#73, "Teen Age Riot," Sonic Youth (1988)

Picture it. Washington DC, yesterday. Pete and I are making salads for dinner, listening to Spotify's album radio for Aladdin Sane. "Teenage Riot" comes on and out of nowhere, Pete, who has been very insistent that he does not want to be spoiled on my top 100 asks "Are you like most people, where 'Teenage Riot' is your favorite Sonic Youth song?" 


"I--I'm not at liberty to say," I respond. I knew it was coming up the following day at number 73. I would have been surprised at the coincidence but he pulls this shit all the time. 


"Oh," he replies, filling in the gaps. 


Yes, my favorite Sonic Youth song is everyone's favorite Sonic Youth song. Knowing this, I'd considered picking "Bull in the Heather," which is probably a distant second or "Incinerate" just to be extremely interesting (though it's an incredible tune), but now and from the moment I heard it, is "Teenage Riot." It manages to be the best Sonic Youth song and also the most Sonic Youthy pop song of all time. It's like super-concentrated Sonic Youth, all boiled down and thick. That distinctive guitar introduction and the infectious melody. I still prefer Thurston-lead songs to Kim-lead songs even after all the unpleasantness. I love his unassuming but authoritative voice (he's telling you how things are but doesn't care if you believe him). The frenzy leading up to the bridge gives me goosebumps. And the lyrics (more on this later) are kind of gobbledegook but do the trick in painting that picture of feeling free for the first time with a bunch of other people who feel free for the first time? It's been done before and since but I'm really not sure who's done it better, I love it. I'm listening to it now and don't want to stop. 


Don't read Kim Gordon's book. It's not only to shield your love of Sonic Youth from Thurston's shitbag behavior, though that is also a reason not to read Kim Gordon's book. Sonic Youth has this mystique relies both on the appearance/conduct of and relationships between the members, but also their spooky lyrics. In the book, Kim talks about what her lyrics are about and had me wondering "is that all?" In her explanations, she seemed to be confirming what I'd assumed all this time but didn't discuss any subtext, which I didn't completely get but also assumed existed. No, "Tunic" is just about Karen Carpenter. Nothing else. I'd thought the same about "Teenage Riot," that it's just (as mentioned) about teenagers running wild and free, but Wikipedia tells me that it's actually about an alternate reality in which J Mascis is president. Hahahahahaha, nice! That's much better. In any case, all I needed to know to love and aspire to be just like Sonic Youth is their chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Art should be at the center of music and that's exactly what Sonic Youth is all about. Band goals. 


I saw Sonic Youth once, a million years ago at the Newport in Columbus. The internet tells me it was in June of 2003 and I guess I believe it, though I would have sworn I was wearing a heavy sweater. I mostly remember my shoes because we'd gone directly from school to the show and I had been wearing heels all day and was fairly miserable during the last part of the show during the requisite 20-minute noise finale. I would have also thought it was 2002 because it seems slightly longer-ago than that, even if by a year. SO LONG AGO. My favorite part about that show was actually waiting in line outside before doors opened. Who should wander out but all or at least 75% of Sonic Youth?? They weren't hiding from us, it was great. Thurston turned to the crowd, all slack-jawed and said "Hey, is that Blimpie's any good?" I'm sitting here chuckling to myself, it's still so funny. The best part is that they all looked so much like Sonic Youth, walking together. It was like watching a cartoon. They're all so distinct looking and yet really recognizable. I love that. 


We also saw Thurston Moore in person at the inauguration day protests in January 2017. There he was, hanging out like the rest of us, looking extraordinarily tall. Cartoonish and recognizable as ever. Pete said "hey that's Thurston Moore," I looked over and it was. I had a quick debate with myself in my head about whether I should give him the time of day. Not only for being terrible to Kim but also for sledgehammering the mystique of one of rock n' roll's most enduring couples and at the same time a lot of Sonic Youth's, but Pete was already gone, ready to pose in a picture with him. So I did too. Kim and Thurston were one of those couples that gave a lot of people hope and renewed belief in love and the dissolution of their couplehood was really hard for me and I think a lot of other people, but I guess I'm mostly healed from this. I also think that it's a good lesson about idolatry and the efficacy of famous people as role models. Just don't. Even in the case of the coolest band of all time.