Somewhere in between post-punk and noise rock is a deafening, aggressive, musical monster called Sonic Youth. Constantly straddling the line between somewhat uncomfortable and utterly listenable, the group have been a major influence to a Who’s Who of rock bands—most notably Nirvana. Somehow, in the middle of this hurricane of sound, a romance dared to bud. And over 30 years later, it still resounds with all the force of a feedbacked Marshall stack.
Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida in 1958, but was raised in Bethel, Connecticut— about 70 miles north of New York City. Moore grew up fantasizing about the New York music scene, eventually moving there (in his own censored words) “to (expletive) Patti Smith.” Moore threw himself into the Village life. It was early 1977 and Greenwich Village was crawling with punk and noise gods. Moore would spy heroes like Sid Vicious (just before the end), Richard Hell and John Cale, and try to sort out just how he could get to where they were.
He started by joining an art-rock band called The Coachmen. Through The Coachmen, he met local guitarist Lee Ranaldo, then an art student. Moore met other fellow travelers, as well. One was Stanton Miranda (whom music buffs will remember for her later cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”). Miranda was playing, at the time, in a three-piece band called CKM, which featured a certain young bass player named Kim Gordon.
Moore later recalled, “Kim wore glasses with flip-up shades and had an Australian sheepdog named Egan. She had an off-center ponytail and wore a blue-and-white-striped shirt and pants outfit. She had beautiful eyes and the most beautiful smile and was very intelligent and seemed to have a sensitive/spiritual intellect.”
Moore was smitten, but afraid to make a move.
“She seemed to really like me. I definitely liked her, but was scared, as always, to make a move. I was afraid to kiss her. We walked around a couple of times. One night, it got late and we were eating at Leshko's, and I think she wanted me to ask her over. I only lived up the street. So we parted. She would take the subway, staying at gallery owner Anina Nosei's place. Before she split, she actually touched my arm (!) and said, "See you later."
That touch was enough to cause Moore to summon the nerve to show his feelings for the blonde bassist.
“She moved into a raw railway apartment on Eldridge Street, below Grand Street. The artist Dan?Graham lived upstairs and had acquired the place for her. She invited me over one evening and I played this beat-up guitar she had. I knew the guitar because it belonged to an associate of the Coachmen gang, who left it at Jenny Holzer's loft, where Kim had stayed, and somehow it was passed on to her. All she had was the guitar and a foam-rubber cushion for sleeping. That night was the first time we kissed.”
It was a typical love story from there, except for the fact that the two lovers were also musicians—musicians with a shared sense of amplified guitar fury. Almost immediately, they formed a band, along with powerhouse guitarist Ranaldo. The trio went through a series of names as they plowed their way through the local club circuit (most notably, the Arcadians) before ultimately deciding on Sonic Youth, a mash-up of MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and reggae artists sporting names like Big Youth. By that time, they had added a drummer, Richard Edson, and were a full-out, four-piece musical juggernaut.
In the three decades since their formation, Sonic Youth have released 16 albums, undergone multiple lineup changes, made forays into the mainstream spotlight and even undertook a Berkshire migration. Through it all, Moore and Gordon have remained together at the heart of the band. They married in 1984 and had a daughter, Coco, ten years later. But even with domestic bliss, the duo have never lost the fiery musical intensity that has made Sonic Youth a legend.