It’s been a few years now since the end of Sonic Youth. I never idolized Thurston and Kim as a celebrity indie-rock couple, but I did idealize them (with Steve and Lee) as a band. The pain I feel at the demise of their band is directly connected to my own experience of their music within my own life. I have many memories that are integral to who I am as a person, and within those memories there is a Sonic Youth song playing.
Their absence makes me feel that contrary to their last album title, not much is eternal. Yet at the same time the feelings and memories imparted upon me through and with Sonic Youth are eternal. They were my first experience with transcendence not just of dominant culture, but of the constructs we impart upon our own selves unwittingly every day. This is why I always come back to their music. When I do it is like drinking a cold glass of water after working in the sun. I’m reminded of my essence and what is important.
I don’t think Sonic Youth needs to keep making music for this feeling and my relationship with their music to remain. With such a vast catalog and so many different iterations of the impulse that drove them to create as a group, they have produced more than enough work for one to explore in a single lifetime.
There will never be another Sonic Youth. But if we live close to our hearts and principles, we can all aspire to express our voices with such dedication as they achieved.
They were really of a time period, like we all are. Somehow, I feel we are in dire need of the energy or the spirit from the time which they were born. These days though, few fight as they did (and so many of their contemporaries did) against the forces that control our thinking. As Dave Chappelle illustrated speaking to Maya Angelou, when you are just about to grab that pile of Fifty-million dollars these corporate assholes tempt us with, you realize he flopped his dick right on top. Such a perfect picture for what it feels like living today. There was a time when musicians and everyday working people once would have said, “get fucked.” Those days seem gone. Celebrity has become the end all and mediocrity the aspiration.
The Dude would say, “Fuck it.” But like Sonic Youth, he was a man for a certain time that has come and gone. These days, kids don’t even know what ‘sell out’ means. Probably because hipsters like me spent too much time debating what was a fucking sell out and what wasn’t instead of just acting and not selling out. When a society has sold out entirely and underground artists aspire to license their music for cell phone commercials and network television shows there is no longer any form of resistance.
Our channels of communication are corporately controlled and cataloged by the government. Kind of makes you miss print doesn’t it?
I made this video with my friend Ali in 1992. It was about us and our friendship. I had seen Dave Kendall on 120 Minutes calling for submissions to a Sonic Youth fan video competition for songs off of Dirty. I didn’t think there would be too many videos for “Crème Brulee” (which was my favorite on the album), so I figured we could throw something together and submit it.
We shot it on Super 8, but by the time I got the film back from processing I only had 2 days to edit and submit and no editing suite to use. So I shelved the film… for 20 years.
While making the video for Kufen’s “Anger is a Thief” with Jason Torrance, we transferred a whole box of Super 8 film and this was in the pile. I had never even watched it before.
It’s strange, but now that I have finally put it together with the music, there seems to be this arc between the images, the song, and the demise of the band. The summers are fleeting, the dreams and romance of youth are as well. Where we hope to go is often far from where we are taken. Yet, there is a spirit that lingers within, that if we listen or when we listen, we touch a part of ourselves that is timeless.
The day we shot this video is a memory in my mind, and I remember the wonder I felt on that day and the many we shared like that (not just with Ali, but so many of my close friends–still in my life). I still feel that wonder and it is even sweeter now that I have 20 plus years of experience, pain, and joy to reflect upon. I see a future just as full of hope and excitement as I did then. I just know now that I will have to fight until the day I die and still the world will need a lot of work. I suppose that’s what kids are for (and you will hear my son Gabriel in this video if you listen closely).
I miss Sonic Youth. I know there will never be anyone that can replace them. No one is replaceable. I just hope some young kid somewhere is picking up a guitar with no idea how to play it, listening to SY and realizing that anyone can play a guitar if they have the will to create. Creation is the key. Creation is the eternal.
I wrote the following to a co-worker today and thought I would share… just seemed appropriate to me.
December 21, 2012
After I began reading “A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again” I realized that I had read this over a decade ago when it was originally published in Harper’s. When I was on the Luge team in the mid-nineties my girlfriend had a subscription so I would get a copy every month after she was finished. I still love the magazine but haven’t read it in some time.
I love Wallace’s humor and his use of footnotes, but upon reading his work in my thirties (as opposed to my twenties) and being aware of his suicide, his work took on a much darker tone. He kind of reminds me of the Kurt Kobain of the literary world (whose work I also have a hard time enjoying in my adulthood).
I think there is an interesting parallel between the two. I was reading an old copy of Spin at Cheechako Taco a few nights ago while waiting for some burritos. The cover story was talking about Nevermind 20 years after its release. The article was a collection of brief commentaries by musicians that were contemporaries of Kobain when Nevermind was released. As I read the observations, I thought about my own experiences of the music and found myself identifying with the many accolades of Nevermind’s profundity, its status as a voice for a generation, and its timelessness. At the same time, I couldn’t help but recognize an acute pang of pain I felt in thinking about the album and Kobain’s life. I recalled that I had felt this pain before when thinking about Nevermind and I began to consider why, of all the Nirvana albums I own, I had sold Nevermind and had not listened to it since 1995.
I stopped listening to the album, not because it was played out, but because it was so clear to me that it symbolized the fame and public obsession with celebrity, that in my opinion consumed a young man’s life in a very disgusting manner. To me, it was our culture that consumed Kobain’s life.
Reading Wallace again, I felt it was the same phenomenon, minus the fame of rockstardom, that lead to his own demise. In a sense, Wallace’s circumstance is more tragic. I indentified so strongly with his observations in the mid-ninties. Though I did not immediately recall reading his article, he’s attitude represented a certain disposition and disdain for American culture that I strongly embraced, especially given that I spent half of each year abroad primarily in Europe at that time.
I feel the essay is a bit overwrought with detailed observations to come to the relatively simplistic conclusion that returning to a work-a-day reality is preferable to his week of “fun”. Nonetheless, his wit abounds and his interpretations are razor sharp, but they are fueled by nihilism. His lack of faith is evident (and by faith, I do not mean a religious faith or theism, but faith or hope in the face of defeat, or worse, oblivion). Without faith I could not have made the Olympic team. Without relinquishing my sense of control and desire I could not have achieved the physical and mental capacity to transcend the competitive and material pressures that are placed upon athletes to attain my own childhood dream. In a strange sense I had to give up my dream in order to realize it. I had to give up control to maintain it. I had to embrace paradox in order to visualize any semblance of certainty. I had to embrace faith.
I think this is where Wallace, Kobain, and in a larger sense, my generation have failed. Douglas Coupland aptly titled his follow-up to Generation X “Life After God.” Indeed, my generation is living a life after God. We rejected our national culture of pride and dominance and instead developed an inferiority complex fueled by low-self esteem and self-deprication. We adopted atheism and relativism intellectually but at the cost of diminishing our own spirit to the point that we have lost the ability to be inspired. We will never have another Kurt Kobain because we have lost our ability to believe in idols. He was the last true Rock Star and because he rejected the role and abandoned us we feel abandoned by God.
I imagine a lot of people will be having this same feeling today when the world does not end. But what I have come to realize by my own experiences in the 90s and now in adulthood, is that we were not forsaken. We just needed to believe in ourselves as true culture creators. In a sense, by watching Kobain and Wallace collapse under the weight of the world, we must realize that the job of changing our culture and society is now too great for one God, for one Icon, for one leader. We must all aspire to be as great as Kobain and Wallace in our art, in our work, but we must accept that recognition is not as important as creation. For our culture to survive and for our future to be light instead of the darkness that consumed Kobain and Wallace, we must all become idols while simultaneously being invisible. We must be nothing to be everything.
When we have the faith to do this we will transcend the barriers in our minds and in our hearts that divide us and disable us from creating a future culture, society, and environment that we will be proud to bequeath to our children.
Today, on the most anticipated date of the apocalypse in human history, perhaps the world of gods is ending and the world of humanity is just being born. I hope so. That’s why I get up everyday.
I was just trying to send someone an example of some production work I’ve done and found this video of Tides Aurora on YouTube. Nearly 40,000 views! It was kind of a neat moment for me. It’s pretty rewarding to know that 40,000 people have heard a record I produced. It’s been AGES since I’ve seen Donnie, Auggie, and Rob. I miss you guys and hope you are well…
Enjoy this trip down memory lane to 2005!