Sonic Youth: They Are Not Rock. They Curate Rock.
More from my thoughtstream about artists who might be taking too much inspiration from other art....
First, here's an image I'd like you to consider: Sonic Youth rocking out last week at Marc Jacobs' show during New York Fashion Week.
Pile that on top of the news Thurston Moore let leak that SY are in the midst of curating a traveling art exhibit:
"We're putting together this museum show that's utilizing all the artists that we've worked with on different covers and concepts, and that's going to happen for two or three years... It's going to happen in young museums, there's one outside of Paris, there's one in Malmö, Sweden."
The blog which reported this news noted that Moore's leak came "after the band played 'Kool Thing' at Jacobs's request." I'm not one to get holier-than-thou about bands selling out -- selling out is how bands get by -- but I'll admit that sentence fragment made me throw up a little in my mouth.
More vomitus after the jump!
Marc Jacobs asked Sonic Youth to leap. Their response was "How high?" That bothers me in the same way it bothers me to watch artists I more-or-less respect get face time at the Grammys, from the Queen Mother, or at the Kennedy Center Honors. Some artists don't need honors; their art is honor enough; and accepting mainstream approval puts them next to things that diminish them. (I didn't need to see a person I respect like Steve Martin sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with couple I detest.
Sonic Youth never seem to think that art is enough. They've made their career seem like a living footnote to other people's work. The problem is that SY's hyper-referential ways have put air quotes around an entire sub-genre of music -- some call it indie, some call it alternative, some call it the underground. Within the confines of that sub-genre, they have have made us doubt sincere gestures, and made us accept questionable career moves because, "Hey, the irony is bound to kick in at some point."
Why is this dangerous? SY's Marc Jacobs performance, and their museum curating are both case in point. THE IRONY NEVER ARRIVES. SY become the ultimate example of a band who are no longer a pop group, but a co-branding tool -- a mere lens into other people's creativity.
Weirder still is when this process seems to collapse in upon itself. Maybe you've heard about the band's upcoming album? No it won't be an album of new songs, but Hits Are for Squares, a Starbucks compilation on which the band's celebrity friends (Jacobs, Beck, Portia de Rossi!?!) have selected their favorite Sonic Youth songs.
I'll leave you with this thought from Thurston :
Interviewer: "So it's going to be one of those things up at the counter along with the biscotti and the disc of Elton John's favorite Christmas songs?"
Thurston Moore: [laughs] "Yeah, something like that. I wish Starbucks would ask me to compile a mixtape record."
Interviewer: "That would be ... interesting."
Thurston Moore: "I love doing that stuff. But you know, it's so funny, because Starbucks is the new record store, right?" [laughs]
One response would be, "No, Thurston, Starbucks isn't serving as the new record store. Your band is."
I actually think that's a state of affairs Thurston would be proud of. But musicians of the world beware this example...