"I don't want to underestimate the intelligence of any audience. We've tried to present material that's a bit below the radar of the mainstream, even the underground mainstream, and music that we find interesting, challenging and fun regardless of what its genre is. It could be bubblegum music, or it could be hardcore industrial music -- it doesn't really matter, if it has a genuine, somewhat authentic and creative vibe to it."
Extending that aesthetic just a pinch makes the addition of several poets seem right and logical.
"Both [SY's Lee Ranaldo] and I are involved with the literary community in New York, and I edit a poetry journal, and Lee has published his own poetry journal. That's part of the whole lineage here, with Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, so we felt that we would like to present some literature. I wanted people who had some sort of connection to underground-music history, since there's always been such a relationship there. You know, John Sinclair is formidable, he managed the MC5, he ran one of the first mimeo radical-poetry presses out of Ann Arbor, the Artists' Workshop Press; he's going to read with a free-jazz saxophone player. Gerard Malanga worked with the Velvet Underground, and he's known for that connection, but he's regarded as a very recognized poet, even before his connection with Warhol and subsequently the Velvets. People like Eileen Myles, she's very recognized by, like, the riot grrrl movement. There's Nathaniel Mackey, from the Bay Area, an academic poet who's been writing a series of books on the black-culture experience. These are just really interesting writers, strong and outspoken poets."
The fact that Moore and his bandmates drew from a list of originally thousands confirms my belief in something I've suspected for some time now: that, far from being fallow, as our more cynical media would have you believe, this is rather an era of more provocative and challenging music than ever before. Does Moore feel differently?
"I think there always was and always will be great music, but right now it's become way more factionalized from the mainstream. In the '70s, punk rock started coming up in reaction to the kind of pompous Led Zeppelin hero-rock. But it's so much worse now -- it's not even about battling disco or Studio 54 behavior, it's like battling complete industry control by this kind of Disneyfied music-making process. Like businessmen writing songs for ingénues: It's completely divorced from any kind of creative schedule that a lot of us have. I think there's more total alienation culturally now than there ever was, and it's really amazing what's going on in the underground, and the fact that it's been established that you can actually work and work well in the underground without having to deal with any kind of music-industry business as usual."
AMEN. BY THE WAY, WHAT'S UP WITH Sonic Youth? The group's hard at work mixing their new disc, which will come out in June. The events of September 11 disrupted the recording sessions, as the band's lower-Manhattan studio was damaged and access to it was blocked for two months. The space has now been detoxified, and Sonic Youth are back in action, having learned a thing or three in the process. They'll be premiering new tunes at their ATP appearance.
"Our music has always been somewhat informed by our location," says Moore. "I wouldn't say this one is unlike that. Lyrically, etc., it's not pointed as such, but the songs are big, full-on Sonic Youth rock songs, and maybe less sort of arcane and extrapolated than the last few records were getting into. I don't know why that is. But they're heavy, man."
Sonic Youth plays at UCLA's Ackerman Grand Ballroom, Sunday, March 17.