Memoir Creates Art Out of Life

Who knew my favorite 90s lead singer, Kristin Hersh of the Throwing Muses, would write and publish her memoirs at age 45? Some might say, “She’s too young to recall a long life worthy of a reader’s interest!” But, memoir need not be a long life story at all. Rat Girl is a great example of the difference between anthology and memoir. As Gore Vidal writes in his own memoir, Palimpsests, “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.”

Kristin’s Rat Girl focuses on a year in the life of a freakishly-talented and proudly-odd teenage girrrl and successfully escapes the shackles of drudgery that the autobiography can impose – all those dates, and odious facts! Instead, Hersh creates art out of life, art out of the essence of a lived experience. After all, “Art is seduction,” writes Susan Sontag in her essay On Style. “But art cannot seduce without the complicity of the experiencing subject.”

Hersh takes her insights and weaves them in with the craft of the gifted lyricist that she is. According to the reviewer in Booklist, “Song lyrics and diary entries mix with Hersh’s memories, which read more like poetic, sometimes satiric impressions rather than traditional autobiography….Hersh presents a refreshingly raw, insightful, and singular coming-of-age story.”Again, Hersh is a free-wheeling memoirist not an autobiographer of a life viewed from the illusion of objective taxonomist.

I was lucky to first meet Kirstin through her “hippie philosopher” father while conducting research at Brown U (in Providence, RI). Seeing her that spring morning with her brand new baby and then watching her perform late into the night was something she made seem perfectly “normal.” Though the word normal was never used to describe Kristin as a performer her by music critics.  As a kid she eschewed anything normal, considering it a signifier for a notch on a washer/dryer, but today, she welcomes feelings of normal. In her words, “There’s nothing particularly creative about having a mental illness.”

Kristin Hersh is better than a seductive writer/musical artist, she casts a spell without either one of us looking or understanding what just happened.


Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email:  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.

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

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