Cease to Exist

I've found myself wanting to hear Charles Manson's LIE record of late. I'm not quite sure why, probably the Beach Boys (you know Dennis and Never Learn Not to Love) and Neil Young connections. Neil being one of the only LA musicians who will openly acknowledge and talk about his friendship with Manson before the murders. He even recommended him at one time to Moe Ostin at Warner Brothers, calling his songs brilliant and saying that he "talked just like Dylan" (good one Neil!)

I've heard bits and pieces of LIE, some of which sounded interesting, but I've never had the chance to really sit down and give it a thorough listening. I have conflicting feelings about this, specifically how much of this desire is just a left over juvenile fascination with the morbid associations that Charlie carries. I never liked the way that bands such as Sonic Youth toyed with Manson references. It seemed to lack any depth of feeling or insight, unlike say the multiple levels of meaning Raymond Pettibon was able to explore in his use of Manson's image. Sonic Youth reminded me more of a snotty rich kid attempting, rather unoriginally, to shock. The kind of kid that thinks he's a lot more clever than he actually is. This criticism, a shallowness of intent, can be levelled at the majority of Sonic Youth product over the years. The older I get the more off putting I find their entire catalogue.

Sure, at times I can still derive some enjoyment from their '80s material. Although Kim Gordon's one vocal idea, that breathy semi-spoken, sing song delivery always grates. And good God the irony! How anyone could have witnessed Thurston Moore's asinine antics in The Year Punk Broke and not developed a healthy dislike for the guy is beyond me. Oh but he's aware of how silly he's acting, right? It's satire, it's ironic right? It's pretty empty and unfunny is what it is. No bueno, no bueno. The lack of dignity that enables this guy, now in, what his 50's, to ponce around like a disgruntled teen is completely mind blowing. Thurston's attitude is probably best summed up by his comment about Lou Reed's Berlin album in the documentary Rock n' Roll Heart, "its like this conceptual album about this disturbed family life, and I had a very, sort of normal loving family and so it really let me open to fantasies of degradation that I could never really have in reality". This misguided, detached and dilettantish attitude is heavily prevalent throughout his work with Sonic Youth.

I guess that my enjoyment of their better records (daydream nation, sister, bad moon rising) depends on my ability to suspend my belief that the people who created this music are people whom I really dislike. Which sort of brings me closer to a point (if that's what you're into): how much effect does our conception of the musician's personality have on our ability to appreciate and enjoy their music? I'd like to think that I can appreciate music aside from any personal feelings about the creator. I don't know though, maybe it has to do with how deeply their personality informs their work or rather how deeply the aspect of their personality that you find off putting informs their work. For instance, from all reports Jonathan Richman is or can be a real jerk, but I don't find this element of his personality reflected in his work, and hence my enjoyment is not diminished.

But getting back to Ciccone Youth, I admit they've had their moments. But when was the last time they had one? Haven't they in effect been coasting on their reputation and past achievements for round about 12 years now? How many more of their records do we have to suffer? How many more reiterations and pointless updatings of their sound must we be subjected to? Their biggest contribution, the sound of their guitars, has been made. They said what they had to say long ago. And seeing as how what they had to say wasn't much to begin with isn't it high time, in the words of their running buddy Kurt Cobain (albeit quoting Neil Young, who seems to worm his way into all kinds of things), to burn out rather than continuing to fade away?

© William Crain 2002