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Anyone coming to this memoir by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore to hear his side of the story about the break-up of his marriage to Kim Gordon (after 27 years) will be disappointed.

In her book Girl in a Band, SY bassist/writer/singer and artist Gordon laid it all pretty bare: his lengthy affair with Eva Prinz to whom he now married.

It was painful to read and the separation of this golden couple who raised their daughter Coco while living an artistic and creative life deeply wounded those who had believed in them, and that such a creative, loving relationship was possible.

Moore gets to it in about a dozen paragraphs at the end of this 470 page book.

It is of this kind: “I was falling in love with her . . . I couldn't deny my true feelings . . . we attempted to stay apart . . . but it was to no avail”.

Then he moves on to Sonic Youth's final album, the rather wonderful The Eternal.

End of book.

But what has preceded that cursory coda to a remarkable and often very candid story is like a love letter from a fan to the bands, music, New York milieu and people who influenced him and Sonic Youth.

Moore is the unfeasibly gangly and tall (6'6”) kids from Bethel in Connecticut who loses his father when he's a teenager, discovers punk rock and alternative music and – with his gay friend Harold – makes regular forays into the sleazy and dangerous world of dirty downtown New York to see bands he's read about like Suicide.

He sits in awe of Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine, hangs out on the periphery and is too shy to work his way in. And anyway, he and Harold have to drive back home to Bethel in his VW Beetle.

Eventually he moves to the city and lives a lonely existence of near poverty by himself in cold but cheap apartments, surviving on music as much as food.

Moore writes with passion and a clear-eyed honesty about his short-lived band, the various scenes at Max's Kansas City, CBGBs and numerous other clubs, hangouts, bars and cheap eateries he and other musicians or wannabes frequented.

You can feel the chill, the edginess of the city, the damp clothes, street noise of wheezing trucks and people arguing, and the sometimes searing sounds coming from small stages by people in a small clique which included artists, avant-guitarists, try-hards and junkie misfits.

mooreThrough disappointments but dedication, Moore starts to find his tribe, plays gigs with little success and even smaller audiences, and when he meets Kim Gordon – who he describes as intelligent, wise, caring and a kindred spirit he worships – his life slowly moves upward.

As musical experimentalists working with Glenn Branca and hearing the sounds of Bad Brains, Henry Rollins and West Coast thrash, they start to see the possibilities of a new kind of music which combines art school intellect with noise.

Guitarist Lee Ranaldo enters the picture and fully halfway through these pages filled with names – some famous like Jean-Michel Basquiat, others lost to history – a group named Sonic Youth emerges.

It is a fascinating and finely focused account of someone arriving in New York when the punk explosion of Patti Smith, the Ramones and others had happened previously, but he gets to see the Clash, PiL and X-Ray Spex (funny story there), open for the Fall, go to Europe with Branca, find fellow travellers in the arts and gallery scene and finally achieve what he always envisioned for his band.

After years slugging it out they are signed to Geffen, champion Nirvana and other friends and . . .

Moore writes with great respect and love about Gordon, without whom . . .

There have been many books written about the American alt-rock scene (notably Goodbye 20th Century; Sonic Youth and the Rise of the Alternative Nation) but for an insider's view – and by one prepared to admit to sadness, loneliness, fear and fandom – few are the equal of Sonic Life.

It is not about infidelity, divorce and remarrying.

Sonic Life is a book about the man, the music and the creative, cruel or indifferent world around him which shaped him and Sonic Youth's music.


There is a lot about Sonic Youth at Elsewhere including an archival interview with Thurston Moore. Start here.

SONIC LIFE by THURSTON MOORE Faber paperback. $40

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