When news broke that rock-n-roll power couple Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore had split, I was one of many music fans who took the news way too personally. A revealing interview with Kim in this month’s Elle let the world know that Thurston had cheated on his wife and that the affair ultimately ended their marriage. The article was reblogged constantly on Tumblr and appeared about two dozen times in my Facebook feed, every time with the same refrain: “if they can’t make it work, who can?” (And it stuck with Elle‘s editors, too — so much so that they compiled a guide to breakups as a result.)
Just because I’ve listened to Sonic Youth, though, doesn’t mean that I know any more about Kim and Thurston than they’ve told me. For better or worse, they’ve been a unit in their music and in their lives for decades. Instead of being Kim and Thurston, they were Kimandthurston, a power couple to end all power couples. Pairing up with another successful and famous person is a good way to launch your own fame into the stratosphere, and Kimandthurston were like the more cool, more laid-back, less-stalked-by-paparazzi Brangelina of the music world. But being labeled a “power couple” puts an unrealistic expectation on a relationship.
Though I’ve never been in anything that could resemble a power couple, I do know what it’s like to be thought of as half a unit rather than a full person. My college boyfriend and I got together because we were in the same ‘group’ of friends, so we became LilitandDave within just a few months of dating. People who would have invited us both to the same party just sent one invite to both of us “because it was faster.” Friends called on Thursday nights to ask what “we” were doing for the weekend. In fact, Dave and I were the last two people to realize that we weren’t happy and were kind of wrong for each other, because everyone else thought of us as a single unit for so long that it almost became true. When Dave and I split up, our friends worried that it would affect them – would they have to choose between us, or pick sides? As a result, Dave and I stayed together longer than we should have to make it easier on everyone else, when we should have evaluated the relationship on its own terms.
The same theory applies to Kim and Thurston. Just because they represent something to their fans doesn’t make it true, nor is it fair to ask them to stick together because it makes other people happy. I’m the kind of person who kind of felt like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins breaking up was almost like my own parents getting a divorce, but ultimately they’re people whose inner lives I don’t see or know. Yeah, it’s always a bummer when a longtime marriage breaks up, especially when there are kids involved. But it’s also sad when that breakup happens in public.
Maybe those Sonic Youth songs will never sound the same again. Maybe the band will never record another note. Here’s what I do know: these two people have plenty of power on their own, and they don’t get it from being with each other.