“‘Saucer-Like’ and a Case for Lee Ronaldo as the Best Artist in Sonic Youth”

I’m applying to Syracuse for grad school, having generally been pulled west throughout my life by a Dionysian force of what must be some anticlimactic hippie ennui… which is ironic, because when I checked out the shows going on at one of the local venues there, it was Fishbone, Melvins… and then three Grateful Dead cover bands. Which brings me to two recovering, out-of-the-closet Grateful Dead fans — Sonic Youth’s Lee Ronaldo, of New York, and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, of Hoboken, New Jersey, which is the first town across the state border. It’s important that Ronaldo is a Grateful Dead fan, and it isn’t. Being a Grateful Dead fan, ironically, is sort of like being a Green Day fan, or a Less than Jake fan — the music doesn’t go by a “system,” and true artistic pioneers invite as many componential forces into their muses as they can, so as to form the greatest inspiration wealth, casting nothing off for sake of convention or any societal control.

At no point was Sonic Youth ever trippier than on Lee Ronaldo’s Sister installment “Pipeline/Kill Time,” which is an unrelated quip, except that maybe he seems to have had the upper hand all along, contrasted with Thurston Moore’s perverted inklings and gauche exclamations. Take things down to Washing Machine, at which point the band had artistically come full circle and back to pretty much just having fun, and the operative word for “Saucer-Like” would be “intimidating.” Nothing about this song follows a mold — not the chord progression, not the melodies (which aren’t so much melodies as they are vituperative expressionist jazz strains), and certainly not the concussion onset of the song’s culmination: “Slipping around the bottom edge / Slipping around the bottom edge…” This is music opposite Grateful Dead, opposite Green Day, and opposite Less than Jake. But otherwise, how would he ever know?

Leave a Reply