By Chelsea Spear
Those that have adopted Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh’s profession over the previous three a long time are the audience for this memoir. However she is an efficient sufficient author to curiosity individuals who could by no means have listened to her music.
Seeing Sideways: A Memoir of Music and Motherhood by Kristin Hersh. College of Texas Press, 280 pages, $27.95
Over the previous decade, Throwing Muses bandleader and singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh has developed a aspect profession as various rock’s first girl of letters. She chronicled her experiences as a teenage rock-star-in-training, expectant mom, and particular person experiencing psychological sickness in her first ebook, Rat Lady. Don’t Suck, Don’t Die eulogized her pal and peer Vic Chestnutt. In Seeing Sideways, Hersh writes at size about crucial function she’s taken on: that of mom to Doony, Ryder, Wyatt, and Bodhi.
Seeing Sideways is split into 4 components, every part dedicated to the early childhood of one among her sons. Whereas different characters go via the ebook — from her former partner and her bandmates to lifeguards, cops, listeners, and followers — the one figures she refers to by identify are her sons. At first, this can be a bit complicated; I made a listing on the again of the mud cowl to maintain monitor of some recurring characters. By solely naming her sons, although, Hersh maintains a pointy give attention to their development and improvement and makes certain our eyes are as educated on them as hers are.
The infancy of Hersh’s youngest son, Doony, coincided with the early years of Throwing Muses’ major-label tenure. Doony’s father believes that Hersh’s job as a musician and her analysis of dissociative id dysfunction make her an unfit mom. He finally ends up with full custody of their son. Hersh particulars the fast and long-lasting results on her of the court docket battle for custody, which made the Windfall media within the late ’80s. The chorus “there’s a cop standing on the entrance porch. There’s all the time a cop standing on the entrance porch” threads all through Seeing Sideways. An empty youngster’s automotive seat serves as a symbolic picture of her PTSD. In 2021, given the nation-wide debates about police overreach and the damaged prison justice system, Hersh’s lengthy wrestle with the authorized system sounds a shamefully modern notice.
A few of the ebook’s sunnier passages give a extra nuanced concept of Hersh’s parenting model than a 1995 Rolling Stone profile (viz: “Hersh, an excellent mother if there ever was one, asks her youngsters with a mischievous smile, ‘Would you want some soda along with your sweet?’”). Even when on arduous press excursions, she listens to her youngsters and helps them discover their pursuits. Within the chapter on her next-youngest son Wyatt, she describes who watching him draw steadies her as she conducts interviews with the British press. That mentioned, Hersh’s nurturing instincts can backfire in darkly humorous methods. Right here is her response to her son Bodhi’s early makes an attempt to swim with sharks: “I caught him within the air, his tiny, spherical sneakers over the floor of the shark-filled water, and turned him round to face me. Eye to eye, we studied one another. We’re going to the butterfly room.”
All through her profession, Hersh has been crystal clear about her well-considered disgust with the file trade. Her misadventures coping with the glamorous aspect of the music trade serves as a kind of subplot within the first half of the ebook. The cacophonous independence of Throwing Muses doesn’t sit effectively with the publicity division at their file label, who speaks condescendingly to Hersh about easy methods to market the band: “I received’t know what retailers to go after till we decide a audience. There’s an enormous phrase for it: ‘demographic’.” She expresses her discomfort with the label pursuit of trend-following “followers” the label pursues — “they had been individuals who preferred to love, and preferred what others like…They need to put you on a pedestal to allow them to knock you down.” Nonetheless, when she leaves the enterprise varieties, she connects with “listeners” who’re invested in her music. At one level Throwing Muses’ tour bus caught on hearth and Hersh contemplated cancelling their tour. However “by the point we obtained to the membership, phrase had gotten out that we’d misplaced our bus and the membership’d been inundated with calls from folks asking how they might assist.”
Hersh attracts on phrases from her songs to string collectively tales about her youngsters, which supplies a small however revealing window on her artistic course of. Her lyrics can generally have the random high quality of filling a melody with a string of syllables and vowel sounds. However realizing that the road “I lower lemons and lemons and limes” was impressed by her sons’ makes an attempt to eat bitter citrus from a tree in her yard suggests how her life informs her work. Equally, seeing Hersh’s lyrics quoted alongside her ideas about pivotal relationships — the top of her marriage and gradual courtship of a person she knew since she was an adolescent — offers these songs a fair better undercurrent of disappointment and anger.
As in her earlier books, Seeing Sideways is written in an elliptical, poetic model that makes it simple for readers to develop into caught up in her tales, even once they develop into heartbreakingly violent. Hersh blunts the melancholy and ache along with her mordant humorousness, at instances drawing on amusing photographs to chop her confession’s hurtful edge.
Clearly, those that have adopted Hersh’s profession over the previous three a long time are the audience for Seeing Sideways. However she is an efficient sufficient author to curiosity individuals who could by no means have listened to her music. The astringent survivor’s knowledge that runs via Seeing Sideways can be of worth to folks of unconventional youngsters and in addition to these combating psychological sickness.
Chelsea Spear has written for the Brattle Theatre’s Movie Notes weblog, the Homosexual & Lesbian Overview, and Crooked Marquee. She lives in Boston.