From the 1990 album “Goo,” this is Sonic Youth’s non-ironic tribute to Karen Carpenter. I can’t say for sure whether this was inspired by Todd Haynes’ legendary underground short “Superstar,” but the spirit is the same. Both “Superstar” and “Tunic” may seem snarky considering that the artists involved came from the underground, but the sentiment is anything but. Which is why the song still packs a punch nearly 25 years later.
The first and best-known track of 1988’s “Daydream Nation,” this not only brings back memories of my first year in college, but also, more importantly, my second year in grad school. Why was this song … and this album … so important to me in 1995-1996? Because it was my only line of defense against my next door neighbor …
My next door neighbor was a meek looking guy … resembling Garth from “Wayne’s World,” but with a Kurt Cobain haircut. Somehow this geekazoid managed to snare a hot goth girlfriend. Yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but they did exist on occasion back in the day. Anyway, Garth and his girlfriend used to have loud relations at all hours of the night. This wasn’t the standard moans and groans and occasional loud “Oh my God!” This was full-on Ted Bundy-and-young-female-hitchhiker type shenanigans. This young woman’s screams were blood curdling. And because I lived in a wood-panelled apartment that cost me $210 a month, let’s just say it got a little loud when I was trying to sleep.
So I would have to venture into my living room and sleep on a sofa that Goodwill later rejected when I moved out. I had to crank this very drony album by Sonic Youth at a volume just loud enough to drown out the nonsense two rooms removed, but not loud enough to annoy my other neighbors. This album and My Bloody Valentine’s equally drony shoe-gazing masterpiece “Loveless” worked well enough to drown out the serial killer fantasies of the lovers next door and saved my sanity that year.
From the 1985 album “Bad Moon Rising,” “Death Valley ’69” is Sonic Youth’s take on the Manson murders. It’s the first Sonic Youth song I ever heard and is still my favorite.
I remember seeing this very disturbing video uncut for the first time on the phenomenal (and long gone) late-night USA Network show “Night Flight” back in the mid-1980s and it completely blew me away. The video is directed by Judith Barry and famed underground filmmaker/photographer Richard Kern. The video has a lot of graphic violence and is not safe for work or little ones.
One of the best music books of the last 10-15 years is Michael Azerrad’s history of American alternative rock from 1981-1991, “Our Band Could Be Your Life.” Released in 2001 and available in digital format within the next day or so, “Life” is the college radio version of “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” (Peter Biskind’s exhaustive and stellar look at Hollywood of the 1970s). Azerrad devotes each chapter to a different seminal band of the period (Mission of Burma, Butthole Surfers, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Big Black, Hüsker Dü, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Mudhoney, The Replacements, Beat Happening, and Dinosaur Jr.). Some of the stories you may know … others you won’t. But if you have any interest at all in rock history (especially alternative / progressive rock), “Life” is a must. The chapter on the Butthole Surfers by itself is worth the price of the entire book. Seriously, the chapter reads like Hunter S. Thompson smoking angel dust with Monty Python with chaos, insanity, humor, and violence ensuing like a motherf–ker!
Sonic Youth’s eerie, otherworldly cover of the Carpenter’s early 1970s hit would make any short list I’d come up with for best covers of all time. Unlike their 1980s cover of “Addicted to Love,” which reeks of hipster d-baggery, the band really captures the pathos of this song in a unique, sincere, and classy way. On a side note, Kim Gordon has never looked sexier than in this video.