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Daily Record 1/31/11: Goo-Sonic Youth (1990)

In 1990, 1990s, New York City music, rock on January 31, 2011 at 5:03 am

Today, Jan. 31, 2011, would have been my Grandma Wilhelm’s 101st birthday. I’d like to say I’m dedicating today’s Daily Record to my Grandma Wilhelm, but I’m not sure she would have gotten Sonic Youth’s 1990 album, Goo. If it didn’t play on Hee Haw or the Merv Griffin Show, I don’t think Grandma would have been into it, though I do remember occasionally watching Soul Train at her Mt. Savage, Maryland, home as well. I’m not even certain that Grandma went for Karen Carpenter, who Sonic Youth commemorates on Goo with “Tunic (Song for Karen).”

Grandma wouldn’t have been the only person in my life who didn’t get Goo. Take my nephew Brian, for example. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but many years ago, back before Brian became eight inches taller than me, I mentioned to him something about Sonic Youth and how they rock. Brian, who might have been 10 years old at the time, was skeptical at best and over the years, Brian’s skepticism about one of NYC’s finest bands ever has only deepened.

This has become a talking point between Brian and me. I even passed along a homemade “best of” SY compilation to Brian a few Christmases ago. He just laughed.

It’s not just Grandma and Brian though. The night Rick and I drove up to Hershey Park to see Sonic Youth open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse, when SY and Young were touring behind Goo and Ragged Glory respectively, I surveyed the crowd during SY’s noisy set and wondered if anybody there couldn’t wait for Neil to come out with an acoustic guitar, play “Heart of Gold” and wash away the residue of these artsy noisemeisters. Of course, Young did no such thing that night, performing a noisefest with nary a nonelectric guitar in sight.

Goo was SY’s major label debut after releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums that culminated in the oft-called-monumental Daydream Nation. As is often the case in these situations, there were cries of “sell-out” when Goo hit the shelves, but you never would have heard that from me. I was relatively new to Sonic Youth in 1990, having just caught up with the most well-known track from Daydream Nation, the epic “Teenage Riot.” So my frame of reference did not give me any good reason to decry the band for Goo, and I probably wouldn’t have done that anyway. I don’t generally buy into the “sell-out” theory.

Personally, I love Goo, and I’ve never found it to be tainted by any hint of commercialism that might have come along with the band’s ascent to the majors. It’s a big, weird rock album that happens to have both a cool appearance by Public Enemy’s Chuck D. and a scary-as-hell instrumental named after a Joan Crawford movie, “Mildred Pierce.” I didn’t necessarily go backward from Goo to discover all the previous albums (I’ve still never heard all of Daydream Nation) and I haven’t picked up everything they’ve done since but I love the fact that Sonic Youth is still around (I really liked their last album, The Eternal, quite a bit) charting their own curious course through popular (and, sometimes, decidedly non-popular) music.

And, who knows? Maybe Brian will come around to Sonic Youth someday.

Though I doubt it. But SY will probably always be a talking point.

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