Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rat Girl

It's been a long, long time since I've been blown away by a book. This is the book, though.

I liked Throwing Muses, I liked Kristin Hersh and her voice, but I didn't know that much about them. I started listening to them at college (because of a boy, isn't it always?) And their odd, left-field lyrics strangely & spookily paralleled the disintegration of that relationship - I remember the line "I brought this bottle here for you, can't you drink it?" jumping out of one song, pretty uncanny as it seemed to relate to one specific incident at a terrible house-party near the end. I remember reading interviews with Kristin Hersh which talked about manic depression and how she didn't just write songs, she felt like they were living things taking her over and making her crazy. I was intrigued, but I didn't get it.

Rat Girl is based on her diary from when she was 18. It is absolutely unflinching, unself-pitying. She was knocked down by a hit and run driver and though she'd been a musician before, after the accident she could hear music, hear whole songs and sounds - and not just hear them, but she felt taken over by them, possessed by them, everything else driven out until the song is finished. At first it's a gift, the songs pour out and the band starts to get a following, attracted by this new energy. Then it gets too much

"Music's making me do things, live stories so that I can write them into songs. It pushes my days and my brain around. A parasite that kills its host, it doesn't give a shit about what happens to a little rat girl as long as it gets some song bodies out of it. It's a hungry ghost, desperate for physicality.

I'm not writing songs any more. They're writing

I wish I had some gift, some talent, but she shows so clearly how it could be a terrible curse as well as an incredible gift. She takes you inside that experience of highs and lows, not explaining, just showing.

And because she's so unself-pitying in the way she tells her story, it is desperately moving. She was so young & fully aware she was going through hell. Starting to have visual as well as auditory hallucinations, snakes everywhere, robot killer bees...

"I'm uncertain as to what this world is, where you might see something... pretend? magic? invisible? And so I'm uncertain as to who might live in this world.... not the Muses. Not me- that person is over. I'm not in here anymore.
The only thing left in this body is shame. And the only shred of self-preservation I have left is this thought "Please, no more shame."

So I keep my distance from everyone. Stay cold and they won't feel the heat. I don't go to school. book shows or schedule rehearsals. I don't see anyone except the people I see on the street.

I don't belong on this planet. I'm not good enough."


  1. I saw her read parts of this book in progress and sing songs which related to it at the National Theatre a few years ago and it was spine chilling, and funny - very Kristin. There will be a similar London show in January, the 24th, I think.
    The UK title is the same as the show – Paradoxical Undressing. I can't wait to get my mits on it.

  2. I must go. Regretting not seeing them back in the day on a double bill with the Pixies, when our music journo friend recommended them. D'oh...