Kim Gordon: The Godmother of Grunge on Feminism in Rock

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What's behind the song "Tunic (Song for Karen)," from Sonic Youth's 1990 album, "Goo"?
I wanted to put Karen Carpenter [who died of anorexia] up in heaven playing drums and being happy. This whole thing about teenage girls cutting themselves and that being associated with anorexia and girls being conditioned to having such a big desire to please – I'm just curious, because of Coco, at what point do girls start getting their sense of self-worth and [need to please] people, and why don't they have anything else?

What do you think of Madonna?
She's one of the most influential figures of the '80s, certainly. What she did for pop music still is resonating with all these singers. I think that she changed the way that people write about women in rock. They never would write about women again without writing about their sexuality. And she seems smart. I'm happy for her – she had a baby. I don't think she did it to help her career or anything; she just wanted a baby and went for it, and I think she is kind of having it all.

What music did you listen to when you were little?
My dad had a lot of jazz records: Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck. I had an older brother who used to play stuff that I got into, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all that stuff.

What does Mick Jagger mean to you?
[Long pause] It makes me think of Anita Pallenberg. She's somebody that I actually met recently who I used to think was so cool, and she influenced our style. It's great to see that she's sober and she still dresses pretty cool. I'm looking forward to reading her book.

What do you think of the notion of being a role model?
I think that when you get to a certain point in your life, maybe you should be a role model or feel like that's part of your responsibility. But I see it in more of a personal way, like if there's somebody I could give advice or something.

Any advice that you think is appropriate to give?
Don't let your crushes become obsessions.

Who told you that?
No one. I just made it up myself [laughs].

How has your daughter changed your relationship to your work?
I don't know; I have less time, but on the other hand I often feel more relaxed about certain things. You know what your priorities are, what your battles are. But at the same time I really feel like I'm still doing stuff that's my most interesting work.

Would you say that you and your husband share the child rearing?
I have to say that it's not equal.

Would you describe him as a feminist?
I think he wants to be, but I don't think he entirely gets it. But he's very open. I probably should give him some books [laughs]. Some classic book I've never read myself.

What to you is the perfect pop song?
The perfect pot song?

Pop song.
Oh, sorry. There's this song that, actually, Free Kitten covers called "Teenie Weenie Boppie" that I really love. It's about this girl who takes LSD and hallucinates about seeing a man with flowers, and he turns into Mick Jagger, but then Mick Jagger's floating down the Thames and he's dead, and there's all these flowers, but you don't know what it means. It's in French – you'd never know that it had these morbid undertones.

What's the future of women in rock?
All these young singer/songwriters who are being successful now ... I'm just not interested in mainstream music unless it's amazing, groundbreaking. And the Liz Phairs and PJ Harveys – they didn't sell a lot of records. Even they're still not exactly interesting to me. Women have not really explored experimental music. I don't see the need to have my songs played on every radio station.

What is the mainstream good for?
Some TV shows, I guess. Larry Sanders – is that a mainstream show?

This story is from the November 27th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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