Rolling Stone posed six questions to Sonic Youth singer-guitarist/record exec/general cool guy Thurston Moore. He spoke out in favor of noise rock, Yoko Ono and his right to be a snooty music expert in the school cafeteria.
Name one of your earliest examples of rock-star behavior.
The most rock-star thing I did at fourteen would have been defining myself in the school cafeteria. Some kids were obviously into rock music and they made a big deal out of it. They were into Yes and the Allman Brothers. But I was really getting into Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Sparks and Roxy Music. And they thought I was into rock music so I sort of knew what I was talking about sometimes. The fact was I knew a million times more than any of those kids knew about any of those bands from Zeppelin to the Beatles. I knew it all and I was a fucking egghead about it. They’d ask me what kind of music I liked. I would say, “I really like theater rock.” And they just looked at me like I was the spawn of all that is wrong with music. I think that was a rock-star thing to do in a way, just kind of divorcing myself from the cattle.
What was your favorite album when you were fourteen?
Probably Kimono My House by Sparks.
What album have you been digging lately?
It’s this compilation of L.A. hardcore bands called Life Is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself? It features the first generation of hardcore bands like Civil Dismay, Red Kross, Anti, Ill Will, Descendants and Mood of Defiance. I’ve been getting together a book of pictures — photos by David Markie and Jordan Schwartz — of all the house parties and gigs where a lot of those bands played. I guess the Minutemen are on there too, they do a couple of great songs on there, “Shit You Hear at Parties.”
When people come up to you and say, “Hey, I don’t understand noise rock,” what is your response?
That’s not the way to approach any kind of music, to say you don’t understand it. There’s nothing to understand. Any kind of music, it already kind of transcends understanding. It’s a sensual art form. You obviously don’t understand life because noise music, for me, is the noise of life, in a way. It’s so much more akin to the human condition. The human condition is not a song, it’s not an organized composition. This is more the natural music of our lives.
Who’s the coolest famous person you ever met?
It would have to be Kim G! For sure. Believe me, she was unbelievable when I first met her. She wore this sort of hip prison-stripe outfit and flip-up shades on her glasses. She had a ponytail, a little ponytail that was sort of center at the back of her head and I thought, “That’s the coolest fucking person I’ve ever met.” Then she became my girlfriend, which was beyond cool because that never really happened to me before. The funny thing about cool
is that Sonic Youth always gets tagged as like this cool band, and I grew up as a teenager in high school and stuff and I was not the cool kid. It wasn’t because I wanted to be cool, it was because I wanted to get away from the cool. So the fact that now that that kind of theme of un-cool is cool is kind of un-cool as far as I’m concerned.
When do you think you’ll know when it’s time to retire?
I just feel like I’m still going to an apprenticeship here. I feel like I’m getting to a point where I can actually be like the musician I want to be to do the kind of work I want to do. It takes a while, it really does. Take Yoko Ono, who is one of the most radical musicians on the planet. She’s in her seventies. I just did a duet with her in Pittsburgh. People like that to me are my inspirations.
Interview by Kevin O’Donnell, Rolling Stone.