Musings on Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth

Have you ever immersed yourself in a book to the extent that you start to dream it? That’s what I’ve been doing lately while reading David Browne’s Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth.

The writing is so good that it’s making me change how I think. How to describe what I’ve learned… The book talks about the vicissitudes of making Sonic Youth in such a way that I could see the organic nature of it. Gain a drummer, lose a drummer. Change practice space, play in a festival, attract 20 people. Get a new guitarist, go on tour, sleep on floors. Suffer, make art, strive for a sound. Meet people, network, hussle, and above all … don’t lose focus or compromise a vision for anyone, including a music label.

I really liked how this makes me think of creating art. Writing about music, I’ve thus far taken the band as a given, and anything they produce as the object of a music writer’s attention. This book caused me to realize just how much impact individuals have on their band, so that the final sound is as much a product of a particular person as it is the band as a whole. It was fascinating to see how sound changes with the addition or subtraction of a band member, and how the thing that carried Sonic Youth along to create lasting works of art were the clear artistic visions of the band members.

Other than that, the book had a few lovely human moments which revealed a simplicity and straightforwardness to Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s relationship that I hadn’t expected. It was sweet, so I’ll share:

The  time Kim Gordon proposed to Thurston Moore

“I felt everything was so drifty in our lives,” Gordon, who was thirty-one at the time, says. “I spent so much of my life not wanting to commit to things or analyzing things. I felt like I wanted to make a firm commitment.”

Since they’d been a couple for nearly four years, she suggested they close the deal.

Although [Moore] thought the issue might be raised at some point, the question was still, he recalls, “shocking, but I was into it. I had no doubt about it.”

The time someone grabbed Kim Gordon’s ass on stage:

During a show on an early European tour, an Italian fan reached out and grabbed Gordon’s butt during ‘Early American.’ Seeing what had happened, Moore grabbed the stick and metal pipe he’d been using on his guitar and slammed the fan’s hand. ‘He came backstage with a friend and acted like he was going to kill me or something,’ he recalls. ‘And I said, “Before you do anything: If you were playing music with your friend or wife onstage, and someone did that, what would you do?”’ The tension defused, the man skulked away.


So, in my Sonic Youth dream, I am a disembodied spirit in the crazy New York of the 80s, lurking in a cold and bathroomless practice space while the crash of feedback and endless guitars eddies around me. Thurston is staring down at whatever he’s doing with his broken drumstick to a beaten-up guitar, and Kim is in a corner looking off into the distance, meditative, comfortable with her own silence. Just listening.


Music and pants

This week a lot of things are on my mind, the first being that I don’t tend to update this blog unless I have a spare moment at work. I think blog updating requires a certain level of peace and being trapped at a desk with internet access… at home I can generally think of a dozen things I’d rather do than sit at a computer.

The above photo represents me trying to come to terms with the fact that flared pants are back in style. I am truly a child of the 80s. When I was young I longed for a pair of chic jeans with tulip-cut foot openings (tulip-cut because they were too tight to fit your foot through without it). I suffered through the flared-leg 90s, and was overjoyed when the 2000s brought back a tighter fit.

I went to Old Navy a few weeks ago and remembered why I dislike flared pants so much. Still, I am stubborn, and got these. Jury’s out about whether or not I like them … Bring back pegged pants, universe. Please!

Last night I got to go see Peter Bjorn and John perform at the Plaza in support of their new album Gimme Some. PB&J did not disappoint. In fact, due to their love affair with US media, the venue was packed and excited and they had the crowd eating out of their hands…

The band was tight, and Peter was great at flirting with us. There was such good energy that he grabbed his mic and came out and danced through the packed throng, much to the delight of everyone.

One funny moment. Peter said something like, “Yep, we came to spread our music, and a love of Sweden.”

“Why Sweden?” Said a girl standing near me.

“They’re from Sweden,” said a guy.

“Oh really? But they sing in English…”

My favorite moment was probably dancing like a crazy person to the song Second Chance. The band had a great time too! Perhaps it’ll inspire other Swedish bands to come here, although I know we’re far from the beaten path … snuffle.

I had a lot of fun, and once again vowed to see more live music.