Kristin Hersh //
In 1998 I attended the Crossing Border festival in The Hague, Netherlands. Kristin Hersh performed there. She sat, legs crossed, on the stage playing her guitar. It was very intimate, and I'm still glad I was there, listening. A month ago I found my Hips and Makers (Hersh' solo debut) tape back. I cherish that tape. It got me through a period where i was struggling with everything and anything. Kristin Hersh knows all about it.
There are times when reading a certain book can make you look at the world in a different manner. To me, Rat Girl is one of those books. Funny, original and intense. Very intense.
When a musician becomes famous, people start looking for a backstory. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; we do our best to recreate a 'rags to riches' fairytale. Some events are left out and the 'ugly duckling to beautiful swan' cliché becomes the most important aspect.
Rat Girl is no lifetime movie. Hersh' story is as unglamorous as they come. The book is based on her diary entries in 1985, 1986 when she was a teenager. She describes the hard labour of a band trying to make it. A band playing gigs for virtually nothing. 'Making it' here doesn't refer to succeeding in the so called music industry, or making tons of cash. The Throwing Muses' common goal, according to Hersh, was living in a van. So making money was for just that; to buy a van and live in it. “See the country, play every night”.
Despite the bleakness that is ever present, Rat Girl is a story that shines brightly. I was touched by the way Hersh looks at her surroundings. She observes the outside world in wide eyed wonder, without pretension or prejudice.
Quirky Betty Hutton, a good friend, tries to give advice to 'Kris' on how to act while performing, seeing as she was once a movie star. Betty's advice is to 'show off' more. But to Hersh, showing off is fake. She lives music,she sees sounds. She's maniacally driven to get the songs out. For her, music means survival. The way a song processes itself through her brain is like nothing I have ever read before: all consuming. A diabolical necessity.
During the car rides home, after playing gigs, the bandmates keep themselves warm by ranting about mainstream pop music playing on the radio. The moral indignation about the system that sees music as just another cash cow is refreshing and still relevant in this day and age. Throwing Muses are not jaded; they are devoted. Big time.
Gary is a guy who has taken the band under his wing. Hersh has interesting conversations with him about just anything. Art. The perceived cleanliness of science. About how some artists don't create art, but merely imitate it. The beauty of architecture. These musings, combined with Hersh' inner turmoil and touring in a band, form a beautifully crafted portrait about life.
We are used to reading about band members who irritate the heck out of eachother. About ballooning egos, clashing. Not in Rat Girl. Leslie, Tanya ('Tea'), Dave and Kristin are in it together.
I read this quote online about Hersh' lyrics: “You hear her words, you see your life.” That's how the music feels. That's how Rat Girl feels. Dark, chaotic and everything in between. Life, in all its grimness, holds an undeniable beauty. Or, like Hersh says: beautiful as a coughed up liver.
And if young Kristin can see that, with no permanent roof over her head, wearing motorboots plundered from washed up crates, we should at least try.
Download and add the beautiful 'Elizabeth June' here. If you really wish to make your soundtrack to this book complete, we would kindly suggest that you grab this Live recording as bonus track after a generous donation to CASHmusic.org.
text by Ytje / photo by Pétur Eyvindsson / free downloads by Kirstin Hersh & CASH music