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FIRST PERSON

Modern Punk

To critics of his Starbucks CD deal, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore says: Get real.


(Photo by Andrew Kesin)

How long have you and your wife [Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon] lived in Northampton?

Since 1999. I'd been in New York since 1977, but when our daughter was getting into those preteen years, our apartment wasn't big enough.

Why Northampton? What's the appeal?

We knew some people there, people like [Dinosaur Jr.'s] J Mascis and Byron Coley, the music writer. I also like the music community. There's a lot of experimental and avant-garde stuff going on, and that's been a salvation for me. I have no interest in living in a community where there's no interaction with like-minded artists.

It's been almost 20 years since the release of Sonic Youth's seminal LP Daydream Nation, and you've been performing it, in its entirety, in concert. Ever imagine you'd last this long?

I never had a clear ambition. I just always wanted to have a record label and a band that I could write songs with, and maybe have my own publishing imprint so I could put out books and fanzines. No one gets rich off this stuff, man.

Starbucks has announced it's putting out a Sonic Youth record. Have some of your fans cried foul?

The Starbucks thing was our idea. It was born of frustration, trying to get our label to sell our records. When you're in a band like Sonic Youth that's not on the radio or on TV, you want to try to get your record out there. I saw Beck's record [in Starbucks] and other adult-contemporary CDs that aren't, like, No. 1 pop records, and I just thought there's a large part of our catalog that would be accessible to people. I thought, "Why don't we get some of the people in the media who name-check Sonic Youth to choose their favorite songs, and then put them on a CD?"

Yeah, so what's Dave Eggers's favorite Sonic Youth song?

I forget.

What do you say to people who think you've sold out by dealing with Starbucks?

There's no difference between working with Starbucks and working with record labels like Universal and Geffen. It's a knee-jerk reaction from PC watchdogs. I mean, really, which long-distance company do you use for your cellphone? Are you on the grid? If you're off the grid, I'll listen to you.

What's the state of the music business these days?

Actually, there's a great independent underground scene that exists as an underpinning for whatever mainstream exists. The model of a band living large is a distortion of the reality. You go and record some music, put it out, and then play live. You become a traveling salesman of a sort. You have to be devoted, or not do it at all. If you're ambition is to make millions, you're in the wrong game.

– Mark Shanahan

  Thurston Moore will performing at the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday, September 27, as part of its College Night. The event, which is free for college students, begins at 7 p.m.

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