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Saturday, March 27, 2010

9. "Massage the History" by Sonic Youth

A few months ago it dawned on me that I don't have a standby answer to the question "Who's your favorite drummer?" and I figured I should come up with one. One part of my mind started churning away at what the criteria should be-- technical skill, feel, good taste in what records he or she has been on, etc.-- but another part of my mind quickly shut this process down and informed me that the obvious answer was Steve Shelley.

It must be much more difficult to figure how to play Sonic Youth songs than it is to write them. That's no slight on the band's enormous inventiveness, it's just that they know what they're doing and we mere mortal musicians by and large don't. You can find tabs and tuning diagrams online pretty easily, but it astounds me that people feel like they can be sure they've gotten them right. I have to assume that it gets easier to decipher SY songs the more you do it. There must be some standby tunings and tricks that start to seem intuitive after a while. I've only ever tried to fake my way through SY tunes in standard tuning, or, the one time I performed one in public, made up my own weird tuning as I was only doing that one song... on an acoustic guitar... as the toast to my friends' wedding. So this blog is not the first insane musical thing I've ever done, no.

This time I rolled with the "official" tuning online and went with my electric 12-string as the instrument, just for the bonus overtones. There was no real point to doing the long jam thing on this tune since I was playing solo, but I tried to play the rest of it loose and weird to preserve the "experimental" intent to the piece. The tuning was so unfamiliar that I was actually surprised from time to time by what came out of the amp... you can hear some little WTF yelps in the vocal for sure.

Rex Broome ~ Guitar, vocal, painting.*

*The "covering the album artwork" aspect of 39-40 has developed as a sort of accident, and one that makes a not especially easy task a little bit more difficult yet (although I like doing it and it is often funny). In this case it was surprisingly easy: the painting you see here is one I did several years ago, and, while it doesn't look exactly like the one on the cover of "The Eternal", it certainly doen't look exactly unlike it either.


As Joe Strummer once said... wait, I already used that one. But it is fuckin' long. And probably even the least ardent fans of Kim Gordon's vocals would enjoy the original a lot more than this cover. It was interesting to play... the wild tuning was fun, although my idea that translating it to a 12-string would compensate in terms of interest for the lack of a rhythm section didn't really pan out. At least I did manage to incorporate some of the melodic "lead" figures into a single guitar part, and the sliding tempos and transitions, while not necessarily as loose and bluesy-intuitive as I might have hoped, do keep it from being not just long and droney but blandly metronomic as well.

At this point in SY's history, I seem to be adoring every other LP and simply admiring the ones in between. I don't know why that should be, but it seems to hold true from year to year. The Eternal was one of the "admire" ones. It seems to be the total sex record that Rather Ripped was sort of tilting toward, and while I like that aspect of it, I wasn't really able to sell the way this tune ends with "I want you to suck my neck"... I had been a little too preoccupied wrestling with 12 unfamiliarly tuned strings to really get my mojo working, even after nine minutes. Frankly, I was kind of tired. So for probably not the last time, I do apologize if I failed to turn you on. I try, I really do.


  1. Damned RSS feed "catches" these before the links are up... Guess I'll check back in a while.