Sunday, October 12, 2008

Teenage Riot

The first song on Sonic Youth's 5th LP is called "Teenage Riot."

"This song made the band famous whether they liked it or not." - Byron Coley.

By the end of 1987 and a 12 week tour taking the band across America and back to Europe, the band settled into a nest of extreme prolific production. With the creative genius of Mike Watt on their side, the band churned out a full-length LP filled with noises and cover songs called "Ciccone Youth: The Whitey Album." (This record will not be discussed in this blog.) The interim period between Sister and Daydream Nation was to be one of experimentation and writing. Lee Renaldo made a solo record along with Steve Shelley. The band was certain their next record had to match up with the cyber-punk blast of noise that made up Sister, but had few ideas where to take the music other than, as Thurston says, "extend our jams and our songs." A double LP was in thought and future sight.

"Teenage Riot" represents an era of music that ws bursting to be noticed. By 1988, bands like the Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, and Mudhoney all made their mark on the indie scene blasting through small town after small club. The Europeans seemed to the only ones listening, but the pot was too hot and eventually popped. "Teenage Riot" represents an era before grunge was grunge, J Macsis was a guitar god, and Kurt Cobain was just some guy from Aberdeen. "Teeenage Riot" marks the begininng of that era.

The song depicts some slacker type guitar player as the president of the United States. 1988 was a time of change in America. Ronad Reagan finished his 8 year run as President and George Bush was elected in a landslide win. Life was good and plentiful for the band, there was just one problem....they did not have a label.

The powerful juggernaut known as SST had begun to spin its wheels. Many artists were dropped and some never contacted. When Lee was informed SST would need more time and money to release the as of yet untitled record, Lee and Thurston thought it best to seek other options and try to get the record a national release. The European label ENIGMA that had put the first 4 records out in Europe, opened a American office in New York City called Blast First. Within 6 weeks, Sonic Youth had a deal and a distribution through CBS. The same company that put IRS on the map. This widespread distribution which would make the record available in the USSR, Japan, and Australia for the first time, would eventually lead to a major label deal in 1990.
"Teenage Riot" boasts a new tuning Lee rrefers to as a "split G." Oddly, This tuning was rarely used and this song seems to be the only one on the record.
Debuted in 1988 with all the rest of the tunes. Teenage Riot has enjoyed a good run since. It ws layed to rest from '97-'99 but then resurfaced as either an encore or an opener on the 2000 NYC Ghosts and Flowers tour. Since 2000 the song has been played in and out sets. I managed to see them do this one in '04 in the middle of the set, only to find out it had only been played a handful of times on the tour. At a show in 2003, everyone kept yelling for it and Lee said "we played it last night, it was great!" and launched into Kool Thing....funny.....2007 saw the performace of the entire Daydream Nation album. I was there in Chicago to witness the greatness. It was also the first time I had seen the band begin the song with the "spirit desire" portion, which was rarely done in the past.
video to come...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

White Cross

The last song on the LP Sister is called "White Cross."

"Burning Inside!!!" Thats a strong start to a song that finishes a record. I have always thought, is there truly an end? Sister represents the idea that music is made for the future and not for the present. The "cybe-punk" mentality used through out the entire record gives the album a used and worn out futuristic sound. It is no wonder "White Cross" is the last song on the record.

The lyrics are simple and short, which is often a quality that the band uses, allowing them to explore the music more. It doesn't much lyrical content to make this song work:

Burning inside
I cross myself but if it doesn't help
because i'm not smart enough
i'm digging into white hot
learning not to lie
we cross it out and stay away

the song repeats the first two lines after an enormous build up and breakdown. Making good to end the record but the song kicks back in and has a abrupt ending. That's it? Want more? No noise jam? Thurston makes many references to his catholic upbringing. Others being "Catholic Block" and "Tuff Gnarl." He makes statements about trying to find a sense of security in the lyrics, trying to "cross it out" but its not helping. He's learning "not to lie" or sin but has trouble discerning between what is right and what is wrong, or is there a difference? He chooses in the end to stay away, because he's not smart enough or too young to understand and could possibly return after some experience. Remember, Thurston left home at 17 to find a whole new world...

"White Cross" was debuted in 1984 in a different form and came in and out of setlists in '86. Being one of the shortest songs, it was often extended with a longer jam in the middle. Setlists often list the song as "White Kross." Just like "Kotton Krown" was used with K's. The 2002-03 Murray Street tour saw a return into regular rotation, although the song has been pulled out many many times since the '87 Sonic Sister Tour. 2002-03 setlists spell the song with a "K," and was often used as an opener or secong to "Bull In The Heather." That's a weird transition!