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My always Sonic Youth II

July 1, 2009

Well I’m still recovering from the fantastic Feelies reunion show at the Pritzker Pavillion at Millennium Park on Monday – they’ve managed to maintain their edge with a great set featuring an encore with REM’s “Boxcar” and “What Goes On” from the Velvet Underground – could there be a better way to end a show?  Oh, sure, then they added “Paint it Black” from the Stones, and with a great Feelies vibe.  I went to both concerts with the same friend and we were both pretty geeked to be seeing bands that were relevant and exciting to us and the world back in our college days (and to seeing bands older than we are).  The Sonic Youth show has sent me back into the No Wave world of New York in the late 1970’s, reading Thurston Moore’s book and listening to James Chance, DNA, and Lydia Lunch.  As I was writing about in the first part of this entry, its the intersection of so many creative energies between the worlds of art and music that give it an especially exciting appeal to me.  It’s a little different that listening to Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” ten times in a row while eating at Johnny Rocket’s with my kids, but I love the story that Darin wrote the song on a dare from famous DJ Murray the K to start a song with that famous first line.  Are there any legendary DJ’s any more?  Or music promoters?  I was reading Bill Graham’s biography as part of my Grateful Dead phase (ongoing) and can’t imagine anyone attaining that status today.  And yet the music innovation continues:

 I’ll go see any performance that features Ken Vandermark, the best of the free jazz saxophonists out there – I’m sure I have over 50 cd’s by him and various bands he’s in; Wilco is always re-breaking ground and their new cd is fantastic; Okkervil River, TV on the Radio, the BellRays, and Tortoise also come to mind.  Hmm – I feel like I’m opening a can of worms here.  My friend recently challenged me to write an essay linking John Coltrane to Grateful Dead to Sonic Youth (as I’ve kinda started to do in these entries).  So yes, two of these acts continue to perform (and I love the Dead, but Jerry-less is just that) and the latter put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while (SY @ the Vic Sunday) – but who will be the next band I’ll add to that list?

What gives a band longevity / what makes a song worth listening to on repeat / when is a band making music relevant to people beyond their friends and families (insert art or literature or any other art form here)?  I’m thinking of lines from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” and the notion that one must write when one feels as though one can’t proceed without it, and that “A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”  I shared that with my students at the Lake Forest Writing and Thinking Workshop just last week on our closing day, as they left the community we had created for two weeks to go back to their high schools around the country.  So many of them spoke about feeling alone in their interest in writing things other that Facebook updates and Tweets, in their interest in language and the written word in the face of a high school culture based on sports and appearance.  I can only hope they will continue to obey their muse as the musicians I wrote about in this post did, to not be afraid of investing the time in discovering their own voice, and listening to it.  Hearing them read their pieces at our celebratory reading last Friday might actually have been the best evening of Sonic Youth I’ve ever experienced.

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