6.9.12

Every Summer's An Endless Summer With Sonic Youth's 'Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star'



WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER/DRAWING BY JEN MAY

When they're not being joyless bitches, Sonic Youth are my favorite sensuists. At their best, you can feel their songs all over: they've got texture and temperature and color, so much color, and the colors are always changing. I see Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star in black and white like in the band photos in the artwork, but I also see it in cotton-candy-pink and cotton-candy-blue and dusky-purple and electric-green, all of which are colors from summer.

Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star came out in springtime but to me it's a summer record, it sounds like summertime really late at night, like hot thick air under a big black sky with minimal moon but gobs of stars. I listened to it a bunch over the past week and pretended summer's not ending, and it was mostly effective. Here are all the songs:

"WINNER'S BLUES." Okay let's get one thing straight: I'm going to shit-talk the hell out of Thurston Moore all over this post, but the truth of it all is that Thurston's existence has been an entirely positive influence on my development as a human being, and I love him. He's a too-tall redhead boy from way down in Florida, he's this kid, he's a total romantic. "Winner's Blues" is Thurston rolling up the sleeves of his flannel and letting his hair fall in his face and playing you a tiny little lullably on his acoustic guitar: such a sweetly backward way to start off a record.

"BULL IN THE HEATHER." Yesterday I drove from UCLA to my house in Echo Park, which is a really long way and the best part is the strip of Sunset in Bel Air that curves and zooms just like a racetrack. At the edge of Los Feliz and Silver Lake I was stuck at a red light and I fixed my hair (shook it out and redid my bun) and "Bull in the Heather" came on and it felt really right. A few weeks ago at a vintage store in my neighborhood I got a miniskirt that my friend Hallie said looks like "upholstery, in a good way," and I was wearing that plus the Rolling Stones shirt I bought in Argentina (it reads: "Los Rolling Stones"), plus cowboy boots and my heart-shaped sunglasses -- it was a perfect "singing along to 'Bull in the Heather' in the car" outfit. "Bull in the Heather" is fun to sing along to, as long as you don't sing it the way Kim sings it, all breathy and provocative or whatever the fuck. I like to sing it in the same voice Marisa Tomei used when she was hosting Saturday Night Live in 1994 and in one skit played Lisa Marie Presley and kept saying "YUM YUM, GIMME SOME" to Michael Jackson (Tim Meadows) as a prelude to making out -- i.e., deep in a dumb, slightly robotic, mock-sexy sort of way, which I find to be really fun take on Kim Gordon.

"STARFIELD ROAD." "Starfield Road" is one of those songs that will never not be exciting: it gives me the same goosebumps it did when I was 16. When I hear "Starfield Road" and I'm running, it makes me run faster and faster. When "Starfield Road" comes and I'm not running, all I want in the world is to be running. It makes me feel like I could run a million miles per hour.

Also, Kim's jumping here is so inspiring to me:




"SKINK." In my life a few guys have told me they think "Skink" is sexy. I guess I think it's sexy too, and I'm not going to let the possibility that Kim Gordon meant it to be a parody of sexy get in the way of my basking in its sexiness. It sounds like middle-of-the-afternoon, middle-of-the-summer, post-nap sex in a room with the shades pulled down and no AC. It's murky and humid, lazy in a wild way. I like how she sings "Ooh...I love...you!", not because it's sexy but because it sounds like she's sneezing. That's a really original approach to "seductive vocal delivery."

"SCREAMING SKULL." Freshman year of college I had these sky-blue Converse All-Stars that I laced with rainbow laces like I was some big weird hippie. One day my boyfriend wrote the word "Society?" on the toe of the left shoe, as a reference to "Screaming Skull," and I was so stoked: I was seventeen and I'd been waiting forever to have a boyfriend who'd write Sonic Youth words on the toes of Chuck Taylors. So then I went home for the weekend and my dad's third wife checked out my shoes and told me how cool it was that I'd gone away to college and begun questioning society and chosen to express my newly expanded social consciousness so frankly, right there on my sneakers. And I was all, "Oh, yeah, true," but really I was like, "Eww, do you think I'm twelve and just read Catcher in the Rye for the first time? What the hell, lady?" Seriously, imagine if my idea of questioning society were as rudimentary as writing the word "society" on my shoe and then putting a question mark after it? What a fucking bonehead I'd be. My head is so much better than that.







"SELF-OBSESSED AND SEXXEE." Man do I ever not give a damn about this song! It's about riot grrrls or something? He's being funny about objectifying them or something? Oh Thurston, you card. "Party, party, party, party all the time" is just a bad lyric. "Sexxee" is just a bad way to spell "sexy."

"BONE." When I was 18 I decided I didn't need Kim Gordon anymore -- I'd just found Patti Smith and Polly Harvey and there was something mystical and shimmering in them that I couldn't find in Kim. I took her back eventually, but it was never the same -- I like elegance and fierceness, but something about the way they come together in the Kim Gordon persona just leaves me cold. Listening to "Bone," though, I wish I could strip away all the hard feelings I've built up over the years and just let Kim Gordon be a beautiful storyteller. "Bone"'s got all these lyrics that are dreamy and scary at the same time ("Hands in your pants, tied to a tree/Rocked back and forth, hips in the leaves"), and I kind of wish it were a novel. I wish Kim Gordon would ghostwrite "Bone" into a novel so I could read it a thousand times and dog-ear it to death, and there'd be hot sex and trees and drugs and probably a murder that happens in the woods. I got really into the woods this summer, in a Grimms' Fairy Tales/Why The Devil Chose New England For HIs Work sort of way. And I guess in a "Bone" sort of way too.

"ANDROGYNOUS MIND." This is the first song I ever heard off this album, which was the first Sonic Youth album whose release I'd ever anxiously awaited, having gotten into them around Dirty, when "100%" was a Buzz Clip on MTV. On Easter of 1994 there was this thing where Eddie Vedder DJ'd for hours and it was broadcast across the country and he played Mudhoney and Henry Rollins and Sonic Youth and I forget what else. The broadcast happened in that sliver of time between when Kurt Cobain tried to kill himself in Rome and when he actually killed himself, and the mood was worried but hopeful, in that high-drama kinda way that's supercharged by the hot thrill of tragedy. Eddie played "Androgynous Mind" and I taped it off the radio and made Kurt the "sad angel" of the song. The best was when Thurston sings "hey hey, it's okay" over and over, especially when he gets all crazy and starts screaming his lungs out until you're like "Shit, maybe it's not okay." Now my favorite part is when he sings "God said it's all right for you to fight to free your mind." That's a smart lyric for teenagers to pay attention to.

"QUEST FOR THE CUP." I love how "Quest for the Cup" is so sleepy and lusty and there's a strut to it but it's goofy, with lyrics about donuts and hamburgers. "So salty free" is totally my kind of poetry. "Quest for the Cup" has so much sweetness and I'm not even going to question Kim's sincerity, I just wholly believe her here. About two decades ago I read an interview in which Kim Gordon spoke about being 12 or 13 or 14 and walking through the streets of Hawaii and smelling weird flowers in the air having men whisper into her ear as she passed them and becoming aware of herself as sexy for the first time. When I hear "Quest for the Cup" I think of that story, and about how Kim Gordon is so ace at narrativizing the uneasiness of being a sexy little girl.

"WAIST." Man do I ever not give a damn about this song either! But at least it's catchy, unlike "Self-Obsessed and Sexxee," which is such a dud. "Waist" is Thurston railing against the fashion industrial complex and its glamorization of heroin chic and oh god Thurston I just don't care. Why does Thurston get two songs about what a rad feminist he is, when Lee doesn't have any songs on this record at all? Sometimes I pretend Lee is my favorite Sonic Youth member, mostly because I like how refreshing his whole wide-eyed/unassuming vibe can be compared to the way Kim and Thurston seem so fucking impressed with themselves so much of the time. Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star could so use a love song from Lee, something in the vein of "Wish Fulfillment." I very much wish Lee had challenged Thurston to a Sweetness-Off in the recording of this album -- it'd definitely be a close call, but in the end I think Thurston would so get SCHOOLED.

"DOCTOR'S ORDERS." "Why the fuck does she sing it like that?" is a funny question a friend once asked me about "Doctor's Orders." It's true, she sings it weird, she sings it like Dracula or maybe The Count from Sesame Street. I was going to make a joke here, poking fun at myself for getting high on the line "SHE BLEW HERSELF AWAY" when I was 16, but never mind: that's actually a great line, and I still get high on it today. "The hot thrill of tragedy" all over again.

"TOKYO EYE." Blah blah blah blah blah: in addition to being a rad feminist, Thurston is also a cool japanophile. That opposite-of-fascinates me to the zillionth degree.

"IN THE MIND OF THE BOURGEOIS READER." Ooh! "In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader" is so hot. Such hot bouncy fun. I love how Thurston sings the word "bunny" and the song itself sounds like bunnies. If I had a band I'd want us to have written "In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader" and I'd want to play it at every single show, and we'd all pogo in time, at the "Hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop!" part. 

"SWEET SHINE." In my head there's a Alison Anders movie made around the same time as Gas Food Lodging and with the same mood and heart, and "Sweet Shine" is a song that features prominently and it's set in L.A. and there's probably a great virginity-losing scene. "Sweet Shine" is a dream and so hazy and golden but it's also pale-pink. The lyrics are gorgeous, and my favorites are the ones about night-blooming jasmine and the boy's unbuckled Marlboro belt and the couplet that goes: "Cowboys are languishin', little girls are bees/Is it really a green stagecoach crawling up to me?" Until now I never knew that at the end of the song she sings "The flower tells me stories that make me sick and free." They say the word "free" a lot on this record; it's in six of the 14 songs. Summer is free and you are too.

7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. thank you! it's my favorite SFW thing i've ever done

      Delete
  2. "'Eww, do you think I'm twelve and just read Catcher in the Rye for the first time? What the hell, lady?" Seriously, imagine if my idea of questioning society were as rudimentary as writing the word "society" on my shoe and then putting a question mark after it?"

    I love how challenges (real or perceived) to hegemonic social norms are delegitimized through the infantilization of critique. Or that rebellion is a sort of frivolous stop on the way to a rational, "real" adulthood after all of that "college experimentation". Gross.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that's so true & i wish i'd been able to articulate it that way when i was a teenager dealing with cynical grownups. thank you!

      Delete
  3. Also, I remember you wrote (and I read) about 'Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star' in one of your early zines and it was before I was deeply familiar with Sonic Youth's records, and later I found out it was largely assumed to be a kinda shitty record, but I always loved it and associated it with you and the way that you love music (which I appreciate SO MUCH), and now that I have been deeply familiar with their records for many years I still find it superior.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. that's so neat! and it is *so* superior! that makes me think of this 'rolling stone' interview from when the record came out and thurston said something about he hoped some reviewer would say 'this is TRASH and i give it NO STAR!' hahaha. thurston.

      Delete
  4. your head *is* so much better than that, Bubbles! I love this! I think it's my favorite thing you've written for SFW too.

    ReplyDelete