A major figure on the American indie rock scene of the '80s and onward, Kim Gordon is best known for her work with the influential group Sonic Youth. However, in many respects Gordon was as well regarded for her writings and interviews as for her music; she was willing to discuss feminism in a way that was as thoughtful but direct as Sonic Youth's music. Gordon was also willing to explore the outer limits of experimental rock music, both with Sonic Youth and her various side projects, and her most advanced work helped to link indie rock with the true musical avant-garde.
Kim Gordon was born in Rochester, New York on April 28, 1953. She grew up in Los Angeles, California, where her father was a professor at UCLA. Gordon attended progressive schools in L.A., and after completing high school, she studied visual art at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, California and York University in Toronto, Canada. 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. She continued to focus on visual art, and moved to New York City in 1979.
In 1980, Gordon began immersing herself in New York's no wave music scene, and was emboldened by the eagerness of the musicians to crush accepted musical boundaries. She partnered with Christine Hahn and Stanton Miranda to form a band called CKM, but the group's most important legacy was that Miranda introduced her to fellow aspiring noise musician Thurston Moore. Moore and Gordon began dating, and when he discovered she had inherited a battered guitar from a friend, they decided to start collaborating musically. In 1981, Gordon, Moore, and Lee Ranaldo formed a band that would come to be known as Sonic Youth, with Gordon on bass, Moore and Ranaldo on guitars, and a variety of drummers before Steve Shelley joined in 1986 and solidified what would become one of the most adventurous and well-respected bands on the independent scene. Gordon and Moore's personal relationship was also solidified when they married in 1984. Gordon occasionally served as lead singer and lyricist with Sonic Youth as well as bassist, and her songs were often powerfully atmospheric as well as dealing with feminism in both practical and abstract terms.
Sonic Youth would become an underground institution, releasing 22 studio albums between 1982 and 2009. During this period, Gordon also recorded and performed with several side projects, most notably Harry Crews, where she teamed with Lydia Lunch, and Free Kitten, a group she formed with Julia Cafritz of Pussy Galore. Gordon also published magazine pieces occasionally, including 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. She expanded into clothing design in the '90s, launching a fashion line called X-Girl. And in 1991, Gordon helped produced the first album by Hole, Pretty on the Inside.
Gordon and Moore collaborated with Yoko Ono, an acknowledged influence on their work, for an EP entitled YOKOKIMTHURSTON that was released in early 2012. However, personal issues would overshadow the Ono project. In October 2011, Gordon and Moore announced in a press release that they were filing for divorce. It was soon revealed that Moore had an affair with another woman, leading to the split. The couple's separation led to Sonic Youth ceasing operations; in November 2011, Ranaldo told an interviewer the band was "ending for a while," and two years later, he declared, "I think you can put a cross behind Sonic Youth, same as you can put it behind the names Mike Kelley and Lou Reed. Let them all rest in peace."
In 2013, Gordon unveiled a new project, a collaboration with guitarist Bill Nace called Body/Head; the duo's first album, Coming Apart, was released by Matador Records. In 2014, Gordon began dipping her toes into acting, making guest appearances on the well-regarded cable television shows Girls and Portlandia. And in 2015, she published an autobiography, Girl in a Band, dealing with feminism, music, her life experiences, and her years in Sonic Youth. Gordon also devoted more time to her visual art, and presented a show of her works at New York's 303 Gallery in June 2015. ~ Mark Deming