The Sonic Youth frontwoman talks the Obamas, high school cliques and the kult of Kardashianism
As part of our States of Independence summer takeover, 50 American indie icons have volunteered to take the Dazed Pop Quiz; a quick-fire Q&A about what they love and loathe about life in the USA. Check back here every day for more from the series.
As the frontwoman of Sonic Youth, she was a forerunner for women in rock; as a visual artist, feminist and cultural critic, her influence has been proven beyond the stage she calls home. Bringing their DIY punk ethic straight out of the American underground to the global mainstream in the 80s and 90s, Kim Gordon's role as lead vocalist and bassist in Sonic Youth has inspired legions of female creatives from Sofia Coppola to Kathleen Hanna. More recently, her collaboration with Bill Nace in Body/Head has brought the noise with its experimental guitar-led rock. Is It My Body? was published earlier this year, collating her essays on art and music through the 80s and 90s. Raised in LA and forged in the NY underground, Kim's USA perspective spans both coasts and beyond. As she prepared to take to the stage for a blistering Body/Head performance at Primavera, we spoke about Michelle Obama, Mexican food and her fears for the future of American politics.
What is your favorite quote about America?
Kim Gordon: Oh god. Can I have three options?
It’s not multiple choice, sadly.
Kim Gordon: America the beautiful? Uh...I’ll come back to that.
What three words define the States today?
Kim Gordon: In denial.
Are you trying to pass that off as one word? Denialism, perhaps?
Kim Gordon: Yeah, denialism... Escapism... Kardashianism?
Which living American do you most admire and why?
Kim Gordon: Michelle Obama. I do admire her, she just seems like she’s really smart, and she seems to have a good relationship with her husband. She knows how to navigate everything and be herself as far as I can see. She’s kind of an authentic person.
What does Michelle Obama do, other than being first lady?
Kim Gordon: Well I don’t know, she has programmes about health, exercise for kids, obesity, that sort of thing. But her job title is First Lady. I don’t know if you can have another job! You can head up things, you can raise money for things. But you can’t do anything that’s gonna politically conflict with whatever it is your husband is doing.
Whose face should be on the $100 bill?
Kim Gordon: Joan Didion.
Who gave you your first break? Do you still talk?
Kim Gordon: I guess it would be Glenn Branca. We’re not really in touch now, unless maybe we run into each other somewhere on the streets of New York.
When and where you the happiest?
Kim Gordon: I don’t know...‘Happy’ is a weird word. I mean, I liked being a kid and going out to Malibu I guess, we had friends out there. But I don’t think of myself overall as a happy person. But I’m not totally unhappy. When you grow up in California there’s a lot of pressure to be happy.
What high school clique were you in?
Kim Gordon: Outsider people, I guess. My father is a sociologist and for his PhD he defined the social system of the high school, no-one had done that before. You know, jocks and geeks and soshes, who were like the popular kids.
What food reminds you of home?
Kim Gordon: Uhhh, I guess Mexican food.
What smell do you associate with the city of your birth?
Kim Gordon: Kodak paper. Because I was born in Rochester even though I didn’t grow up there.
What's the best road trip you've ever been on?
Kim Gordon: I guess up the West Coast.
Where did you lose your virginity?
Kim Gordon: You mean what city?
Er, I’m not sure how specific we need to be here. I guess as specific as you’d like?
Kim Gordon: I don’t remember. It wasn’t that special!
What would make you leave America forever?
Kim Gordon: I guess if the political climate changed. I did think about leaving before but I never thought it through I guess.
What noise reminds you of the States?
Kim Gordon: Garbage trucks.
What is your favorite American building?
Kim Gordon: The ones with the McDonald’s arches.
Ultimate American film?
Kim Gordon: The ultimate Californian film for me is Body Double. It’s this film about voyeurism that was made in the 80s, there’s a cool house in that film as well [John Lautner’s Chemosphere], like this 360° glass thing.
Most overrated US tourist attraction?
Kim Gordon: Disneyland.
Favorite slang phrase?
Kim Gordon: "Yo".
What is your ultimate American guilty pleasure?
Kim Gordon: Watching TV. Scandal is my favourite at the moment.
Ultimate American album?
Kim Gordon: I mean I could go with a Dylan album, like Blonde On Blonde...but I think Pet Sounds is more quintessentially American.
What law would you change or invent?
Kim Gordon: The law that makes corporations individuals for tax purposes. They made it so they can contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns. It happened under the Bush administration I think.
Has there been any pressure to reform it? Do you feel like Obama is ‘on your side’ with these sorts of issues generally?
Kim Gordon: I feel like Obama’s fairly middle of the road. He got given a raw deal but he gives up too easily, he doesn’t really fight for things as much as he should in Congress.
When was your last run-in with the cops? What happened?
Kim Gordon: I was speeding through a cornfield, and I got pulled over but I didn’t get a ticket.
If you could change one thing about the US, what would it be?
Kim Gordon: Make it more socially democratic.
If you lost it all tomorrow, what would you do the day after?
Kim Gordon: I guess I’d go to yoga.
What will America look like in 2050?
Kim Gordon: Very dry.
Does the American Dream still exist?
Kim Gordon: The American Dream has completely changed. It used to be like, ‘Work hard and you’ll achieve – you’ll be able to provide for your family.’ Now it’s all about trying to get on reality TV shows and becoming rich and famous by doing as little as possible.