Eulogy for Sonic Youth
Eulogy for SONIC YOUTH, whose music I haven’t paid much attention to since about 1990, nor does it feature highly on my catch-up list, but… fucking hell, Sonic Youth. The “How To…” for the smart geek who wants that permanent position in the canon while selling virtually no records, jumping through virtually no hoops and – crucially – still being alive. But they earned it. (“Earned what?” they’ll ask. But I’d trade houses.) That thing they do with the guitars, the thing that’s most concisely, by some distance, exemplified on Sister – nobody had done that thing before. Sure, there are NYC antecedents in the Velvets and Television, inter alia, but SY took the hacking at the melody/discord interface of the former and wedded it to the rock-but-not-rock guitar interplay of the latter to create a sound that is instantly identifiable as their own, yet in its subtle way has become as ubiquitous as the sound that people who want to be the Rolling Stones or the Beatles make. The better of their biographers, David Browne, claims that their musical influence is negligible, but I think he’s wrong. Electric guitars have not sounded the same since. You can hear SY in fucking Coldplay, if you can be bothered. Browne is probably right to nail their greater influence as curators, enablers and exemplars. But those guitars are all over the dial. All hail Discordia; the existential power of Sonic Youth’s “no”.