Monday, July 25, 2011

Sonic Youth - "Confusion is Next" From the CD Confusion is Sex

Or, Thurston Moore is a Big Fuckin' Dick

Sonic Youth Confusion is Next CD cover
infographic from Spin article on Nirvana 8/11I guess I ought to start visiting Pitchfork again, or start blog-hopping at It seems a little repetitive to always be writing about what Spin has written for the month.

Also: I remember when I was reading Shakey, Jimmy McDonough's excellent biography of Neil Young. And I disappeared inside the thing, became engrossed. I was reading about when Young came to LA, and had formed the Buffalo Springfield with Stills and Furay and all the rest of them. And evidently there was a perceived rivalry--at least from the Springfield's point-of-view--between the Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds. I became so wrapped up in this that I started telling Cerveza whenever I had been given half a chance about how much better Buffalo Springfield had been than The Byrds.

And Cerveza was like, why are you telling me this? Why should I care, why does it matter, when this little city of the angels folk-rock turf war you detail took place almost 40 years ago?

That's why I've always tried to keep things positive around here, because while the good stuff is always relevant, nothing seems more pointless than bitching about things which ended up getting resolved decades ago.

But, maybe, some things haven't gotten resolved, and remain a viable target.

Buy Nevermind Buy Nevermind Buy Nevermind Buy Nevermind Do it Now Do it Now Do it Now Do it NowSpin's latest issue is a 20th anniversary shindig for Nevermind, and while I've already told my Nevermind story, these are worth reading, too, an oral history sort of thing, a few more ambitious analyses, and a couple infographics.

It's one of the infographics that got me going, hope you dug my scan as you were passing it by. If not, go back, and note what's circled in the graphic with the aqua. I bet you're not surprised that I can wait here while you do.

Did you have this T-shirt?You see them over and over again, these references to Sonic Youth's assumed integrity, and you get tired of it, this fault--not a feature--in the critical landscape that we see when we look around us.

So it is understood let me say it plainly: Sonic Youth were a great band for nearly ten years, and have been at the least relevant for three times as long. They were my favorite band for five years, and not just for five years, bur for the coolest five years of my life. I listen to them plenty even now. This is not a "Sonic Youth sucks" post, or even a "Sonic Youth is overrated" one. I love 85% of this band's music, including the 29-year old, but still truly mind-wrenching tune I have selected for download today.

But it seems to me that if you are as a guitarist or as a bassist or as a person intent on taking the path to paragon of integrity, a good place to start is by not being a fucking asshole.

Quite frankly, no-one is as cool as Thurston Moore thinks he is. For 25 years, Moore--and his wife, too, really--have run around living their lives and making artistic decisions for their band based on the proposition that the coolness of anything they touched would accrue unto them.

When I saw that they'd covered "Beat on the Brat" for Master-Dik, I thought it was pretty cool, and neither "I Wanna Be Your Dog" from Confusion nor "Bubblegum" from the "Starpower" single set off the red flag.

Cover of Sonic Youth 'Personality Crisi' 45But whether it was their cover of "Personality Crisis" or of "Ça Plane Pour Moi" or of "Moist Vagina" or even of "Victoria" that in the end tipped me off, at some point it struck me like a 165 gram frisbee upside the noodle that SY were trying one by one to get the entire fucking canon in.

As if when they covered the New York Dolls, they got to keep any of the Dolls' leftover coolness that the surviving members weren't using, as if there were a kewlness account somewhere they could squirrel it all away to and withdraw from when their ego needed.

Enough to make you feel a certain fondness for Dinosaur Jr, for their cover of "Show Me The Way," it never bothered J Mascis at all; he never thought covering Peter Frampton might make his band less cool.

And good for him in his security. As for SY: Why does a band whose own work is so respected feel so insecure?

OK, two more stories, let me hammer this thing home.

A couple years back, I spent some time talking about "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore", this long-lost Velvet Underground song that surfaced in early 2008. I made a very big deal about it, because it was a very big deal, a never-previously heard live track of outstanding quality from a seminal band.

Velvet Underground Gymnasium album coverLooking now in Wikipedia, I see that in 2008, Rage Against the Machine and My Bloody Valentine played shows for the first time since their respective heydays, and I see that Paul McCartney played Israel for the first time since 1965. Bo Diddley and Rick Wright died, while M83, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend and Deerhunter released breakthrough albums. But I'd still say that the recovery of "I'm Not a Young Man. . . ." was the musical story of the year.

And I guess that Thurston got jealous of all the attention that Lou and John and Sterling and Mo were getting, 'cause when Moore made his appearance at South By Southwest in March of '08, he announced that he would play the song. There's no other way to look at it: Moore was trying to divert some of the attention that had been directed to the song onto himself. I hate him for this. The only people who had any right to play that fucking song at SXSW were the ones who played it at the fucking Gymnasium, and Thurston trying to steal the limelight for himself is most definitely not the action of a "paragon of integrity."

And then there was the time I read that Moore and Gordon had 1) named their dog "Merzbow" after the obscure Japanese noise project 2) made recordings of their dog barking 3) sent those recordings to the actual Japanese noise artist.

Merzbow, or at least the dude who calls his music thatChrist. Naming your fucking dog "Merzbow" is, now that I think about it, very much the same as covering an obscure academic curiosity like Steve Reich's "Pendulum Music" (which, guess what? SY have also done). Such a pointless act can only come from a conviction that coolness can be swept into some kind of continually-growing ashpile, and he who has the biggest pile wins, and also that obscurity a priori = cool.

Arrgh. It makes me want to kill yr idols. I'm gonna skip the way SY mercilessly dissed the Jesus and Mary Chain on an EP only some few years after worshipfully name-dropping them in the liner notes to EVOL, and I'll skip the whole ironic we-love-Madonna thing, which I can look back at, and hate.

But hopefully you get my point despite my incompleteness. Though they may be supernally innovative artists, with a catalog of revolutionary works, Sonic Youth are not paragons of integrity as is so popularly (and so tiresomely) supposed. They're more like total dicks who have their priorities all bass-ackwards.

I've never felt the need to admire the artists who make the music I like, but still, it sure is confusing.

File under: Pigfuck, Postpunk


TAD said...

Wow, Sonic Youth do a Steve Reich tune? That's pretty obscure....
Yeah, I useta buy that obscure = cool equation. Now I just think good music (of whatever sort) = cool.
Nice work, & welcome back....

Jeff said...

Hey....I wanted to cover Pendulum Music. :(

jk. Love the blog.