Evolving from Male Bonding to Red Milk to the Arcadians and finally Sonic Youth, the line-up of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ann DeMarinis, and a drummer (Dave Keay followed by Richard Edson) was about to change. After the band's performance at Noise Fest in June of 1981, both Edson and DeMarinis (who had provided keyboards, guitar, and vocals) announced their departure. Kim and Thurston immediately enlisted experimental artist Lee Ranaldo, known for his work with the Flucts and Glenn Branca. He'd performed with Branca at Noise Fest, and in a duo with David Linton. Thurston had curated the multi-day event to bring together like-minded musicians and when the festival was over the trio of Kim, Thurston, and Lee stayed behind at White Columns to test that potential compatibility. The original line-up of Sonic Youth had played four unique songs during their Noise Fest set - it is unknown if any other pre-Lee compositions by the Arcadians/etc exist. (A Thurston quote troubles me: "So we had a band. We had different names: The Arcadians, Red Milk. I have tapes of the stuff, man!" I'm troubled because I can't fathom any situation in which these tapes will ever be heard!) Regardless, when the reconfigured band appeared at the Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery a month later for its first public appearance with Lee, they already had two new pieces: "Loud and Soft" and "She Is Not Alone".

"Loud and Soft" would be slightly recomposed and retitled "The Good and the Bad". It featured Lee and Kim on guitar with Thurston on bass, leading the instrumental from jagged funk to a rising drone section (where Lee can actually be heard reciting a few quiet lines of poetry - a better take on this appears on Sonic Death and the eventual Sonic Youth deluxe reissue). There's a rumor that Barbara Ess played bongos at this gig, but I don't hear anything to confirm that. "She Is Not Alone" is another story...

Thurston's tape collage Sonic Death, which compiles live sources from '81 to '83, opens with a lengthy portion of "Loud and Soft". It was seemingly a version of "The Good and The Bad", but rather than going back into the funky main riff, it ended after the midsection. It was interesting that Lee could be heard speaking, as the track is an instrumental in its final form on Sonic Youth. I worship Sonic Death, and though it's mostly short snippets (many of which cut off as soon as a song is starting!), I love how it opens with five minutes that are slow building, long and haunting. Following this is the sound of instruments being detuned, before a simple tribal beat and primitive bassline lay the foundation for two minutes of drumstick+guitar abuse. Finally, Thurston begins singing: "She is not alone..." and we're suddenly spliced out, into the familiar pulsating beat of the real "She Is Not Alone", which also ends after one line of vocal (of course!).

During my countless hours of Sonic Death devotion, I often wondered what was going on with the second track - it wasn't "She Is Not Alone", but why did Thurston sing that? Curiously, original Sonic bio Confusion Is Next contains the following passage: "One unrecorded song written soon after the band's first sessions, called "Destroyer," required Lee and Thurston to detune all their guitar strings - i.e., to loosen the strings until they hang limp and emitted bass notes so low they were hardly distinguishable from each other." That description sounded pretty close to the second fragment on Sonic Death, but again - why would he sing "she is not alone"? Elsewhere in the book, it's mentioned that there was an earlier arrangement of "She Is Not Alone" involving a drill and a wah pedal, which offered another clue...

Over a decade after the book's publication, some answers arrived with the long-awaited Sonic Youth reissue in 2006. In addition to the 5-track mini-LP, their September 18th, 1981 performance at the Music For Millions festival is included - a fascinating 7-song set with Edson back on drums. They play all tracks from the self-titled release, as well as "Cosmopolitan Girl", a holdover from Kim's previous band CKM, and the mythical "Destroyer". However, something was off - the song labelled "Destroyer" was an upbeat, bass-driven instrumental accented by reverb drenched mutes and harmonics. The next track made my ears perk up - the moment it started, I realized it was the exact "fake She Is Not Alone" segment used on Sonic Death (truth be told, I'd already experienced this moment of shock twice during this set - fragments of "Loud and Soft" and "The Burning Spear" both appear on Sonic Death). This time it did not come to a sudden stop after the first line, and it was clear that this was simply an early arrangement of the song that they completely retooled within the next month or two before going into the studio at Radio City Music Hall to make the self-titled record in December.

The new version of "She Is Not Alone" featured a much more complicated beat held down by a very consistent bassline from Kim, which changes only once in the entire song. Thurston's part is now played entirely with a drumstick under the strings, picking out a series of plinky riffs that are actually quite expressive. Lee applies standard tuned harmonics but mostly falls into a muted groove with occasional stabs at other notes. The tempo never changes, slowly building to a single verse which ends the song, consisting solely of the lines "She is not alone, she is not alone today" repeated. Inside the space are all sorts of ambient sounds - from the rather obvious metal pipes being dropped to the possibly-just-in-my-head crowd noise that appears at roughly the same time..

Aside from the Just Above Midtown/Downtown Gallery performance in July (presumably the song's debut, where it was even looser and had less concise, freeform lyrics) and the two versions captured on Sonic Death, there are no circulating tapes with live versions of this song. Sadly, very few recordings from this era are available, but based on instrumental configuration I can usually deduce what song the band is playing in any picture circa '81-'83. There are several pictures where I believe the band is playing "She Is Not Alone" in 1982...

When Sonic Death was reissued as a 2-track CD in 1988 (one for each side of the tape), it came with the additional bonus of a dozen or so photos from that era, mostly live. With much effort, I was able to identify the source for most of these photos (as well as the source for many of the clips in the audio collage itself!). I spent hooooours researching these pictures (and many others from this era) for a long-promised article on the band's 1981-1983 history, searching for any clues I could find to try to piece together a chronology. My plans to share this were foiled by a number of factors, mostly my own never-ending procrastination and inability to accept things as finished, but I'm hoping to parcel out bits of info via these "Song of the Week" entries...

The first pictures to share are interesting (one is from Sonic Death, one is from the same gig on SY's instagram). Kim is playing the black bass commonly used by the Swans (prior to the Ovation she used for most of the 80s, there were two Sonic Youth basses - this black Les Paul style, and a white Musicmaster - both were also used for Swans shows, particularly when Thurston sat in on bass), Lee is playing his f-hole Telecaster Deluxe, and though you can't quite see it I assure you Thurston is playing his Harmony Bobkat, the only guitar he used in SY in early '82. You can also see a drumstick with duct tape sticking out, presumably wedged under the strings. He's got both hands at the mic, a clue that he is singing (of course, he sang most of the songs in that first batch of tunes). In all of those early songs, with very few exceptions, the vocalist did not play their instrument while singing.

The venue is certainly Danceteria, which reopened in February 1982. It's been noted that SY played the opening weekend, which this poster confirms as February 6th. I'd spotted pics from another Danceteria set in the Sonic Death liners, this time with Mike Gira on bass. Further research led to more pics from this show, attributed to May 1982 (by the way, if I haven't made it clear how grateful I am to Catherine Ceresole for bringing her camera to every Sonic Youth gig in the early 80s, I would essentially have nothing to talk about without her photographs). In these pictures, you can see that the green column has been painted a darker colour, suggesting that the previous pics were taken earlier. Multiple photo sets from other Danceteria shows exist, and all have the dark column except the ones above.

Although Richard Edson's final shows are often cited as February '82 at the Mudd Club, pictures from a June 18th Danceteria show capture him behind the kit. I have a feeling he may have floated in and out of the band at this point while they tried other drummers before hiring Bob Bert later in the year. In addition to a picture where they're likely playing "The Good and the Bad" (Lee and Kim on guitar, Thurston playing the white Musicmaster bass), there is a shot that matches the "She Is Not Alone" stance - Kim is once again playing a note high up on the low E string (the verse settles into a G# at the 16th fret), Thurston is wiggling a drumstick under the strings, and Lee is on his Tele right around the middle of the fretboard. (I'm surprised to see the sunburst Kent behind him in the cleaned up pic from SY's instagram, but that's another story for another day...). As a side note, does anyone know where the captioned version of this picture was published? It doesn't match any of the SY bios that I know of, but I have a number of similar pix from the earliest days of this website and I'd love to get them rescanned in better quality...

Bob Bert and Richard Edson each had a considerably different approach to drumming, so new material was composed to suit Bob's style, like "Making the Nature Scene". While he mastered "The Burning Spear" and eventually even "The Good and the Bad", there's no evidence that the band attempted "She Is Not Alone" with him, and the song was abandoned after a year, setting a trend that they would rarely break throughout the 80s. New material was considered most important, and after making a record and touring it for a year, they would focus on the next batch of songs and leave most of the old ones behind. It wasn't until the 90s that they'd start revisiting older songs with more frequency, and indeed the first gig of 1999 marked the longest stretch between performances of any SY song to date, when the band opened their February '99 European tour in Strasbourg, France with "She Is Not Alone".

They had spent the previous year touring extensively for A Thousand Leaves and for the first time all decade were eschewing old material in favor of their sprawling new compositions, offering only "Shadow of a Doubt" or "Death Valley '69" as a taste of vintage Youth. So, when the opening show began with a track from the band's first album, which hadn't been played in 17 years, it was clear that things had changed. Indeed, while "French Tickler" "Sunday" "Female Mechanic Now On Duty" and "Karen Koltrane" were all representing A Thousand Leaves, the rest of the set was a glorious celebration of their brilliant past (and a neat cover of DNA's "Blonde Redhead" that was only played that month). They mixed in other tracks, new and old, as the tour progressed. It was an exciting feeling as a fan that maybe they'd tour this type of set for a while, and then that summer's gear theft seemed to accelerate the process of writing new material. I love NYC Ghosts & Flowers but that February '99 tour was really something special - though nobody could have known, it was their last tour as a quartet, and the last with their original gear. While they did some less conventional gigs afterwards - a one-off SYR4 set in April, a fascinating mostly instrumental set in June - the brief west coast tour in July had phenomenal potential. The first night in Berkeley had an interesting design that Lee even acknowledges during the show. Opening with "She Is Not Alone" followed by "Schizophrenia" "Bull in the Heather" "Starfield Road" and "Eric's Trip" was part one, five older songs to get things started. Then came "French Tickler" "The Ineffable Me" and "Karen Koltrane" from the current LP. Next were two brand new songs, later titled "Free City Rhymes" and "Renegade Princess". Looping back to GABDEG classics "Sugar Kane" and "Teenage Riot" to close the set, and an encore that returns to the early 80s where the set began ("Shadow of a Doubt" "Tom Violence" and "Brother James"). Their next set list had a different logic: it was structured around the fewest tuning changes, since they were using borrowed instruments, having had all of their gear stolen in the middle of the night.


live @ bumbershoot festival, seattle, 09/05/99
(sorry about the whistler)

A couple of months later at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, Sonic Youth widely premiered their brand new material. They performed exactly one old song: "She Is Not Alone" (This may also be my favorite performance of the song, though I'm biased as I was there in the front row watching it all unfold.) The song would disappear for a little bit, resurfacing at a pair of oddball gigs in Ystad, Sweden in October 2000 - the band arrived for a week of curated nightly events unaware they'd be performing as the quintet as well, cobbling together a set that flowed with the one guitar each of them had brought. Both nights opened with "She Is Not Alone", now featuring Jim, but now instead of B, Kim was playing an F# note for the duration of the song.

In 2001 the song became a set list fixture, appearing at 20 out of 25 shows. After the February tour of Japan, they started playing the song in G instead of F#. In June, they put together a belated tour to celebrate Goodbye 20th Century, aka SYR4, which was released at the end of 1999. In addition to material from that record, the band played 3 original compositions to end each evening: "Side2Side" and "NYC Ghosts & Flowers" from the newest LP, and "She Is Not Alone". A fantastic recording of the opening night in Paris is available via bandcamp, and in addition to tour guest William Winant, SY are joined by Richard Edson himself to perform "She Is Not Alone"! Per Thurston: "He helped write this song in 1981 in his Lower East Side basement." This is one of the greatest versions of the song, eight minutes of hypnotic groove carried by multiple percussionists, with the addition of Jim's pedal-driven noisescape bubbling beneath Lee's dreamy leads. At this point, I think Lee was using GGDDGG w/ no capo - even though set lists from this era indicate he'd use a Tele or Travis in F#F#GGAA I think this was a holdover from when the song was played in F#. Hell, some sets just say "any"! The harmonics certainly suggest GDG rather than F#GA...

I don't think it was intentional, but the timing of "She Is Not Alone" returning in early '99 when the band was beginning to work on the Goodbye 20th Century project always made me wonder if they could have included the song on SYR4 as an interpretation of themselves, as pretentious as that may seem. Likewise, when they included it amongst all of the embryonic NYC Ghosts & Flowers material at the Bumbershoot performance, part of me felt it could have been re-recorded for that album (to be fair, my tape of the show made the new material sound like Confusion is Sex era compositions, and I was a little startled when the actual record came out).

The song's presence in set lists dropped dramatically after 2001, generally opening the set on the increasingly rare occasion it was played. Although, two and a half versions were officially released from this era: the Live From Bonnaroo 2003 compilation includes "She Is Not Alone" from their June 13th, 2003 appearance, and the Eternal pre-order bonus live set Live At Battery Park '08 opens with another great version of the song from the July 4th, 2008 NYC set. Now with Mark on bass, he's playing a low G while Kim plays an octave higher.

(The half performance appears in the bonus feature of the Corporate Ghost DVD - some footage from the band's encore of "She Is Not Alone" at the March 17th, 2002 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in LA is included. I was front row for that too, but I prefer the '99 arrangement - key of B seemed easier for Thurston to sing than the F#/G flip-flopping of later years.)

The lone 2004 performance is in F# rather than G. As mentioned, 2008 was back to G with double-bass, and the final performance of the song on June 30th, 2009 in Toronto, was once again in F#. I'd be curious to know what dictated these changes...

So, that's a lot of backstory to tab a song that's essentially one note, but no other song in their catalog has quite the same history. The tab below is for the album version, I've given a rough attempt at Thurston's various picking patterns but the one that seems to matter most in the later versions of the song is figure #5. Please let me know if you have any thoughts!





w/ drumstick




A SECTION			00:00-01:28

Thurston may have used standard tuning on the original recording, but he typically
used F#F#F#F#EB for live versions when they started playing it again in 1999. He places
a drumstick under the strings between the neck pickup and neck joint, and uses his left
hand to push on the strings on the fretboard side of the drumstick to slightly modulate
while he plays, giving the notes a plinky shimmer. You can also recreate this effect
by tweaking the drumstick slightly while you're picking.

I'm just going to list all of Thurston's picking patterns regardless of "section". The only
real difference between section A and B is when Kim changes her bassline. Thurston is in
the middle of pattern #5 when this happens.

Thurston figure #1 (00:00-00:35)

G---X-X-X-X-------------X-X-X-X--------  x 3

Thurston figure #2 (00:35-00:44)


Thurston figure #3 (00:44-01:04)


Thurston figure #4 (01:04-01:12)


Thurston figure #5 (01:13-01:56)

B------X--------------X-----X--------X---X--------------X-------------- repeat picking pattern simile

Thurston figure #6 (01:57-02:09)


Lee's verse riff:

G------------------   lee starts by playing harmonic accents like this
D------------------    around 00:15
E---<12>-----<7>---     sometimes the low E gets played

A minute in he starts playing this:

A---7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-- etc   palm mute note

Kim's riff:

D----------------------------------   you can play note or harmonic @ 12th fret
A----------------------------------      you can also play 16th fret harmonic @ 9th fret

B SECTION			01:28-04:03

Thurston continues picking figure #5 and eventually #6. He does not play while he sings.
Lee switches slightly:

A---7-7-7-7-5-5--5\7--7-7-7-7-7-7--  etc .. keep palm muting w/ occasional slides from the D note

When Thurston starts singing, he adds another accent:

E--------------------------------------------------------------  these are all approximate lengths
B--------------------------------------------------------------   you can listen to hear when he changes
D---------------------7-9--------------------------------------  after a while he stops playing the notes
A---7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-5-5--5\7--7-7-7-7-7--    on the D string

Kim plays:

E---16-x-x-16-x-x-16-x-x-16-x-x-- the x's are muted harmonics around the 15th fret

When they revived the song in 1999, they gave it a slight rearrangement: 

- Kim now played a single B note during the entire song. 
- Thurston used F#F#F#F#EB w/ a drumstick. He mostly plays "figure #5" or random strikes.
- Lee changed his part considerably, playing leads in GGDDGG w/ a capo at the 4th fret, so BBF#F#BB.

Instead of ending after a single verse, they doubled the song's structure, playing another lengthy 
instrumental and verse to conclude the song. The second part is usually aggressively noisy, with Lee 
utilizing his ring modulator and Thurston really digging in with the drumstick. I love this version 
of the song!

In 2000 and early 2001, they changed the key to F#. In April 2001 it was shifted to G, and stayed
that way for a while, flip-flopping back and forth from F# to G during its few appearances in the set
between 2002 and 2009.

At some point, Lee switched his tuning to F#F#GGAA, probably when the song is played in F#. 
When it's played in G, he may be using GGDDGG with no capo.

1999 bassline:


Lee mostly plays harmonics at the 5th or 12th frets, or just open strings. There is one
shuffle he does (remember CAPO @ 4th FRET):


vocal melody:


F# bassline:


G bassline:

A---17-----17-----17-----17------ (this string not always played)

text + tab by Chris Lawrence

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