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Rat Girl: A Memoir by Kristin Hersh

Rat Girl: A Memoir (2010)

by Kristin Hersh

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Kristin Hersh's 'Paradoxical Undressing' made me laugh out loud and cry in public. In the same chapter — I mean that in a good way. I also love her music. ( )
  graffiti.living | Oct 22, 2017 |
‘Going away is my only real talent. Betty’s right: I’m a reluctant performer...not a performer at all. I need to go away so the song can play itself.’

Paradoxical Undressing is a memoir by Kristin Hersh, the lead singer and guitarist from Throwing Muses, based on a diary she kept at the age of eighteen. She was very bright as a teenager, forming a band at fourteen and going to university at fifteen. The book is about one year in her life, around the time her band started to become well-known and were offered a record deal, when she began to suffer from mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and then bipolar. It is about her life as a musician, her creativity and the way she experiences the world, and explores in a very personal and fascinating way the boundaries between mental illness and artistic talent.

First, I have to tell you that this book is very funny. Despite what you may expect given the subject matter, it’s not miserable or self-pitying in any way; it’s above all an amusing read written in an idiosyncratic and passionate voice. From her time living in an empty apartment along with constantly arguing tribes of painters and musicians and a mysterious Animal none of them have ever seen, to an art therapy class full of hippies she attends at university, this book is full of entertaining scenes. Her observations and her turn of phrase really made me laugh.

It is also quite inspiring because, even as a teenager, Kristin Hersh was so dedicated to her work and sure of her own vision. I found it really interesting to read about how a shy person who already sometimes feels uncomfortable with others would choose to perform in such an emotional and intense way on stage. It seems as if, in Kristin Hersh’s case, the expression of the song itself is what matters to her, not that she (as a person) is communicating with the audience. If she manages to lose herself, the song is expressed through her, whether the audience is there or not.

Around this time, Kristin begins to experience frightening hallucinations and becomes isolated and out of touch with the world. She describes how she heard music constantly and couldn’t escape from it, suffered from terrible insomnia, and saw snakes and bees which she later describes as sound-images, suggesting that her illness is linked to her creativity. The music in her head seems to have been caused by an accident some time previously in which she was knocked off her bike by a woman in a car (who she sees as either a good or a bad witch), experienced concussion and was given the gift or curse of hearing songs. However, during her breakdown the music seems to become more intrusive and unbearable. She also sees these songs as evil or coming from an evil part of her, which she doesn’t control. However (and this is where the book is interesting about the madness/creativity boundary), once she has recovered from this extended manic episode, she is able to stop taking her medication and her symptoms seem to become less threatening, even though they are still there to some extent. She begins to see them as part of her as a musician rather than something that threatens to ruin her life.

One scene from the book I liked was when she went to see a psychiatrist who was very perceptive and was the first person who thought her explanation of the ‘snake’ in her bag as a ‘sound-image’ made sense. I liked what he said to her: ‘Art and dreams are very closely related and they’re worth listening to, as long as your hold on reality remains intact.’ It’s also interesting that she finds the sympathy and attention of the doctors to be a more important contribution than medication to her recovery:

‘This may be the real medicine they offer and it’s powerful. I watch them administer both their drugs and their kindness and the kindness seems just as effective to me, if not more so. Chemicals in the form of medication are interesting, ham-fisted tools, but humans themselves engage in myriad processes we haven’t yet measured. We really are a deeply social species.’ ( )
  papercat | Jun 27, 2017 |
Really really really liked. A lot. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Rarely has a book been so ill-served by its title or by its American cover, a spare drawing of a worried young woman by Gilbert Hernandez after Charles Burns. The teenage narrator of "Rat Girl" doesn't waste a lot of time in apprehension, and she doesn't hang out with rats, much, alhough a snake makes a significant appearance. She's brave, naîve, wildly creative, and mostly upbeat—someone everybody would be better off knowing, even if they couldn't keep up with her for more than an hour in real life.

Based on a journal kept during the year before the release of the first Throwing Muses album, "Rat Girl" is a powerful and often hilarious portrait of a young artist like no other. Gifted (or cursed) with synesthesia and a sense of being literally possessed by sounds that have their own will and demand expression, young Kristin alternates between attending community college and living in squats. Her best friend at college is an aged movie queen, once on the cover of all the national magazines. Her father, remote in the book as one senses he was remote all through her childhood, is a hippie professor she calls "Dude." In the wee hours, Kristin stays up with her battered guitar, exorcising the music that will only torment her if not released. Her band plays clubs they're not allowed to attend; they are paid so little that it often costs them to play. One senses she'd be happy enough to go on like this forever, but life has its own plans and demands some tough choices.

The adult Hersh captures the voice of her young self so perfectly that it takes close reading to realize that the book wasn't merely channeled. Key details are revealed just when the reader needs to know them, and never before. Other characters' voices are perfectly rendered, sometimes sophisticated, occasionally wise, always unique to the person speaking. Although based on a journal, and firmly grounded in the perspective of the journal keeper, the book reads like the work of an assured author with several novels behind her. It's an amazing achievement. ( )
  john.cooper | Oct 19, 2015 |
I wish I could have taken this book for Kristin Hersh to sign when I met her after her talk at the Writer's Festival last weekend. It is a library book, I reckon she would have liked the idea. It speaks to me too, as what I got her to sign (her new book/CD) wasn't about having the signature, it was about meeting her and saying hi. I am also quite glad I hadn't read her book before meeting her as I would have had the weight of her story on me. It is a strange thing to know lots of stuff about someone who doesn't know you.

Anyway, the book about a year in her life is wonderful. I cannot give it 5/5 though because I feel angry at it for being so compulsive :) I carried it around the house with me just in case I could catch a minute, or less, to read a few words here and there. That's how I know I am on to something good. I desperately crave a few minutes to read it, and I take it everywhere in case such an opportunity presents itself (including out in the car- in case I am involved in a traffic jam, or some unforeseen situation which results in time to spare). How the last person who had this book out took so long with it I don't know....... ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Oct 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Rat Girl is not really a chronicle of music or mental illness or even teen motherhood. Hersh writes that her book is a love story, "one with no romance, only passion." It is not about her baby's father, nor is it about falling for music: It's about the exaggerated passion of adolescence.
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"The universe is godding." - Micky Dolenz
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The handmade Jesus on Napoleon's living room wall has no face, just a gasping, caved-in-head with blood dripping down its chest.
This book is based on a diary I started when I was eighteen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143117394, Paperback)

The founder of a cult rock band shares her outrageous tale of growing up much faster than planned.

In 1985, Kristin Hersh was just starting to find her place in the world. After leaving home at the age of fifteen, the precocious child of unconventional hippies had enrolled in college while her band, Throwing Muses, was getting off the ground amid rumors of a major label deal. Then everything changed: she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and found herself in an emotional tailspin; she started medication, but then discovered she was pregnant. An intensely personal and moving account of that pivotal year, Rat Girl is sure to be greeted eagerly by Hersh's many fans.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:27 -0400)

The founder of the cult rock band Throwing Muses shares her outrageous tale of growing up much faster than planned, in this intensely personal and moving account of the pivotal year of 1985.

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