Alec Hanley Bemis
by Kristin Hersh
$15.00 List Price
During Kristin Hersh's mid-1980s salad days as a teenage musician in New England, the very notion of rock stardom was being drastically revised. Early on in her new memoir of that period, Rat Girl, her father—an affable hippie-cum-professor nicknamed Dude—gives her a guitar lesson.
I didn't like how the chords sounded and I told him that. He looked hurt. "Why don't you like them?"
"But Bob Dylan plays these chords. And Neil Young."
"Mm-hm." I looked down at my hands, willing them to play better. "They're probably nice guys." . . .
Dude took the guitar, then sat, staring at me. "Nice guys?"
Yes, the postlegendary era of pop music had begun. The '80s marked career nadirs for many "major" artists of the classic-rock era, turning them into "nice guys" before our very eyes. Hersh, like Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and X's Exene Cervenka, would choose a different route, becoming an "established" figure, but only within an underground rock scene that was diffident about top-forty success. Since 1986, Hersh has released more than twenty records, most notably with her band Throwing Muses, and later as a solo artist and a member of 50-Foot Wave.
I think Hersh would agree it's been a tough road—though she'd probably also say she has no regrets. Alternative music's guiding principle, inherited and refined from a notion in punk rock, was that the heroes of American pop culture were suspect. Living outside the mainstream meant a surplus of unique experiences and "credibility" (the word deserves the scare quotes), albeit no glamorous Grammy-winning moments and none of