Thurston Moore's SONIC LIFE Became My Sonic Life


Sonic Life: a Memoir - Thurston Moore (2023)

I am a Sonic Lifer. In my heart, I truly came into my own when I first heard the sound of Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation" at age 16.  I had finally discovered an aural equivalent to the skronk in my own head.  There was no turning back.  While Sonic Youth was not the first band I rocked to, or first loved, or first thought of as "my fave," they were the band that crystallized me.  Because of this I hold them, their music, and the individual members in very high regard.  

When the inevitable happened, and Sonic Youth ceased operations as the premier skronk-machine live act around, I accepted it, and thanked them for the long musical ride.  Not many bands can continue to make new, interesting, challenging music for nearly thirty years.  In 2015, Kim Gordon published a wonderful book, "Girl in a Band." Part memoir of her formative years growing up in California and the fine art world, and part personal air-clearing about the break-up of her marriage.  After decades of fandom, I was allowed a peek into the mind of someone I had both idolized and adored.  It was as beautifully written and insightful as the Artforum essays she wrote in her early life.  

Many people thought Thurston would write his own version of the events, because that is what a public wants to see, the airing of grievances.  Instead, Thurston Moore wrote this memoir to his first and one true love, loud rock music, and the thrills of a truly transcendent performance.  

Thurston begins with his older brother playing "Louie Louie" over and over on a scratchy vinyl single.  This resonated with me deeply.  As a child who started paying attention to bands and music in 1981, I grew up in a house surrounded by music, stereos, 8-Track players, turntables, etc.  Music was of primal importance in our house.  My mother's oldies station would play some songs that I just loved, including 'Louie Louie."  I was always attracted to the wilder, more propulsive oldies.  I liked things that rocked, and began looking for such music.

Thurston Moore was such a teenager, always searching for new sounds, driving to NYC with a friend to explore the record stores, eventually spending weekends in the city seeing shows and buying used books.  He found himself drawn to the seedy lower east side and the Bowery, areas where the fringe bands could perform, and where an underage kid could sneak in if he arrived to the show early enough (a method I also employed at various Houston area venues.)  It was at such a show that he witnessed an early performance by the duo Suicide, one of the fiercest, most transgressive acts ever to come out of the NY scene.  Thurston had a front-row seat to something completely new, what became the No Wave scene.  Bands such as Suicide, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, and others forged a separate sub-underground for themselves where the musical goal was not to craft songs, but to destroy the very foundation of song structure and performance.  

Apart from No Wave, the avant-garde music coming from people such as Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca, stylistic innovators and sonic risk takers, also shaped and forged Thurston's musical sensibility.  Throw in a healthy dash of hardcore punk and a deep love for the absurd, and you have what Thurston brought to Sonic Youth.  

Those looking for a deep dive into Sonic Youth themselves and the workings of the band will need to wait for a different book, yet to be written.  This is a tale about one person's inner musical life, and the many people he meets.  Thurston is a music fan, first and foremost.  His life outside of performing music appears to be spent looking for old records, books, and poetry ephemera.  His interactions with the fellow musicians he befriends are recorded faithfully, and it is amazing how much Thurston can remember, not just about a person, but about the bands they were in, the music they released, etc.

As a Sonic Youth fan, part of my joy came from discovering new music through Thurston.  He was always careful to select opening acts that would challenge the typical Sonic Youth audience, who, although normally open minded, had aged along with the band.  In the late 1990's, as most of the band reached their 40's, many acts 20-years younger gained wider exposure through their association with Sonic Youth.  I was fortunate to attend a 1992 concert where Houston's Pain Teens opened up, followed by a very early iteration of Pavement (3 guys, including the OG drummer doing handstands between songs).  It was amazing.

Many memoirs are either hyper focused on a few short years of an otherwise boring life, or they seek to pack every detail and aspect of a human's life into one hasty, and unsatisfying tale.  Thurston Moore has written a specific, informative, moving tribute to his life in music, and the glories he found within it.  These are not the glories of an international superstar such as Gene Simmons or Taylor Swift.  They are the glories of a man whose preferred state of being is attending an intimate performance, talking to musicians and fellow artists, and experiencing the bliss of a great show.  In this respect, Thurston is a truly blessed and fortunate man.  He has lived the sonic life many dream of, and provided that very same to his fans.  Few people are so lucky.  I highly recommend this book.

(I must give a shout-out to the always-wonderful Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Texas, where I found this book, a signed first edition, and the last one they had in stock. My wife and I were out about town, seeking a nice day after a sequence of unfortunate occurrences, and the good people of Brazos Bookstore helped us start off right.  Brazos is a haven for anyone seeking to explore the current landscape of literature.  The staff work like curators at a museum, and the selection of books is exemplary.  Books for all ages, all subjects, and all manner of curiosity.  It is a beautiful place. - RXTT)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Any Thoughts?