Books

An Artist in His Own Right: Nick Soulsby on Thurston Moore

This oral history seeks to course-correct one man's discography that's been overshadowed by that of his band, but it seems more intent to course-correct Moore's reputation.

Sonic Youth might be my favorite rock band for reasons that would go off this page, but we can spare a paragraph. It's partly because their marriage of noise and melody are liberating. It's partly because their influences range from John Cage to the Velvet Underground; from Glenn Branca to Nirvana. It's partly because as they grew older, they stopped trying to be so youthful (despite the name); they stopped equating confusion with sex by looking for clues in poetry, so to speak. It's partly because their music seemed born out of or the solution to suburban malaise. But it's mostly to do with the fact that their music kicks ass, and there's a lot of it.


Thurston Moore: We Sing a New Language

Publisher: Omnibus Press
Length: 322 pages
Author: Nick Soulsby
Price: $23.95
Format: Softcover
Publication date: 2017
Amazon

Of the three Sonic Youth songwriters, I've always like Thurston Moore the most. His voice is eternally warm and casually melodic for someone oft-described as a slacker. His solo discography has been almost impossible to navigate; though the main releases get plenty of press, most of it is, as Nick Soulsby writes, “dismissively tagged as a side project at best, or otherwise a curio, demo, leftover, try-out, slumming or moonlighting" (p. 2). It's perhaps no surprise that Moore has collaborated with Jim O'Rourke or John Zorn: they're all artists who seem to be releasing three projects a year.

Soulsby states the purpose of this oral history quite plainly: “…to correct the neglect of his vibrant discography, to recognise him as an artist in his own right with an existence outside the context of [Sonic Youth]" (p. 2). Hard to say it succeeds: We Sing a New Language won't do much if you're not a heavily-invested Sonic Youth/ Thurston Moore/ noise/ free improvisation fan. There are little details from the various contributors that you won't get anywhere else. For example, I've always known Thurston Moore featured on R.E.M.'s “Monster", and contrary to Wikipedia's entry, Moore claims he only did backing vocals. Elsewhere, however, engineer Justin Pizzoferrato notes that Trees Outside the Academy was recorded within J Mascis' house.

Expectedly, other than the aforementioned factoids, the rest is heavy praise: Yoko Ono drops in for two sentences (p. 214) while many of the lesser-knowns describe how wonderful it was to work with Thurston. Joe Tunis remarks, “Putting out a release by Thurston definitely garnered some attention, and actually it helped legitimise the label a bit locally … once [people] heard I put out something from 'the guy in Sonic Youth', they were like, 'Oh wow, it's kind of a real label" (p. 201); Deb Googe says, “Thurston messaged me to see if I would be interested in playing bass for them, and of course I was… it's Thurston Moore!" (p. 214).

I assumed Thurston Moore was going to be a biography parallel to Kim Gordon's excellent Girl in a Band: A Memoir, which wasn't just revelatory of her as a person, but also the band and the albums they made together. I assumed a Thurston Moore biography was going to try to rectify a lot of the bad press Moore has received since the band's dissolution and it was revealed he was cheating on her. Thurston Moore is not a biography, but it seems to provide biographical information as its main purpose. “A biographical study, isolating Moore entirely, seemed inappropriate when the music under consideration is an expression of what creative individuals can unleash together in unison," writes Soulsby. Maybe that's fair, and there's nothing wrong with the format of an oral history, especially one for a discography like Thurston's. I just wish there were more revelations about the albums therein.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image