(Today on RXTT's Intellectual Journey, we go back to a book review from several years ago, that I published on a different blog, -FUPPETS- , which is now-defunct. The review has been edited slightly. - RXTT)
Long-time Sonic Youth fanatic and all around bad-ass, Jenn Benningfield, has documented her obsession with live Sonic Youth concerts, as well as the life that develops around such an obsession, in her book NO SET LIST: Pieces Of A Sonic Life. I have absorbed the book, and what a book it is. While the omnipresent Sonic Youth are integral to the book, it is Sonic Youth's peripheral universe that is the real star here.
The lines of uber-fans showing up hours early, the crowds of people that frequent the shows, the travel required to attend 40+ shows and the inevitable highs and lows of that travel, the camaraderie between people who are total strangers except for the fact that they love skronk rock, and most of all, the joy of the fleeting moments shared with one's musical idols, these are the main pillars of NO SET LIST.
The bits that truly hook the reader though, are the relationships that Jenn builds with her fellow fanatics, whether at shows or through meeting those people she has corresponded with on Sonic Youth's infamous Fan Gossip Forum, including one who would become her partner-in-crime for much of NO SET LIST's duration. Her travels begin close to home but soon take her throughout the Midwest, California, Oregon, and as far as Britain in search of that sonic eargasm that only Sonic Youth can provide. Planes, trains, and automobiles are all endured, travails are overcome, and health issues are faced, all with humor and biting wit, and with the help of Snoopy's all-consuming love. What could easily become rote, (the endless bus/train stations, the countless opening acts, the obsession with Sonic Youth), never does and this is a testament to the quality of the writing within, not to mention the quality of the mind making the observations which we are absorbing.
Sonic Youth is not an "easy" band to like. They go out of their way to test and expand their audience's ears. They are a group that seeks to make art, and that seek to push the envelope as to what can constitute great musical art. Jenn captures all of this, as well as the blinding white skronk joy that Sonic Youth give to those that are patient and keep their ears open. NO SET LIST opens this world and exposes it to the light. What we find inside is comforting, exhausting, exhilarating, and downright beautiful. I wish Jenn was put on retainer by Sonic Youth so as to document their every appearance! That way, I would have a mainline to the world's greatest band, and there is nothing better. I would like to thank Jenn Benningfield for writing NO SET LIST, and for having the balls to put herself and her writing out into the world.
(This book is currently out of print)