idiot, or not an idiot?
what i watched last week

friday random ten, 1988 edition

Another quickie … just got back from Giants game, no time for detail post.

1. Sonic Youth, “Teen Age Riot.” A good starter, and one of my two favorite SY songs. If Sonic Youth hadn’t gotten randomly chosen, I would have stuck them on the list myself, since I’m going to see them on Sunday.

2. Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car.” This song was ubiquitous when it came out.

3. Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative.” As was this one, at least in my memories.

4. Metallica, “One.” Makes me think of Scott Ferrall.

5. Lucinda Williams, “Changed the Locks.” Not sure when anyone else climbed aboard, but it was her self-titled 1988 album that made me a Lucinda fan.

6. k.d. lang, “Shadowland.” With lang, I was a fan in 1988, but it wasn’t until ‘89 that I fell in love with her. Couldn’t find a video of this one, so the link is to “Johnny Get Angry.”

7. The Feelies, “Too Far Gone.” From my favorite Feelies album. Might be my favorite Feelies song.

8. Public Enemy, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” Greatest rap album of all time? The video seems to be unavailable.

9. Bruce Springsteen, “Have Love, Will Travel.” From a monumentally great concert he did at Shoreline that year.

10. The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” Irresistible to this day, if you ask me.


Charlie Bertsch

I hope you like Sonic Youth. I've always been pleased with their shows. And transported into the oxygen-deprived reaches of the firmament on several occasions. But their seeming insouciance -- or at least that of Thurston and Lee -- puts some people off. Anyway, let me know what you think. "Teen Age Riot" has to be one of my ten favorite songs.


The other time I saw them I thought it would have been better if I'd been high. I think Kim Gordon is hot, that's shallow but whattya gonna do?


Have seen Sonic Youth three times. The first was in a mid-sized club in Toronto (400 people?) shortly before *Daydream Nation* came out. The show was not what I'd been led to expect at all based on what I'd read -- you know, guitarey pyrotechnics and pigfuck-type shenanigans. Rather, they performed a straight-up set of rock music, and the truth is, it went by in a dull blur. Except the opening number which I'd never heard before and which was absolutely amazing. It turned out to be... "Teenage Riot." I knew this within a few seconds of putting the needle down on Daydream Nation a month or so later: "That's it, that's the song they played!" That, to me, is the mark of a pretty powerful song.

Second time, I was more familiar with the band, but also a little more jaded about them. '92 or '93, I think, in a Vancouver hockey arena, opening for Neil Young. My friend and I got extremely high, and whether this impeded or merely enhanced my judgment, I don't know, but it was one bizarre and incredible show. They started off with one of Kim's total-screamy numbers (which I'm not fond of on record, at all), and literally half the crowd -- a sea of flannel and ponytails -- fled out of the arena to the concession stands, in horror. An amazing sight to see. From there, the show just got weirder and more psychedelic, and they were fooling around, playing hard, and I suppose living up to what my earlier idea of Sonic Youth was about: the pyrotechnics and shenanigans were out in full force (at one point Thurston and Lee were engaged in an all-out guitar wankery; I swear Kim receded to the back of the stage in disgust... there seemed to be a lot of tension on the stage, along with the sense of let's-just-fuck-around) (very possibly, it was the drugs). Neil was okay that night, but Sonic Youth were memorable and amazing.

Third time, back in Toronto, late '90s, total dullsville, don't remember a thing about it.


My only time up to now seeing them was their last show before all the equipment got stolen back in '99. Obviously I was aware of them, but I had no idea how popular they were. They headlined a festival ... actually, I think it was called "This Is Not a Festival," so I take that back. The early acts were B-level indie bands ... Bratmobile, Rocket from the Crypt, Superchunk, Guided By Voices ... the reason I was there was the penultimate band, Sleater-Kinney, who I thought of as the stars of the show, of course. Couldn't figure out why they weren't the headliners. But when Sonic Youth took the stage, I understood ... just like at most shows, people had been waiting for the headliners, and so the crowd amped up their involvement quite a bit, and I knew that whatever reason I was there, most people had come for Sonic Youth. Shows how clueless I was.

This time, I'm going with a friend, big fan who realized he had never seen them, so he got us tickets.

Charlie Bertsch

I've heard from quite a few music lovers who, even though we share many taste preferences, said about Sonic Youth more or less what Scott wrote here. Personally, I can't understand, in a visceral sense -- even though I get it intellectually -- how anyone could find Sonic Youth dull. Kim, who is less of a fan than me of their records but adores their live performances, describes their mode of presentation as that of artists who are doing their thing, as they might in a studio or practice space, and letting us watch. Her favorite shows -- mine too, come to think of it -- have been the ones like that second show Scott talks about.

I imagine pot would help, but if one has smoked enough or taken psychedelic substances at some point in one's life, then the mental residue would probably be sufficient to ease a listener into the experience. Then again, there are plenty of straight-edge types who have no trouble immersing themselves in music like Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine.

For what it's worth, many of the indie rock fans I know who are cool on Sonic Youth have been huge backers of Guided By Voices and/or The Replacements. I never got to see the latter live, but the former sort of bored me, although there were moments when I was almost sucked in.


Artists doing their thing and letting us watch ... I admire artists who stick to their guns, and Sonic Youth definitely does that, but admire doesn't always mean like. And the letting-us-watch part bothers me, but I'm the guy who goes to Bruce concerts all the time, with all the schtick and overheated effort, so letting us watch is not my favorite form of presentation. I like concerts where the crowd matters ... without them, I could just listen to the records ... so I want something more than letting us watch.

Are they dull? I think it depends on which SY we're talking about. Those SYR records bore me. But there's plenty that I find very exciting. And they've also done as good a job as anyone of being an outlier to my theory of rockers career trajectories ... Kim Gordon is my age, the others aren't much younger, but they are as vital as ever.


I don't know, I love a whole bunch of SY songs, but I tend to hear a lot of dull spots in their music as well -- for instance, I often find them rhythmically uninteresting, and I don't think I've ever cared about a Lee Ranaldo song. But a point I can't emphasize enough here is that I'm just not a big fan of live music in general -- haven't been for about 25 years now. Which is not to say I haven't seen any great shows in that time, but it's nothing like my favourite medium in which to hear pop music. The show I described which I really loved was something extraordinary -- there was much more to it, at least from my view, than a band just doing their thing and playing well. It was an event in a way, and it was weird. Not sure this explains anything.

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