Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Thurston Moore's autobiography surprisingly leaves too much off the table

I'm a big reader of rock-music books, and it's not that often that I find a rock bio about (and especially by) one of my favorite artists that I don't end up finding all that compelling. That has happened with Sonic Life: A Memoir, by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

It's not that Moore didn't put his heart and soul into the book, which is a big one, but he really devotes it to the sounds and bands that influenced him throughout his life. I, on the other hand, was excited about reading it because I actually wanted to learn about his life and his awesome band (which I only got to see once, when they blew my brains out - in a great way, on the Rather Ripped tour - in Dallas).

The interesting stuff I gleaned from his book before abandoning it about a quarter of the way through:
  • Moore was not named after anyone from Gilligan’s Island. It was a family name and the future rock star was born in south Florida, where he lived his first decade before later becoming an icon of New York City along the likes of Lou Reed and The Ramones. 
  • Five-year-old Thurston heard his older brother’s single for “Louie, Louie” and loved it. Up until that point, nothing was played on the stereo in his family's house other than classical music. After that, his brother had a guitar that no amount of padlocks or other blockades could keep Thurston away from.
  • At 16, he heard Iggy Pop and the Stooges and wanted to get Iggy’s haircut. He started taking the 90-minute train ride from his hometown of Bethel, Connecticut to see bands in New York City. 
  • Thurston loved David Bowie, Roxy Music, and Sweet, unlike most kids around him who loved bands like Yes, Boston, and the Allman Brothers. His dad even worried about his sexuality because of all his glam-rock posters. 
  • After high school, his dad unexpectedly slipped into a coma and died.
  • Thurston went off to college, but once he realized that he wasn’t very good at writing gonzo articles about music in the school paper - and the only thing he enjoyed about the whole university experience was smoking cigarettes in the classrooms - he quit. At this point, Thurston needed to stop reading and writing about rock and go down much more frequently to New York to experience it.
  • His true arrival on the NYC scene was in 1976, meaning bands like Lou Reed solo, Talking Heads, Blondie, and Television were around. He loved seeing shows at CBGB, but when Thurston and his friend Harold walked into Max’s and stumbled into a Cramps and Suicide show, he became a rock n’roll goner at that point. 
  • At a Wayne County show in 1976, Thurston met Joey Ramone. They chatted and he felt pretty comfortable around the star, helped by the fact that they were both 6’6”. On his first journey to CBGB, he and Harold were able to say hi again to Joey in the entryway and, not having enough cash to get into the $2.50 Mumps and Blondie show, were lucky enough to sneak in under the auspices of being friends of Joey. 
  • At all the gigs he was seeing, he would agree to smoke weed, do acid or mescaline, and drink alcohol, but it was never really his thing. “I preferred focus. I wanted to study every move, each gesture [of the bands].” Through music, he was looking for “transcendence, devotion, sonic love.” 
  • At 19, he was becoming pretty restless to move to the city - even though Bethel was perfectly comfortable - and devote his life to rock n’roll.
I would have liked to learn more about that life, rather than the many lives that inspired him.

3 out of 5 stars

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