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Kim Gordon for AnOther Magazine Spring/Summer 2024
Kim Gordon is wearing BalenciagaPhotography by Mark Borthwick, Styling by Emma Wyman

On Kim Gordon, by Hilton Als

In the new issue of AnOther Magazine, cultural critic and friend Hilton Als reflects on Kim Gordon’s electrifying career, her empathy and her imagination

Lead ImageKim Gordon is wearing BalenciagaPhotography by Mark Borthwick, Styling by Emma Wyman

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of AnOther Magazine

For someone who doesn’t like to talk much, Kim has a beautiful voice. Dulcet. I understand her reluctance to engage in chatter, though; small talk keeps you small and makes the world more mundane than it is. But what talk for its own sake keeps you from, ultimately, is listening, which is such an active and beautiful component when it comes to communicating, and Kim’s abilities to listen and absorb and learn are among her many sterling features.

There are so many but let’s begin with her ability to listen. I can see her now, driving along in western Massachusetts, which is where I met her, a little snow on the hood of her car, and she’s listening to me as I talk about a recent cultural exchange in New York – seeing a play, going to a concert, something – and it’s the way she listens and then says, “I’ll have to check that out,” that means so much, even if she doesn’t get to it. Because even if she doesn’t, she has already gone there in her mind based on what you’ve been saying; she’s been listening to you, and imagining you in the atmosphere you’ve described, because Kim has the twin tools that make any artist exceptional: empathy and an imagination.

I can see her now in her kitchen in western Massachusetts; like most musicians she has a sort of crummy tape deck or CD player (as a rule musicians don’t really spend much cash on home audio; they live with music all day, in their heads, let alone the making of it) and she’s listening to the Fall. I love to watch her listen to music because she actually starts moving around to the sound of the music – she can feel how it’s made, its surprising leaps and the excitement that goes into putting on a show.

Like most performers, Kim is intensely shy – until she gets out there, and then she takes no prisoners. She wants your attention and you better damn well give it to her. I think her fabled “cool” onstage is the mask she likes to work behind; it gives her a little distance from the sublime. Do you know what I mean? The sublime is when you – the audience – and Kim – the performer – meet in some space that is beyond the stage, beyond the bleachers; it’s transcendence, I think that is the word, yes, transcendence that lifts us up and out of our mortal coil to a collective transcendence where time and space and bodies and minds and the music are one.

I have seen Kim have that effect on an audience a number of times, and in her private life she has most definitely had that effect. I remember shopping with her – we were still in western Massachusetts – she was looking for fabric to make a Halloween costume for her daughter, Coco. As with many afternoons with Kim, we were in search of something, and language – chatter – was not part of the search. That afternoon we went to a fabric store, and as Kim looked at bolts of fabric, she worked quietly, gathering various materials for the costume she would make later. (I don’t remember what the costume was.) It was a touching afternoon, largely because of Kim’s dedication not only to realising her child’s vision, but her single-minded devotion to Coco, and making sure that she had as much freedom and possibility in a world that genuinely doesn’t ensure that women will have either. That’s an important thing to remember about Kim: that what she is fighting for always out in the world is possibility – hers, and a lot of other folks she cares about.

I wasn’t aware of the “cult” of Kim until we had been friends for some time, if only because I was interested in Kim, not in her “legend”. Legends are frozen, and Kim was always moving. Putting on a little Rodarte. Making music. Making paintings. Reading magazines in the car from our little village to Manhattan, checking in with Coco. Kim never made any of these activities seem frantic; she moved through the world then and now with a naturalness that one doesn’t associate with legends, but right-on working women. I had to laugh listening to I’m a Man, on Kim’s new record, The Collective, because she’s better than that.

So many memories. One winter day, we went to see Coco in a school production. Coco had written a couple of short plays and starred in them. She was perfect, of course, a natural on stage. At one point Kim turned to me and said, “I don’t know where she gets it from.” How could I dignify that with a response? It was in Coco’s bones, just as Kim’s artistry is in her bones, and what a marvellous legacy. I’m so happy to have her new album with me now. The grit of it, its toughness and lyricism in every beat and crash of what sounds like glass, echoes of storms and drumbeats supporting Kim’s singular voice – one could view this as rock-song spiel – is so resonant that it wakes your ears (and thus emotions) up to something that’s a little scary (“I don’t miss my mind”) because of its awareness of how words work most effectively in music: sparingly, making sonic holes in the ground as it opens our consciousness to the artist’s truth. As when Kim says, in The Candy House: “I want to tell you what memories can do.”

Hair: Joey George at MA+Talent using ORIBE. Make-up: Tayler Treadwell at Born Artists using YSL BEAUTY. Photographic assistants: Jules Muir and Pierre Bonnet. Styling assistant: Jade Boulton. Production: Zoe Tomlinson. On-set producer: Liam Gavin. Production assistant: Ian Udulutch. Post-production: Frisian. Special thanks to We Folk 

The Collective by Kim Gordon is out on 8 March 2024.

This story features in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale internationally on 29 February 2024. Pre-order here.