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.