Thurston Moore

2011 looks as a busy year for Thurston Moore, but if you have followed his career, to his standards, it has been pretty much business as usual.

In the thirty years Sonic Youth changed the relationship between noise and rock, the 34th guitarist of all times (courtesy of Rolling Stone), has always been a busy man.

Thurston Moore discography goes well beyond the official (and already rich) Sonic Youth albums and solo production. It expands in a myriad of collaborations which have a cult following and would require an experienced archivist to be discussed here. Tapes only releases, strictly limited and coloured vinyls, soundtracks for unknown movies and whatever is needed to build up a mythological fame.

This is the last post of the year on liveon35mm. It has been a busy and difficult year, and I won’t speak about what I am not qualified. This 180th post on this little blog, will rotate around Demolished Thoughts, his latest solo work and one of my favourite albums of the year which surely contains my favourite song of the year: Benediction.

The photos, instead, were taken at a very special London date. For the first time Moore played his debut solo album, Psychic Hearts (1995) in its entirety, well almost, I will touch on this in a sec, stay with me.

Also last week, Thurston Moore did a reading of his poems at the University of Cambridge. Not being part of the hardcore fans, I actually didn’t know this further facet of his personality: poet.

I went and was happy to discover his deep passion for poetry, his knowledge for the underground poetry movement int the States (he owns a collection of thousands of soft published poems stapled and self released). Thurston read some old stuff to a cosy crowd of 50-ish people, most more into poetry than into Sonic Youth, which was interesting to see. He also premiered part of a diary he wrote in the (last?) Sonic Youth tour in South America few weeks ago. There is an hilarious poem on Julian Casablanca in it I’d love to share. Over a glass of red wine kindly offered by the University of Cambridge we had a chat about his large archive, the way the material gets revised, trashed, parked for future releases.
I couldn’t resist asking to sign the CDs (after I took them with me, you know), not so sure he was pleased by that. Don’t know if they were CDs or I was being a fan. Nevermind.

To end the intro, and not very relevant to his music production (Is it not? Maybe it is), Moore personal life marked a key moment in 2011.
He split up with Kim Gordon. Not only his wife for 25 years and mother of his daugther, but also Sonic Youth bassists who stood next to him for thirty years of stages and studios.

At present it is pretty much impossible to predict what’s going to happen to the band, but it would also be quite narrow-minded to think it will not have some sort of effect. Lee Ranaldo, his mate and fellow guitarist in Sonic Youth has a solo album to promote and said recently that the band is taking some time to think.

Demolished Thought (you can stream it here) is pretty much an acoustic album full of personal, intense, intimate songs. Yes real, beautiful songs. With Beck at the production it is easier to listen, nevertheless a jewel. Moore sings quietly and plays acoustic guitar throughout. Together with J Mascis solo debut, Several Shades of Why, also out this year, also beautiful, the nineties revival is demonstrating how much master songwriting there is and there was behind the layers of distortion and noise that characterised the alternative scene at the end of last century.

The first song Benediction, is an acoustic ballad, filled with violins and angelic arrangements and the rest of the album doesn’t move much from the formula. Most songs sound as conversations between Thurston guitar, with an electric violin and a harp responding to the opening chords. There’s plenty of instrumental bridges that he loves and his calm voice would not upset the customer of a quiet zone carriage.

The same band is on stage at the Electric Ballroom, harp and violin included.
This show follows another at the Union Chapel the night before. That was part of the Demolished Thoughts tour.

Tonight Thurston Moore gig is one of the ATP Don’t Look Back series. He is planning to play Psychic Hearts in its entirety.

Where Demolished Thought is about arpeggios on acoustic guitars, Psychic Hearts is more an electric affair where you can reconnect with Moore landmark bouncing guitar who defined his style and a genre with Sonic Youth.

Psychihc Hearts is not as easy listening as is not that easy to find. The merchandise desk, despite there is plenty of obscure stuff, has no copies of the album on any support.
There are even tapes (remember that?). They are bouncing back from being a discontinued to a collector’s items. Thanks to the lo-fi revival of the bands that used to record demos and writing the demos philosophy and are back on track.

What to expect tonight isn’t predictable. I see at least three options on the table. Psychic Hearts unplugged? Psychic Hearts faithful? Psychic Hearts revised?

Thurston Moore knows his job and goes for the third. He finds the balance in playing the album on acoustic guitar with the band touring with him, which comes handy.

The result is terrific.
After few funny minutes introducing the concert explaining that some songs will be not included because aren’t so interesting and the tracklist will be revised, Thurston Moore plugs the acoustic guitar and there’ll be nothing but the music.

He plunges into the opening track of Psychic Hearts, Queen Bee and Her Pals and by the time the song ends, the energy is high enough to make him crash against microphone and the sheets with all those handwritten lyrics are flying all over the photographers’ pit.

Two things emerge during this show.
An incredible guitarist can get even an acoustic guitar on fire.
Psychic Hearts isn’t going to be played from start to end, which is not disappointing. With this band the two albums merge nicely into a wonderful cocktail of songs and ‘acoustic sonicism’.

It’s less than a hour of music when Moore salutes, this is pretty disappointing, but it is the usual theatre bit of rock concerts.

A couple of minutes and Moore is back for another bunch of songs from both albums with a Sonic Youth cameo.
Then he goes and comes back again for a second encore. Being one encore the standard, the exception to confirm the rule says that either you don’t play an encore or you must play at least two.

All I am waiting now are two songs.
One is the obvious Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars, the 20 minutes of sonic delirium closing Psychic Hearts. It arrives translated in 20 minute of awesome live noise delirium on stage, surely the best moment of the night.

This is the real bonus the people at the Electric Ballroom get tonight compared to the Demolished Thoughts tour.

The other desire was, of course, Benediction. Which fails to happen. Flipping through the setlists of his recent gigs I am less disappointed. For some reasons Thurston Moore is not playing that song since he restarted the tour this autumn.

Benediction was a constant presence on the first dates in the spring/summer.
In the middle there have been some Sonic Youth shows and the split with Kim. If this has anything to do with the the song, I don’t know. I didn’t dare to ask him at the Cambridge Lecture.

With benediction in her eyes,
Our dearest gods are not surprised.
You better hold your lover down,
Tie him to the ground.
Whisper “I love you,”
One thousand times into his ear, kiss his eyes,
And don’t you cry girl, he won’t disappear.
But I know better than to let you down.

With benediction in her mind,
She’ll never get you back in time.
You better hold your lover down,
And tie her to the ground.
Simple pleasures strike like lighting,
Scratches spell her name.
Thunder demons swipe her halo,
And then they run away.
But I know better than to let her go.

With benediction in her eyes,
Our dearest gods are not surprised.
You better hold your lover down,
And tie her to the ground.
Simple pleasures strike like lightening,
Scratches cross her name.
Whisper “I love you my darling, life is just a fling.”
But I know better than to let her go.

More on Thurston Moore can be found on:
[His section on Sonic Youth website] [sonic youth website] [facebook] [Twitter]

Photo tip

2011 concert wise is over, time for some end of the year considerations.

A key year for my concert photography. It has been the first since I started photography that I shot fully on digital.
Not a single roll of film developed in my darkroom throughout winter and summer months. To write this feels pretty sad. Said that, the amount of time, money and dedication film photography requires doesn’t pay anymore.


If I had even a single magazine wanting negatives (because they are film) end willing to pay for them, I’d load my Contax and be back on spending my nights in the company of smelly darkness.

Truth is, no one cares. Vintage is cool, film is cool, true, as long as it is shot on digital with Hipsamatic filters and uploaded on twitter through a smartphone. Ask how many of todays film lovers have ever developed a roll. Ask how many have even loaded a film camera.

I did more festivals and less single shows, and learnt that if shooting a concert is fun, shooting a festival is a profession.

So said the profession of music photographers isn’t in a nice position. Music Photography will always stay, but music photographers will not be professionals. With professional I don’t mean having a pro camera but that their income comes from (and only from) their music photography activity.

There are probably not more than 30 people (thirty) earning a life only from a music photography activity. With 30.000 (thirty thousands) members of the Concert Photography FlickR group, you do the math. Whether those 29970 earn money with weddings or a daytime office job or are just passionate, it doesn’t really matter.
What it says is that earning 50£ for a stamp size image once a month on a newspaper, with new pro bodies costing  100 times that price, photographer’s money has to come elsewhere.

The reason is only partially because there are not money in editorial budgets. A big part plays the fact that the budget shrank since within the music industry has passed the concept that photography can be available for free.

This is possible because plenty of wannabe concert shooters feed it. They do not only provide their image for free to no-profit blogs (which could be ok at a sensible pace) but, and this is the critical bit, they provide free images to magazines, managements, bands and artists that indeed work for a profit and have a budget that must include the costs of photography.

It’s plenty of articles and debates on the web about this, Music Photographers Facebook page is very active on the issue, especially on the battle against grab release forms, so I won’t bother you more.

I will end the year suggesting you a link:

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

It is a letter written as a response to anyone asking to a photographer to work for free. It has been translated in several languages. Bookmark and send it to the next person who asks for your images in change of credits and visibility. It’ll explain why this is not possible and not sustainable anymore.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, see you in 2012 with some missing gems I didn’t find space to publish this year.
In the meanwhile you can enjoy my Music Portfolio HERE and if you wish order one one of the images as a fine-art print delivered straight to your door.

Ciao
Valerio

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~ by Valerio on December 20, 2011.

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