sonic life: 88-07
Time is strange. The way life moves through it — often stranger.
I saw my first Sonic Youth show in November of 1988. Daydream Nation tour. Mudhoney opened up at the Roxy in LA. GSD had turned me on to them the year before with Sister, spun on a turntable underneath the desk on his side of the Transworld dual stair chasm separating our drafting tables. It remains one of my favorite albums to this day.
Any music freak has a short list of bands and musicians whose sound fundamentally altered their sense of what music was or could be. Sonic Youth was one such band for me, and the affects ran deep. I entered the Roxy that night, with clear and certain intent to capture the way their sound affected me through acid-tinted 16mm Nikkor. By the time they destroyed the stage with an encore of I Wanna Be Your Dog with MudHoney, I had done all that I could to fill the only roll of hi-speed film I’d brought along. After managing to navigate back home (a sleeping bag under my desk at the PowerEdge in Carson), I spent the rest of the wee hours developing the night’s shots. One stood out among a handful of keepers as the one.
The next day, I brought the negatives to Andy Jenkins. The Master Cluster were busy finishing production on their latest issue that included a feature on Sonic Youth (The Guitar as a Weapon). Spike took the negs and made prints suitable for HomeBoy’s huge format. In the end, Andy chose the same one I felt had marked success from the previous night’s mission and ran it as the opening spread for the article. Inspirational photog and friend, O, had shots in there too including one of my favorites for the cover — a shot of SY’s 2×4 crafted quiver box brimming with worn and detuned guitars.
Around the same time I started this site, I purchased a new scanner with a negative tray in order to gather a bunch of shots for my week as poster at Crailtap. I scanned the Roxy shots along with some pics of Mike Watt from a Firehose show around the same time and disseminated them amongst the old zine-circle guard.
Soon after, Andy responded requested them once again. This time for inclusion in an issue of Monster Children he was guest editing. His caption for the photo read:
…I’ve always thought it totally captured their essence… a violence of swirling noise with free-tuned guitars. This shot has haunted me ever since I saw the first print.
I included the photos in one of the first posts here.
A couple weeks later and long before Monster Children went to press, I received forwarded emails via Swank, Lew and Andy from Lance Bangs who was helping Thurston in tracking me down regarding the same shot. I’d later find out from Thurston that he’d seen it reproduced in a French zine while on tour a few years back, and filed it in a box full of clippings. He’d run across it again while digging for inspiration in coming up with graphics for the cover of his first solo record in over ten years, Trees Outside the Academy. The photo credit miraculously was still intact. After a few conversations with Thurston and Andrew Kesin of Ecstatic Peace, all was set for it’s use. Old friend and Nemo owner, Trevor Graves hooked up some drum scanning at work, and before long, pre-release copies of Trees designed by Andrew K. were in my hands.
I found out too late to attend, that that the 20th anniversary Daydream Nation tour was going on at that time, and read that the Roxy show in ’88 was where Sonic Youth caught the ear of Geffen’s Mark Keats.
The coincidences didn’t stop.
Friends and fellow Nemo folks, Adam Bagerski and Justin Dickau, launched a Nemo sponsored limited edition poster project. Working with a couple local venues, we would be designing and silk screening posters for a few select shows to hand out freely. Having seen my photo, but knowing little about it’s use for Trees, I was picked to do the poster for Thurston’s 10/25/07 show at Doug Fir. Justin and I spent an evening pulling 100 posters in his studio apartment / silkscreen lab.
The crowning moment of the weird lineage surrounding the photo came the night of the show. After growing up with plenty of SY around, my kid had discovered and become a second gen/teenage fan of Sonic Youth on his own. Bethany Flugum from the Fir kindly arranged for him to get in for the sound check, and by the end of it, he and his friend were backstage with the bands having the rock and roll fantasy of their lifetime.
The show was great — from the wailing, hypnotically alluring siren call of Scorces to Thurston’s flawless set.
I shot some more photos, distributed posters and was kicked down with enough merch sporting that same shot from nearly twenty years ago to leave me in awe, thankful and fully satiated with yet another confirmation that with enthused and certain intent, anyone’s work can transcend time and end up in the right place at the right time.
Thanks to all for another loop on the wild ride.
Thurston, Doug Fir 10.25.07: s|b_tube