JUST PRIOR TO THE PUBLICATION of Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band, a characteristic controversy broke out on the internet. Among the people disparaged in the book is the young singer Lana Del Rey. “Today we have someone like Lana Del Rey,” Gordon writes, in summing up the fallen state of things (since the ’90s), “who doesn’t even know what feminism is, who believes it means women can do whatever they want, which, in her world, tilts toward self-destruction, whether it’s sleeping with gross older men or being a transient biker queen. . . . Naturally, it’s just a persona. If she really truly believes it’s beautiful when young musicians go out on a hot flame of drugs and depression, why doesn’t she just off herself?” Del Rey’s fans got wind of the insult and duly commenced to trash Gordon on Twitter, whom they had clearly never heard of. Gordon, for her part, retweeted the worst of the abuse.
Faced with a choice between the bassist of Sonic Youth and the nihilist nymphet Lana Del Rey and her army of Twitter defenders, the highbrow music fan knows whose side she’s on. And it’s not as if Gordon is wrong about Del Rey, whose embrace of American rock and roll myths, shot through with a cartoonish sense of female desire, really is infantile. The appeal of Kim Gordon is completely different. She came from the New York art world of the early ’80s, co-founded one of the most admired bands of all time with her boyfriend and eventual husband Thurston Moore, and has now written an honest memoir about the whole thing. She’s one of the most respected personalities in rock music, who somehow obtained a license in the world of male-dominated culture to combine the impossible—to be both sexy and smart, mature and attractive, a mother and an artist, confrontational and political and also eternally “cool.” How many women are able to do this in music or pop culture, or at all? Not many.
Which makes me think: Isn’t Del Rey, precisely through her disturbing, masochistic fantasies of rape, mental abuse, and violent sex, and on top of that her adolescent rejection of feminism (“feminism doesn’t interest me as an idea,” she’s told interviewers on several occasions), a better icon for our time? Don’t her words and lyrics say more about the contemporary position of women than the mature, self-confident, and in the end somewhat commonplace pronouncements of Kim Gordon?