Kristin Hersh: On Surviving 18 And Being A Rock Star By the mid-1990s, the art-rock band Throwing Muses had found more than just critical success. But co-founding member Kristin Hersh almost didn't make it there. At 18, she was diagnosed as bipolar and discovered she was pregnant. Hersh tells the story of that tumultuous year in her new memoir, Rat Girl.
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Kristin Hersh: On Surviving 18 And Being A Rock Star

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of song, "Bright Yellow Gun")

THROWING MUSES (Music Group): (Singing) With your bright yellow gun, you own the sun, and I think I need a little poison.

RAZ: By the mid-1990s, the alternative art house band Throwing Muses found more than just critical success. The band had made it with hits like this song you're hearing. It's called "Bright Yellow Gun."

Throwing Muses was co-founded by Kristin Hersh when she was still in high school. But at age 18, her world nearly collapsed. Her band was generating a lot of buzz in the Boston area, but she was also diagnosed as bipolar, oh, and she discovered she was pregnant.

The story of that year is told in her new memoir. It's called "Rat Girl." Kristin Hersh joins me from WWNO in New Orleans.

Kristin Hersh, welcome to the program.

Ms. KRISTIN HERSH (Author, "Rat Girl"): Thank you.

RAZ: Describe your life that year, 1985. You were 18. You had this band that was getting all kinds of attention. What were things like before everything kind of came crashing down?

Ms. HERSH: Like any 18-year-old, I was extremely nonjudgmental. Now was now, what was happening was happening. And yet, my personality at the time was mostly mania. It wasn't my personality at all.

RAZ: You trace your mania in this book to a previous accident that happened when you were 16, I guess about 1983, when you were hit by a car. You were on a bike. The next thing you remember was waking up in the hospital and something had changed. What was it?

Ms. HERSH: It was music that changed. I had a double concussion, and it seemed to trigger this interpretation of ambient noise as music that continues to this day. The sounds in any room will become instruments for me and eventually become a cohesive soundbite that I call or a song or I then make into a song.

After this accident, the songs seemed to come to life. They would breathe at me. They had to be, and eventually they became too big. They were gods and devils, and they were in charge. The songs were writing me rather than the other way around.

(Soundbite of music)

THROWING MUSES: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

RAZ: All of this happens, the diagnosis, Throwing Muses getting increasingly more attention. At the same time, you discover you're pregnant. You're 18 years old. You're a kid, basically. Did you ever, for a moment, consider not having that child?

Ms. HERSH: I'm sure I did consider not having the child because that's what you're supposed to do. That's the answer all the teenage girls know. But in an instant, I was convinced that this baby was a light, and I had to serve it as best I could, at least try.

RAZ: My guest is Kristin Hersh, co-founder of the alternative band Throwing Muses. Her new memoir is called "Rat Girl."

There's this amazing subplot in what happened to you that year, 1985, when you were 18. You met a woman named Betty Hutton who was living in Rhode Island at the time. She I'm sure some people, some listeners will recognize her name. She was a faded Hollywood starlet. She was in the 1950 film "Annie Get Your Gun."

She ended up becoming your kind of mentor, even going to Throwing Muses shows as kind of an elderly woman.

Ms. HERSH: And she always brought her priest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HERSH: It was always this crazy old cowgirl and a priest.

RAZ: She was - I should mention she was a kind of a devout Catholic, as well.

Ms. HERSH: She was. Yeah. She was nuts in the best way. She was probably the only larger-than-life person I've ever met. She was sort of humming with the energy of her own fragility. She was very broken and so fascinating in that.

I had never heard of her, so I assumed she had been maybe a showgirl with Hollywood dreams and she turned them into a story that she told me because I was some kid who didn't know any better. I had no idea she had actually been a Hollywood starlet. I just liked her stories.

But she took me under her wing because she thought I was going to get drugged up the way a Hollywood girl would be drugged up. And I don't know, I was convinced that she thought I was Shirley Temple. Meanwhile, I was in Throwing Muses.

But she had seen it. She just assumed it was a generational thing. That's why she didn't get it. But, you know, staring into a tour manager's hand with a blue pill that's supposed to wake you up and a yellow pill that's supposed to knock you out, I would hear Betty's voice again.

And it continues to this day, all those lessons that she learned so that I wouldn't have to. I then went and had to learn the hard way, just hearing her voice echoing.

RAZ: Kristin Hersh, when you think about that time period, some of the most influential bands, I mean, The Pixies, Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly, I mean, it was such a distinct moment in the history of alternative music.

Ms. HERSH: It was. And yet, it's the seed of the scene that is most impressive to me. It's very striking to me that we were much cooler before we saw any success because our ideals were ideas.

So now, my goal as a working musician is to recreate that sense of living on your own planet and working in a vacuum. And if the listeners can finish that work by taking it in and making it their own soundtrack, then that's the highest honor I could ever achieve.

But it's not really my concern. My concern is the planet where it all begins.

RAZ: That's Kristin Hersh, co-founder of the band Throwing Muses. Her new memoir is called "Rat Girl. She also has a new record out. It's called "Crooked." Here's some music from it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HERSH: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

RAZ: Kristin Hersh, thank you so much.

Ms. HERSH: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. HERSH: (Singing)

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