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“Took My Money” and Bought Carrie Brownstein’s Memoir

We’re in a nostalgia mode music-wise. I honestly don’t know if it ever really goes away. In the past couple of years I’ve had a constant stream of notifications telling me Pavement is back, Death Cab For Cutie, Bratmobile, the Lunachicks, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, everyone is back. I’m grateful for it. I get to see bands I never thought I’d be able to see. These reunions bring a new group of fans, old ones, kids, and college kids discovering the bands at the right time–it’s this weird hodgepodge of old and new waves colliding and mixing into one sea. I’m personally a victim of the Riot Grrrl wave. I got into them after a professor told me my first research paper was shit and thought I might like the Riot Grrrls instead. He was right. Maybe he could smell the whole ‘rebel without a cause’ thing I have going on. 

So…five years later, I was at a bookstore, in the music section, and spotted Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Sleater-Kinney guitarist, Carrie Brownstein. It’s black and white cover, calling to one of my favorite songs “Modern Girl,” and a band that I always come back to–in my writing and my ears. I wanted to know more about Sleater-Kinney, about Brownstein, and maybe a little more about Riot Grrrls. I “took my money” and bought Brownstein’s book and didn’t regret reading a single word. 

Book Cover, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, follows Brownstein’s evolution into herself. People know Brownstein as the guitarist in Sleater-Kinney or even from the TV show, Portlandia. Reading Brownstein’s first couple of pages, she reeled me in. Her writing style is raw and cuts with a dull blade--leaving a deep mark, painting a picture and image in your mind. She has a way of spilling her thoughts while keeping it succinct and punchy. My first note was ‘Wow love her writing style.’ I mean honestly, I shouldn’t have expected anything different. Her writing and lyrics have that same energy. Facing you with the music, but still letting you experience something in the spaces between. Almost 10 years after its publication, I feel a little silly writing about it, but Sleater-Kinney just released another album, they're on tour again, and “Modern Girl” is a track that is always relevant. 

She takes the reader across her life pretty chronologically, starting with her childhood in Washington. Her teenage self reached for music magazines and punk bands, hoping her closeness to them would somehow rub punk into her blood. Her first band, Born Naked and friend Natalie Cox, got her into what was going on in Olympia, Washington in the 90s (Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Evergreen College). Finding the Olympia scene is where Brownstein first credits early influence. Brownstein writes, “...but hearing Bikini Kill was like having someone illuminate my world for the first time. Here was a narrative that I could place myself inside, that I could share with other people to help explain how I felt…I could turn the volume up on their songs and that loudness matched all my panic and fear, anger and emotions that seemed up until that point to be uncontrollable, even amorphous.” After I read this quote, I felt that swell, I knew that feeling. That’s why I fell in love with “Riot Grrrl music” freshman year of college. My emotions often felt like this huge scary beast that I couldn’t conquer or even reason with–just this thing that took over my whole body, unable to move or escape from it. The anger, passion, and drive I heard in Bikini Kill, in Sleater-Kinney, I often found inside myself. Hearing it made it seem like something I could use as a push, a drive, a hunger, and not as this secret, ogre-like feeling that surrounds me. 

She met Corin Tucker (guitarist and singer in Sleater-Kinney) in college, their bands often orbiting each other after Brownstein transferred to Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington. Brownstein describes and illustrates every album, every process, every tour. The memoir is full of stories, jokes, and serious undertones. She fills every page with something different. Never repetitive or boring. Brownstein’s story isn’t the groupie-filled, drug-filled, rockstar life one imagines in a music memoir. This isn’t Motley Crew it’s Sleater f***ing Kinney, it’s punk and cut, with a mirror of their music, Willa Cather book recs, stories of their drummer, Janet Weiss, throwing a mixtape Elliott Smith dedicated to her out the window, and Brownstein’s inner monologue clearly outlined and sprawled across its pages. 

Each album, Brownstein explains as its own journey and story to tell, personifying the music. The Woods, she describes as, “our own scrappy version of a national anthem of a frontier, jagged and belted through a crackling megaphone.” Above all, the reader can tell how much Brownstein connects to her music and music overall. She’s one of those people who seems to know every band and can give you their backstory too. (My favorite kind of person). 

The music section of the bookstore is saturated full of memoirs, but Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is worth picking up and annotating all over. Brownstein is candid, heartfelt, expressive, and raw. I felt like I was a fly in Sleater-Kinney’s tour van, studio, and various apartments. Also, I have to mention, I was happy when she talked about her stress hives. I get them too. 

I feel like a “Modern Girl” when I turn on the song every time I walk to the bus. I feel like a “Modern Girl” when I trip over my words in an interview. I feel like a “Modern Girl” when I walk down the street with my roommates, our boots hitting the pavement at the same time. I feel like a “Modern Girl” sitting here writing this. Carrie Brownstein’s memoir brought me back to this. Her words took my hands and brought them back to typing like I meant it. 


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