Sonic Life: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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From the founding member of Sonic Youth, a passionate memoir tracing the author's life and art—from his teen years as a music obsessive in small-town Connecticut, to the formation of his legendary rock group, to thirty years of creation, experimentation, and wonder
"Downtown scientists rejoice! For Thurston Moore has unearthed the missing links, the sacred texts, the forgotten stories, and the secret maps of the lost golden age. This is history—scuffed, slightly bent, plenty noisy, and indispensable." —Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Underground Railroad and Harlem Shuffle
Thurston Moore moved to Manhattan’s East Village in 1978 with a yearning for music. He wanted to be immersed in downtown New York’s sights and sounds—the feral energy of its nightclubs, the angular roar of its bands, the magnetic personalities within its orbit. But more than anything, he wanted to make music—to create indelible sounds that would move, provoke, and inspire.
His dream came to life in 1981 with the formation of Sonic Youth, a band Moore cofounded with Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo. Sonic Youth became a fixture in New York’s burgeoning No Wave scene—an avant-garde collision of art and sound, poetry and punk. The band would evolve from critical darlings to commercial heavyweights, headlining festivals around the globe while helping introduce listeners to such artists as Nirvana, Hole, and Pavement, and playing alongside such icons as Neil Young and Iggy Pop. Through it all, Moore maintained an unwavering love of music: the new, the unheralded, the challenging, the irresistible.
In the spirit of Just Kids, Sonic Life offers a window into the trajectory of a celebrated artist and a tribute to an era of explosive creativity. It presents a firsthand account of New York in a defining cultural moment, a history of alternative rock as it was birthed and came to dominate airwaves, and a love letter to music, whatever the form. This is a story for anyone who has ever felt touched by sound—who knows the way the right song at the right moment can change the course of a life.
About the Author
THURSTON MOORE is a founding member of Sonic Youth, a band born in New York in 1981 that spent thirty years at the vanguard of alternative rock, influencing and inspiring such acts as Nirvana, Pavement, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, My Bloody Valentine, and Beck. The band’s album Daydream Nation was chosen by the Library of Congress for historical preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2006. Moore is involved in publishing and poetry and teaches at the Summer Writing Workshop at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He divides his time between the USA and England.
Named a Most Anticipated Book of the Fall by Vogue, The Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian
"Both a herculean work of research and a love letter—to Moore’s youth, to underground rock, and to a band that formed in downtown Manhattan in 1981 and went on to change music forever... an exuberantly detailed account... Sonic Life is a big book and it feels like a whole life is poured into it."
“Electrifying… At its most evocative when describing the downtown music scene of the late 1970s and ’80s New York.”
—Mark Yarm, The New York Times
"An edgy valentine to ’80s punk... Few musicians have more indie rock credibility than Thurston Moore... Moore writes self-assuredly and aware but without conceit."
—The San Francisco Chronicle
"Vivid… This memoir finds its room tone when [Moore] meets Kim Gordon… It’s a terrific love story…. He’s a good observer of other people, always a good sign in a memoirist… [An] excellent memoir.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"A rich and strange tableau of the music world . . . Sonic Life roars along with the runaway-freight-train passion of a true believer."
--The Wall Street Journal
"Moore’s nightlife testimony becomes a memorial to the lost petri dish of a downtown scene that made Sonic Youth possible."
--The Washington Post
"The tale of a record collector geek made good, a seeker after new sounds who in turn became a key architect of experimental rock in the two decades that followed. . . an engaging memory piece through a golden era of busted toilets and secondhand smoke that now seems as distant as Montparnasse in the 1920s."
--The Los Angeles Times
"Sonic Life is a deeply researched account of the music and culture that formed Moore’s persona as the godfather of the alt-rock movement."
"[Sonic Life] is perhaps as subversive as Sonic Youth themselves were: the memoir of a well-read, thoughtful music fan, unsaddled by drugs 'n' drink, who came out the other side synapses intact. God bless him (and them) for that."
—Clinton Heylin, Spectator (UK)
"Downtown scientists rejoice! For Thurston Moore has unearthed the missing links, the sacred texts, the forgotten stories, and the secret maps of the lost golden age. This is history—scuffed, slightly bent, plenty noisy, and indispensable."
—Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Underground Railroad and Harlem Shuffle
"I thoroughly enjoyed Thurston Moore's trip down the gauntlet of memory lane, dodging beer bottles and pools of blood as he balances the demands of art and survival. Plus I'm a sucker for anyone who name-checks Saccharine Trust. A raw, rollicking document."
—Nell Zink, author of Avalon and Doxology
“Thurston Moore has always been a great artist, expansive in his knowledge of, and commitment to, new sounds and visions. Now, added to his expert musicianship, are his very real gifts as a memoirist and cultural historian. Filled with wonderful insights about the New York–based cultural landscape that made him, Moore's Sonic Life is essential reading—a moving meditation by a creative force.”
—Hilton Als, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of White Girls
“Sonic Youth was the lodestar of alternative rock, pushing boundaries and providing inspiration to a generation of renegade, free-thinking bands. In this candid memoir, Thurston Moore traverses his journey from ardent fan to revolutionary instigator, sharing his love of transgressive soundscapes and finding ever new guitar tunings for his celebration of song.”
—Lenny Kaye, guitarist, producer, and author Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll
“All rock-n-roll begins in the thrall of fandom. Thurston Moore shares his origin story, a love story like no other, about the ‘mystic deliverance’ of music and art. It is a moving portrait of an artistic life, but it is also an inspiring and astute insider history of New York as the epicenter of so much outsider and subversive culture. Generous, joyful, beautifully written, this book is a heart ripper.”
—Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward and Stone Arabia
“Thurston Moore’s all-embracing memoir Sonic Life works the way Sonic Youth did, with raging appetite for experience, with velocity and nerve, with a total devotion to making art from the resolute stance of starry-eyed fan and unabashed permanent novice. His recall is as amazing as his generosity.”
—Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Motherless Brooklyn
"Were you there? Well this is as close as it gets! Thurston Moore’s compelling and spirited account of the streets, the songs, the clothes, the clubs and the contenders! A sensitive and authentic testimony to Moore’s commitment to life lived through art and music. Beats with the heart of a true artist and mutineer."
—Viv Albertine, author of Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys
"[An] exuberant and widescreen memoir...that details Sonic Youth’s New York City origin story in a fascinatingly fine-grained way—and fans will devour every page… A vivid recollection of a lost world."
“The best kind of music memoir, an act of cultural excavation.”
"Sonic Life is an absolute joy, a memoir populated by misfits and magicians, the dreamers and the demented, full of vivid imagery and fabulous anecdotes, fired by an insatiable appetite for adventure, experiences and new noise. For anyone similarly consumed by music, it offers a fascinating documentation of the genesis and growth of America's alternative rock scene, by one of its key players. It's also an unabashed love letter to New York, in all its messy, chaotic magnificence, and the best book about rock music in the city since Please Kill Me."
“Moore is a rock historian and a brilliant writer. His poetic sentences evoke New York’s East Village from 1980 through 2000 perfectly. We experience East Village diners and delis, historical music venues, tenement buildings, and railroad apartments. He also writes mellifluously about the commitment required to be in a band. He places us right there with him in vans, planes, and trains to experience a Sonic Youth tour. In Sonic Life, Moore not only tells the story of a burgeoning music scene and an original band, but he also transports us to a time when artists lived their lives on their own terms, just like Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone did.”
"Moore, a founding member of Sonic Youth, is among the more creative guitarists (along with bandmate Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon) during a period in rock music filled with folks exploiting sonic possibilities... Moore’s word choice remains measured, thoughtful... a book for the Sonic Youth fan."
"Moore’s meticulous new memoir uses unvarnished, highly readable prose... Pages whiz by with jolting anecdotes."
—Under the Radar
“Fascinating...Moore conjures the grit and atmosphere of 1980s New York with ease.”
—Town & Country
"Sonic Life largely reads like a post-punk coming-of-age story, tracing its protagonist’s journey from scrawny Connecticut fringe kid to New York alt-rock titan... Reading through Sonic Youth’s as-it-happens process made me want to pick up my guitar and create something weird... Sonic Life succeeds in the places where it conjures this effect: of walking through hell alongside someone who has survived it."
“A love letter to to the New York underground music and art scenes of the 1970s and 80s...Moore's prose suggests he could have had an alternative career as one of the few great music journalists to have become a household name.”
“[Moore] writes about music in a breathless gush of hyperbole that proves almost too infectious… Moore’s depiction of pre-gentrification Manhattan’s post-punk bohemia is richly evocative and Sonic Life’s highlight."
—The Guardian (UK)
“Sonic Life will be every alt-rocker's binge-read this winter.”
"A fascinating chronicle of music, art, life on the road—and a vanished New York City."
"A literate, absorbing account... A self-aware, charmingly rough-and-tumble tale of the rock ’n’ roll life."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Vivid... Encyclopedic and capacious, Sonic Life is no less than a history of U.S. underground arts and culture... a prismatic view on the musical democracy that was Sonic Youth."
"Fascinating...Moore conjures the grit and atmosphere of 1980s New York with ease.”
"An expansive autobiography... [Moore is] a patient and methodical storyteller, providing rich context for the artists who shaped and intersected with his career. Moore’s dual perspective as both music industry insider and obsessive fan and collector results in a vibrant piece of cultural history."