I’ve been waiting 20 years to post this, even if I didn’t have internet access 20 years ago.
The guitar guy played real good feedback
And super sounding riffs
With his mild mannered look on, yeah he was truly hip
We watched her fall over and lay down
Shouting the poetic truths of high school journal keepers
Now we’re told so: merge ideas of song forms and freedom
Poised, yet totally screwed up
None of us know where we’re tryin’ to get to
What sort of life were we tryin’ to build
Where are you now?
When your broken eyes are closed
Head in a cloudy dream, green & sailboats
Borrowed and never returned
Emotions, books, outlooks on life
I’m not sure many people would call Sonic Youth’s 1995 album Washing Machine their best, but it might be my personal favorite of theirs for two very distinct reasons: (1) this is the album that finally got me to like them and understand them, and (2) this album, more than any other, is the one I associate with one of the most formative and pivotal times of my life.
In 1995 I was 19 years old, disillusioned with my college major, and in a band/circle of friends whose de facto leader was a super-hard-core Sonic Youth fan. At the time, I was a hard-core Phish fan, and so Sonic Youth just sounded like mindless noise to me; I thought 20-minute noodle-jams had far more intrinsic value than 20-minute feedback squalls.
In any event, this was the album that happened to be released while my band was at somewhat of a creative crossroads, and so it was in near constant rotation at my friend’s apartment for months. And unlike their earlier albums, this one struck a very deep chord with me right from the first listen – possibly because it’s a lot more melodic than what had preceded it (I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful song in their entire catalog than “Unwind”), or maybe because when you’re blitzed out of your mind at 2:00 am, “Diamond Sea” is a sort of life-changing event.
That apartment was our band’s HQ; but more than that, it was my home-away-from-home (or, to be more specific, my dorm-away-from-dorm). I can’t even begin to count how many hours I spent there.* In retrospect, I can’t even comprehend the physics involved that got so many of us to hang out in that tiny, tiny apartment. At any given moment there’d be upwards of 10 of us squeezed into that space, the room filled with cigarette smoke and moleskine notepads and port wine and a 4-track machine always at the ready, someone’s hand always hovering over the record button just in case.
Anyway, as I said, Washing Machine was in constant rotation during the fall of 1995, and it’s a perfect fall album; cool and breezy and I might even say “wistful”, which is an odd adjective for a Sonic Youth album, but there it is. We used to sit in that apartment in the wee hours, listening to this album on repeat, and this song would always perk us up; it’s a Lee Ranaldo spoken-word poem over one of the album’s more up-tempo tracks, and I suppose we all imagined ourselves as the “guitar guy [playing] real good feedback and super-sounding riffs / with his mild-mannered look on / yeah, he was truly hip”.
And at the song’s close, after a quiet interlude, the band starts pounding away on a very straightforward G chord, and when Lee shouts “Hello, 2015!”, I’m sure we all sat back in our respective chairs and tried to imagine what sort of robot hovercar future 2015 would look like. We imagined – hell, we knew – that our band was going to conquer the world, and I guess we wondered if we’d be opening for Sonic Youth at a 2015 NYE show, or if they’d be opening for us.
(That band didn’t survive past 1996.)
* I even named one of my later bands after my time spent in that apartment, and if I ever resurrect my NaNo memoir project, I suspect I’ll be using “Midnight Thompson” as its title, too.