Music

Thurston Moore: "I have complete trust in the affairs of my heart"

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore opens up about his love life – and how his father's death affected him as a teenager

I was 16 when I started receiving signals from the margins, music and literature that was coming from otherworldly places and really resonated with me. I was a magazine fiend, stacking up rock’n’roll magazines like Creem, Hit Parader and Rolling Stone. The writers were pretty hip, people like Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye. I would read these articles and remember their names – Lester Bangs sounded as exciting to me as Iggy Pop. I think I just realised their world was more imaginative, more adventurous and magical. And I liked that. I went running towards it.

I think when I first saw the first New York Dolls album it was in a drugstore in Bethel, Connecticut, the little town I was living in. I was very aware all this action was happening very close by in New York, about an hour and a half away. And I knew I had to get there. I was a kind of happy go lucky nerd in school. I was not a sports hero and girls didn’t give me much of a look. I had this one friend, the only gay high school kid, and he saw that I was into this otherworldly stuff and he said to me: “Hey man, let’s go and see Patti Smith at the Playhouse in Westport.” So we skipped school and drove over there and that was life-changing.

I didn’t realise we were unusual until I went to other kids’ houses

It wasn’t like I came from a weird family who drove me into these outward zones. We were a middle-class average family. But we had books about art and literature; my father was a teacher. He taught philosophy and music – classical piano. So there was music in the house. I didn’t realise we were unusual until I went to other kids’ houses and I was like, where are all the books? I realised there was something a bit heavier going on in our house. A thread of culture. Maybe that was the guide for me.

My father died when I was 18. I was very close to him so that was very jarring. He would come to me in my dreams and I would wake up knowing he was there. I think his death did create an instruction for me to go off and establish myself. My mom came to see us the first time Sonic Youth played a proper gig at CBGB and there was a bit of a buzz around us. Afterwards she was joyous but then she started crying and I asked her what was wrong. She said: “I just wish your father could have seen that. He would have loved it.” That was really heartbreaking. She turns 90 this year and she still comes to see me play. She’s pretty hardcore.

I did briefly go to college and I wrote some music reviews there. The first was of Rick Seeger, nephew of Pete. He sat playing his folk music in those wooden shoes from Holland. So I wrote an entire piece about his shoes, wondering what it was like being chased down the street wearing them, that kind of thing. A week later we got a letter from Rick Seeger saying, how dare you send a completely unprofess-ional kid to my concert. And I was like, wow, I actually had an effect with my writing! I hadn’t done it to hurt him, it didn’t occur to me he would read it. So next I wrote about a John Cale gig at CBGB and when it came out the editor had ‘fixed’ my misspelling of John Cale’s name and changed it to John Cage. I was absolutely infuriated. Then the editor suggested I move from music to sports. That’s when I decided to leave college.

I migrated to New York when I was 19 and found a very, very cheap place to live. I was working in an upscale furnishing store and I started playing guitar with a girl who worked there. I decided to go completely free and wild on the guitar and she looked at me like I was insane and said: “I think you should meet a friend of mine – she actually likes this kind of thing. And she has a bass guitar.” And that was Kim [Gordon, bass player and Moore’s wife for the next 27 years]. That was the beginning of Sonic Youth.

I’d love to go back and say to my teenage self, you know all those records that mean so much to you? David Bowie, Iggy and the Stooges, Patti Smith, Can, that weird Sparks record? You’re going to interact with all of those musicians one day. I know that’s hard to believe. It will sound like science fiction to you. But it’s true. It first happened in the late ’80s, when Iggy Pop came onstage to do this very savage version of I Wanna Be Your Dog with us. It was so unbelievably great that when I went home that night I didn’t sleep at all. I spent all night just staring into the void thinking, I cannot believe I just shared the stage with someone who helped define my future 10 years ago.

Is there anything I would do differently? That’s a little tricky. Um… I would say to my younger self, in your 30s and 40s be more aware of your ego. And check yourself at the door. And try to refute any tendencies of narcissism. You can become very me-centric. And when it comes to your family – call your mother every day. I still have to work on that. When I call my mother sometimes she says, oh my God, look who’s still alive. Look what the wind blew in. She used to tell me, one day you’ll grow up and have a child, and one day that child will leave home and that child is not going to call you and you’re going to know exactly how I feel. And you know what, she’s exactly right.

I’ve been able to situate my life with the woman I am in love with and have lived with for the last few years [Moore separated from Kim Gordon in 2011, having begun a relationship with book editor Eva Prinz]. And a lot of people have said, oh he’s in this place where there’s a new light coming out of him. Which is really nice to hear. But that’s really personal. Life has a propensity to change radically when you get to your 50s. I accept that. I’ve tried to be as responsible as I can. And I have complete trust in the affairs of my heart so I’m very happy.

I’ve lived in two cities in my life: New York and now London. But in these times of stricter borders I feel more and more like I want to be a citizen of the world, I want to go wherever I want without anyone trying to tell me I can’t live there. I want to get away from nationalist ideas of place and identity. I think there’s honour in being in opposition to power. Power is for the weak-minded. I’m ready to get all my noise-rock friends to surround Trump Towers, switch on our amplifiers and play at the loudest volume until it crumbles to the ground like the fake dust it is.

Thurston Moore’s album Rock n Roll Consciousness is out April 28. He tours the UK in June; thurstonmoore.com

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