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For almost 30 years, Sonic Youth has been one of the most influential and innovative bands in the rock topography. The band’s story is fully being told in the much-deserved biography, Goodbye 20th Century (Da Capo). Author David Browne, who has followed the band since Bad Moon Rising appeared on his desk as a promo in 1985 and interviewed the group on several occasions, said Sonic Youth was open to being the subject of a biography. “They said, ‘Sure, whenever you want to talk to us, let us know,'” recalls Browne. Browne not only talks to all four members of SY at length, but many of the artists, musicians and actors whose careers were fostered by the band as well. “The interesting thing about the Sonic Youth story to me, outside of their music and career, is that they’re probably one of the most influential bands in rock history but not in the normal way you measure influence,” says Browne. “Their influence is in that you can make this weird music and make a career and sustain yourself, but also in the way you see the impact of the people they’ve brought along.” That includes former collaborators like director Spike Jonze, artists Raymond Pettibone and Richard Prince and actress Chloe Sevigny. They also mentored artists like Nirvana and Beck. “Most of these people were not known to anybody until Sonic Youth ushered them into the mainstream. Their footprints are just as much in their music as it is in their legacy in bringing this alternative arts world with them,” Browne says.
As for the Sonic Youth story, Browne starts at the beginning, when the band had two female vocalists and a keyboardist, through the formative Bad Moon Rising/Sister days, the impact of Daydream Nation, the tumultuous Experimental Jet-Set years, the Jim O’Rourke era to the recasting of Moore and Gordon as rocker parents. “Their family life and their music life seem to co-exist in a funny but natural way. In the kitchen, they have Coco’s soccer schedule taped up on the wall next to an Iggy & the Stooges calendar. There’s a constant juxtaposition,” Browne remembers. As for the book’s title, taken from one of the band’s obscure avant-garde EPs, Browne feels the band “were the start of a real paradigm shift in rock in the early Eighties when they said ‘Our building blocks aren’t going to be what everyone says they should be: blues, country, R&B, folk. We’re starting from ground zero. If you want to go on stage and plug a drill into a wah-wah pedal and scream into the microphone for 10 minutes, that’s a song.’ So I feel the title of the book summed up their approach to their art.”