Help Me Out a Li'l Bit Here
Lee Ranaldo--guitars. guitars. I heard some guitars here and there. He talks, too.
Steve Shelley--drums, track 4
East Jesus differs from the other records in this review series in that it is not a collection of new songs written for a specific project. The ten songs here were culled from a ten-year period, mostly the mid-80s, and they're honestly less classifiable as "songs" and more as "pieces." It took three decades for the one member of Sonic Youth whom fans could most easily hear putting out a traditional singer-songwriter record to actually record and release that traditional singer-songwriter record. This hardly bothered those in the tribe who were just fine listening to CD's full of free-form eavesdrops instead of rehashes of "Mote" or "Wish Fulfillment." Even if some of us did have to pay one whole arm and half-a-leg to order 'em from the record shop.
"The Bridge"--Assuming things about the artists you follow ain't a recommended course of action, as you will most assuredly wind up feeling at best idiotic, at worst betrayed. But I wouldn't feel too ridiculous saying that Lee Ranaldo is aware of the motion of music, maybe more so than most others in his line. Especially forward motion. The more distance between a person and their past, the more concise and cogent their reflections and observations will be.
Even if the elapsed time from event to recollection is a mere one week, as is the case with "The Bridge," Lee's sap-free (but hardly sapless) story about a truck ride alongside his old man. Any expectation the listener might have as to insight into the familial dynamic is dashed as Lee obsesses instead over pungent odors and slippery sounds.
"The Bridge" inspired me, not long after my first listen, to attempt a similar piece of writing. Several years had passed by--eight, nine?--since I'd had cause to be in a vehicle with my father for any considerable length of time, and that last instance had been just like all the other instances: driving to Kentucky to visit family, mostly Dad at the wheel because, as he frequently explained to my mother, "Women can't drive for shit." Especially women who are getting barked at every twenty seconds by their cantankerous husbands.
Just as Dad was unwilling to budge even half an inch away from his abrasive way of doing things, I could never match what Lee accomplished here--he put the listener in a confined space, with at least two other people, but made the focal point of the piece anything but human interaction. Did Lee and his father hold any conversation during this entire ride? Maybe, maybe not. Adding snippets of their exchange, if they indeed had one, would not have enhanced the work. Likewise if Lee were to mention, however casually, the taciturn nature of the trip, it would not have enhanced the work.
My failure, thus, was down to a fiendish combination of my limitations as a burgeoning writer as well as my fierce struggles reconciling conflicting emotions over all the crap accumulated from my childhood on, crap that I, a young girl facing adulthood head on, should have tried harder to let go. Harder to relinquish the hurt when the fanciful side of you is practically crying, "But I'm a writer, I'm expressing myself, it is imperative that I use my trusty pens to tear into my flesh--and isn't there just plenty of it!--and rip away chunks to expose the flesh, blood and pulsating veins to the bravest eyes in the world! Hmm...hey, would it be pretentious of me to use ergo instead of therefore?"
Overlong journeys lead to overlapping memories. Sentences snap in half, glimpses are cut up into chunks. Before long, like remora, these fragments latch onto a larger, fuller area of my brain. The burger joint with the gumball machine outside. "You can take the barbecue master outta Texas, but you can't drive for shit, goddamn women."
See, I still can't do it.
"Time Stands Still/Destruction Site/Oroboron/Slo Drone"--It is not the fault of any music, film or book. Simple reality drove me to complex fantasy. Walking to and from school every weekday sure is tiring, but wouldn't it be great to have a slide made entirely from the cleanest ice beginning at my front door and ending at the school entrance? WOOOOO. No, there wouldn't be any need for bumpers along the sides. Gravity obeys my laws here.
I would hop on the swings and launch myself up into the air, losing myself in the worlds of others that I had visited. I mimicked the language and gestures of the citizenry, made people pay attention, made them laugh. That's me, in the midst of all the action. Unbound. Flawless.
I would lie in bed at the shelter, earbuds plotting vengeance most foul as East Jesus berated them. No matter. I'm about to be published. My first novel. My dream made reality. Inside of my fantasy.
"Some Distortion..."--Obviously, I have not put a sufficient amount of distance between myself here and now and myself there and then.
The ten wonderful minutes of the previous slash-fest give way to twelve-plus minutes of...some distortion. Some signal-bouncing. All glorious. Most people would not want to catch these sounds alone in a dark alley. I sure as fuck would. To think that while I was sitting my little ass at home, devouring entire bags of Ruffles chips and guzzling can after can of Pepsi, a band who got no play on the MTV were a five-hour drive away, making the music that would one day flip my wig. All I had to do was find the music for myself. All I had to do was turn into that alley.
"Live Co. #1"--Lee, live, is hot to jump out of his skin. Every now and then a guy's gotta fall to pieces in front of people. Purge by fire going on, and only a fool reaches for the extinguisher.
My dude is driving himself crazy, and if there's any room left in the truck, I'd love to join in on the adventure. I don't care how foul it smells in there.
Let loose. Don't sweat the locution. Wetly embrace the passion.
"What road is this?"
Wait, you don't know? Uh-oh, dude.
"Death holding court."
"New Groove Loop"--Erosive influences all over this album, especially here. The roads do no end, nor for that matter does the sky, which we would all do well to remember represents the road to other creatures with whom we share this planet.
"Some Hammering..."--Growth is not necessarily commensurate with time. There are people on this plane of existence who can do more, can give more, can offer more, with just thirty seconds than some others with thirty years.
"Walker Groves"--When indulging in a bit of the old ultra-reflection, avoid despondency by not obsessing over all those times the off-camera flash was not utilized by remembering that it was not always an option.
I need to stop doing that, I want to stop falling into that same trap, I mean it hasn't even evolved. Cheese on the goddamn trip every time. No peanut butter, no pizza? Come on me, it's like you don't even know me. Stop thinking that you need everything you want. One's trash is the second's treasure, and hands will inevitably be dirtied, bruised, even pricked, but judging the exploration a failure simply because no scars were inflicted or no blood brought to light or you didn't get what you were hoping to find has to end.
No such thing as a superficial scavenge. Not when survival is at stake.
"Fuzz/Locusts/To Mary x2/Lathe Speaks"--In this test of Ultimate Tensile Strength, the pen wins again.
1987...my fifth-grade class was introduced to the haiku poem, 5-7-5 format. This would be the day. The match was struck, then casually dropped. (I was drenched in diesel already, just didn't realize.) Asked to write as many haiku poems as we could manage in five minutes, I came up with eight or so, but if the teacher had warned us in advance that we'd be called upon to read our writing out loud in class, I would have written just one.
Good thing she didn't give us the heads up; my poems proved to be the best of all 20+ students. The teacher told me. The other kids told me. Compliments? Asking me how I can come up with all those different topics to write about, and so much in so little time? I'm not used to getting all this attention for something other than being a weird fatso...
"You seem to have a real talent for writing, Jennifer."
That was it, then. People realize they were meant to be writers, and not just people who write, when they realize nothing else behaves like them. Soon as the bell rang, I walked home as fast as my chunky legs would allow, raced up to my bedroom and filled the front and back of one sheet of lined paper with more writing. Writing about my day in school, about my room, about family, about anything that struck me right then and there. I read what I had scribbled down, and could scarcely believe I had really done it.
I really do have a talent for this. I can really bring my thoughts to life.
I can still bring my thoughts to life. The words themselves are finite, no matter how many languages one learns, but the desire to communicate is boundless. I'm not finished; no writer is ever finished.
"Deva, Spain (Fragments)"--Good grief, more fragments?
I don't mean little kids talking about farts when I say small talk stinks. Enough with these wispy words and sentences in need of sponsors; where can I go, and how much do I pay, to see my young life represented in voxel form, stripped of natural bias and pesky emotion?
On hold, the looping guitar keeps me free company. I am conditioned to respond warmly to the very same feedback that sends others into paroxysms of visible displeasure. I grew up with storytellers, and with little effort I glean the tantalizing tales lurking in the corners. Lee is definitely the storyteller of Sonic Youth. Even when he's not saying a word.
"The Resolution/King's Ogg"--Loop. Loop. Pool. Pool. Wait, I can't swim. Loop. Loop.
A place for everything and everything in its place. Updated biofeedback treatment for syncope sufferers.
Asthma sufferers, keep looking. Keep fishing. Keep the rod and reel well-strung, the multi-tiered tackle box stocked with colorful come-ons. The willows along the stream protect stream life and the rows of trees help us breathe. Feeling as though the natural world is closing in on you does not mean it actually is closing in on you.
Unequal parts serenity and carnage...East Jesus is life in miniature.