Garden Hills. Free Kitten, a group she formed with Julia Cafritz of Pussy Galore, was an ongoing project that started in 1992 and issued several albums, among them 1995's Nice Ass, 1997's Sentimental Education, and 2008's Inherit. In 1991, Gordon helped produce the first album by Hole, Pretty on the Inside. She also expanded into clothing design, launching the fashion line X-Girl with stylist Daisy von Furth in 1993.
Later in the '90s and into the 2000s, when Sonic Youth's music returned to its experimental roots on albums such as Washing Machine and Murray St., the scope of Gordon's side projects continued to broaden. She exhibited her art more frequently, with pieces including Kim's Bedroom, which was presented at MU in the Netherlands in 2000, and Reverse Karaoke, an installation she created with artist Jutta Koether for the 2005 London exhibition Her Noise. She tried her hand at acting, appearing in productions like Gus Van Sant's 2005 film Last Days and Todd Haynes' 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There. She also launched Mirror/Dash, a limited-edition fashion line, in 2008.
In the 2010s, Gordon experienced personal as well as artistic transformation. Late in 2011, she and Moore announced their impending divorce, and Sonic Youth's São Paulo date that November was the band's final concert. One of the former couple's last projects, the Yoko Ono collaboration YOKOKIMTHURSTON, appeared in early 2012. During this time, Gordon was successfully treated for DCIS breast cancer. She continued to perform, touring with Ikue Mori and founding the duo Body/Head with guitarist Bill Nace. The project's first album, Coming Apart, arrived in 2013; that year, she also had multiple exhibitions of her artwork in the United States and the United Kingdom. Gordon's acting career flourished, as she appeared in projects ranging from the cable television shows Girls and Portlandia to the German horror film The Nightmare. In February 2015, she published her memoir Girl in a Band, which became a New York Times best-seller. She closed the year by moving from Massachusetts back to Los Angeles.
In 2016, the self-titled debut album from Glitterbust, her duo with Tomorrows Tulips' Alex Knost, appeared, along with the Body/Head live album No Waves. That year also saw the release of "Murdered Out," her looping, gritty debut single as a solo artist. Following Body/Head's 2018 album The Switch, roles on the HBO TV series Animals and in the Van Sant film Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, and exhibitions at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum and Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art, in October 2019 Gordon released her debut album, No Home Record. Taking its name from director Chantal Akerman's film No Home Movie, Gordon recorded the album with producers Justin Raisen and Shawn Everett as well as composer Jake Meginsky. ~ Heather Phares & Mark Deming