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“What the He** is Kim Gordon Talking about and Does Anybody Really Want to Know?”

Rather Ripped, Sonic Youth’s album from 2006 and overall 14th studio LP proper [1], is an aural journey of unparalleled prowess. It feels like the glorious, succinct, perfect and even radio-friendly culimation of the trifecta of 2000s albums featuring it, Murray Street (2002) and Sonic Nurse (2004). What those two albums do in galvinizing speakers with energy and sonic fury, Rather Ripped takes and makes it applicable, makes it everyday and intimate, with songs like “Incinerate” and “Pink Steam” marrying wild, textural guitar with catchy choruses and closely juxtaposed, interactive lyrical phases. 

“Turquiose Boy” is another example of this very phenomenological fusion and perhaps, even to the greatest extent, represents the band’s ability to make catchy radio pop something that’s textural, given to a wild, uncontrolled, even psychedelic feel. The sonically uniform, opaque and unwavering guitar sound which ushers in the song remains constant throughout, with the exception of the guitar solo at the end (which in its own way foments an element of Dionysian shifting and undulation). Relatively speaking the song is composed of fairly few lyrics, generally letting the wall of noise be its calling card and the benchmark of its identity.

To me, also, “Turquoise Boy” is an important song, both in Sonic Youth’s catalogue and in the overall canon of rock music, for other reasons. For one thing, it might be the best song on Rather Ripped, which would, arguably, in turn, place it within the top five of the band’s catalogue overall, or at least top 10 [2]. Its got this sort of spooky, psychedelic feel, which I allude to before, both for its liquid guitar sound and also the strange certainty with which KIm Gordon sings these metaphoric lyrics that seem arbitrarily rendered, or the result of some mental drug exploit. This otherworldly philosphical stance on the part of Gordon’s, then, is made even more poignant by the relative sparseness of the lyrics, themselves, as well.  

But, in addition, “Turquoise Boy” is a cuspid development, within rock music, with art at large and even within our society at large, and its cuspid for reasons that are abstract, intricate, vaguely astrological, and, certainly, nothing, if not haunting. Around the time Rather Ripped came out, the Earth exited the Aquarian age championed by certain ’60s groups (for better or worse) and entered, duly, a Piscean age. The way legend has it, this transition is earmarked by a shift from confusion to certainty — we thereupon entered an era in which people’s intentions could be clearly discerned by their behavior. Part of this might have to do with a lack of culture, certainly. That is, the average person living in a society redolent of a healthy, interactive culture, such as a rock scene or a thriving visual art scene like in Santa Fe, has the luxury of existing holistically as an agent interacting with said culture. 

It’s possible, then, that in “Turquoise Boy,” when Gordon utters the lines “Turquoise boy I must confess to you / Sweet liberation has come”, she’s proclaiming a shift in the central focus of our culture from music, to women, the conquest thereof, the carnality thereof and the sovereignty thereof, a discourse perhaps linked to some unorthodox acts in the bedroom to be women’s burgeoning luxury. The “turqoise boy” is a metaphor for a kind, constructive, non-violent man, who, prior to this “sweet liberation” Gordon delineates, could build a life for himself being kind and, when in doubt, deferring to culture for an overarching paradigm of positivity. 

At a certain point, though, music just stopped working — it stopped uniting all of us, MTV no longer played videos, there were no more songs EVERYONE agreed on like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Mr. Jones,” and a plague of ennui and spiritual desolation pervaded the entire race, leaving men to animalistic conflict and a blight of the soul. In this way, “Turquoise Boy” plays as a sort of swan song, for Kim Gordon, and, apparently, for Sonic Youth as an overall band, a band which has only put out one album since Rather Ripped, The Eternal (2009), which scored a lower rating on Metacritic than its predecessor. 

Sure enough, Gordon, since this “where the sidewalk ends” moment for Sonic Youth, has put out a solo album of extremely low quality, made sundry appearances at photo shoots in very skimpy clothing, and has even referenced anatomy in the name of her band with Bill Nace, Body/Head. The sensations never quit, the quest never continues and the human plight never ceases to fight losing battles, it seems. But since the phenomenological death of indie rock, or of indie rock’s ability to galvinize and unite [3], music has been replaced by the anatomical synergy of women, both in visual art, and also in society, as a whole. Hence Gordon’s “confession” in the last great rock and roll song, “Turquoise Boy” [4].

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rather_Ripped.

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[2] Of course, I could see some Gen-X-ers flying into a fit of rage over this opinion, some of the same people who refuse to acknowledge the greatness of the two late-’90s R.E.M. albums, New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Up

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[3] This extinction probably also runs concurrent with the demise of Circuit City and Borders, two significant CD retailers, to yield to the era of free music and music that sounds like it costs nothing.

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[4] Now, just to be clear, there have been umpteen songs within indie rock and punk rock that I’ve appreciated, rather with my left brain, since Rather Ripped, a fact obviated by my operation of this blog. But I cannot actually enjoy these songs as I used to because of the mental malady tainting music and relegating it to secondariness, based on the pervaded understanding of music’s limited power and the cultural domination enjoyed by women, within this current day and age. 

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