2015 has been a strange year for rock documentaries, biographies, and memoirs. The perennial obsession with artists who died young spawned feature-length examinations of the lives of Elliott Smith, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix. This year also saw Chrissie Hynde, Kim Gordon, Patti Smith, and Kristin Hersh all publishing acclaimed music-themed memoirs. Add to this list Sleater-Kinney co-founder and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, an account of her life growing up in the Pacific Northwest through the first several years of the rise of one of the most respected bands born from the '90s, Sleater-Kinney.
For fans of Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein’s book is readable and informative, especially when she delves into the band's origins and formation. Her tumultuous and romantic relationship with lead singer Corin Tucker gets close scrutiny, which is perhaps the biggest draw for those interested in how a band can remains creatively and critically viable despite the personal jealousies and interpersonal conflicts that can so easily sabotage lesser bands. This is a band that sat on the verge of imploding several times during its first ten years due in no small part to Brownstein’s health problems, including bouts with stress-induced shingles and depression, and crippling self-doubt that nearly derailed tours and strained the trust and patience of her bandmates.
This is a book that should resonate most with fans of Brownstein’s work, of which there are many. There is questionable appeal, however, for those outside this circle. Perhaps Brownstein would have been wise to wait several more years to write her first memoir. While undoubtedly a talented writer and musician, there are times when I wished Brownstein would slow down the pace. That said, she is still only in her early 40s, and in light of the previously mentioned onslaught of examinations of self-destructive artists who never made it beyond 27, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is nothing if not an affirmation of survival and personal transformation. I look forward to seeing how Brownstein’s written voice evolves in future books, especially in light of her unexpected fame as comedian Fred Armisen’s partner on Portlandia and Sleater-Kinney’s acclaimed 2015 creative resurrection.