Acoustic Sounds
By: JoE Silva

November 28th, 2023


Book Reviews

Sonic Life: A Memoir by Thurston Moore

Book Review

Now that he’s well past the age where he can collect social security, it’s not all that surprising to find our King No Waver inking a memoir. As one quarter of the bountiful whorl that was Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore has stood atop and apart from a Rock heritage that runs straight back to the “Louie Louie” epiphany he experienced as a South Miami preschooler back in 1963.

 Chronicling how the band grew from a group of Lower East Side chancers to major label concern that ranked right up there with pals Nirvana, isn’t all that remarkable at the genetic level. Obsessed with guitars, Creem Magazine and eventually Patti Smith, Moore was perfectly primed in the mid-seventies to become exactly what he morphed into – an unbound noise conjurer intent on barnacle-ling himself to the post-CBGB’s world of New York sound.

His eventual connection with bassist/paramour Kim Gordon and local guitar heavy Lee Ranaldo, doesn’t really resolve into a working unit till we get about 200 pages into this history. At that point it’s mid-Summer 1981. But things start to get truly interesting once they get into the studio where:

“Lee’s (Renaldo) eschewing the guitar in favor of the (electric) drill and also banging long, cylindrical chimes we had found abandoned on the street one day. By jamming a drumstick under the strings of my Harmony electric at the twelfth fret, I was able to create two playing fields on the instrument. Strumming and plucking the strings on one side of the stick produced a different-timbred sound from the other.”

It's a clear and purposeful step towards a career where experimentation will always ride tandem with straight up Rock and Roll hutzpah. Because throughout their career, Sonic Youth wrung music out of their instruments as much as they played them. When they arrive at the critical high point of “Daydream Nation,” their routine of improvising over whatever solid idea was brought to the table suddenly establishes them as big fish in the indie pond and a curio to the monied interests that were beginning to sniff around the periphery. If they had “matured” as some critics would allege, these pages clearly show that they did it organically.

If that level of detail here sometimes leaves Moore’s narrative feeling stodgy, it’s only because the zhuzh gets lost inside his faithfully linear history. That said, there are may also plenty of anecdotes for the even the most casual Sonic Youth fan to latch onto – sneaking into CBGB’s for the first time by pretending to be a pal of Joey Ramones, witnessing PiL’s infamous gig at the Ritz in lower Manhattan, and essentially crash landing into Leningrad where there were no records to buy and even less to eat.

But perhaps the meatiest take away from this title is how eloquently Moore can tell his story. Take this example of him describing what it was like to hear The Stooges’ “Fun House” for the first time:

“Each track on the record burst with scalding energy, fairly oozing off my turntable. When the session concluded with the free jazz of ‘L.A. Blues,’ it was as if a lid that had attempted to contain all the band’s clamor was released at once…” 

However, don’t expect for any telling details regarding his mildly infamous split from his bandmate/wife. As he says in the waning moments of these nearly 470 pages:

“The circumstances that led me to a place where I would even consider such an extreme and difficult decision…are intensely personal, and I would never capitalize on them publicly.”

Free then from tabloid tales and big on Alt Rock antiquity, while there might be more compelling chronicles of this period, the charm here is built off Moore’s sincere love for the sounds he found and the ones he got to witness up close – and as a result comes off as one of the better music biogs of recent years.


  • 2023-11-28 01:00:58 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    I've been planning to read this. Thanks for the helpful review. One of my most memorable concert experiences was Sonic Youth at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis in 1990. They set up PA stacks in all four corners of the room and manipulated them to form a swirling, roaring tornado of sound.

  • 2023-11-28 04:48:52 PM

    Willie Luncheonette wrote:

    Saw Sonic Youth open for Bo Diddly in Central Park here in NYC. Great show! Also a friend of mine was watching Thurston's loft when he was out on tour and invited me up. Thurston had an awesome collection of punk and hardcore 45's. with some really rare ones. Right then I knew he was A-OK.