Thomas S. Caw

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



First Advisor

Gillian Rodger


Kim Gordon has been referred to as the “Godmother of Grunge,” the “Godmother of alternative rock,” “rock’s reigning experimental diva,” the original “Riot Mom,” and other similar sobriquets when mentioned as an important influence on younger women musicians such as Courtney Love or the bands in the Riot Grrrl movement, but her work has been given only superficial treatment in both the popular and academic literature. Many scholars have addressed more overtly feminist musicians in their work on popular music, but few have focused on the work of Kim Gordon other than to refer to her influence. The mainstream historical record of Gordon’s music-making is not in agreement with the version I know from witnessing her perform and following her career in the underground press for the past two decades. The intent of this thesis is to scrutinize Gordon’s work to reveal how she has successfully established a role for herself as an equal contributing member of a mixed-gender band, how she fits into a genealogy of disruptive musicians, how she has negotiated the gendered expectations for women popular musicians to be either glamorous stars or supportive background figures without enacting either stereotype, how she has continued to transcend gender stereotypes over time, and how she challenges the double standard that posits men as getting better with age while women are expected to disappear or make more conservative choices. This analysis substantiates her place in both the “Women in Rock” narrative and the broader history of late twentieth-century popular music as someone deemed influential, moving beyond the commonly used “Godmother of Grunge” epithet. I employ an interdisciplinary approach that combines methods from gender studies and musicology in order to locate the gender role disruptiveness and music historical significance of Kim Gordon’s work both chronologically and contextually. This approach is in keeping with the cultural study, analysis, and criticism of music applied to popular music by practitioners of what is called “new musicology,” such as Susan McClary, and Judith Peraino, and Robert Walser