samedi 9 juin 2012

Hook in her head

I’ve always liked Kristin Hersh, but she has remained at the peripheries of my cultural consciousness.  The Throwing Muses are one of those bands who I admire, but know I would have truly adored had I been a few years older.  Proof: my boyfriend, who is four-and-a-bit years older than me, loves them.

I accumulated a few of their songs on single and mixtape – Hook In Her Head, Red Shoes, Bright Yellow Gun.  I really liked them but for some reason never bought a whole Muses album.  In later years, introduced by my boyfriend, the song Your Ghost – from Kristin’s solo album Hips and Makers, duetted with Michael Stipe – was one of the most beautiful I have ever heard.  But still I didn’t investigate much further, just listening to that one on repeat.

Until now.  I am, basically, obsessed with the woman.  This has finally been triggered her book, Paradoxical Undressing (called, I believe, Rat Girl in the US).

It is beautiful, honest, shocking and sweet.  I was instantly beguiled and felt like I had lost a friend from my life when it was over.  (In fact, I quickly contacted Kristin via Twitter to ask if she was writing a follow-up; she replied straight away, lovely woman that she is, to say yes, but she doesn’t know yet if it sucks – I suspect it doesn’t.)

The book is based on her own diaries and covers an incredible year in her life during the 80s when she was 19 – when her band took off, she was diagnosed with mental illness (first schizophrenia, which was then downgraded to bipolar disorder), got pregnant and had a baby.

It is, you may have guessed, not a typical rock memoir – but this is mostly because Kristin and her bandmates (including her equally intriguing stepsister, Tanya Donnelly – ‘Tea’) are just so unusually sweet.  As many critics have noted, one of the stars of the show is definitely her friend Betty – Kristin’s best friend at university, an elderly former actress who comes along to all of their gigs and brings her priest with her.

It’s also not a typical mental-health memoir, as it’s just so cheery.  The word I keep using to describe this book is ‘sweet’ and it is, in the best possible way.  It is the opposite of bitter.

What I found most interesting was Kristin’s analysis of her own creativity.  Her songs are literally like beasts that she must give birth to; they make her ill and unhappy, but she is compelled to make them exist in the world – only because she can’t not.  It’s amazing and frightening.

When she first receives her diagnosis and goes on medication, her main conundrum is a familiar one to anyone with the compulsion to create, with eccentricities that can both help and hinder: ‘if this is all illness, then what is my personality?’.

She finds out.  She is brilliant.  She is still not at peace within herself and that is maybe both a good and a very bad thing.  She punctures some ‘artist’ myths that have always been stupid and insulting, reductive and actually damaging to a lot of people.

Read this book.  Then – if you haven’t already beaten me to it as you may well have done – get your hands on everything to do with Kristin Hersh, like I am doing at the moment.

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