Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of the alternative rock band Sonic Youth were underground music’s favorite power couple for decades. However, in 2011 their romantic partnership fell apart and with it, so did their band. In 2013, Kim and Thurston were divorced after 29 years of marriage. Fans asked themselves how the coolest couple on the scene could break up?
“They were in love and married and making art. They were cool and hardcore.” We’ve delved deep into Kim’s life story, her love story with Thurston, his betrayal, and what it feels like to be a “Girl in a Band.” How was Sonic Youth formed? What was being alternative rock’s coolest couple like? Why did they divorce and disband?
Kim Gordon was born in 1953 in Rochester, New York, to Althea and Calvin Gordon. When she was five years old, her family moved to Los Angeles, where she spent most of her childhood. In 1963, they relocated to Hawaii for two years and then to Hong Kong, where her father, a professor at UCLA, implemented a study abroad program.
Kim had one sibling, an older brother named Keller, who was “the person who more than anyone else in the world shaped who [Kim] was, and who [she] turned out to be.” According to Kim, her brother was a “brilliant, manipulative, sadistic, arrogant, almost unbearably articulate” boy who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic later in life.
Kim grew up in her brother’s shadow: a “shy, sensitive, closed” girl who later had “no choice but to turn fearless” to overcome her vulnerabilities. Her happy, privileged, middle-class upbringing was tainted by her father’s depression and her brother’s erratic behavior and mental illness. Kim’s relationship with Keller was complex.
He was her biggest terrorizer, at times cruel and vicious towards her, yet at the same time an inspiration and a hero to her. He was charismatic and creative, and intelligent. Keller was also the first person Kim experimented playing music with. The two would jam on instruments together, making “wild, disorganized improv” unlike any music heard before, which would later inspire Sonic Youth’s unique sound.
As Kim and Keller got older, her brother’s behavior changed, and he became more and more unhinged, especially after he began using drugs, such as LSD. Soon he was befriending members of the Manson Family and had taken to wearing only white clothing, with his beard grown out. On the day of his college graduation, he had a psychotic break.
Meanwhile, Kim was in high school, dreaming of becoming an artist and experimenting with boys. Her first serious boyfriend was Danny Elfman, who later became a famous film composer. As a teen, Danny was supportive of Kim’s art and always encouraged her. The two remained friends and even collaborated on various music and art projects over the years.
When she graduated high school, Kim enrolled in Santa Monica College, where she studied for two years. After that, she transferred to York University in Toronto, Canada, where she planned to study visual arts and performance. While studying there, Kim formed her first band, called Below the Belt. However, she quickly became homesick and returned to California.
Back home, Kim decided to finish her degree at Otis College of Art and Design. Her time there “changed [her] life.” Her final project was a short documentary film about Patty Hearst. Kim also had a side job, working for future art dealer Larry Gagosian, whom she didn’t like at all, but would continue to cross paths with him in the future.
After she gained her bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Kim moved to New York City in 1980. She hoped to kick-start her art career and did some odd jobs in the art world. Soon, she and Miranda Stanton started a band together called CKM.
One day, Miranda told her that there was a musician she wanted Kim to meet. Miranda played with him occasionally and thought that he and Kim would really hit it off. They went to a show to see the guy, who was named Thurston Moore.
At first, Kim was hesitant; she was used to dating older men, and Thurston was only twenty-two, five years her junior. But Miranda was correct; there was just something about him. He was tall, with big lips and great hair; he wore jeans, an untucked white button-down, and old Pumas.
Thurston complimented Kim on her flip-up sunglasses, and they spent the evening together. When he came to her apartment that night, Moore recognized Gordon’s guitar. She had gotten it from a friend, and he claimed he’d played it before.
In 1981, the same year they started dating, Gordon and Moore formed their band, Sonic Youth. Before settling on Sonic Youth, they had many names, like Male Bonding, Red Milk, and the Arcadians. But the band wasn’t just the two of them; Lee Ranaldo was recruited after seeing him play guitar at Noise Fest.
Ranaldo and Moore played guitar, Kim played bass, but they didn’t have a drummer. Initially, they played gigs without one, taking turns on the drums, before Richard Edson, the band’s original drummer, joined the group.
Being in both a relationship and a band together wasn’t always easy. Kim recalled that when she and Thurston would disagree, it would often result in her giving in to him. Likewise, he would often get worked up and be rude to her.
Edson, the only band member who told him to treat her better, didn’t stay long. The drummer left the band to become an actor and was replaced by Bob Bert and then by Steve Shelley. So, Kim was left to her own devices.
Throughout the 1980s, Sonic Youth released an EP and five studio albums. In their Americana-inspired album, Bad Moon Rising, punk star Lydia Lunch was featured as a guest. Kim always admired Lydia, but the two never became friends.
The reason for this was because Kim couldn’t trust Lunch. Kim claimed that Lunch was always trying to seduce Thurston, which created a rift between the two women. Nevertheless, Gordon idolized her and wished she could be as effortlessly cool and punk as Lunch. Little did she know, she was.
In 1984, Kim and Thurston got married and “made monogamy; the whole ’til-death-do-us-part seem rad.” They weren’t clingy or crazy; they were just cool together. Their happy marriage was described as “a shining example of love and loyalty in maybe the environment least conducive to marital bliss.”
Fans were crazy about their relationship, which seemed like an equal partnership. However, things didn’t always feel equal in the band. Kim got way more attention from the media, but mostly about how she looked, rather than her music, because she was a girl.
Despite being popular in Europe, Sonic Youth wasn’t very well-liked in New York when they first started. They were part of the noise rock scene, a new and controversial sound, and slowly became better known and loved.
Their album EVOL was called a classic by Neil Young, and their album Daydream Nation earned critical acclaim. The single Teen Age Riot became their first big hit and was played nonstop on alternative radio stations. This prompted them to start looking for a better record deal.
In 1990, Sonic Youth was signed to Geffen Records, their first serious label, and they released the album Goo. Goo was a great success and became their best-selling record ever. The band promoted their album on tour with Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, and others.
Kim struck up a close friendship with Kurt Cobain, and they remained close until his untimely death. In 1991, Courtney Love asked Gordon to produce the first album of her band, Hole. Kim agreed, despite her hesitation over Courtney’s erratic behavior.
The hit single, Kool Thing, from Sonic Youth’s album Goo, was written by Kim and based on an interview that she had with LL Cool J. Gordon loved LL Cool J, and his publicist was in shock that she even knew who he was and was happy to have her interview him.
Kim felt really uncool walking into Cool J’s recording studio. She began the interview by asking him to sign her CD and copy an album by her side group, Ciccone Youth, that sampled his music.
The interview went pretty badly, as they didn’t have anything in common. Kim explained, “That’s why I tried to make the article show how elite and small the downtown scene that I come out of is. I was trying to make fun of myself.”
The song features Chuck D from Public Enemy and is full of references to LL Cool J. The lyrics “I don’t think so,” “Kool Thing let me play it with your radio,” and “Kool thing walkin’ like a panther” are references to LL Cool J songs.
Kim later wondered how she and Thurston had ever loved each other. She commented that he’d been hiding who he was all along. She wrote in her autobiography, “Once, when his stapler wasn’t working, he picked it up and threw it through the window, shattering the glass.”
For Kim, this was a red flag, “It scared me… Maybe I was a person – like a stapler – who just didn’t work for him anymore.” Kim felt that with Thurston, she was repeating unhealthy patterns she’d learned from her relationship with her brother.
Friends believed that Gordon and Moore’s relationship worked because they both were very independent and always had side projects. Kim pursued her art throughout her music career and even directed a music video for the Breeders alongside Spike Jonze.
She also started the band Free Kitten, with Pussy Galore guitarist Julia Cafritz in 1993. The same year, Gordon began a women’s streetwear brand with Daisy von Furth, called X-Girl. Up and coming actress, Chloë Sevigny, modeled for the LA-based brand, which later became big in Japan.
The cult couple seemed content. So much so that they had a baby together. On July 1st, 1994, their daughter Coco Gordon Moore was born. Around the same time, Kim recorded an album with her band, Free Kitten, while also playing with Sonic Youth.
Raising their daughter made the couple decide to leave NYC and move to Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1999. They loved parenting Coco and wanted her to grow up in a healthy environment. Kim then sold her share of the fashion label X-Girl.
Once, in an interview, Kim was asked, “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?” She was thrown off by the question but had a lot to say on the matter. So much so that she later named her autobiography Girl in a Band.
Kim always felt left out of the male bonding between her other bandmates. They had their own little world that she just wasn’t a part of. The media interviewed them about Sonic Youth’s music while she was asked about her style.
She was also painfully aware of the male gaze upon her while she stood on stage. She was always asked to stand center stage to capture the audience’s attention and gaze.
If she stood side stage, they would look to the side. Kim said that as a woman in rock and roll, “There’s a wall of faceless men I have to climb over.” Therefore, she wrote many songs about her experience as a woman, in songs like Kool Thing and Swimsuit Issue.
The attention Kim received from male fans wasn’t always easy for Thurston. After Coco was born, he accompanied Kim’s band Free Kitten on tour to help take care of the baby. During one concert, a man in the audience bit Kim’s behind while she was on stage.
Thurston got really angry and threw a bottle at the man in a jealous fit. However, Moore had his own share of attention from female fans. One such lovestruck fan would eventually lead to the dissolution of Gordon and Moore’s marriage.
While raising Coco, Kim also invested time in her art career, which she believed had been sidetracked because of her music career. Gordon had always wanted to be a visual artist and never planned on being a rock star.
In the early 2000s, she began a collective with Alan Licht and Jim O’Rourke and showed her work at the Gothenburg Biennale festival. Furthermore, Kim started acting in films and TV. She appeared in I’m Not There, a film about Bob Dylan, and in Gilmore Girls.
Kim always felt that Thurston was far more domestic than her and a much more natural father. He took to parenthood right away, while it was a more challenging transition for her to make and “created a huge identity crisis” for her.
Kim was constantly asked what being a rockstar and a mom was like, whereas Thurston was viewed as the “cool, fun dad.” That was when they began to grow apart, not always in agreement over how to raise Coco, as Thurston wanted “to do everything his way.”
In retrospect, Kim realized that they’d moved to Massachusetts, not only for Coco but also because “unspoken tension” had grown in their relationship. They moved to try and save it but instead began playing a game she called “who’s the adult here?”
Gordon never had much time for domestic hobbies; she liked cooking and doing art projects with Coco. But she wasn’t a baker or a housewife type, and sometimes her daughter’s friends’ mothers would comment on her lack of skills, hurting her feelings.
When Coco was young, she would accompany her parents on tour with Sonic Youth and their various side projects. Her parents would sometimes allow her to bring friends along on tour. For her, rock star life wasn’t as glamorous as it might seem.
When she was in high school, Coco formed her own band but wouldn’t let her famous rock and roll parents come to her shows. One time, Kim and Thurston snuck into the back to see their daughter play, even though she asked them not to.
Coco’s band opened for another band called Yuck, who reminded Kim of her contemporaries Dinosaur Jr. The loving parents thought their daughter’s group was great and later revealed to her they’d come to the show. She told Kim about her time hanging out with the other band.
When Kim asked her whether they knew who Coco’s parents were, the teenager replied, “No way.” Coco wanted to make it on her own and be considered talented on her own merit and not because of who her mom and dad were.
In Kim’s memoir, she only refers to the woman Thurston left her for as “her” or “the other woman.” The first time they met was at an art exhibition of Kim’s in New York City in 2003. The woman’s name was Eva Prinz, and Kim disliked her from the get-go.
Eva is a book editor and approached Kim during her exhibit, suggesting that, with her help, the musician could write a book. Kim was uninterested but told Eva that maybe Thurston would be interested in doing a literary project.
Kim hadn’t actually thought that Thurston would want to do a project with Eva, whom she thought was a “toxic borderline.” However, Moore was excited and full of “book lust” and began throwing ideas around with Prinz, who suggested that they work on a project of hers about mixtape culture.
Moore liked the idea and started thinking of musicians who were invested in mixtape culture for the project. They got along really well, and on Christmas, he gifted Eva with a mixtape that he had written about for the project.
Kim noticed that Thurston had grown withdrawn and distant in the mid-2000s. He was spending more and more time at their apartment in the city, working on projects with Prinz, and when he was home, he was constantly checking his phone.
Despite all of this, Kim never suspected that he was cheating on her. One day, as she was getting ready to go to a yoga class, Kim picked up Thurston’s phone to check the time and saw intimate texts from Eva instead. Although she was shocked, she still went to yoga.
After Kim discovered Thurston’s betrayal, she confronted him, and he promised to stop seeing Eva. He said that he wanted to save their marriage and their life together with Coco. They began going to marriage counseling, trying to make it work.
But Moore continued to see Prinz and lie about it, and Gordon no longer trusted him. Kim never found out when her husband’s infidelity truly began. Moore and Prinz worked together for years before Gordon found out they were more than friends.
Kim’s friend Julie suspected that Eva and Thurston were having an affair long before Kim did. Julie had seen Thurston hide from Kim every time he went to smoke and didn’t understand why he, a rockstar, felt he needed to hide the habit from Kim.
But when she saw that the brand he smoked was the same brand that Eva did, she began to suspect that the two were going behind Kim’s back. Why would he hide the cigarettes from Kim unless they were associated with something shameful and secret?
While she was in Northampton with Coco, Kim later discovered that Eva and Thurston were playing house in her family apartment in New York. She felt humiliated and wanted to end things. She was shocked that Moore would go for someone she felt was dark and toxic.
Kim claimed their relationship “ended in a normal way: midlife crisis, starstruck woman.” Kim was extremely hurt that Moore had fallen under the younger woman’s spell. She hated Eva and described her as a “groupie,” “nutcase,” and “a current that dragged you underwater.”
Kim finally broke off her marriage when she discovered that Thurston was still seeing Eva in secret, and his lies hadn’t stopped. Suspicious that he was still cheating on her, Kim checked his email, where she found an email to Eva in the trash.
He had become a “serial liar,” and Kim was done. First, they shared their split with Coco, and then the perfect alternative rock couple shared the end of their “perfect relationship” with their devasted fans who couldn’t believe they “were mere mortals.”
Despite announcing their breakup, Kim and Thurston still toured with Sonic Youth in 2011 for their final tour and final show together as a band. According to Kim, the two didn’t speak to one another during the tour, and “things had really fallen out” between them.
The final show was excruciating for Kim, who had to stand near Thurston as he acted all, “I’m back. I’m free. I’m solo.” She could barely sing their duet during Cotton Crown, and he had to finish the song alone.
That was the end of Sonic Youth; their label announced that the band’s plans “remained uncertain,” but their last show to date was on November 14th, 2011, in Brazil. After that, Lee Ranaldo shared that the band would be “ending for a while.”
Since 2011, each band member has become invested in their respective solo projects. According to Ranaldo, “Thurston and Kim aren’t getting along together very well since their split… Let [Sonic Youth] rest in peace.” Kim wrote in her memoir that the band was split up for good.
Throughout Kim and Thurston’s drawn-out divorce, which finally ended in 2013, Kim also suffered from DCIS breast cancer. Luckily, the type of cancer she had was non-invasive, and she was able to overcome it with surgery and didn’t need radiation and chemotherapy.
Kim shared that “rap music is really good when you’re traumatized”; the genre helped her overcome the breakup and cancer. Since the divorce, Kim has put her newfound time into her art, painted quite a lot, and had many exhibitions on two continents.
When interviewed about their infamous divorce and his new relationship, Thurston said, “In your 40s and 50s, things can change in ways that upset the order of things that have been established over 25 years-plus of marriage.”
Regarding Kim, he expressed, “I’ll always have that experience of sadness that a separation brings.” Thurston has also elaborated on his love for Eva, saying, “I’m involved in a really sweet relationship, and it really does make me happy; it truly does.” He refused to address Kim’s comments about Eva.
After Sonic Youth disbanded, Kim moved back home to California. She has since launched a successful career playing with numerous artists such as Ikue Mori and Bill Nace. Kim even started an experimental band with Alex Knost called Glitterbust.
In 2019, Gordon released a solo album called No Home Record. Aside from music, Kim has also continued to act, appearing in the TV series Girls, as well as the comedy show Portlandia and the series Animals. In 2017, she appeared in the film Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.
Even though she has had such a prolific music career, Kim always meant to be an artist, not a rockstar, and “felt like an outsider” in the music scene. She made experimental music and treated her music like any other art form or medium she’s worked with.
Naturally, once Sonic Youth broke apart, she went back to creating visual art. In 2013, Kim held an art show at her Larry Gagosian’s gallery in London. In 2019, she had a solo exhibition at the Andy Warhol Museum.
Nowadays, it’s pretty clear that Sonic Youth is done for good, as is the fan-favorite coupling of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. There are still hard feelings between the two, because according to Kim, “you can’t really forgive someone if they don’t say they’re sorry.”
Without meaning to, Kim Gordon has become a pop culture icon. Her “ineffable, magnetic coolness” and fearless stage persona, combined with her natural shyness, make her seem “dauntingly impressive and self-assured.” There’s no doubt she will forever remain an inspiration for girls in bands.