October 15th, 2011
Since Letty was born three weeks ago, I’ve been listening incessantly to Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight. It’s the first album they made together and for the time being, I’m convinced it’s their best. In college, I felt the same way about Shoot Out the Lights (their break-up record). The two are mirror images. One is warts-and-all community, its narrators at once loving and implicated. Eight years later, Richard and Linda are the main story, their marriage in shambles, their partnership straining against the outside world. In its own way, each is about affirmation through irony. Lights start to blaze, lights go out; if you squint just right, a drunken 19 year-old full of self-ruin isn’t that different from a new parent. I haven’t listened to a new Sonic Youth album in a while, so if the Kim Gordon-Thurston Moore divorce means the end of an institution, I’ll be able to look back without hurting myself in the process. But I certainly feel something: disoriented, if not a little sad, devastated in a way that contains neither action nor definite consequences. It’s just odd that two people who made so much music together—even if their characters were at their strongest when they ran parallel—would dissolve this way: mute, privately, and with nothing left behind to make sense of what they meant to us. No shit, they owe us absolutely nothing; these are people, not dancing seals. Still, having spent the last couple of weeks with Bright Lights, and seeing Shoot out the Lights inevitably on its horizon, it’s hard to accept that there will be no closing document. A band, not a couple, made all those classics. That band, though, was always unusually personable, way more easy to love than they ever had any business being. Especially early on, Sonic Youth made ugly music, and yet somehow welcomed the listener. That’s always been their genius, and much like Bright Lights, it depends on finding warmth in the strangest places, and comfort in that. It’s always been near-impossible to not locate some of that in Kim and Thurston (first-namers as much out of affection as fame). “Kotton Krown”, maybe the most extreme example of SY’s winning formula, also happens to be a courtly duet between the two of them. I want to hear that turned inside out, to understand not why their marriage failed, but how art so dependent on empathy could one day wake up cold. 

Since Letty was born three weeks ago, I’ve been listening incessantly to Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight. It’s the first album they made together and for the time being, I’m convinced it’s their best. In college, I felt the same way about Shoot Out the Lights (their break-up record). The two are mirror images. One is warts-and-all community, its narrators at once loving and implicated. Eight years later, Richard and Linda are the main story, their marriage in shambles, their partnership straining against the outside world. In its own way, each is about affirmation through irony. Lights start to blaze, lights go out; if you squint just right, a drunken 19 year-old full of self-ruin isn’t that different from a new parent. 

I haven’t listened to a new Sonic Youth album in a while, so if the Kim Gordon-Thurston Moore divorce means the end of an institution, I’ll be able to look back without hurting myself in the process. But I certainly feel something: disoriented, if not a little sad, devastated in a way that contains neither action nor definite consequences. It’s just odd that two people who made so much music together—even if their characters were at their strongest when they ran parallel—would dissolve this way: mute, privately, and with nothing left behind to make sense of what they meant to us. No shit, they owe us absolutely nothing; these are people, not dancing seals. Still, having spent the last couple of weeks with Bright Lights, and seeing Shoot out the Lights inevitably on its horizon, it’s hard to accept that there will be no closing document. A band, not a couple, made all those classics. That band, though, was always unusually personable, way more easy to love than they ever had any business being. Especially early on, Sonic Youth made ugly music, and yet somehow welcomed the listener. That’s always been their genius, and much like Bright Lights, it depends on finding warmth in the strangest places, and comfort in that. It’s always been near-impossible to not locate some of that in Kim and Thurston (first-namers as much out of affection as fame). “Kotton Krown”, maybe the most extreme example of SY’s winning formula, also happens to be a courtly duet between the two of them. I want to hear that turned inside out, to understand not why their marriage failed, but how art so dependent on empathy could one day wake up cold.