Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth

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Sonic Youth’s distinctive, uncompromising sounds have provided a map for innumerable musicians who followed, from ’90s groundbreakers like Nirvana and Pavement to current faves like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More than perhaps any other act, Sonic Youth has brought “fringe” art to the mainstream, helping spawn an alternative arts scene that prospers to this day: a world of punk rock, underground films and comics, experimental music, conceptual art, contemporary classical compositions, and even fashion....
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Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth

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Sonic Youth’s distinctive, uncompromising sounds have provided a map for innumerable musicians who followed, from ’90s groundbreakers like Nirvana and Pavement to current faves like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More than perhaps any other act, Sonic Youth has brought “fringe” art to the mainstream, helping spawn an alternative arts scene that prospers to this day: a world of punk rock, underground films and comics, experimental music, conceptual art, contemporary classical compositions, and even fashion. In Goodbye 20th Century, David Browne tells the full glorious story of “the Velvet Underground of their generation,” an account based on extensive research, fresh interviews with the band and those who have worked with them (from Glenn Branca and Lydia Lunch to Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze), and unprecedented access to unreleased recordings and documents. This is a richly detailed portrait of an iconic band and the times they helped create.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Anchored by the married couple of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, and propelled by democratically distributed experiments from all four group members, underground music icons Sonic Youth, as chronicled by Browne in his compulsively readable new biography, are a model for how to sustain a career in the burnout-friendly world of rock music. Browne traces each phase of the band's career with the easy, anecdotal grace of an accomplished journalist: he sketches each band member's youth and initiation into the New York music scene, provides accounts of the years of day jobs and thrifty recording sessions, and gives a play-by-play account of the band's courting by labels following the independent success of the album Daydream Nation. The book is most engaging in its middle third, an in-depth account of the band's initial struggles and successes at Geffen, their major label home for the past two decades of their career. While Browne succeeds at capturing the personalities and debates that shape the band's character, at times the author's engagement with the band's actual music is not as incisive or comprehensive as it could be. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Venerable New York guitar abusers Sonic Youth have been the cool older siblings to several generations of the indie/underground rock set for over two decades. Despite reveling in the harsh and free-form edges of musical expression, Sonic Youth have displayed a knack for a pop hook and a Madonnaesque talent for staying on the bleeding edge of new music, taking inspiration from upstart bands while simultaneously mentoring them (Nirvana, most notably). Now two able music journalists have come out with remarkably complete versions of the Sonic Youth story. Browne (Dream Brother: The Lives & Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley) had full, unfettered access to the Youth and confederates and tells a more complete and official version of the band's story. But Chick's scrappy book is a worthy read, too. Writing in the overheated and excitable prose particular to British alternative-music journalists, Chick, who's contributed to MOJO and Plan B, gives a broad, fan's-eye view of Sonic Youth and the various music and art subcultures they have been inspired by and inspired.

So which to choose? It's a somewhat problematic proposition. Each book is thoroughly researched and passionately written, and despite some degree of anecdote duplication, each offers unique, complementary insights. Ideally, larger public and academic libraries with popular music collections should have both titles on hand, as the band has previously been covered extensively only in Alec Foege's premature Confusion Is Next (1994). In many ways, the Youth's work has become more interesting and unpredictable the older they get-putting them in the rarefied company of Neil Young and Tom Waits-anddifferent perspectives on such a varied and lengthy career are essential. However, if it comes down to picking one of two, Goodbye 20th Century is recommended for all public and academic libraries.
—Matthew Moyer

Kirkus Reviews
Alt-rock noise icons of the '80s and '90s receive an exhausting bio. Music scribe Browne (Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley, 2001, etc.) wrestles at unsatisfying length with the music and career of Sonic Youth. Much of the early going is devoted to Connecticut-raised guitarist Thurston Moore's apprenticeship in the '70s New York punk scene and California-bred bassist Kim Gordon's in the L.A. art world. In the East Village, the couple (who would later wed) hooked up with guitarist Lee Ranaldo, whose work with avant-noise axeman Rhys Chatham was mirrored by Moore's tenure with the influential racket-monger Glenn Branca. With first drummer Bob Bert and latter-day skinman Steve Shelley, Sonic Youth created a flurry of forceful, inspired independent-label albums that melded battering detuned guitar work, hardcore punk energy and elusive pop-culture references to make them the darlings of the post-punk indie underground. Following the release of their two-LP 1988 masterwork Daydream Nation, the band began an uneasy but lucrative two-decade stint with major label Geffen Records, whose delusional executives believed their abrasive, experimental music could attain the same immense commercial success as pop-friendly grunge hitmakers Nirvana. Browne's recounting is awash in factoids that swamp the narrative. He is so intent on supplying details, no matter how minuscule or irrelevant, that the forest is swiftly obscured by the multitudinous trees. Judicious editing could have reduced the book's arduous length by a quarter; it could also have cut down on the cliched rock-crit adjective slinging with which Browne attempts to explicate Sonic Youth's complex music. Though theband members and their longtime associates sat for interviews, only Ranaldo is especially self-revelatory; Shelley seems merely petulant, while Moore and Gordon, whose career-long personal and professional relationship is the core of the tale, are extremely guarded. Overwritten yet strangely dispassionate sound and fury, signifying far less than Sonic Youth's ardent, explosive music. Agent: Erin Hosier/The Gernert Company
From the Publisher

"An expressway to the soul of the influential band."—Vanity Fair

"As much a chronicle of the combustion of music and popular culture Sonic Youth helped ignite as it is an earnest portrait of the band and examination of their work…Browne's book will suck you in…He fleshes out the personalities and occasional tensions behind the band’s deadpan image."—Los Angeles Times

"The whole scene in you-are-there detail."—New York Post

"A rollicking, epic biography…Browne cannily opts to tell, in a crisp, novelistic style, the compelling story of the cultural tornado of galleries, rock clubs and unique personalities (Lydia Lunch, Kurt Cobain and Chloë Sevigny, to name a few) Sonic Youth swirled around in, the band's ongoing fight to maintain the purity of their vision, and above all, their shared passion for new ideas and sounds."—Salon

"For almost 30 years, Sonic Youth has been one of the most influential and innovative bands in the rock topography…a much-deserved biography."—Rolling Stone

"He goads the band...into uncharacteristic chattiness."—Village Voice

"[Browne] found a neat narrative to work with, charting the group's determinedly paced journey from under-populated gigs in the arty early-'80s downtown scene to its brush with alt-rock fame in the mid '90s to its current status as an inspiration to a nation of young experimentalists."
Time Out New York

"David Browne's thorough chronicle cuts through the formidable Sonic Youth mystique, not only getting down to the nuts and bolts of this long-running machine but finally locating all the ways that Sonic Youth has altered the course of high culture, low culture, and everything in between."
—Michael Azerrad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991

"Sonic Youth were so outlandishly ahead of the curve that we're only beginning to understand their warped brilliance now, so it's a stroke of good fortune that we get to revisit the fascinating story of SY with David Browne, one of the finest cultural journalists in America. This is a monumental book. It's thorough, riveting, revealing, and exquisitely written, and it takes its place alongside Timothy White's Catch a Fire and David Hajdu's Positively 4th Street as one of the truly essential volumes of pop-music history."&mdashJeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306815157
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 5/26/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

David Browne is the author of Dream Brother: The Lives & Music of Jeff & Tim Buckley. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York, and Spin. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Introduction Grown-up Riot 1

Pt. 1 Rise 9

Pt. 2 Infiltration 199

Pt. 3 Refuge 307

Acknowledgments 397

Index 403

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    Rose Story Chapter 11- Again?! Really!!

    *Rose's heart was broken. She found herself running back to Cream's House. When you got there she just ran in follow by Cocoa and Miles and later her mother, Amy*She told them everything. Cocoa and Miles didn't say anything.*
    Amy- I'm sorry Rose. Sonic is just finding it a little hard to accept it.
    Rose- I guess so.* They all went back outside so they can help with dinner. Tails left to go and get the others. She wasn't amazed when Sonic didn't show up. After dinner she played cature the flag with her friends. While Amy, Tails, and Cream cleaned up. Soon the sky was growing pink and they all had to go home. She saided goodbye to Slasher and the gang and left with her mother, Amy. Amy put her to bed and fell asleep*Rose then started having werid dreams. All about Green Hill. Green Hill didn't seem nice or friendly anymore more dark and evil instead. She head Sonic's cries and woke up with a start.* That's when the shouting happened. Amy ran into her room*
    Amy- Nightmares! At Green Hill! MOVE!!
    Rose- How do you know?*she asked as she got out bed*
    Amy- I'm not exactly sure where they are but that's my best guess. Come on!*They both ran out and meet Knuckles, Rouge, and Slasher near Green Hill*
    Rouge- You heard the shouting too?
    Amy- Yea and I know where it's coming from to.
    Slasher- Green Hill?
    Knuckles- Slasher saids he been having werid dreams about Green Hill. So we went to check it out.
    Amy- Then let's move!*They all took off towards Green Hill. When they got there they saw Shadow, Sonic, Silver, Blaze, and Blackdiamond were fighting nightmares.* They all joined in the fight but it seemed hopeless.
    Shadow- Can't you guys go super?!
    Blackdiamond- Don't you think I would of did that already if I could?!
    Silver- Why can't you? Didn't you and Rose have two chaos emerals?
    Rose- We did but we both left them at Tails's house. We thought it will be safer there then with us.*she saids as she fights off a nightmare*
    Rouge- I'll go get them!
    Amy- What about Sonic? He's faster.
    Silver- As much as you dislike him Amy we need him here. *Rouge flew off leaveing everyone else to fight. Rose noticed that her mother and father were keeping a good distance between them*Sighing she steped closer to her father to see if he will do the same thing to her. He didn't move. When Rose looked back she saw the her father looked like he was sick. She thought it was just her mind but she was wrong*(hey guys made another story at locker res 1. Please read)

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