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Sonic Youth’s Musical Love Story


Sonic Youth leaders Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced their split last week, adding a sad chapter to the complex and mysterious relationship we’ve all been watching play out over the course of the band’s 29-year career. The pair were guarded about their private life, but a few details on life offstage have emerged: in David Browne’s excellent history Goodbye 20th Cenutry, for instance, the writer recounts how the pair’s opposite personalities complemented each other. Moore was the freewheeling spirit to Gordon’s grounded practicality. “We can’t eat those,” Gordon said early in their relationship, referring to Moore’s penchant for record-buying when they couldn’t afford groceries.

Still, since marrying in a traditional 1984 ceremony in Connecticut, Moore and Gordon have offered some clues into their private life through Sonic Youth’s music, which SPIN examined closely for insights:

Look back at Kim and Thurston’s sonic love affair in photos.

“I Love Her All the Time”
Released one year after the couple married, this Moore-penned track from 1985’s Bad Moon Rising certainly came off as his up-front tribute to the lady on bass, filtered through his penchant for cryptic, pseudo-beat poetry. “She comes into my mind / Twisting through my nerves… I love her all he time,” he sings. The deranged guitar drone and Moore’s slack-jawed vocal delivery only adds to the tune’s curious mystery.

“Kotton Crown”
This is the only Sonic Youth studio track on which Gordon and Moore shared vocal duties, so it’s fitting that the fuzzed-out drone is a sweet and heart-wrenching declaration of devotion delivered with atypically plainspoken words. “Love has come to stay in all the way,” they croon. “It’s gonna stay forever and every day.” Interestingly, Sonic Youth only recently started rotating this rarely played gem back into their sets this year, including their excellent show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in August — just two months before they announced their split.

“I Love You Golden Blue”
Throughout the band’s major label heyday in the ’90s, Gordon and Moore’s lyrics didn’t dive into topics of domesticity or romance — Gordon opted to write lyrics with a feminist bent (“Shoot,” “Little Trouble Girl,” “Panty Lies”), while Moore’s tunes grew increasingly fixed on the political (“Youth Against Fascism”), the musical (“Theresa’s Sound World,” “Screaming Skull”), or the straight-up inscrutable (“Starfield Road”). That changed on 2004’s Sonic Nurse, particularly with Gordon’s devastating ballad “I Love You Golden Blue.” This remains one of her most aching and confessional tunes ever — not to mention one of the band’s most haunting and gorgeous. Over drizzling guitars and drummer Steve Shelley’s delicate pitter-patter, she whispers about missing a long-lost lover’s presence — and losing the will the hang on. “I can’t find the time,” she coos. “I love you, Golden Blue, I miss you.” It’s hard not to think that cracks in Gordon and Moore’s relationship began to show around this time.

“French Tickler”
Gordon’s hard-rocking, pleasure-seeking anthem to a vibrator. ‘Nuff said.

“Sleepin’ Around”
Moore’s hard-rocking, pleasure-seeking anthem to infidelity. ‘Nuff said.

“Massage the History”
Even more devastating than “I Love You Golden Blue,” this track from Sonic Youth’s last album, The Eternal finds Gordon reflecting on a damaged relationship — and wondering if there’s anything she could’ve done to fix it. “Here’s wishing you were here with me,” she sings. “Here’s wishing we could massage history.” Moore has been saddled with rumors of infidelity, but Gordon’s use of the word “we” suggests she wasn’t a total saint, either.