Sonic Youth: The Making Of An Aural Obsessive


Image Source: Entertainment Buddha

I would spend hours spinning the dial and watching the vinyl spin. My life developed in the spaces between the stations and between the grooves.

Something was always playing, in the house or the car, on the radio or on the turntable.

My parent’s record collection was vast and varied: Sinatra, Torme, Judy Collins, Simon & Garfunkle, The Beach Boys, Bach, Barry Manilow, The Carpenters, Elvis, The Monkees. It seems they were always listening to a record, and nearly every childhood memory I have comes with a sonic association.

I set up my record player in my room, and with that my room became a neighborhood bar. I made a neon sign by shining a flashlight through a straw, and the house special was water in Dixie cups. My parents were regulars, and they were treated to regular doses of Bill Haley and the Comets.

The Oldies obsession stuck, because I was a regular listener of WJTO Brunswick. I used to call my favorite DJ, Candy, and ask her to play Mark Dinning’s 1959 hit “Teen Angel.” I love the fact that at five and six years old I was obsessed with a song about a girl being hit by a train. Years of neurosis and couch time would follow, likely due, in part, to this grim special dedication I gave myself.

The first record I bought myself, at the long lost DeOrsey’s Records, was AC/DC: “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You).” It was 1982, and this record nicely supplemented the 45s I was obsessively collecting: Anita Ward “Ring My Bell”, Paul Davis “65 Love Affair”, Greg Khin “The Breakup Song.” My father was kind of pissed at me blowing my money on such trash, but that shimmering copper cover held sway, and my AC/DC obsession was born. Next stop: Ozzy.

The early 80s are a wash of sonic emotion caused by big creamy guitars. This is when I first started noticing guitar players and what they were playing. Elliot Easton’s massive sounding solo on The Cars’ “Since You’re Gone” and the emotive melody of Steve Clark’s solo on Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” just hooked me in: the tone, the feel. I started reading about, and dreaming of playing, Gibson Les Paul’s through a wall of Marshall amps.

And then I started doing…

I have made many suspect life choices, but never a bad sonic choice. I had a good, solid aural foundation, and from that I became an obsessed
listener: a deconstructionist, constantly tearing down songs to hear how and why they work – the composition, the instrumentation, the mix – and a reconstructionist, constantly rebuilding songs into my own interpretations. And it all started in those magical childhood spaces between the stations and the grooves.

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53 comments
  1. clownonfire said:

    Brian,
    The more I read you, the more I think you and I should be Facebook friends, and I don’t care what Jen has to say about this.
    Le Clown

    • But…but her violent temper! Gulp!

      • clownonfire said:

        Brian,
        Fear not. She can’t get to me… No one can in the cold Canadian winter that is our yearly landscape. Let her find my igloo first…
        Le Clown

      • Jesus, man! I’m not worried about YOU!

      • clownonfire said:

        Brian,
        Oh… You mean… Other people don’t just think about Le Clown, all of the time, every passing hours of a day???
        Le Clown

      • Sounds like you need some time with yourself, fun-boy. I’ll just go grab a newspaper…

    • Brian,
      Le Clown is a facebook whore.
      Stacie

    • What happened to my comment? Was I censored for using the word whore?

      • Whaat?!? No, that cracked me up and I responded! Is it not there? (Doing Blackberry drive-by at work)

      • Gone. All we are is dust in the wind. Same old song….just a drop of water in an endless sea.

      • Comment found and restored to it’s whorey glory!

      • Son of a bitch, that’s awesome!

      • For shit-sure!

      • clownonfire said:

        Brian,
        Did you censor my personal assistant? You know what that would mean, don’t you?
        Le Clown

      • Blackberry thumb slipped (I have just been diagnosed with tendinitis, seriously)! I accidentally marked as spam. Sorry!

      • Just to be safe, I will no longer use the word whore on your blog. =)

      • No, my page needs the word WHORE now, more than ever. Carry on, amigo!

      • Technically I’m an amiga. But I speak Spanish as a second language so I’ll let it slide. =)

      • WHORE WHORE WHORE (just doing my part)

      • Thank you, Jen. I know you always have my back in a shiv-like way and I love it. =)

    • I will hunt Brian down like a dog

  2. First album: Paradise Theater, Styx on EIGHT TRACK. Love all the variety on your blog but happiest when you post about the music I love. =)

    • STYX! Yeeeaaaahhhh!

  3. The trolling jester…

  4. I used to listen to my dad’s records – Johnny Rivers, Three Dog Night, and then I fell into a BeeGees obsession for a while. The big hair bands soon replaced all of it, though. :)

    • METAAAALLLL!!!

      • Going to see Van Halen tonight :)

  5. Memories…my parents still play records. If you get a chance Brian will you read the poem I wrote? It is for writers. You fit the bill…

    • Of course! Leaving the office at 1:00, and will read when I get home.

  6. Don’t forget the silent spaces in the songs, like the gaps in the stations, also add a whole lot to the feel.
    Sheila – Saw VH in Indianapolis this year. Great show. Have a great time!

    • Yes and Yes.

  7. Rebecca Booth said:

    You are so talented! I don’t mean to pry but I found this website that might be of interest.

    http://www.publishamerica.com

    Keep up the great work!

    • Awesome tip, thanks!

  8. writerwendyreid said:

    I think I still have a box of records somewhere. We had a turntable up until about 10 years ago so I have no idea what we did with the records. :-)

    • You can get a brand new USB turntable for cheap and rip those old records onto your computer. Find that vinyl!

      • writerwendyreid said:

        USB turntable? Never heard of that. But to be honest, if I really want to hear all those old songs again, why wouldn’t I just download the songs onto my mp3 player?

      • Because vinyl sounds so much better! Digital sampling is crap. No way digital can ever recreate the warmth of vinyl. ;)

      • writerwendyreid said:

        Duh….I had forgotten how much of a music guy you were and I should have realized that you would say that. I, on the other hand, don’t really appreciate hearing the cracking scratches of a record. :-P

      • Man, I LOVE that hiss and pop, but I’m a freak like that. ;)

  9. This is a nice post. Well done!
    Subhan Zein

    • Thanks, man!

  10. You keep digging in deeper and deeper, Brian. I can’t wait for next week. So excited!

    • It’s good to be inspired. *grin*

      • Yay!

  11. Lol the old Digital vs vinyl debate. how I remember those in the old stereo reviews. Brian this may be the first time Ihave gotten over her to read some of your work. I like it.. I am ot sure WHY I like it but I will return. BTW I know where all my vinyl is…. I aven have a small collection of Shelacs. now THOSE are record you handle with care.

    • Great to have you here, my fellow vinyl lover!

  12. So many people love what you write. I feel left between the grooves, but I’m happy here.

    • Whaa? We’re all together between the grooves! And I love it.

  13. WordsFallFromMyEyes said:

    I hit the ‘like’ for your appreciation of ACDC! :) I love them. Of course, I’m sitting in the very town they rocked, original, and can almost still feel the ground vibrating.

    The imagery you gave was great, of you in the car & wherever with music going – your parents’ choice. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Judy Garland – oh Judy Garland!

    Thanks for this slice of your life.
    N’n.
    VodkaWasMyMuse.wordpress.com / WordsFallFromMyEyes.wordpress.com

    • Judy Garland for sure! All good.

      Thanks for dropping in! C’mon back frequently.

  14. Jen & Chadwick: you are my favorite new Degenerates. Carry the whore on.

  15. I’m a vinyl lover. So much more romantic with all the snaps and crackles. I feel the same way about 35 mm film versus digital. It’s warmer and deeper and richer. I’d like nothing more than to return back to that time. Oh wait, then I wouldn’t have my iPad to voice my opinions… Hmmmm……

  16. The eternal conundrum of the aughts, innit? ;)

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