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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