Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lee's Quiet "Candle": Early Evening, Murray Street, NYC, August 1, 2005


The long, arcing shadows, cast at sharp angles of declination from building to building amidst the avenue canyons of lower Manhattan, gave the lounge-y front room of Sonic Youth's studio on Murray Street a supple dimness. Along with the dissipation of sunlight, the day's stubborn layer of humidity also started it's retreat. These atmospheric shifts provided a natural signal, a gentle cosmic suggestion, that it may be time to start winding things up: Lee and I had been talking for the better part of two hours about the heady tectonics of Sonic Youth's late-early period and its resultant yield of recorded output--that astonishing rip of records from Bad Moon Rising, to EVOL, to Sister, culminating in '88 with the Almighty Daydream Nation.

We found an appropriate stop-point in our discussion and began that series of motions and gestures that collectively mark the end of an interview. I admitted to Lee that I could use a restroom break and made my way back through the studio to find relief. (What strange evocations happen under such circumstances; walking alone through the creative command center of a band whose music had sunk in so deep, resonated so thoroughly, over so many years: "Look, there's Steve's drumkit; and there're all the guitars; now passing the tape archives...")

Looking back, I can't recall if I had given it a second thought at the time, but when I left Lee sitting there alone on the couch in the front room, I neglected (deliberately?) to turn off my tape recorder, leaving it running right there on the table where it had been doing its thing for the past two hours.

Not until months later, back in Seattle, when I finally got down to transcribing the session, did I discover one of the coolest hidden interview moments I've ever unintentionally recorded. At the point on the tape when I get up to take my bathroom break, there's an extended period of empty hiss--a minute and a half or so--and then, from the silence, at a near-whisper, Lee's voice comes in, as he sings to himself:

...A crystal crackin'...
....I can't wait
...

These line fragments are from "Candle"--one of Thurston's songs on Daydream--and, in the abbreviated version I caught on tape, Lee sings them in a key and at a tempo that differs drastically from the album take. It's a beautiful, fleeting moment that manages to capture the mutual admiration inherent to the Sonic Youth aesthetic, a bittersweet nostalgia for a period in the band's history that's necessarily lost to time but still resonant, and Lee's relentless experimentalism (i.e. new key/new tempo) all at once.

I kept this anecdote out of the book for some reason. I think sharing it here is as public as I wanted to get with this little gem.

Thanks for reading,
Matthew

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

that sounds beautiful. i wish i could hear the tape. but a lovely story nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

just googling old friends during lunch break from fixing tiny teeth...I think I recognize your banter enough to know it's you...but I may be wrong...visited any graveyards recently?
-C
Congrats on the book!

matthew said...

K-walski,

Hi! Thanks for the note. Actually, I gave up on graveyards. Too morbid. Email me? stearns.matthew@gmail.com. It'd be fun to catch up. -M

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