Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Review: Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh

Rat Girl: A Memoir
Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh

I am pretty sure the first time I became aware of Throwing Muses (at least in a conscious way) was around 1990, when a friend (an older guy in a cool local band - he was friends with my dad!) made me a mix tape to introduce me to music beyond my top-40 worldview. Hate My Way was on there, and he called it one of the best pop songs he'd ever heard, if I remember correctly. (The tape also included everything from Shonen Knife to the Sundays and it changed my life, as did the zines he sent me.)

Since then, I've been a fan of the Muses, of Kristin solo, of the Breeders, of Belly, of Tanya Donelly solo. (I like 50 Foot Wave too, yes, but they're not entirely my style.) I've seen Kristin perform solo many, many times, and she's simply mesmerizing to watch. Love her. Love her lyrics, love how she stares into space in a trance while she sings, love her energy. (I've also seen the Muses, Belly, and Tanya perform, and I've met Kristin and Tanya - both wore my tiara - click the links for more about that...)

Digression: The last time I saw Kristin perform was at Criminal Records in Atlanta. I was barely pregnant, not really showing but feeling like I was already giant. And a little girl pointed at me and said "Baby!" and her mother looked kind of terrified and horrified. I was ecstatic and let the mom and the girl know that yes, there was a baby in there...

In any case, I wasn't surprised to find that Kristin Hersh's memoir is intense and profound and also really, darkly funny. It's based on a diary she kept when she was 19, during a time period in which she was diagnosed as bipolar, was hearing voices and songs (she says she doesn't write the songs, they just swirl around her until she writes them down - which mostly seems...less than pleasant) and then became pregnant (which changes how her songs channel themselves and how she interacts with the world). The story is interspersed with flashbacks from her childhood and with Muses song lyrics that are relevant to the narrative. This book is a bumpy ride through chaos and out of it, and it offers an incredible insight into such an amazing musician. And it's simply a great story - particularly when she's discussing her friendship with actress Betty Hutton, when she's describing the ridiculousness of recording the band's first EP, and when she's thinking about hiding a snake in a bag in her lap. And as a mother myself, I loved reading about her pregnancy and how she handled it. (She's now a mom of four.)

I'm getting gushy. It's hard not to be fangirly about this book, in a way. It's like she invited me into her house for a few hours and said "let me tell you about this transitional time in my life" and then spilled it all. I could totally hear her gravelly voice telling the whole thing. Oh and I know I said it before, but it's WICKEDLY funny - a funny book with a not-so-funny core. I love that. And I don't feel like I'm doing this book justice with this review so just trust me on this one -even if you've never heard of Kristin, you just need to grab Rat Girl by the tail and immerse yourself in it. Meanwhile, I really need to buy Crooked: An Album (which is sort of a book too) when I earn enough Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks. Or maybe sooner. Yeah, probably sooner.

Kristin makes money by offering her music up for free and requesting donations, by touring, and by being awesome. Do check out and see what I mean.

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