I learned two important things from David Browne‘s excellent biography of Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century.
The first is exactly how much ass Kim Gordon kicks. Seriously. What an incredible trailblazer, and by all accounts, she still radiates cool. Not bad for someone who has five years on Madonna.
The second thing I learned is a little less obvious. The first half of the book is a detailed exploration of the early years of Sonic Youth, and by extension the whole 1980s New York art/music scene. It’s clear that Browne put an enormous amount of research into creating this portrait. But I thought that one of the most striking aspects of the Sonic Youth story was the unremarked-upon juxtaposition of two threads. One is that Sonic Youth collaborated with everyone. They reached out to all the artists they knew (of whatever medium) for artwork, videos, and more, and the book is liberally salted with now-familiar names. For example, for their 1990 album Goo, has a Raymond Pettibon illustration for the cover, and official and unofficial videos were made by or with photographer Richard Kern, artist Tony Oursler, actor Sofia Coppola and director Todd Haynes. The second thread is how, in several places, Browne comments on ‘unlikely coincidences,’ usually in the context of the band having a useful personal connection through friends or collaborators. It seems highly likely that these two threads are related. An enormous amount has changed in the music world in the three decades since Sonic Youth got their start. But in a world where all music and art is only a click away, I suspect that the importance of developing relationships by contributing to your community has, if anything, only increased.
You can read some reviews of the book here and here. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in music or other creative endeavours, even if you don’t consider yourself a committed Sonic Youth fan (I’m not, and I really enjoyed the book). Goodbye 20th Century is at Amazon, and I also have one free copy of the trade paperback to give away. Just e-mail or message me before 12 noon Eastern on Wednesday, July 29th if you’re interested, and I’ll pick someone at random from the responses and put the book in the post for you.