Girl Model (2011): A Film Interpretation

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RS: guitar loop, vocals
Tomp: drums
Jessica Daumen: violin

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Russian Talent Audition in Girl Model (2011)

This deeply disturbing film has been described as unflinching. That isn’t entirely true. If filmmakers David Redmon & Ashley Sabin hadn’t used a light touch, leaving it to the viewers to read between the lines; and if they hadn’t repeatedly intervened on a young girl’s behalf, this film would be too horrible to watch. This documentary brings its audience to the edge, where innocence ends and prostitution/pornography begins. This is the world of human trafficking, under the pseudo-legal guise of the modeling & fashion industry. Girl Model is an unforgettable look at the catastrophic consequences of modern global capitalism; boldly documenting a misanthropic world-wide industry, that is hopelessly beyond any nationalist reform measures.

“Top models are not only beautiful & charming, but also rich!”   –Anonymous model-casting emcee

The star and inspiration behind this searing expose’ is Ashley Arbaugh, one of the film’s tragic heroines.  Arbaugh approached filmmakers David Redmon & Ashley Sabin with the idea in 2008, and supplied personal archive footage dating back to her modeling career ‘birth’ in Japan, 1998. Girl Model took extraordinary vision and courage on everyone’s part to make.  In it, Ashley Arbaugh brings the filmmakers up-close-and-personal to several of the girl-modeling industry’s leading figures. The camera points at them, in live settings, and we get to hear the private thoughts of industry veterans and young aspiring models. Hard questions and hard truths are often evaded, deflected, rationalized, and justified; all in the pursuit of money. It is cruel & ugly portrait.

Arbaugh’s personal accounts, both now and in her past, are riveting in their intensity and distorted beauty. Her personal style is subtle elegance and she is fascinating & beautiful, whether it is back in 1998, or in the present. She is afflicted with multiple psychological disorders.  Not coincidentally, she is also an industry-respected expert on beauty.

In the film, Ashley Arbaugh is introduced as a ‘model scout’. She does this to avoid her modeling ‘death’, the point in every model’s career where they are no longer desirable for fashion advertising, due to their age.  As a scout, she now gets to pick the models, giving her a measure of control, which is as much a relief as it is enjoyable to her.

Ashley remembers hating her model ‘birth’ fifteen years earlier, often asking herself such questions as:

“Why am I doing this?”
“When can I go home?”
“What am I really going to do with my life?”

She describes being depressed, some days not even getting out of bed.

Ashley Arbaugh

In the film, she has been contracted by the girl-modeling industry’s biggest entrepreneur Tigran, to deliver beautiful, innocent-looking 13-year old girls to Japan.  As her train rolls through the Siberian night, Ashley admits she has no job description, and that basically she can use any means necessary, with all expenses paid. She does this with the lying promise of a modeling career that pays thousands of U.S. dollars, where success always happens, and nobody ever goes into debt.

Tigran introduces himself as a modern-day biblical Noah, which just happens to be the name of his modeling agency. Tigran claims to envy Arbaugh as she boards the Trans-Siberian Railway to begin her assignment. These young girls are sought out in the poorest & most isolated parts of the world, and will have no chance against Ashley’s experience & smile, along with the industry machinery behind her. Tigran is too successful & too old for the train rides now, but he has fond memories of the back-and-forth motion, the young girls, and the toilet room.

Nadya, from a poor village in Siberia is one girl Ashley picks out. Her apparent new-found success has given her struggling family great hope.  Her father has plans to expand their meagre house, on the earnings Nadya will make as a model in Japan.  Nadya’s mother is unable to express any of her real worries & fears to her daughter, at any point in the film.  Thus, Nadya is lured to Japan unable to speak or understand the language, or even know where she is geographically on a map.  This metaphor of losing oneself, is strikingly drawn out later by the filmmakers.

nadya-vall-movie

In fact there are no modeling jobs available for “fresh faces” such as Nadya, because she has “no experience.”  These young girls, specifically sought out for their innocence of look, are set up for rejection at casting after casting, with reasons such as, “I’m looking for a more cool & stylish type.”
Of course everyone knows that no 13-year old could possibly be “cool & stylish” by mainstream fashion standards. The whole premise of the castings become absurd.

At Tigran’s casting, the girls hold up cards for the video camera that have their age, measurements, and a line for some that reads, “No style”.  He appears to be insidiously laughing at these naive waifs. These photos & videos are widely distributed to those who are interested in thirteen-year old girls.

Ashley Arbaugh discusses the industry-wide obsession with youth, conceding its beautiful qualities, but finishing with this exasperation: “You can’t be young enough!”
She describes looking deep into a young girl’s eyes; to see her innocence, age, and experience.  Ashley’s presence as a woman gives her valuable credibility with the girls, most of whom have heard whispers of corruption in modeling. Her job is reassure and to lie to them. It is the only way she can be successful in her business. It is understood if she doesn’t deliver the girls, she will be replaced with someone who does.

The young girls in the film are flown alone to Tokyo, and intentionally not provided with basic & affordable modern necessities, such as a phone to call home.  The idea of these agencies is to cut the young girls off from their support, meaning their family & friends; so they fall into a state of desperation & hopelessness, which makes them vulnerable to accept prostitution as a career. They are constantly being victimized, driven to tears and emotional breakdowns.  Nadya & her roommate Madlen (also age 13), receive only the barest minimum living assistance from their contracted modeling agency.  They are charged living and transportation expenses, as they are shuffled from casting to casting, almost always leaving without a job.  Nefariously, the agency has “day-to-day” contract clauses that allow them to terminate for: weight gain of 1cm in the chest, waist, and/or hips; sun exposure; swimming; changing hairstyle; etc…

Madlen is introduced, with Nadya observing her on a cell phone speaking to her mother. She is describing how she wasn’t picked up at the airport; not knowing where to go or whom to call.  Nadya eavesdrops with great interest and uneasiness, as she is reminded of what happened to her earlier in the film, when she arrived in Tokyo.  It wasn’t an innocent mistake on the agency’s part; nobody who signs a girl-modeling contract, ever gets picked up at the airport!

Ashley phones Tigran; she’s booked 6-7 girls, out of 30.  She gets a commission on each girl.
Here are a few of her thoughts as the train rolls into the night:

“The business of modeling is not something I’m passionate about.”
“It’s based on nothing.”
“I never like to think of myself as an ex-model.”
“I’m having a hard time remembering my first flight to Japan. I remember walking into my agency and meeting Masako, my booker.” [she then winces and looks away]

The “booker” who receives the models in this film, is introduced as Messiah.  He immediately appears uncomfortable & agitated on camera.  Ashley gets a commission from him, too.
Arbaugh succinctly describes him: “Messiah is 40, and the girls are 13. Messiah owns Switch [Modelling Agency]… He loves models.”
[her face winces to tighten her smile, as she looks away, to mask a painful truth she can’t express]
This truth is: It is the profound mental sickness of wealthy & powerful males around the world that create this black market, to which she is catering.

There is a cutaway, to mass photocopying of Nadya & Madlen pictures w/ info.  The girls have no idea who sees these pictures. Madlen vents her frustration in the car, “[We have] many, many questions, but they don’t answer…Disgusting.”

Rachel, a 23-year old model with 5 years experience, explains the realities of modeling very clearly:

“A lot of the time you don’t know where your pictures go.  They are sold by the agency to a magazine, and the models are kept in the dark, so the agencies don’t have to pay them. You have to really be on top of everything, and at 13-years old she won’t be.  She’ll be like. ‘OMG, I’m going to Japan! I have all these jobs booked! I’ll make all that money each week!’; but they don’t know, they are not getting those jobs”, adding sadly, “They’ll just take advantage of her.”

Ashley in Japan, 1998, at age 18:

“This whole place is hurting me too much. Even if I do 10 jobs in the next two weeks, there won’t be any money for me by the time I cover my expenses!”

These home-video scenes where she films herself, are among the film’s most powerful and haunting sequences.  The viewer is to reasonably presume she is drug-addicted at this point, therefore it becomes necessary to understand why? Perhaps it is because she is an 18-year old girl being overworked, underpaid, and generally exploited; in a business with dehumanized working conditions such as forced prostitution & anorexic weight standards, as the industry norm.

The viewer can see, hear & feel the mental illness & insanity creeping in on her.

“I don’t even like looking at the magazines, I mean I do, but it’s all the same stuff, all the time.”
“Anyone who does it [modeling], must be an idiot”

The sequence then skips ahead to a disturbing discussion she’s having with a female friend:

Friend: “Girl, what happened to you in Tokyo? What’s this ‘twister taking you away?'”
Ashley:  [disturbing Joker-like smile into the camera]
Friend: “Is it really worth it?”
Ashley: [turns her head sideways to the camera, widens her eyes and raises her eyebrows in affirmation]

—————–

Ashley’s favorite spot in her present Connecticut home is in her bathroom, where she has a hidden compartment of chopped-up photographs.  There are also pictures she took of other people, under tables; feet & hand gestures, without their knowledge.  This becomes a parallel to the girl-models, who don’t know where their photos end up.

[Ashley holding horizontally cut-up model photos, trying to match the legs with the bodies again]
“Hey, does that work?.. That works!.. Doesn’t it?.. Oh no, it doesn’t work… Wait…it almost works!…This is the same bathing suit… that fits that… it just doesn’t… if I had it on a tripod…”
What we witness on film, is a breakdown of healthy proportion-recognition and pattern juxtaposition; a common symptom of Anorexia Nervosa.

Ashley Arbaugh 2

Madlen: [crying into the phone to her mother] “I wish I had stayed home!”
Nadya: [crying into the phone to her mother] “I just want to endure this, and get back home!”

Madlen starts eating again, and is soon sent home due to weight gain.  She owes Switch Modelling Agency, thousands of dollars for her expenses.
Nadya convinces herself it’s not so bad, and carries on.  The film ends informing the viewer that she was sent to China & Taiwan, and is still in debt.

—————–

Ashley Tokyo 1999:
“I’m so obsessed over money…A lot of times when I’m modeling, I get so scared…A lot of things that I have done, that are so bad, and I try to play it off like I’m so good…Maybe I’m really not good at all.”

Ashley in the present:
“I really do care about them, but I don’t feel inspired to tell these girls some big truth, about how this amazing business is going to fulfill them, and change their lives forever..”
“[It’s a] very tough business.” [more wincing]

She describes how girl-models are led into prostitution:
“They’re selling their bodies to the camera, so therefore they can rationalize selling themselves to men if they can’t get modeling work.”
“Some models present themselves sexually in their photos. They get placed with modeling agencies, but they get placed in other places too.”
“It’s just normal to be a prostitute…for them…maybe it’s easier than being a model.”
“In a lot of countries, prostitution isn’t a bad thing.”
“I don’t really acknowledge it exists.”

The filmmakers attempt to interview Messiah from the back seat, while he is driving through Tokyo:

Interviewer: If Tigran [Noah] and you [Switch] and Ashley are making money, why aren’t the girls getting paid?
Messiah: We can’t make money from new models. They need more pictures and experience…
Interviewer: So why do you bring them in?
Messiah: Hmmm…the client…they need new pictures. They don’t have enough pictures, right?

Just replace ‘client’ with ‘johns’, and ‘pictures’ with ‘young prostitutes’; and it makes sense.

That is the last we hear from Messiah in the film.

nadyavideo

Nadya’s ‘DVD Casting for Clients’ is briefly shown near the end.  She is dressed in adult clothes and make-up, in a way that can best be described as sick.  Veteran model Rachel’s earlier words seem to linger, “If you use a 13-14 year-old girl, you did not want the shape of a woman, really.”

When Nadya finally finds her picture in a magazine, she’s wearing a large hat over her half her face. Only her mouth is visible.
She softly bemoans, “I can’t see what’s happening.”

Everyone who is making money in this film is a psychological manipulator personality. They all also suffer from powerful addictions, with severe personality disorders.
The rub comes when you ask yourself, “Is this true in other, or possibly all, big industries?”
A serious answer is revolutionary.

girl-model-ashley-arbaugh

Ashley in the present: “I’d be happy to be 4 months pregnant, but this thing is growing inside of me, for no reason.”

“This thing” is a 15-cm fibroid tumor, an ovarian cyst; an ectopic pregnancy she will have surgically removed from her abdomen. We get to see photos, specimen bags, and the incision scar.

Ashley describes it post-operatively as, “a cyst full of hair…the doctor said he had never seen one with so much hair. So disgusting, OMG!; my egg splitting on its own.”

She then affirms, “I want a baby. I have these organs, it’s what I was born to do.”

Instead Ashley’s life only allows her the baby dolls she purchased years ago at a dollar store, which she keeps under her bed.
She has a boy & a girl.
She tells us she had three, but she dissected one.

This film is where beauty & tragedy collide.

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Sonic Youth Retrospective, Part 2

 

1991: The Year Punk Broke


In 1992, Dave Markey released the documentary film, 1991: The Year Punk Broke.  It is a video chronicle of the Sonic Youth/Nirvana two-week European tour in August/September of that year.  It is one of, if not the most authentic video documents in rock music history.  In late 1991, the grunge movement broke through into mainstream radio when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” rocketed to the top of the charts, and their album Nevermind went multi-platinum.  Everyone in the industry scrambled to sign the next underground sensation, and bands like Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction and Pearl Jam soon became huge superstar acts.  The Year Punk Broke is live footage of the grunge wave that crashed through.

As a film, it exhibits many weaknesses.  There is much inane banter throughout, mostly due to the fact that everyone is stoned the whole time.  This makes it impossible for any of them to have any kind of real discussion with anyone who is straight.  People try too hard to be funny, and end up coming across as childish.  Nirvana is the extreme case.  In one scene, Kurt Cobain greets Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon backstage after an enthusiastic Sonic Youth performance.  He starts with a star-struck fan shtick, which comes off lame.  Kim Gordon replies by pretending to stick her finger down her throat.  Cobain then violently opens up and sprays the contents of a champagne bottle to clear the room, then hurls it at the nearest wall.  His mental instability is a recurring theme.

There is a notable lack of hygiene in the film.  Kim Gordon, ever in sunglasses, smiles for the camera to show her teeth, caked with food and plaque.  Her gums are red and swollen, and she doesn’t seem to care as she looks around.  Drummer Steve Shelley’s teeth appear to be in even worse condition. The film’s low point, has to be when Thurston Moore is filmed flushing his excrement.  He exits the bathroom without washing up.

And yet, all those faults and limitations with many others such as the film’s technical aspects can mostly be overlooked, because the music presented in this film is simply amazing.  This documentary captures the energy of the grunge revolution with remarkable accuracy and clarity.  Besides the Sonic Youth/Nirvana headliners, the film features highlight live performances from Dinosaur Jr. (“Freak Scene”, where large audiences in Europe clearly know the song), Gumball (“Pre”), and Babes in Toyland (“Dustcake Boy”).  The film clearly shows how much Nirvana relied on Sonic Youth’s touring experience and leadership.  Sonic Youth are constantly helping the younger, less-experience bands, find their way.  One example is during an MTV interview, Thurston Moore instead of promoting Sonic Youth, introduces Mark Arm from Mudhoney, a Seattle grunge outfit invited to play a few dates on their tour.  Then he directs the camera to “the biggest star in the room” who turns out to be an unknown-at-the-time Courtney Love!  Love ends up being interviewed by MTV, and afterwards she is blur-filmed with a priceless look into Markey’s camera as she pouts, “I want to thank (MTV host) Dave Kendall for making me a star today…Giving me my big break.”  Three years later Courtney Love’s band Hole, would in fact break through to the mainstream.

The film’s first song is “Schizophrenia”, one of Sonic Youth’s most beautiful songs, from Sister (1987).  On the record Kim Gordon sings the second half, but here live, it is Thurston Moore alone.  Their Sister LP was deeply influenced by the novels of Phillip K. Dick, whose vision of the future was bleak, desolate, and burnt out.  Sonic Youth still managed to find beauty in it, even if only in the eyes of another. The songwriting reaches a new level of pop accessibility, and is distinctly rock-oriented by today’s standards. In 1987, the mainstream rock standard was U2 (The Joshua Tree) and REM (Document).

The next scene is one of many featuring Thurston Moore spilling his thoughts into a Mr. Microphone.  He is leaning out of an upper-story window and broadcasting his message to a woman and her child, stopped on a bicycle in the street below. “You are human!….. You are human!” he shouts, “Go forth and thrash.”  The next scene is a close-up of the head and neck of a guitar being played left-handed, warming up into a grunge riff.  It is, of course as the camera widens, Kurt Cobain leading Nirvana into beautifully restrained version of “Negative Creep”, a key track from their debut album, Bleach.

The next time Nirvana is shown on stage, it starts with Cobain repeatedly banging his head into an amplifier, at the beginning of “School”, also from Bleach; and the song ends with him jumping into David Grohl’s drum kit, while he is still playing. Pieces are scattered in all directions, as the crowd enthusiastically cheers. Nirvana will play in front of the largest crowds in the film.

Sonic Youth’s “Teenage Riot” is next, and the live performance is montage-clipped, similar to their official MTV video for the song.  “Teenage Riot” is an ode to J. Mascis, the leader of Dinosaur, Jr., and the first song from Daydream Nation (1988).  As briefly alluded to in Part 1 of this review, this double LP stands among the greatest rock records ever.  Its CD running time is 70:49, and not a second is wasted; from it’s swirling intros, to the No Wave guitar-crunch ending of “Eliminator, Jr.”  The cover/back art are sublime paintings of a burning candle and a flickering candle, by Gerhard Richter, titled Kerse 1983 & Kerse 1982. Its symbolism of a band that always fought and sacrificed to keep their artistic flame alive, cannot be lost on anyone who thinks.  Lee Ranaldo flourishes here, with his best songs “Hey Joni”, “Eric’s Trip”, and “Rain King.”  Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are at their peak also, and Steve Shelley’s drumming is hyperactive and airtight. In total, Daydream Nation is a complete artistic statement released in September of 1988, as George H.W. Bush, the then two-time US vice-president, was about to be elected US president; continuing a trend of social conservatism, economic setbacks for the working class, and military aggression. The message of Daydream Nation is hopeful and defiant, symbolized in the quietly burning candle.  From a revolutionary perspective, it is the most essential rock album of the 1980’s.

Later in the film the Riot Girl movement makes its appearance on stage with Minneapolis’ Babes in Toyland performing “Dustcake Boy” from their debut album Spanking Machine.  Lee Ranaldo would later produce their follow-up, Fontanelle in 1993; and once again, Sonic Youth would be be at, or very near the center of yet another new genre.  Before Sonic Youth, there were very few recognizable women in rock music.  Janis Joplin (overdosed on heroin in 1970), Patti Smith, Joan Jett, and Chrissie Hynde were among the handful of women who were rock, as opposed to pop artists.  Kim Gordon always had a strong enough presence in the band to be an influence for women’s liberation and girl power.  Most Riot Girl bands took Sonic Youth as their starting point.  Top riot girl artists, Bikini Kill re-did one of their best songs, “Tell Me So”, live and turned it into “Thurston Hearts the Who”. The early 1990’s was an explosion of talented women artists, crossing over into the mainstream.  Sinead O’Connor, PJ Harvey, and Liz Phair just to name a few, were all influenced by the underground music of the 1980’s, led by Sonic Youth.

In the film, as Babes in Toyland are earning EVERYONE’S respect; a cutaway finds Kim Gordon disguised in a hat, watching in the front. As a rock band with few pretensions, Sonic Youth always supported the bands who played with them.  More than any other band, Sonic Youth understood what an artist wants most is an attentive audience.  It is the performer saying, then asking, “This is my best, right now.  What do you think?”  Sonic Youth always paid attention, until it was time to look away.

The author of this article can anecdotally verify this, if the reader will allow a self-quote to illustrate:

“In January 1991, it was a long bus ride across town, on a cold January night to see Sonic Youth on their Goo tour, at the UW-Milwaukee ballroom.  They were being supported by Redd Kross and a forgotten Minneapolis hardcore/punk outfit called the Cows, who went on stage shortly after I arrived.  The lead singer was dressed bizarrely, leering and taunting the crowd.  He spent most of his time on the left side of the stage, which I thought was odd.  I stood about 15 feet back, off to the far right, when all of a sudden I noticed Thurston Moore (who is 6’6″) walking through the oblivious crowd with a video camera in his hand.  He slipped past me without acknowledgement, and kept going until he disappeared through an exit.  I had turned to face him the whole time, and shook my head wondering if anyone else had seen this? I started gazing around the ballroom, until I finally met a pair of eyes from across the room, a bit further back.  It was Kim Gordon, looking at me.  I was stunned for a few seconds, and panned back and forth between her and the Cows, who were still playing.  She was in the crowd, watching the opening band.  After a few more seconds, I felt I’d been taught something really important, through action alone.  After a approving nod, which she only half-received as her attention was already drifting back towards the stage, I turned away from her.  She disappeared a few minutes later, after being recognized and approached by others.  How many bands can you name, ever gave their fans experiences like that?”

Nirvana’s “Endless, Nameless” is shown in a short clip, which will allow a brief discussion on the battle that was fought between artists and the music industry over compact disc formatting and presentation.  By the early 1990’s, vinyl LP’s and cassette tapes had virtually disappeared from record stores.  The industry preferred the CD format, which eliminated expensive vinyl packaging, and sold at a higher price, around $12-13 at the time.  LP’s and cassettes were in the $6-8 range. Along the way, there had been skirmishes between artists and the industry concerning creative control over CD track indexing.  In 1988, Prince had released Lovesexy with no index markings to indicate track separation, meaning the only way to skip ahead or back was to manually fast-forward or rewind through the songs.  While some fans complained about this inconvenience, it was an industry decision to wrest final control from the artists over CD track indexing, and in later editions of Lovesexy, the tracks are individually sequenced.

As an incentive to buy the pricier compact discs, bonus tracks were often added to entice fans. Originally (after the first 50,000 copies which had no bonus track), at the end the Nevermind CD, as “Something in the Way” faded into oblivion, unknowing fans thought the album over, but instead the CD paused for ten minutes.  There was no way to fast-forward. If you wanted to hear the song, you had to wait. After ten minutes of silence, like a volcano that oozes lava before it bursts, Nirvana erupted into six minutes of molten grunge violence.  “Endless, Nameless” is largely incomprehensible, as Kurt Cobain screams his vocal cords raw, amid a sea of ultra-loud rock noise.  In many ways it perfectly captures the essential and flawed nature of Nirvana.  Today the CD is programmed with ten minutes of dead space so the listener can manually fast-forward through.

Sonic Youth achieves their “Endless, Nameless” glory in this film, in a song that is not listed in the credits, and is only identified at its very end by Thurston Moore holding a newly purchased Germs bootleg CD in front of his face.  The band is barely identified by visual cues as the song begins, and shortly into it, all figures become indistinguishable.  Soon after, the lights flicker faster and brighter, until the viewer has to look away and shut their eyes, due to the extreme intensity.  The best head position becomes facing down, eyes shut; perfect listening position.  Now listen to their music.

The final two songs from the film deserve a brief mention.  Nirvana’s “Polly”, from Nevermind is one of Kurt Cobain’s most affecting songs.  This author has read many interpretations for this song, but none of them satisfy more than my initial one.  Polly is about a real/imaginary friend, who happens to be a parrot.  He notices and describes various things about this parrot. The reason he spends so much time with his imaginary friend, is because he can no longer relate to actual people.

Sonic Youth’s “Expressway to Yr. Skull”, the final track from EVOL (1986), and one of their greatest anthems, closes the film.  Thurston Moore sings:

We’re gonna kill the California girls
We’re gonna fire the exploding load
Into the milkmaid maidenhead
We’re gonna find the meaning of feeling good
And we’re gonna stay there just as long as we think we should
Mystery Train
Three-way Plane
Expressway to Yr. Skull

The album title, EVOL is love spelled backwards. EVOL is also where drummer Steve Shelley enters, and Sonic Youth completes their sound.  On the vinyl LP, “Expressway to Yr. Skull” (alternately titled, “Sean, Madonna, and Me”) skips into a lock groove at the end, repeating itself until the listener picks up the needle. It is Sonic Youth’s version of infinite love.

In 1990, Sonic Youth signed a major-label deal with Geffen Records, then released Goo (1990), Dirty (1992), and Experimental, Jet Set, Trash, and No Star (1994); all of which are now acknowledged post-punk classics. In 1994 they also released their authorized band biography, Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story; an authentic insider account of their history, written by Alec Foege.  After that it was Washing Machine (1995), and the beginning of what can be best described as Sonic Burnout.  Their vitality and creative spirit had finally been exhausted, and anything after that must be considered as part of their dinosaur period, which continues through today. A band that once proclaimed: Kill Yr. Idols, would have wanted it that way.

Thurston Moore once said, “We’re the New Beatles, only no one knows it.” Unfortunately, he’s still right. The Beatles were an artistic and commercial success for a long period (1962-1970).  Their’s was a era where the industry expected bands to crank out 2-3 record albums a year, not being too concerned with overall album quality. What mattered was having a few hits that could plugged for radio. When the Beatles got off a plane in New York, they brought more hits on one record than anyone before had ever imagined, thus re-defining their era. They did it again with Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), by re-defining once again, what an album was; from its artwork, to its presentation, to its message. Sonic Youth in its 14-year run from 1981-1994, managed to re-define rock music from an underground perspective in many similar ways.  They were shut out because they were artists who refuse to compromise with the industry from the start, and that is really the only important objective difference between Sonic Youth and the Beatles.

In the end, we should judge artists for their triumphs, much more than their failures.  It was their daring spirit and willingness to sacrifice personal gain for their art, that still draws people to Sonic Youth. This band, and the thousands of others from the 1980’s, that most people never got to hear, are the musical embodiment of revolution.  The grunge movement that Sonic Youth helped carry through to the mainstream, was soon dissipated and demoralized because its energy was not harnessed by a revolutionary political force. As a result, today’s independent musical artists face many of the same challenges Sonic Youth met in the 1980’s. Now, college radio is completely monopolized by the major labels, through subsidiaries.  Today, it is the Internet that is likely to be the new media form, that will allow a breakthrough of independent music.  The artists who succeed in this will combine Sonic Youth’s hard-earned lessons, with their own revolutionary spirit.

PS:  On October 14, 2011, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced that they separated after 27 years of marriage.

Sonic Youth is no more.

Thank you forever to: Thurston, Kim, Lee, Steve, Bob & Richard for their timeless music. RS