Carrie Brownstein’s “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” satiates fans of Sleater-Kinney, “Portlandia” and beyond

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To some people, Carrie Brownstein is an actor. To some, she’s a rockstar. To others, she’s both. The Sleater-Kinney guitarist-turned-Portlandia star has been professionally performing in one way or another since the early ’90s, but it’s her musical career that is explored in her new memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. From her childhood as a music fan whose curiosity was eventually piqued enough to try and play her own, to her international touring with bandmates Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, Carrie details the humorous, the tragic, and the victorious moments of the first few chapters of her life with a forthright nostalgia that fans of any of her work will appreciate. 

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“[It’s] all the things that informed my becoming a performer and finding music as salvation from feeling like an outsider,” Carrie said in her trailer on the set of Transparent. “It definitely ends with Sleater-Kinney going on hiatus. I was really inspired by Steve Martin‘s Born Standing Up, which was just him right up until he joined Saturday Night Live. I feel like that’s when everything, the story sort of takes over, like we already know that story.”

There’s a lot we don’t know about Carrie, though. A notoriously private person, she doesn’t give a lot away about herself in interviews, which is why Hunger is such a treat. She devotes the same amount of thoughtfulness about her mother’s eating disorder and her father’s coming out to her that she does to her relationship with Corin and their being outed in the first national music magazine coverage in 1994. Carrie also shares a lot about her time in Olympia, Washington, surrounded by the progressive artists and riot grrls that made up the queer scene she was a part of during the city’s famous creative swelling that inspired countless amounts of mainstream press to refer to the Pacific Northwest as a hotbed of DIY virtuosity. Carrie strikes a great balance of fond reminiscing and truthful (sometimes regretful) memories spent on the road, in the recording studio and moments of humility in her youth.

carriephoto by Autumn de Wilde via Riverhead

“I think that the themes are still universal,” Carrie said. “The relationship I have to creativity and the, kind of, I don’t know, the seeking and desperation and yearning that surrounds trying to put something creative out into the world.”

If there are newer fans coming to find out about the star of Portlandia or Transparent or even from her bit part in the Carol, Carrie says she thinks they will still enjoy the heavy-on-the-music memoir.

“I guess it allows me, although I can’t imagine starting it right now, to write a second book,” she said. “It’s focused. But there’s a lot of people who have read it that have never heard of Sleater-Kinney and they don’t seem to care. For me, that’s reassuring. Like in this way that the music—the relationship that one might have with the music, doesn’t—it’s not necessitative to be a fan of Sleater-Kinney. It’s not a necessity for liking the book. I guess it’s good because Sleater-Kinney has, I suppose, a finite audience and I think the book might be the most sort of universally relatable piece of work I’ve put out in the world, more so than Portlandia or Sleater-Kinney.”

Carrie with Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss (left) and singer/vocalist Corin Tucker (middle)sleater-kinneyvia Facebook

And there are many relatable moments in Hunger, especially for queer women. From Carrie’s touching on her first kiss with another girl to her dating and break-up with Corin, to the struggle she has with the intense scene she’s part of in Olympia, to the way Sleater-Kinney is placed into a very specific “women’s rock” box based on their gender, even those who may have not seen one episode of any show Carrie has ever been on nor heard one note of Sleater-Kinney or her other bands Slant 6 and Wild Flag will find of interest. Carrie’s writing is smart but accessible, and the bits about her awkward but amusing growing up process are an easy and early entry point into her world. 

But as anyone who has ever penned a memoir knows, there’s always the point you have to stay “This is the end, for now,” and for Carrie, the end of Sleater-Kinney in 2006 (before their revival in 2014) was that natural stopping point.

“To me, the story felt very complete,” she said. “I’m still doing Portlandia. I guess I’m still doing Sleater-Kinney, but how that story had a natural end to it thematically it just sort of tied in. Also I was joking with my friend that to write up until now would feel like the end would be ‘And now I’m sitting on my computer.'” The story continues.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is available Tuesday from Riverhead Books.

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