Sonic Youth and never being too old for a Teen Age Riot

Posted: August 11, 2013 by The Social Retard in Music
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Daydream Nation

Daydream Nation

I was going through John’s garage today. This is not my normal “going out to the garage” euphemism I had recently been using when indulging in some herbal refreshment. When I moved a few years ago, I knew I would no longer have room for all of my stuff (both useful and superfluous). I took all of my essentials (blu-ray and vinyl) with me but kept all of my CD’s in my buddy John’s garage as he has been gracious enough to allow me to do that. Today, I required some quick cash so that meant digging through my treasure trove to find any less than desirables. Most were easy to give up: DVDs that I now have on blu-ray and all of my Led Zeppelin CDs. At the complete opposite end of that spectrum is this item of great personal and historical importance.

As we always do at Hannibal Collector, we start at the beginning. It would have been 1996 or 1997 when I rode to high school with my friend Tara. I would pretend to miss the bus that was right by her house despite the fact that my one of best friends at the time, Tony, was also at that bus stop. There are reasons I did so that had nothing to do with Tony, then anyway. I didn’t know then that Tony was such a colossal cocknoggin. Well, he is, and fuck him. My aforementioned buddy Sandeep (from way back at the beginning of this blog) named a game we play after him. It consists of two people taking turns name dropping the biggest freakazoids from our high school, trying not to laugh as we remember these turd raiders. Tony M—y, fill it in however you like. It looks quite potentially funny presented that way. Talk to a high school friend and play the game. It’s fun. You can even play over great distances via text. We do.

I would ride with Tara in her blue early nineties Mustang. Now, I didn’t like her like her but she was the coolest. She had unevenly bleached blonde hair and was so fucking punk rock. It was nice to have a girl friend without pervy subtext in my teens. It helped that I had already known her for nearly a decade as we went to elementary school together. I always wanted to be as cool as her. Part of me still does. Tara was the first girl I knew to get a tongue stud (which I will not do), and it freaked me the hell out. She got a kick out of that as she stuck out her tongue at any available moment during an otherwise interesting conversation. You’d just hear in the middle of English class a “Gah!” noise from our side of the room after she waggled it about. I liked riding with her for three reasons. She was cool, as mentioned, we got there later (as to not have to be in school any longer than necessary), and she had a lot of cool music to listen to. Tara turned me onto the Beastie Boys via Paul’s Boutique, Faith No More beyond “Epic”, and Sonic Youth through EVOL, Sister, and their magnum opus, Daydream Nation.

The opening track, “Teen Age Riot”, was fucking epic. Like most things I talk about on this blog, this was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was a call to arms for outcasts like me. We had an anthem too, my own generation’s “Baba O’Riley”. It didn’t make any sense but that’s why it made perfect sense. “Silver Rocket” blazes by next and shakes your core. “Total Trash” could not have been a less apt song title for something so strange but so undeniably catchy. The song we listened to most, for some reason, was “Candle”. Not dissing the track, it is great, but I wonder why that specifically. Look, this is not me being misogynistic that I happened to choose the three main standouts as Thurston Moore songs. I think everyone realizes that mostly each album of SY’s is either a Thurston album or a Kim album. One of them tends to dominate each record. The nineties were mostly Kim’s. The eighties and Daydream are definitely Thurston’s. Not to discount the efforts of Lee Ranaldo as “Eric’s Trip” is a classic as well.

Fast forward another decade and Tara is long gone. Kinda sad, really. I would actually like to talk to her again. But alas, the story moves on without her. It was around this time that I finally started buying Sonic Youth CDs. My friend Lauren had gone to Bonnaroo in 2006 and was going to see SY. Don’t remember how but she ended up backstage. She ran into drummer Steve Shelley, who she likely described as “super nice”. Whether she felt bad that I didn’t go or just decided to do something really sweet, she purchased Daydream Nation for me (which I inexplicably had not yet bought myself despite it being what I refer to as “the alternative bible/blueprint”). Seeing Shelley, she asked if he would sign it. Not only did he, but he got the rest of the band to sign it as well. She called me right after this happened, which seemed like something she should have done as it happened so that I could say, “Hi. Your band changed my life” or something equally inane, but still, the sentiment was right. I choose to believe she wasn’t calling to say “Hey, I met Sonic Youth and all I got you was this lousy CD”. Because A) the CD is the furthest thing from lousy and B) she’s not that type. This was nothing to shake a stick at, if stick shaking happens to be something you have a predilection toward doing. In which case, weirdo.

The relationship I had with the album took a sharp turn south after the following year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. This event has made me hate (momentarily) bands I’ve loved for making them sound terrible at their stupid little concert. Namely, Pavement and Modest Mouse, but mostly, Sonic Youth…for a whole year. The band was to play Daydream in its entirety on the opening night of the fest. The sound quality was sludgy and distant. I can’t speak for Lauren but it was so bad that we left after “Candle” (interesting coincidence, no?). That experience left an equally sludgy taste in my mouth that lasted the next calendar year. I had even stopped reading the great 33 1/3 series book by Eric Weisbard about the album. I wanted nothing to do with the record, Pitchfork, and especially (and sadly) the band.

See and hear that? That was a true representation of how that sounded. Awful, yeah? After that year, I finally picked up the book again and finished it. I gradually allowed myself to become re-enveloped in the warmth of their noise tapestry. Lauren even made up for that experience for me when she got me a ticket to see Sonic Youth at the Vic in 2009 (with the awesome Entrance Band opening featuring A Perfect Circle‘s Paz Lenchantin on bass). They only played “The Sprawl”and “Hey Joni” from Daydream but maybe that was just as well. They sounded incredible. This was in support of their one and only album from Matador, The Eternal, which was also fantastic. It was the first night of the tour and the first of two nights in what would end up being the last time they played together in Chicago before Kim and Thurston and, subsequently, the band broke up.

Lauren didn’t let Pitchfork be the lasting live memory I have of the band that I not only love but have such a tremendous respect for. She has given me the two most giant pieces I can ever have of Sonic Youth. One jammed into my memory bank and one I will hold onto no matter how many times they remaster it and give it even more super deluxe packaging and extra tracks. That is one of her many actions that make her my favorite person in the world. Yes, even ahead of Glenn Danzig. Sorry, rest of the world, but you never gave me a signed Sonic Youth CD.

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