Almost three decades later, Sonic Youth‘s track, “Kool Thing,” accurately — presciently, even — assays the girders of American society, discovering societal tremors vibrating through our substratum in an increasingly portentous manner. Aurally, an unyielding, underlying dissonance foments existential anxiety; listeners are immediately ushered into an uncomfortable situation. We instinctively distance ourselves from the dissonance, indulging our pampered disdain for discomfort; our heads turn, and we equivocate upwards towards the seemingly saccharine surface.
As we surface, the sweetness of Kim Gordon‘s femininity distracts us from her breathy jiu-jitsu: “…What are you gonna do for me? Are you going to liberate us girls from male, white, corporate, oppression?“. Her privileged “conversation” with Chuck D provides both yin and yang, elevating issues of race, gender, power, economics, and the very foundations of American society. As melody, rhythm, dissonance, and narrative merge symbiotically, we find ourselves engaged in a self-awareness exercise: Gordon takes the first step, her interplay with Chuck D referencing her failure to connect with LL Cool J during a 1989 Spin Magazine interview. At its essence, the track presages our contemporary challenge: even with much in common, the diversity of our American Experiences is real, and monolithic experience quickly calcifies perceptions.
It seems quaint to recall that musicians and authors once led our social conversation, quaint to recall when selling out for shekels was an artistic faux pas of the highest order. But we’ve long avoided difficult national conversations, which, is perhaps why the authentic voice of this 1990 track remains starkly relevant. Our fragmented “Social” conversation now resembles emotionally-propelled thought torpedoes, incoherently speeding through the sea, looking for any other place to explode, if only to provide proof of our respective relevance. Damage be damned…as long as it isn’t in my backyard.
The indictment is long. Kardashian calories bloat our brains. A caricature of an unserious man resides in the White House, professional politicians having proven themselves either inadequate or disinterested in the actualization of public service. We’re tribal and engaged, disaffected and enraged. Me has eclipsed us. The short-term has eviscerated the long-term. Conflict is our news, even when it isn’t news at all. Earnest societal seriousness has been replaced by ephemerality and nihilism, and the American id has shelved its onward stride towards higher ground, selfishly and lazily perfecting avoidance.
I don’t want to have to deal with that…it’s not my problem…it’s your fault, not mine…they’re just whining…I can’t even deal, can’t someone else solve this?
And so it comes to this, to here, to now: 2017’s musicians aspire to become “brands” as the guitars of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo loudly weep, still, 27 years later. “Kool Thing” haunts us anew from our past, an indictment of our present, a warning about our future.
That Sonic Youth remained somewhat niche and always artistic proved over and again: it’s hard to confront uncomfortable truths. It’s hard to leave the comfort zone of a comfortable existence. It’s hard to connect to pain, to connect with vastly varied perspectives on the American Experience. But, despite the promise of a hard road, we must engage the dissonance …. the alternative, collective avoidance of uncomfortable truths, subtle destabilization of societal foundations, whistling Dixie while America burns…they offer this certainty: the end of the melody.