Thursday, September 01, 2011

Retro Music Thursdays: Sonic Youth

My husband's family are what you would call in the tech community "early adopters." They were the first people on their street to have a VHS player, so for years, when everyone else waited until VHS players were a little smaller and far cheaper, his parents had this giant silver thing with the top-loading thing where you'd stick the tape and it would get jammed half the time. When the rest of the world was standing up and changing channels, they had an enormous box that connected to the TV via a cord with these push-buttons on it: a remote control via Fred Flintstone. They paid 10 times what we now pay for a DVD player and CD player, but they had it before anyone.

So it should have come as no surprise when I was a teenager and beginning to date their son that they would get a satellite dish. And I don't mean the ones you have now that are the size of dinner plates that attach to your house. No... have you seen the movie Contact? Where they have those multi-storey satellite dishes at the VLA sites listening for alien life forms? They had one like that put in... only it was black. But it was about the same size as their house and took up most of the backyard.

So, my husband got this wicked program called 120 Minutes on a little channel called MTV that was from down in the U S of A. We became addicted to that show, where they'd play the best music from the alternative/underground/college/indie/whatever you want to call it scene. It was the place where I first heard Smells Like Teen Spirit and Creep. It was also the first time I heard Kool Thing by Sonic Youth.

Now, other people got into Sonic Youth way earlier than I did, and see Daydream Nation as THE album the hipster Sonic Youth fans should be listening to. But for me, it's Goo. It was my first Sonic Youth experience and it will always be my favourite.

Here was this super-cool blonde chick with a smoky off-key voice, wearing silver pants and dancing around with a cat while these other manic guys jumped around in the background. She didn't smile, and you wouldn't want to mess with her. I wanted to BE her. I quickly found out the lady was Kim Gordon, her husband was Thurston Moore (the guitarist) and she was 39 years old. That seemed really old at the time, but she was super hot. I'm still not as old as she was in this video, but god, what I'd give for that body. She plays a giant bass guitar that practically dwarfs her on stage, but in the million-plus times I've seen Sonic Youth since then, I can't take my eyes off her. (This will be an onrunning trope throughout these Thursdays, by the way... I generally want to be with someone in the band, or I just want to be someone in the band. Or both.)

Years later, I had all the Sonic Youth albums and we went to see them open for Neil Young. (As I once opened a review I wrote in a college newspaper, "If Neil Young is the godfather of grunge, Sonic Youth is its communal family.") The audience was filled with aging hippies in fringed suede jackets, long hair and headbands. And then there was the group of us. I think it was four of us at the time, sitting way in the back of the arena, and when SY hit the stage, we hit the floor, dancing and singing and shouting, "TOM VIOLENCE!!" between every song. When Thurston finally said, "This next song is called Tom Violence," we went out of our minds, and the hippies around us continued to stare at the weirdo group of kids dancing and screaming behind them, as they politely clapped for the band with out-of-tune guitars and wished their set was over.

After that, I was at one of those shows EVERYONE says they were at now. It was at a place called the Music Hall in Toronto, which held about 500 people but there was this promoter who shall remain nameless who infamously oversold the place, doubling its capacity. Rumour had it members of Catherine Wheel and some other Britpop band who were in town at the time were turned away. Red Kross was opening, and I remember sitting way up in the top balcony, dripping with sweat because there were SO many people in there, not enough air, as the people beside us smoked so much grass I was completely high by the end of the set. Sonic Youth hit the stage, and after four songs they walked off. We sat there, perplexed. Then Thurston ran back on, grabbed the mike and said, "The pigs are shutting us down! Hide your drugs!" and the people beside us tossed the bag of weed under the seat and ran out of there as fast as they could (to this day the memory makes me giggle). We left, completely pissed that we'd driven two hours and couldn't get our money back because some money-grubbing promoter (who is now one of the most successful concert promoters in the world -- he organizes Coachella) double-booked the place and now I couldn't see the band I'd come to see. We walked outside and the place was crawling with cops. As my boyfriend (now husband) and I walked back to our car, we had this strange feeling of being followed and turned around, and a cruiser was following us down the sidewalk. I kid you not (and that's not the pot talking). It's become one of the most infamous concerts in 1990s Toronto concert history, and so while I missed the show, I was glad to have been there.

But back to my original reason for loving Sonic Youth: Kool Thing. I listened to this song for months on my Walkman on the way to school, and it also contributed to my hearing loss.


ashlie said...

Best. Story. Ever.

Jonathan said...

A very timely post since this comes out next week:

Nikki Stafford said...

Jonathan: Whoa, even stranger? That movie is the very thing I was reviewing when I used the line about Neil Young I just quoted.


It was on VHS then, maybe this is the first time it comes out on DVD?

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