Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An open letter to a 13-year-old Sonic Youth critic

Earlier this month, an anonymous 13-year-old decided to let Sonic Youth know what's up and sent them a letter about how they were awful. For those who missed this story, Sonic Youth posted the  message to their Facebook page for all to see: 

"I'm going to be 100% honest with you. I'm 13. I have a little band. We are so much better than you. Honestly. You are the worst band I have ever seen in your entire life. You are worse than Rebecca Black. The bass player just hacks the bass and plays one chord. The guitar players are playing out of tune guitars and... well not even playing actually chords. I couldn't sound worse if I tried. It actually sounds like a joke to me. The drummer is okay. But honestly the vocalist is completely out of tune. Oh and The Black keys have two people and are better than you.

From: Me, and pretty much everyone else who has accidentally stumbled upon your terrible music."

Here is my response to this 13-year-old individual:

Dear 13-year-old Sonic Youth critic:

Hello! I hope you had a good Easter and got lots of candy in your Easter basket. Do your parents still "hide" your basket somewhere in the house and you have to find it? That's cute. I'm not being facetious either - a friend of mine who's totally a grown ass adult recently posted on Facebook that her parents still hide her basket each year and I thought it was adorable. I hope you and your parents totally hold on to that tradition, as silly as it seems. Someday you'll reach an age where the things your parents do no longer embarrass or annoy you, but either warm your heart or break it. You'll realize that you're not in a position to protect them from their own choices and they're no longer in a position to really do much to save you from yours, and that this whole "we're a family, but outside of the little things we can do to protect each other, we're ultimately all kind of on our own" realization will come crashing down on you and you'll maybe have a nervous breakdown and engage in self-sabotaging behavior. So all I'm saying is, wouldn't it be nice to leave your therapy appointment, drive to your hometown for the requisite Easter holiday visit and do something silly and banal like search for your basket like when you were little? I think so.

Moving on... You sure did show Sonic Youth a thing or two with your message to them! It struck me for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I too was 13 when I first heard Sonic Youth! For real! It was late at night in the very early 90's and one of their videos came on MTV's 120 Minutes. I won't bore you with the details about what "MTV" is, but I will say that 120 Minutes was on in the wee hours of the night, and was basically the only window I had into this world of "underground music" or "alternative" as it was just starting to be called at that time. Anyway, this is the video I 


I was transfixed but mostly a little freaked out. In fact, I wasn't totally sure that this "lady" singer was a lady at all, but possibly one of those cross-dressing types I had read about in the free alternative weekly paper my dad brought home somtimes! And why was Chuck D in this video with this weird band!? When the video was over, I only knew this wasn't anything I had ever heard before, and I wasn't sure I wanted to ever hear it again! Yikes. But a couple weeks later, while listening (again, late at night) to a Canadian radio station that didn't come in very well but played a lot of this same kind of "alternative music" I was becoming obsessed with, I head the song "Dirty Boots." Then, on the very next episode of 120 Minutes, I saw the video.

I loved everything about it so much. The song and the video held the key to exactly what I wanted my life to be. Somehow.  And it helped give me some context for the whole "Kool Thing" fiasco and I decided I needed to hear as much Sonic Youth as possible. So I bought the album
Goo. The cover looks like this:


I started to write the saying on the cover on my school notebooks and stuff and tried to draw the picture and scrawl the band name in that cool font on just about everything (mostly the aforementioned notebooks, Trapper-Keepers, scrap paper and school desks). The only thing I was truly successful at, however, was having my parents think I was possibly thinking of killing them and then them having some sort of intervention with me over this fact. I believe the notebook they were holding as evidence of my potential parenticide also had the My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult song title "Daisy Chain For Satan" written on it. Calm down, parents, right? Jeeez. It's just rock n' roll, ok? Nobody's gonna die... Unless you refuse to take me to the mall. Haha, it's a joke, gawd calm down!

But who cares, right? I'm just some dumb old lady who clearly has terrible tastes. But that's kind of irrelevant. Your disliking of Sonic Youth is also irrelevant. I'm not writing to change your mind - I seriously do not care if you like Sonic Youth or not. I also have no interest in picking on you (though, seriously stop by your English teacher's class after school some day and just ask for a crash course in grammar. I know he or she is probably totally an old, dumb asshole who probably likes Sonic Youth, but in the long run, it'll really help your case should you accidentally stumble upon other bands you want to piss on in the near future. For instance, I bet you'd hate Yo La Tengo, oh-my-god.) I'm more struck by your need to write to the band and the weird, public world the 13-year-old you operates in.

I just think it's so weird to write to them, you know? They've been around forever and there is little you could possibly do or say to change the course of their career or place in music history at this point. But that actually makes them a good target for your angsty rant, I suppose. I'd rather have you take a dump on a band who's member's are all older than your parents than come home from school and kick your dog, for instance. Being 13 is full of things that suck pretty hardcore, so maybe this little letter writing exercise helped you out in some way. I hope so.

I'd ask you if it's weird being 13 in a world where everything you say and do is chronicled for everybody to see forever, but what would be the point? It's not like you know any other world! But I feel a little sad for the 13-year-olds of today - all your embarrassing opinions and ideas will forever exist on the internet.

Compare that to MY 13-year-old embarrassments - these are pretty much contained to a mountain of pictures sealed in a scuffed-up Rubbermaid tub filled with photographs that nobody in my family has the patience or interest to bother opening, let alone organizing and sharing. The other evidence that I was once a 13 year old obnoxious asshole? Burned. In a little angsty-feelings-fire I set in the forest behind my parent's house right before they got divorced. Side note: Don't ever do that! So dangerous! I still think of this when I see stories about out-of-control wildfires on the news: "Oh great, some dumb teenager was trying to burn her bad poetry and stalker-ish-bordering-on-Heavenly-Creatures-pre-teen love letters again and now the forests have to die."

But you... everybody will see this letter forever, and any videos you and your little band make, every picture you take where you think you look cool, each Facebook and Tumblr post... These can and will all probably come back to haunt you. I can pretend I was never 13. But the evidence of your know-it-all early teen years will exist forever and ever. Just like Sonic Youth.

So seriously - good luck to you and your little band. I hope you kids figure out a way to outrun your pre-teen demons the way my generation is still figuring out how to out run the embarrassments and mistakes of our twenties. It'll be interesting to see how things turn out for all of you.



PS: Why can't anybody seem to just leave Rebecca Black the fuck alone?


misterarthur said...

You rule. The end.

Clifford Allen said...

Is it just me or are Sonic Youth's first ten years some of the best music ever? I too fondly remember buying Goo at thirteen. Fine introduction to what was (and sorta still is) a fine band. Thanks, Laura.

Magic Pants Jones said...

I came wanting to read an evisceration, but ended up reading a thoughtful and decent letter in response to the smugness of youth. Also, I love Goo. Nice stuff, Laura.

(Laura) said...

'Evisceration' is not really my style... My style is more akin to issuing a self-challenge to write something where I get to call myself a 'dumb old lady.' Thanks, guys. :)

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