When Sonic Youth played at Battery Park in New York on July 4, it was more than just a free concert. As music fan Karen Barry Schwarz says, in many ways, it's a wake up call to independence - with the US presidential election drawing close - where the message is "Who are you!" and "Don't be afraid."


So the Sonic Youth concert in Battery Park on the 4th of July was life altering. In what sense, you might ask. Well, in the sense that I have been reminded, once again, about many, many things I believe in and hold dear, at my core, but sometimes forget. And it's always people like Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon who help me to remember.

Kind of like picking up an old diary. Like, wow, I don't even remember writing that. Is that even my handwriting? But you can't stop turning the pages. Because somewhere deep inside of you there is a creaking, a cracking, like an old door opening. A faint echo of recognition. A vague familiarity. Something, something. Somewhere, down there, something resonates. More on that later.

Sonic Youth's 4th of July concert had some spectacular moments, the first one being when they walked out on stage. I mean, how cool is it that Sonic Youth are doing a free concert in New York City on the 4th of July in the first place? It seems to be the very essence of who they are, and what New York city is, if you ask me (and you are asking me, aren't you?).  

It should be noted that there was nary a flag in sight, on stage or in the crowd, even though it was Independence Day. Perhaps the lack of the red, white and blue was due to respect for/support of/solidarity with Thurston's Protest Records/Fuck the Flag project with designer and artist Chris Habib?

In my case it was something much less noble (or controversial, depending on how you look at it), and was simply a case of trying to not embarrass my kids. They were already mortified that we not only brought a picnic basket but also blankets AND chairs (I noticed that most people just came and sat on the grass, sans blanket, how earthy, what is this, California?) But they were low, low chairs, mind you, BEACH chairs, and note to those few of you who brought regular height folding chairs: Shame on you. Very very uncool. Poor form. Don't do that again. Anyway. Back to the flags, or lack thereof. Truth be known and now that I think of it I did have cocktail napkins with little stars and stripes on them, but that was the extent of my political statement/holiday decorating for the event.  

And speaking of cocktails, yes, I do know that there is and always has been a law that forbids public consumption of alcohol, but you know, I mean, come on! We used to drink giant bottles of white wine at all those concerts in Central Park back in the '80s and nary a word was said. At Battery Park on the 4th, we even managed to somehow get in with a bottle of white wine (we're so wild!), but then when we heard that the cops were dead serious about throwing you out if you so much as made a toast, we decided to keep the cork in it, so to speak.  

And, by the way, the attendant police officers were not shy with their threats. When boxes of sparklers were discovered in my bag during the entry search, I was directed to the man in charge and was told on no uncertain terms by him "if you light 'em, you're outta here." (Meanwhile the rest of my family, God bless them, looked at me like I was a felon and immediately disassociated. Her? We've never seen her before in our life!) Anyway. Have no fear, I didn't COMPLETELY lie down and play dead, Dear Reader, I did convince them to let me keep the sparklers. AND the matches. Oh yeah. That's right. Uh huh. I'm still a rebel. (Um, I didn't light them though, because I didn't want to risk getting tossed out. What a wimp.)  

Anyway, in addition to the lack of flags which may or may not have been a political statement of a sort and, in spite of the wrench thrown into my own personal little pyrotechnic plans, this is America, and it was the 4th of July. I was longing for some fireworks. Some sparkle! Some America! Something.  

I did buy a Sonic Youth T-shirt with the 7-04-08 date and a firecracker on it (the design cleverly mimics the "Daydream Nation" album cover with a firecracker in the place of the candle) and Thurston did say "Happy 4th of July" when he first spoke to the crowd, so there was that. And then, more America,
Thurston also made a brief political statement in support of Barack Obama, suggesting that perhaps the most appealing thing about Obama is that he is flexible, which is an interesting and probably correct way to look at things given the speed at which the world as we know it is probably going to be changing in the next decade or so. (Thurston also gave a shout out to the NYPD for keeping things right, and I have to say, it was kind of nice to not be surrounded by drunken idiots at a concert for a change.)

Now I know you know what I am going to say next, right, but I am going to just go ahead and say it anyway, and that is, Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth provided more than enough fireworks the minute the show began (ba-dum-bump). But… they did. Sonic Youth really IS all that. They are rocking, they are rough, they are raw, they are innovative, they are fresh (still). They are very... present. They are there, with you, in the moment, making shit happen RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

Thurston Moore also made a brief political statement in support of Barack Obama, suggesting that perhaps the most appealing thing about Obama is that he is flexible, which is an interesting and probably correct way to look at things given the speed at which the world as we know it is probably going to be changing in the next decade or so.

 It's more than just a performance, with Sonic Youth. Somehow, it seems like you are watching them BE music, rather than perform it. Thurston Moore and his guitar seem so of a piece that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were just born that way, connected, and that they - Thurston and his guitar - actually can't let go of each other. It wouldn't surprise me. They seem tight.

So tight it makes you envious of their intimacy, do you ever feel that way about people? I felt that way about Thurston and his guitar. There's an intimacy there that is compelling. Intense. Desirable. To me, anyway. And it was more than simply thinking that the guitar looked like an appendage to his body the way an Olympic skiier's skis look anything but awkward on his or her feet, no, no, it was more than that. There was a bond.

One of the show's most spectacular moments, I thought, was when Thurston took his guitar and not only held it near the amp to get his signature feedback, but on the amp. Suddenly taking the guitar and turning it vertically, Thurston lunged over to the amp and shoved the guitar right up against it, pushed it right into the amp, so guitar and amp were face to face, touching, no, kissing, and then slowly, slowly he rubbed the guitar up the face of the amp and I swear to you, that guitar was talking, I heard it.

It was beautiful and absurd and obscene and perfect, I could not take my eyes (or ears) off of the spectacle as it unfolded. And I was oddly jealous. I'm not sure of which one. I mean, I'm not sure if I wanted to be Thurston or the guitar at that moment but I'll tell you, I definitely wanted to be one of them.

Thurston Moore did let go of that guitar at one point though, and it was a moment that has assured him a permanent place in my own personal and private Romance Hall Of Fame. (He had earlier introduced his wife and bandmate, Kim Gordon, as "the most beautiful woman in the world," though, so he already had a serious leg up.)

At one point during the show, Kim sort of sauntered (she does saunter so well) over to her husband and said something, unheard by us, since the song was still in full swing. (And, as an aside, the show was appropriately loud, it sounded fantastic, though I would have liked to hear more vocal.) Whatever it was Kim said, Thurston just immediately broke out into a huge grin and threw his arms around her, letting his guitar drop from his hands so that it was just hanging there, swaying from his very tall lanky self like a long and rather large piece of bling, hugging the daylights out of her right then and there, up on stage, somewhere in Battery Park, on the 4th of July, right smack dab in the middle of the song. Aww. But what was going on?

Turns out Kim forgot the lyrics. When she disentangled herself from Thurston, she told us so herself, explaining that she forgot the lyrics and only seemed to be able to remember the last verse. She laughed at Thurston's cries of "just sing that one twice!" and then, finally agreed.

First, though, she explained that she had stolen the song's lyrics from Heart, anyway, and that they didn't mean anything, so it didn't really matter, which got a laugh from the crowd. Who cares what she sings, she is a thrill a minute to listen to and watch and just utterly charming in every way. I think every woman in the audience just wanted to BE her. (Except for my two daughters. They want to be me. Uh...)

So there are a lot things I need to remember, about myself, and was reminded of when I took in all that Sonic Youth is, but I guess I can kind of boil it down to those three, for now. Wake up! Who are you! Don't be afraid. That's it.

Oh, alright, I'll just go ahead and tell you all the romantic stuff, because there was more. (What can I say? I'm a woman. I love this stuff.) Towards the end of the concert, Kim said something we couldn't hear in an offhand way to Thurston, and he gave a litte laugh (was it a scoff?), saying into the microphone "Kim just called me annoying," and then, faster than she or we could tell if he was amused or slightly annoyed himself, he slid across the stage and dropped to his knees in front of her in one fluid movement and proceeded to lean back and rip out the most horrifyingly naked, weirdly melodic, strangely appropriate and bizarrely beautiful piece of musical instensity you have ever heard.

I wasn't sure we should be there. It was like he was saying to Kim "I'm annoying? THIS is annoying! (guitar screams) Or this!" and then... slowly, it turned into something else, something more like "I love you, I'm sorry, Forgive me…" Well. I don't know what he was saying. But trust me. It was something to see. (Whoa. That made me kind of dizzy. I need to sit down. Wait. I am sitting.)

Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are just ubercool, there is no way around it. They are art and poetry in motion. The music they make together with Sonic Youth, the music they ARE together with Sonic Youth, is killer... And it is art. The kind of art that raises questions. All kinds of questions. Public questions. Private questions. Personal questions. The kind of art that is a full assault on all that you are. The kind of art that introduces you to yourself. The kind of art that draws you in and then hits you in the face with compelling thoughts like Wake up! Who are you? Don't be afraid.

So there are a lot things I need to remember, about myself, and was reminded of when I took in all that Sonic Youth is, but I guess I can kind of boil it down to those three, for now. Wake up! Who are you! Don't be afraid. That's it. I guess I could go on and on explaining it but it's kind of one of those things that either you get or you don't, you know? Kind of like music, in general, maybe. It's personal. Avant-garde art pushes the boundaries of its art form and, in turn, makes you reach out with your own hands to inspect your own personal boundaries and push a little, here and there, to see what gives way.  

But don't take my word for it. Go listen to Sonic Youth and see if some of those same questions don't rise up in front of your face, friend. See if you don't start looking around inside your own little box. See if you don't have the same conversation with Thurston. Of course, your conversation might be different. And it probably will be, because what two conversations are ever the same?

I had a long and fascinating conversation with Thurston Moore and his friends in New York City on the 4th of July, and he said to me: Wake up! Who are you? Don't be afraid. And really, you know, when you think about it, what could be more American than that. I should have just lit off the damn sparklers.

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July 22, 2008