Sonic Youth -‘Goo’ (Geffen, 1990)
I first heard this when I was about fourteen, about six months after it was released. I’d never heard a note of their music, but an older friend played it to me one night. It was played with a variety of other stuff – Jane’s Addiction, The Cure, bits of Pink Floyd that weren’t ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ and impacted on me quite sufficiently. I’d got the Sex Pistols and The Clash albums a month before; within a month I’d hear Disintegration and The Queen Is Dead.
Did I know the word ‘alternative’ as in ‘alt-rock’ then? I must have done, or at least, was becoming aware of the concept. I knew what ‘indie’ meant -and this was in a pre-britpop sense. This wasn’t jangling guitar music -I’d seen The House Of Love on Top of the Pops doing ‘Shine On,’ had a taped copy of The Sunday’s Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – nor was this heavy metal either. This was a pre-nevermind world and I was ripe for having my mind opened.
I bought a copy – on cassette, since replaced with a second-hand vinyl edition a few years later, a couple of months later. Many people have raved about different aspects of the album -contributions from J.Mascis and Chuck D (both of whom I was only vaguely aware of, at the time), songs like ‘Kool Thing’ and ‘Tunic.’ The song that blew my mind was the opener ‘Dirty Boots.’ I didn’t have a clue what they were on about – I may naively have assumed that ‘Jelly roll’ was some sort of desert -ha! but boy, was it a fabulous noise. ‘My friend Goo’ -‘My friend Goo says hey you!’ another great track that opened side two. ‘
Perhaps what also appealed was the parent-baiting that lay therein, or the potential for it. ‘Mary-Christ’ as a title alone sounded faintly blasphemous in an oddly alluring way (useful when your dad’s a minister, you’re thought of as a geek and to top it off you sing in the school choir and dare to enjoy it). Then, of course, was the cover. ‘I stole my sister’s boyfriend. It was all whirlwind, heat and flash. Within a week we killed my parents and hit the road.’ Did I wish my parents dead? Of course I didn’t, but when you’re stuck in England’s smallest county, NME is your lifeline to the world (no internet then, remember) even cartoon nihilism helps numb the pain.
It was also a sense of the pre-internet way in which music was often found out about by word of mouth. You might read about things in NME (or Melody Maker, for that matter), but at this time Radio 1 was hopelessly conservative musically, and would never have played this on daytime radio. To a young adolescent mind, hellbent on reinvention (and desperately craving acceptance), this music seemed a way through. To be seen to be listening to music outside of the Top 40 added an air of difference to you.
Within a very short space of time, ‘alternative’ music and the way of life became more obvious as the marketing men and women realised that as with many things, teenagers with even a little bit of money to spend would spend it in order to reinvent themselves. But cynicism aside, I’m proud that much of this album was my entry into a world of ‘other’ music.