Goodbye 20th Century : Sonic Youth and the Rise of the Alternative Nation
David Browne is the author of two books and a contributor to the New York Times, the New Republic, and Spin, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
Anchored by the married couple of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, and propelled by democratically distributed experiments from all four group members, underground music icons Sonic Youth, as chronicled by Browne in his compulsively readable new biography, are a model for how to sustain a career in the burnout-friendly world of rock music. Browne traces each phase of the band's career with the easy, anecdotal grace of an accomplished journalist: he sketches each band member's youth and initiation into the New York music scene, provides accounts of the years of day jobs and thrifty recording sessions, and gives a play-by-play account of the band's courting by labels following the independent success of the album Daydream Nation. The book is most engaging in its middle third, an in-depth account of the band's initial struggles and successes at Geffen, their major label home for the past two decades of their career. While Browne succeeds at capturing the personalities and debates that shape the band's character, at times the author's engagement with the band's actual music is not as incisive or comprehensive as it could be. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Venerable New York guitar abusers Sonic Youth have been the cool older siblings to several generations of the indie/underground rock set for over two decades. Despite reveling in the harsh and free-form edges of musical expression, Sonic Youth have displayed a knack for a pop hook and a Madonnaesque talent for staying on the bleeding edge of new music, taking inspiration from upstart bands while simultaneously mentoring them (Nirvana, most notably). Now two able music journalists have come out with remarkably complete versions of the Sonic Youth story. Browne (Dream Brother: The Lives & Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley) had full, unfettered access to the Youth and confederates and tells a more complete and official version of the band's story. But Chick's scrappy book is a worthy read, too. Writing in the overheated and excitable prose particular to British alternative-music journalists, Chick, who's contributed to MOJO and Plan B, gives a broad, fan's-eye view of Sonic Youth and the various music and art subcultures they have been inspired by and inspired. So which to choose? It's a somewhat problematic proposition. Each book is thoroughly researched and passionately written, and despite some degree of anecdote duplication, each offers unique, complementary insights. Ideally, larger public and academic libraries with popular music collections should have both titles on hand, as the band has previously been covered extensively only in Alec Foege's premature Confusion Is Next (1994). In many ways, the Youth's work has become more interesting and unpredictable the older they get--putting them in the rarefied company of Neil Young and Tom Waits--and different perspectives on such a varied and lengthy career are essential. However, if it comes down to picking one of two, Goodbye 20th Century is recommended for all public and academic libraries.--Matthew Moyer, Jacksonville P.L., FL Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"An expressway to the soul of the influential band."-Vanity Fair "As much a chronicle of the combustion of music and popular culture Sonic Youth helped ignite as it is an earnest portrait of the band and examination of their work...Browne's book will suck you in...He fleshes out the personalities and occasional tensions behind the band's deadpan image."-Los Angeles Times "The whole scene in you-are-there detail."-New York Post "A rollicking, epic biography...Browne cannily opts to tell, in a crisp, novelistic style, the compelling story of the cultural tornado of galleries, rock clubs and unique personalities (Lydia Lunch, Kurt Cobain and Chloe Sevigny, to name a few) Sonic Youth swirled around in, the band's ongoing fight to maintain the purity of their vision, and above all, their shared passion for new ideas and sounds."-Salon "For almost 30 years, Sonic Youth has been one of the most influential and innovative bands in the rock topography...a much-deserved biography."-Rolling Stone "He goads the band...into uncharacteristic chattiness."-Village Voice