Monday, August 9, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 17--Shards of Sweetshine)

JUNE 2004

Murray Street was cool, yes, but Sonic Nurse is for the soul-babies.

Ten songs and 62 minutes long (its predecessor was only 7/45), this is a record to spend some quality time with. Some easy laughter, some concentrated conversation, and fantastic food and drink. (Only the finest meats and spirits, please; save the bum wine for NYC Ghosts & Flowers.)

The nurse-centric paintings of Richard Prince adorn the front and back covers of the greatest SY album artwork since Daydream Nation. (For maximum appreciation, please acquire by means deemed most suitable the vinyl. In addition to the added benefit of greater size, the back lacks the terrifyingly ugly anti-piracy label that ruins the CD version.) I'd trust Prince's nurses with my health, but not my secrets.

Get ready for your sponge bath....

"Pattern Recognition"--No foreplay; straight to the raw fuckin'. (Or the sweet lovemakin', depending on how you hear it. Always, always subject to change.)

"Pattern Recognition" is a book by sci-fi demigod William Gibson (or Dub Gib, as we in the drunken bitch trying to amuse herself business refer to him) that addresses the comfort and risk in the need to detect patterns, both significant and trivial. I love that the members of Sonic Youth are such ardent readers and straight up jack novel titles for songs.

Kim our protagonist is "a cool hunter" who will both "know" and "show" us, 'cause after all..."You're the one!" I believe it. I'd believe Kim Gordon if she said Galapagos turtles ran the world with cap guns, walkie-talkies, silly putty, and gallon cans of Hawaiian Punch.

The central riff is a knotty guitar line that nevertheless has some sweet-meat bait attached at the end of it, all the better to leave you reeling, my dears. This is an album-long motif, actually.

Oh, and you hear Steve back there on the drums, that ballast-ic bastard? Get used to that, too.

"Unmade Bed"--In the lax-yet-heavy manner of "Disconnection Notice," Thurston slips into the "caring big brother" persona that made "Psychic Hearts" so affecting. While I find "Unmade Bed" nowhere near the song that was, a crucial element that unifies them is Thurston's decision to speak directly to the suffering girl, with no inkling that he would be interested in ever speaking advisory word one to the dude. Thurston Moore knows a lost cause when he sees it, hears it, or imagines it.

This is the only song on Sonic Nurse to not surpass four minutes, and even then it misses the mark by mere baby hairs.

"Dripping Dream"--Repetition breeds love--or at least, the affection a big sister feels for her goofy fucker of a baby brother. This song used to bug me. I always loved the arrangement: fuzz field to synco-drop to classic riffage, but Thurston's hippie drippings would always give me the "blarghity" face.

I could never, ever skip the song though. The music was so seductive in its surprise, I couldn't deny my soul the pleasure. Then, inevitably....

Howling scriptures to the Mother Earth
O Mother Africa awake yr son
To all the mommas with the money eyes
This kind of love comes as no surprise
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Little darlings describe the scene
Purring notions of the dripping dream
We've been searching for the cream dream wax
Lathe killers make the meters crack
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Purring notions of the dripping dream
The kinda girls with the money eyes
Howling scriptures to the Mother Earth
O Mother Africa awake yr sun
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Little darlings describe the scene
To all the mommas with the money eyes
Purring notions of the dripping dream
This kinda love comes in any size

It was not unlike realizing that far from hating that asshole you work next to everyday, you are in fact so deep in love with them that it's permeated your shoes and is currently mucking up your favorite pair of socks.

"To all the mommas with the money eyes/This kind of love comes as no surprise"

Fucker! I loved those socks! They have Winnie the Pooh sewn into them and kept my feet ever-so warm!

"Caught shadow/In sex meadow"

I think it was the vocal harmonies that did me in, finally, with this. "Sex meadow," just the idea of it, never appealed to me. I've never been one for the outdoor fucking. Way too afraid of inadvertently attracting stray animals with sensitive hearing.

"We've been searching for the cream dream wax/Lathe killers make the meters crack"

I have no idea what this is, but it's forcing me to believe it. Also? Kinda sexy.

"The kinda girls with the money eyes"

Damn you, metaphor for aroused vagina. I resisted you for so long, believed you the opposite of everything I was inside, and you just hung around till I gave in and admitted the truth to myself. And now, the world.

The "That's right/He's gone" parts will never stop reminding me of the theme to Green Acres, however.

"Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream"--How meta. Not meant to be though. As you may know, this started life as "Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream," but fear of litigation prompted the change.

The entire band, for the first time ever, had a hand in the lyrics (whoever wrote "That's what you get when you use a box mix" gets a Snoopy pin) and while the explicit aim seems to be making the future Mrs. Cannon a sympathetic figure, I ain't buyin' it. I mean you gots to woman up at some point. Every time I see A Streetcar Named Desire I yell at Blanche, "Calm down, it's just a dress!" Likewise, "Bitch, take your clothes off before you get in the bath!"

That's why I love this song not for its curious brand of empathy, but for the truculence and serration of the guitars and Kim's vocals, which hearken directly back to her performances on Dirty. (Lee helps out during the chorus, proving yet again that Kim vox plus Lee vox equals KLOX and KLOX is just another way of saying "we should kill time.")

The guitars, as I said, are just gnarlsty. Like the Stephen King short story Grey Matter. Never read it? It's about this alcoholic workman's comp casualty who once upon a time guzzled a can of slimy beer and began a slow transformation into a blob resembling "a huge wave of grey jelly." That's the guitars. They swallowed some fetid gunk and shape shifted into a beast that eats the previously deemed unappetizing.

"Stones"--Unstoppable, this song is. I say, try to stop it! You will fail. Whether man, animal, or apparition, all are helpless to cease this glory of a blaze.

It's anthemic, but not anemic. You won't be joining in synchronized arm-waving amid a stadium crowd or singing along to it on the radio, because it's too deeply felt to be shared so haphazardly. What you will do is ascend a hill, raise your arms and exhort mightily, 'cause the D(d)ead are alive and their message is accessible with patience and compassion. It could come in cryptic missives or simple sensations, but it comes. "We're not gonna run away."

"Dude Ranch Nurse"--Oh Christ, 2004. The end of Baby Bush, Pt. 1. 'Cept we didn't know it was just the first part. We thought a change was gonna (maybe) come. This is the first--and least obvious--of the anti-Prez tracks on Sonic Nurse. I love Kim. Only she could make a "fuck you" to one of the most destructive figures of the 21st century sound like a full-body massage.

The music lopes and loops as she sighs out the sweetest everythings. And ohhh, when that little finger comes up your back after every line in the verses...caught in the lasso, just can't escape.

There's a callback to the echoing desperation of the band's salad days in the extended instrumental break, but like on the rest of the album, it doesn't snap clean through. Not everyone who visits Niagara Falls thinks, wow, I wonder what it would be like to go down it in a barrel. This is awesome, but it would be even more awesome if... Stop right there. Existing amidst exquisite beauty and lamenting is the scourge of modern mankind. Just enjoy.

"New Hampshire"--Steve Shelley never throws his sticks into the crowd--those are his sticks. His beat sneaks up on you, actually, this whole track is deliciously duplicitous. The magnificent rupture into the rapture that precedes the vocals; Kim's slide guitar; and the very inspiration for the song itself, a B.B. King tribute gig attended by one Thurston J. Moore, wherein he was left impressed by the reverence and passion exhibited by guests Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, "the New Hampshire boys." (Buddy Guy, on the other hand....)

Best of all is between verses, when ya get mushed in the face by some hands that had spent the last hour or so pulling around at honeysuckle vines.

"Paper Cup Exit"--So if Lee is the George Harrison of SY, then we can break it down thusly:

"Hoarfrost"="Something" (exquisite masterpiece)
"Rain King"="Only a Northern Song" (overlooked genius)
"Karen Koltrane"="I Me Mine" (searing, gorgeous, but you can only waltz to one of them)
"Paper Cup Exit"="Blue Jay Way"

Ouch. Sorry, LR, but no one bats a thousand, in any league. While I wholeheartedly support the message, all I can think is shit, Sleater-Kinney did it better two years ago. Lee's words here aren't a particularly interesting type of scritti politti, and the music is rote. Also, the fact that lotsa voters didn't seem to mind being slaves after all just makes this an overall depressing listening experience.

"I Love You Golden Blue"--Like watching a loved one, or maybe even the loved one, slowly slip away. Before the color drains away completely, before functions cease and respiration expires, there's the moment when that which animates us, that essence, reaches the pinnacle before continuing on its peregrination. "Is it time to go? It's a place I know."

Kim's voice is barely there and all the more beautiful for it. She illuminates the chilled terror, the hysteria felt whenever caught in that space between awareness and oblivion. "I can't feel the thrill. I don't have the will."

"I Love You Golden Blue" sounds so precious, so fragile. The introductory instrumental feels like a shroud but when it's finally lifted there's just even greater mystery shimmering underneath.

"I don't glitter like the stars above. I don't glow like neon alone. Don't blush. It's just the wind outside. Don't rush to be by my side." They stop it there because they have to. You can't just keep going on like that, shining blinding light on all that which was gorgeous to illustrate how finite it all is. You don't just break someone's heart and steal away their joy, and then stick around to watch them fall apart. There's only one last heartbeat.

"Peace Attack"--And "I Love You Golden Blue" shoulda been that heartbeat.

God. Damn. It. Thur. Ston.

T-man's anti-Dubya turn is clearly inspired by his late hero Ginsberg, but the less I know about who inspired that lachrymose singing the better.

Sometimes, prosaic words make better poetry.

Is it anti-war or pro-peace? Why is "nature sex" in there? Is that like "sex meadow"? Is nature sex what nature kids have? I, this song don't have no function.

Smart move to put the weakest song at the very end. I can just turn it off after "Golden Blue" and be the happiest sad woman in the world, a gracious smile cutting up into my moist face.

1 comment:

  1. awesome as always jenn. I love the comments on Dripping Dream. Love that song, and initially was wary. The soft skree that begins it, the awesome tension built up during vocals, the guitar break and Steve just KILLIN the fucking drums when the shit goes ROOOAARRRRRRR