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Sonic Youth Goo

Why Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo’ rules 25 years on

Did you know Sofia Coppola starred in one of the videos?

It’s been 25 years since Sonic Youth released Goo, their iconic sixth album that forged a bridge between New York’s DIY punk underground and a mainstream rock audience courtesy of major label Geffen. Goo has proved to be timeless, but it sprung out of 1990, the year in which grunge had spread like an itch amongst a generation increasingly disillusioned with the mock-metal and stadium theatrics of artists like Guns ‘n’ Roses and Alice Cooper. Sonic Youth introduced those bored kids of the early 90's onto the thrashing noise rock sounds of Goo via the circular blues “Dirty Boots”, the heavy, reverb-soaked “Kool Thing” and the hypnotic, fuzz-filled guitar riffs of “Tunic (Song for Karen)”. A quarter of a century later, we dissect the cultural building blocks that formed this epoch-defining musical creation, and trace the series of events that made it happen.

THURSTON MOORE WENT TO SEE SUICIDE AT MAX’S KANSAS CITY IN 1976

In early 1976, a school friend of Thurston Moore’s suggested they take a ride into New York, saying: “It’s Friday – let’s get in the car and drive to Max’s Kansas City.” That night, they saw proto-punks Suicide play and Moore found himself completely hooked. “It was just those two guys doing this completely assaultive performance noise rock,” he explained to Vulture. “It was loud and pummelling and hypnotic and scary. Alan Vega would walk out on the table, wrap his microphone cord around audience members’ necks, and scream in their faces. Everybody was basically barricading themselves behind the tables at Max’s, so this lead singer would not attack them.”

It was this Suicide gig that convinced Moore to move to New York one year later. “I just knew at that point that I was in New York City.” he said. “Everything about it aesthetically was what I wanted…So I just moved to New York.” Needless to say, this cultural diet of defiant downtown New York artists like Suicide, Television and the Ramones fed into the sound of Sonic Youth, and it’s an influence that was still present within their sixth album Goo, from the droning, noise rock of “Mote” to the pummelling riffs of “Cindarella’s Big Score”.

THE FILM ‘MILDRED PIERCE’ WAS RELEASED IN 1945

In 1945, Joan Crawford appeared as Mildred Pierce in the feverish film noir of the same name, where she played the compelling and electrifying central heroine. This film would go on to influence Sonic Youth’s heavy, angst-ridden “Mildred Pierce” which appeared on Goo and was one of the first tracks they ever wrote as a band. In it, Thurston Moore repeats the name ‘Mildred Pierce’ in his deep East Coast drawl before the song explodes into a chaotic, cymbal-smashing climax, while Moore yowls “Why, Mildred Pierce, Why?” with his voice muffled amongst his own distorted screams.

In the video, Sofia Coppola appears as insane twist on Joan Crawford’s character, whilst she shakily paints her lip black, tries to rearrange her hair and gazes manically into the camera as she stumbles around the streets of Hollywood.

KIM GORDON MET RAYMOND PETTIBON AT A HOUSE PARTY IN LA

Sometime in the mid-eighties, Kim Gordon was having a lazy Sunday afternoon in a suburban neighbourhood by Hermosa Beach in LA when she found herself at a Black Flag gig at somebody's house. “Henry Rollins was singing in the kitchen. He came right up to me and sang in my face,” she wrote for Interview magazine. “That was maybe one of the best gigs I'd ever seen because it was so surreal and intimate and confusing—refrigerator, counter, Henry Rollins twerking before twerking existed in his little black shorts, fusing hardcore punk with suburban banality.”

It was at this party that Kim would meet the cult punk illustrator Raymond Pettibon, who would go on to create the inky, iconic and copiously Tumblr-appropriated album artwork for Goo. “We went out to the backyard and there was Raymond. Someone introduced us,” Kim wrote. “He was already sort of mythical in our minds. He was shy and dressed normally—casually disheveled. No one from that area dressed in a stylized punk way...We got to visit with Raymond a few times. There was always a pile of his drawings spilling over on a tabletop.”

The Pettibon-illustrated album cover itself was reworked from a paparazzi photograph of David Smith and Maureen Hindley, who were on their way to the Moors murder trial in 1966 as chief witnesses. In the original photo, both are wearing black sunglasses and sombre expressions, with Hindley in a chequered dress and a cigarette between two, upright fingers.

KIM GORDON INTERVIEWED LL. COOL J FOR SPIN MAGAZINE

When Kim Gordon interviewed LL. Cool J for Spin in 1989, she found herself in an awkward clash of cultures. “The guy has to have control over his woman,” Cool J told vocal feminist Kim Gordon, who swiftly asked whether he thought there were any female sex symbols he could relate to. In the same interview, he also claimed he’d never heard of Iggy Pop, that Madonna didn’t turn him on and that he just wanted to crush everything in his path.

One year later, Sonic Youth released “Kool Thing”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Spin interview, and the first single from Goo. “I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me?” Kim Gordon sings over an explosion of chainsaw guitar riffs and rumbling drums. “I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls from white corporate oppression?” The track was meant to be a piss-take of the “poseur leftist” downtown scene she had emerged from. “It was totally ridiculous to assume that we had anything in common… I was trying to make fun of myself,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I don’t know if that came across."

THE PMRC CRACKED DOWN ON MUSIC WITH DRUGS, SEX AND VIOLENCE

Now best known for tacky Camden Market tee’s and teen posters, the ‘parental advisory’ sticker was originally brought into practice via Parental Music Resource Centre (PMRC) and was supposed to “warn” music buyers about explicit content within, such as drugs, sex and violence. Of course, much like an 18 certificate on a slasher film, it arguably achieved the opposite and made kids want to buy the stickered record.

Five years after the labels were put into place, Sonic Youth included the slogan ‘Smash the PMRC’ on the inside sleeve of Goo as a subtle ‘fuck you’ to an organisation that included musical “flirtations with the occult” and references to masturbation as something that required immediate censorship.

KIM GORDON BECAME OBSESSED WITH KAREN CARPENTER

In the early eighties, singer Karen Carpenter from dreamy LA duo The Carpenters passed away from complications due to anorexia. Kim Gordon, who was a huge fan of The Carpenters, then penned an open letter to the singer. “Through the years of The Carpenters’ TV specials I saw you change from the Innocent Oreo-cookie-and-milk-eyed girl next door to hollowed eyes and a lank body adrift on a candy-coloured stage set,” she wrote in the letter, which was printed in the biography Sonic Youth: Sensational Fix. “You and Richard, by the end, looked drugged – there’s so little energy. The words come out of the your mouth but your eyes say other things.”

These thoughts would later culminate in the pummelling, pedal-soaked track “Tunic (Song for Karen)” which appeared as the second track on Goo, and imagined Karen in heaven with Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Dennis Wilson. “I was trying to put myself into Karen’s body. It was like she had so little control over her life,” Kim Gordon said, explaining her lyrics 20 years later. “I think she lost her identity – it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine.”