"DISAPPEARER"
by SONIC YOUTH

I was sorting out my notes for this week's entry on "Titanium Exposť" when I found myself distracted by a puzzle that's perplexed me for the past 25 years: Lee's tuning for "Disappearer". While Thurston's is revealed as CCEBGD in the May 1991 issue of Guitar Player, a fantastic deep-dive cover story by Joe Gore (read more over at the Gear Guide), Lee's has always been a mystery. Over the years, I had to figure out most of Lee's Goo tunings based off of live recordings (he introduced many new ones for this batch of tunes: EEBBEF#, FFCCAA, GGDFFG and modifications of existing tunings such as GGDDFF, BBEEAA, and EGDDGG) but "Disappearer" was almost never performed live. There's only one known recording, from Chicago on October 20th, 1990, plus the 8-track demo version. The demo is more revealing than the album, with its clean separation of Thurston and Lee's basic tracks, not bogged down by overdubs, but I was only ever able to confirm it had a low E. I tried his various E-based tunings but nothing sounded quite right, including EEEEF#F# which was used for "'Cross the Breeze" (one of the only other songs where Thurston also utilized CCEBGD).

Today I decided to check out the Chicago gig again. After starting their encore with "Cinderella's Big Score" and "My Friend Goo", it seems at first that they might end there, but they acknowledge that there's time for more. Somehow, "Disappearer" is nominated, and there's a few minutes before they actually start it. In this time, Thurston speaks while Lee switches guitars and Kim tunes her bass, and there's a few moments where Lee can be heard playing open strings and harmonics. I don't know how it escaped me before, but after isolating these stray notes I'm 99% positive that Lee's tuning is EEEEG#G# - very close to EEEEF#F#, as mentioned above. I tuned up a guitar and started working on chord shapes, and everything kind of fell into place. So now I had to revisit Thurston's part, which hadn't been touched since a couple of folks took a stab at it circa '98, plus think of some interesting things to say about the song. With apologies to my intended subject this week, this is a much bigger exposť!

"Disappearer" was debuted by Thurston in a solo set he did in mid 1989 - read more in the "Kool Thing" article, which he also premiered that night. That evening, it was a stark, jagged instrumental with only the intro bearing any real resemblance to the finished version. Later that year, Sonic Youth recorded an 8-track demo of the song, with its structure now established. Although it was the second song on the demo, it was titled "Number One" - perhaps a hint at its future single potential? (Perhaps not.)

The band recorded it during sessions for Goo in early 1990, but it wasn't played at any of the March gigs where the rest of the material was debuted. Oddly, "'Cross the Breeze" was still in the set for the first of these shows, so it's not like they were trying to reduce the amount of instruments they were lugging around. As discussed in previous entries, the band toured extensively in 1990, with tapes of most shows circulating, but living up to its name, "Disappearer" just didn't get played. There's a written set list from August 23rd in Portland that has it in the encore, but sadly no recording is available to confirm. This is particularly bizarre since the song was chosen as the second single from Goo, following "Kool Thing" (which was played every damn night). They filmed a video for it while in Toronto, but still didn't play it (though that show was plagued by gear issues and they cut some songs due to curfew, so who knows what was planned). Five nights later in Chicago, it somehow appears in the encore (prefaced by Thurston's confirmation that they only play it "once in a green moon"). Obviously it sounds like unrehearsed garbage, except...no, it doesn't! It sounds fucking great! It sounds like they've been playing it every night! Thurston even gets most of the words right, despite fearing he'd forgotten them beforehand. It's downright puzzling that the song was such a set list rarity, especially since it was a single.

I'm not sure when the single dropped - the VHS promo is dated 11/20/90, so probably around then, though the tour wrapped up on the 21st. Like "Kool Thing", the single contained the song's 8-track demo as a b-side, as well as Neon Boys cover "That's All I Know (Right Now)". Unlike "Kool Thing", an edit of the song was made, trimming the intro and midsection. This was used for the video as well. The various CD versions of "Disappearer" included multiple panels of Raymond Pettibon drawings, matching the Goo artwork (while the "Kool Thing" sleeve featured outtakes from the photo shoot used for the inside of the Goo package). Rather than Pettibon art, the 12" depicted Traci Lords with a halo, which was also used for a tour shirt (the back reproduced a set list from the Neil Young tour).

The video, directed by Todd Haynes (and further edited by Tamra Davis when the Haynes version was deemed too confusing), features the band driving through downtown Toronto (keep an eye out for Sam The Record Man!), dressed in drag-style costumes that surely indicate some kind of narrative that isn't fully explained. Bombarded by signs (a key to the song's theme), they eventually end up at the Dairy Freez for some ice cream. The lyric's "Western Starland" is hinted at through signs and a sliding tile puzzle (another puzzle reads "MEAT DICK", relevance unknown). This footage is interspersed with strobe-light infused scenes of the band, dressed in reflective silver clothing, rocking out in a white room. The Tamra cut was collected on the Goo home video, and both versions can be found on the Corporate Ghost DVD, with separate commentary tracks by Sonic Youth and Todd Haynes.

The Goo interview soundsheet flexi 7" promo offers the following insight on "Disappearer", courtesy of Thurston: "Disappearer is a song about 1975. Patti Smith walking with a tom. New York City. The Bowery. And a UFO flying. Whipping. Hovering. Taking off. Disappearer be coming, going, at the same time. The jack move is visitation. Possessed by a spirit that is only loneliness. Your ghost is a host to the mostess. Get back to New York City. Stir it up. Get in the car. Look in your mirror. Be careful of hitchhikers. Going out west where you long to belong to believe in ghosts. And it's another toast to Izzy. 52nd street to Avenue A, it's every day. I'm learning to say Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey...L.A." Slightly more useful were the liners to Hits Are For Squares, where the song was chosen by actress Portia de Rossi: "'Disappearer' was the second single off Goo and was a lyrical take on how signs - be they commercially manufactured or naturally occurring phenomemona - affect one's psychological perspective."

Last updated in 1998, the existing tab mainly covers Thurston's parts, though both madsun and nollie (two of the people responsible for many of the transcriptions at this site's inception) incorporated some of Lee's parts as well, using CCEBGD. This is a wild tuning, even by sonic standards, mostly because it features the low E tuned all the way up to C, and the G and B strings are switched, which seems odd at first until you realize that the EB and GD pairings both create mini root/fifth chords, and the intro to "'Cross the Breeze" becomes a descending riff rather than bouncing back and forth. The open strings provide so many extra tones that I'm still unsure whether my recalculation of Thurston's part is entirely accurate, but I give madsun and nollie major thanks for laying the groundwork.

Obviously I'm ecstatic to have potentially cracked the code of Lee's tuning, and I think I've got his part nailed down. I initially used the 8-track demo as a foundation, then polished it with the album version as a guide. I'd also worked out Kim's bassline in '98, but have taken another pass at it to round out this tab. I really was not planning on doing this song (yet!) but I was pleasantly surprised by the diversion, and hope to get back on track next week (though it may be Daycember by then...). Thanks for reading, please let me know if you have any comments or corrections!

 


 

"DISAPPEARER"

 

KIM EADG CENTER
THURSTON CCEGBD RIGHT (DEMO: LEFT)
LEE EEEEG#G# LEFT (DEMO: RIGHT)

 

LAYOUT

INTRO - A - B - C - D - E - B - C - D - E - B - F - G - H - I - J - B - C - D - E  


INTRO					00:00-00:07

Thurston:

D---------
G---------
B---*5*---
E---*5*---
C---*5*---
C---*5*---
                 
Lee:

G#--------
G#--------
E---*5*---
E---*5*---
E---*5*---
E---*5*---

Kim is silent.

A SECTION				00:07-00:48

Thurston:

D---1--1---1---------------------1--1---1-----------------------
G---1--1-1-1-1-------------------1--1-1-1-1---------------------
B---1----1---1--1-1-3br-1--1-1-1-1----1---1--1-1-3br-1--1-1-1---  this isn't exact picking
E---1-----------1-1-3br-1--1-1-1-1-----------1-1-3br-1--1-1-1---   just listen for the rhythm
C---------------------------------------------------------------    + timing of the bend on the 3rd fret
C---------------------------------------------------------------

D-------------4-4---4-4-4-4--4--4-4-4--4-4--4-4-4-4---
G-------------4-4---4-4-4-4--4--4-4-4--4-4--4-4-4-4---
B---0--0-0-0--0-0---0-0-0-0--0--0-0-0--0-0--0-0-0-0---  play whole thing twice
E---0--0-0-0--0-0---0-0-0-0--0--0-0-0--0-0--0-0-0-0---
C-----------------------------------------------------
C-----------------------------------------------------
                 
Lee:

G#--4---6br-4---4---6br-4---3-----15---   x 2
G#--4---6br-4---4---6br-4---3-----15---
E---4-----------4-----------0----------  the notes on the E strings are more prominent on the demo
E---4-----------4-----------0----------
E--------------------------------------
E--------------------------------------

Kim:

G--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E---13-13--13-13-13--15-15-15-15--13-13--13-13-13--15-15-15-15--12-12--12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12--

The E note may be an octave up (14th fret of D string).

B SECTION				00:33-00:39

Thurston arpeggiates this chord:

D---0---
G---0---
B---8---
E---8---
C---0---
C---0---
                 
Lee arpeggiates a similar chord:

G#-------------------------
G#--------------11---------
E--------10--------10------ x 4
E-----------8----------8---
E-----8--------------------
E---8----------------------

Kim:

G--------
D--------
A---15---
E--------

C SECTION				00:39-01:05

Thurston:

D--(0)----5----
G---0-----0----		emphasize the middle EB string notes
B---8-----6----
E---8-----6----
C---0----(0)---
C---0----------
                 
Lee:

G#--11-------9------
G#--11-------9------  these are the chord shapes, listen for rhythm
E---10-------8------ 
E----8-------6------
E----8-------6------
E----8-------6------

Kim:

G--------------------------------------------------------
D--------------------------------------------------------
A---15-15-15-15-15-15-15-15------------------------------
E----------------------------13/11\13-13--13-13--13-13---

D SECTION				01:05-01:18

Thurston:

D---0-------5-----
G---0-------0-----  these are the chord shapes, listen for rhythm
B---4-------6-----
E---4-------6-----  again the emphasis is on the middle strings
C--(0)-----(0)----
C-----------------
                 
Lee:

G#--7--------6----
G#--7--------6----  these are the chord shapes, listen for rhythm
E---4--(6)---3----  
E---4--------3----  the 6th fret note is added to the first chord sometimes
E-----------------
E-----------------

Kim:

G---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D----------------------------17-17-17-17-17-17----------------------------17-17-15-15-15-15---
A---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E---11-11-11-11-11-11-11-11----------------------11-11-11-11-11-11-11-11----------------------

E SECTION				01:18-01:37

Thurston:

D---1--1--x-x-1-1-x-3--x-3-3-3-3-0---                ---4---        ---9---
G---1--1--x-x-1-1-x-3--x-3-3-3-3-0--- x 4    end on: ---4---   or:  ---9---
B---1--1--x-x-1-1-x-3--x-3-3-3-3-----                ---0---        ---0---
E---1--1--x-x-1-1-x-3--x-3-3-3-3-----                ---0---        ---0---
C------------------------------------                -------        -------
C------------------------------------                -------        -------

The x mutes are more like quick strums
                 
Lee:

G#--4--4--7-4---6--6-9-9-9-6---4--4--7-4---6--6-9-6-9\11---
G#--4--4--7-4---6--6-9-9-9-6---4--4--7-4---6--6-9-6-9\11---
E---4--4--4-4---6--6-6-6-6-6---4--4--4-4---6--6-6-6-------- play variation x 2 
E---4--4--4-4---6--6-6-6-6-6---4--4--4-4---6--6-6-6--------
E----------------------------------------------------------
E----------------------------------------------------------

end on:

G#---13---
G#---13---
E---------
E---------
E---------
E---------

Kim:

G-------------------------------------- w/ wah         -------------------------------------
D--------------------------------------                ---14--------------------------------
A-------------------------------------- x 4            -------------------------------------
E---13-13--13-13-13-15--15-15--15-15---       end on:  -----------------12---12-12--12-12---

B SECTION				01:38-01:41

This is just a brief transition compared to the first B section.

C SECTION				01:41-01:53

Play twice instead of four times.

D SECTION				01:53-02:06

Lee adds another melody line:

G#--7-------4------6-----
G#--7-------4------6-----
E---4---4-6---6-4--3----- 
E---4---4-6---6-4--3-----
E------------------------
E------------------------

E SECTION				02:06-02:27

B SECTION				02:27-02:29

This is also a short B section.

Lee:

G#---20---
G#---20---
E---------
E---------
E---------
E---------

Kim:

G---17---
D--------
A--------
E--------

F SECTION				02:30-02:49

Thurston:

D---------------13----------------13-------------
G---------13-------13----------------------------
B---------------------13----15-15----13--13-13---
E---13-13----13----------13---------------------- x 2
C------------------------------------------------
C------------------------------------------------

D---------------12-----------------------12------------
G------------------------------------------------------
B---12-12----12----12----12--12-12----12----12----12---
E---------12----------12-----------12----------12------		play whole progression twice
C------------------------------------------------------
C------------------------------------------------------
                 
Lee starts by arpeggiating these shapes:

G#--16-----15---
G#--16-----15---   listen for timing, the bracketed notes can be pulled off to the
E--(15)---(14)--    same note on the other E string
E---13-----12---
E---------------   you can go up to the 18th fret on G# w/ your pinky for either shape
E---------------

Kim:

G----------------------------------------------------------------- x 2
D-------------------------------------------------14----17-17-17--
A-----------------------------------------------------------------
E---13--13-13-13-15-15-15--13--13-13-13-15-15-15--12--------------

G SECTION				02:49-03:07

Thurston:

D-----1---------1----------------1---
G-----1-x-x-x---1--x-x-----------1---
B---1-1-x-x-x-1-1--x-x-3br--1--1-1--- x 2
E---1-1-x-x-x-1-1--x-x-3br--1--1-1---
C------------------------------------
C------------------------------------

D---------------12-----------------------12------------
G-------------------------------------------12---------
B---0-----12-------12----12--------12-------------12---   	play whole progression twice
E---0--12----12-------12-----12-12----12-------12------
C------------------------------------------------------
C------------------------------------------------------
                 
Lee:

G#---16----16------------------------16----16-----------------13b---  bend whole step up to B
G#---16----16------------------------16----16-----------------13b---
E-------------16-15-13---15-13-15\16----------16-15-13--15-13------- x 2
E-------------16-15-13---15-13-15\16----------16-15-13--15-13-------
E-------------------------------------------------------------------
E-------------------------------------------------------------------

Kim:

G------------------------------------------------------------------
D-------------------------------------------------14----17-17-17---
A------------------------------------------------------------------ x 2
E---13--13-13-13-15-15-15--13--13-13-13-15-15-15--12---------------

H SECTION				03:08-03:19

Thurston:

D---------------------------------------------------------------------
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
B-----------------------------------0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0---
E-----------------------------------0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0--- x 2
C---5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-7-7-7-7-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4---
C---5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-7-7-7-7-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-4---
                 
Lee:

G#--16----15----
G#--16----15----  these are the chord shapes, listen for rhythm
E---13----12----
E---13----12----  on the demo he lets the low E bleed thru, not as clear on the record
E---13----12----
E---(0)---(0)---

Kim:

G--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x 2
A--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E---13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-11-11-11-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12---

I SECTION				03:20-03:42

Thurston trem picks:

D--------------------
G--------------------		on the demo he adds 12 & 16th frets on the G string
B----/--------/------  x 2
E----/--------/------
C---12-------16------
C---12-------16------

D--------------------
G--------------------		on the demo he might be adding more notes on the GD strings
B----/--------/------  x 2
E----/--------/------
C----0--------4------  add open strings (EB) while trem picking
C----0--------4------
                 
Lee:

G#--8--10-11--10-11---12--14-15--14-15/---
G#--8--10-11--10-11---12--14-15--14-15/---
E---8-----------------12------------------ x 4
E---8-----------------12------------------ 
E-----------------------------------------
E-----------------------------------------

Kim:

G--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x 4
A--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E---13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-13-11-11-11-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12---

J SECTION				03:43-03:49

Thurston hammers this chord:

D-------
G-------
B---0---	on the demo he makes a full 440044 chord
E---0---
C---4---
C---4---
                 
Lee arpeggiates this chord:

G#------
G#--11--   this is the B section chord shape with the low Es open instead of 8th fret
E---10--
E---8---   the arpeggiation pattern is the same as B section
E---0---
E---0---

On the demo he still goes between the 13th and 12th frets like the H section, with
more emphasis on the open low Es.

Kim:

G--------------------------------------------
D--------------------------------------------
A--------------------------------------------
E---12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12-12--- etc

B SECTION				03:49-04:01

C SECTION				04:01-04:14

Play twice instead of four times.

D SECTION				04:14-04:26

E SECTION				04:26-05:08

text + tab by Chris Lawrence

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