Another of the books we’ll be publishing in the spring is on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. (Which reminds me: how on earth did this batch of books end up being so late-80s? Aside from the Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone albums, these were all released in either 1988 or 89. Weird.) Matthew Stearns is in the midst of writing this Sonic Youth book, anyhow. Here’s a taste:
“Screwdrivers, drumsticks, LP records, rubber bands, screws and small metal objects.”
–Lee Ranaldo, on objects that have been forcibly incorporated into the bodies of his (many) guitars.
The pregnant void awaits you!
Listen close and you’ll hear it in those moments of not-so-silent silence before the music surfaces. It lives in the split-seconds of aural emptiness that teeter on the edge of any album juuuuust after the needle engages the vinyl (or the magnet snuggles up against the tape, or the laserbeam hits the compact disc—though the needle landing on wax seems the most potent of the three mediums) and juuuuust before the start of recorded sound. It also lives in the space between tracks. And its there lingering at the end of an album, after the last notes have dissolved. Like me, you’ve probably seen it hush large roomfuls of people—inciting a pindrop silence similar to that of sacred rituals (group meditation, prayer, public moments-of-silence), focusing the collective attention, and introducing a sense of drama and anticipation. It exists in a kind of liminal state—it is audio, but not music. And yet, depending on the particulars of the record and those listening, it can contain whole fields of emotion, history, evocation, and narrative associated with the music it surrounds. It’s a charming, aggravating paradox: an emptiness with content.
On our most beloved records, these pauses get incorporated into the overall listening experience and become nearly as important as the music itself. Sequences of sizzles and knocks on vinyl, the hiss of a cassette tape, and the rhythmic cadence of the digital spaces between tracks on CDs—all get lodged in our memory as permanently as the songs they bracket. On the albums most familiar to us, during the pauses between tracks, you can literally hear the upcoming song before it starts.
There are entire worlds contained in these vacant spaces of records.
Just before the opening guitar strains emerge on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, we’re given a moment or two to collect ourselves, take a deep breath, and brace for impact. In those first few moments, with the right ears, I swear you can hear all of the following:
1. New York City (including but not limited to: rumbling subways, screeching taxis, various municipal operations in disarray, the distribution and receipt of goods and services both legitimate and criminal, etc).
2. An overboiling frustration with the deathsuck of Reaganism.
3. Both the necessary culmination and regeneration of a rock sound that helped change how rock could sound.
4. Four people about to throw an extended claustrophobic fit.
5. A revision of the role of femininity in rock.
6. The deliberate mapping and construction of a double-album.
7. A rock band about to do something perfect.
8. The sound of a drumstick being forced into the body of a guitar.
9. Both a rejection and an embracement of various manifestations of rock cliché.
10. A whisper and a scream.