|09.24.2006, 02:23 PM||#1|
children of satan
Join Date: Jun 2006
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'It's a pretty strange town," says the taxi driver, somewhat in the style of Deliverance, heading into North Hampton, Massachusetts. "It's still in the 70s. It's pretty much the only place you'll see hippies and beatniks. They even had a lesbian for mayor." This is where Kim Gordon shares a house with Thurston Moore, her husband and, for almost 25 years, bandmate in Sonic Youth, and their 11-year-old daughter, Coco. It's a villagey town, with a flourishing underground music scene. "A progressive enclave surrounded by redneck hilltowns," is how Gordon describes it and, yes, there is an unusually visible number of lesbians. "We call them the goddesses," says Gordon, smiling. "As in dwellers in utopia."
She's back home snatching a couple of days' rest between tours. Goo, Sonic Youth's 1990 debut for Geffen - their first major label record and their commercial breakthrough - has just been re-released and the band have been on the European festival circuit. A week before seeing her at home, I caught up with Gordon in a less-than-utopian Portakabin backstage at the V festival; despite standing as a bridge between the international avant-garde and the heart of the mainstream, Sonic Youth seem a little out of place in this hyper-corporate environment. Gordon, too, seemed dazed by the multimedia assault of her current workload. "What are we talking about?" she asked. "Which project?"
There's a barrage of them. She had a part in Last Days, Gus Van Sant's recently released movie based in large part on the end of Kurt Cobain's life. (Gordon knew Cobain well: Sonic Youth were instrumental in bringing Nirvana to Geffen.) She has also contributed to Her Noise, an art-and-sound exhibition at the South London Gallery in November. More immediately, she is about to begin a tour with bandmate Jim O'Rourke, "turntablist" DJ Olive and Ikue Mori, formerly of No Wave pioneers DNA, playing an improvised soundtrack to Perfect Partner, a collaborative film project starring Michael Pitt, who plays the Cobain figure in Last Days.
The ideas behind the film have had a long gestation. Originally a painter, Gordon has focused more on visual art in the past few years, and her most recent shows have taken LA as their inspiration. She grew up there; it's a city, she says, where "everything is about being new. They're constantly tearing down anything old, there's just no appreciation for it. I've always been fascinated by that movement to escape history, westward, towards the setting sun."
At art school in the early 1970s, she developed a fascination for car adverts: "They use all that stuff. They're already art: you can't even make art as good as a car ad." For her, car brochures "were like modern landscapes. There'd be cars sitting around and lakes and no people. They were eerily vacant, like modern De Chirico paintings or something. I would paint in the windows, shapes, and take them into my painting teacher, an abstract expressionist - this old guy - and it would piss him off so much, he wanted to fail me. He was so angry because he'd never failed anyone. He called me a fascist for bringing in these things and saying these are my paintings."
Making work for her recent art shows, Gordon remembered those car ads, and her wish to return to them. The result was Perfect Partner, which, Gordon says, is in some ways a modern version of Voltaire's antihero, Candide, in a "faux-Godardian" road movie. Pitt plays a man who "becomes obsessed with these ads, the ad-copy. It's like he believes them and there's something in the past that makes him feel compelled - he doesn't know why - to break out of his nine-to-five existence and head for a place that's a conglomerate of those ads: the beach, basically, the sunset."
The film is a collaboration with an old friend, New York-based video artist Tony Oursler, and film-maker Phil Morrison, who had directed videos for Sonic Youth. "If you're doing a collaboration with people, you can't be overly precious about what it's going to be like," says Gordon. "It's one thing to say: 'Dude, here's a grant. Collaborate!' It's another to work out the logistics of it. At first it was like [Broadway fanfare], 'A musical!' Then I realised the thing had to travel, you have this great fantasy, but how many headaches am I giving myself?" She laughs. "I think it'll be ... entertaining. In some way."
The soundtrack will be "pretty much all improvised - it'll be different every night. I mean, we'll have some kind of a strategy. I like the idea of images being provided for improv music. Yeah, it is kind of scary. Hopefully, it'll work." She pauses. "No, I mean, I'm sure it'll work. I'm excited about it as a big experiment."
Her initial interest in performing was motivated partly by artistic curiosity, partly by a desire to rock. "I was really into Warhol and pop art, and I thought the next step was to actually be working within popular culture." Recent Sonic Youth albums have seen her move from playing bass to lead guitar, an experience she sums up with the words: "I guess I played some tasty licks."
In Last Days, she plays a "sympathetic record executive". "To me," she says of the film, "it's stepping on every possible rock cliche you can think of, but manages not to get trapped by any of it. Rock stars aren't supposed to be banal, and record executives aren't supposed to be sympathetic. It's almost Shakespearean, or Fassbinder-esque melodrama." Musicians, she notes tellingly, are often "like rock star toddlers, looking for mothers and fathers".
Not Sonic Youth, however - who, as well as negotiating the tricky path of releasing comparatively experimental records for a huge corporation, have also formed their own label for more abstract releases. The next album is the last in their current Geffen contract.
"We've been waiting, you know, for them to get rid of us," Gordon laughs. "But nobody wants to be the one to get rid of Sonic Youth."
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