“We Sing A New Language: The Oral Discography Of Thurston Moore” started, quite literally, right here on this blog. By early 2015, I’d been writing about Nirvana almost constantly, day-after-day, for three years: I needed a break. As an avid collector of the musical works of Sonic Youth and its individual members, I’d begun seeing interesting patterns, trends and connections within the 150+ Thurston Moore records I owed at the time (the collection has continued to swell since then) and so, as a diversion, as something different, as a chance to freshen up my mental landscape, I wrote a series of five lengthy posts gathering together and looking in depth at some of Moore’s works:
I was intending to keep on writing these but the run up to the release of ‘Cobain On Cobain’ began to fill the time so, beyond the notes and sketches I’d already made, January 2015 was as far as I got. Checking blog stats one day I was a bit surprised (to say the least) to see that instead of the regular 3-400 hundred hits, the previous day had peaked at several thousand visitors. What tha…?! Luckily for me, a friend wrote saying “hey, did you see Thurston Moore shared your post on his Facebook?” I looked and was rather delighted to see someone had sent the first piece to him – he’d just said “wild!” or something like that.
Across the next month or so the kernel of an idea popped in my head: I was sure, that with a discography this broad and deep, it would be possible to trace the musical development not just of Moore, but of the scenes he’d weaved in and out of, the sounds he’d been a part of. It made such logical sense to me that with several hundred records outside of Sonic Youth – with some years where releases were emerging at more than a dozen-a-year – that it was entirely possible to tell a coherent and cohesive story entirely through oral history and entirely through the records. I bit the bullet; made the connections; contacted the right people and was delighted to be put in touch with Thurston’s PA, Penny, who – for the next year and a half – would be a near constant presence in my life and a thoroughgoing saint when it came to advice, wisdom, contacts, ideas.
Doing something like this, looking in depth at someone, without their knowledge…It wouldn’t have seemed right to me. I was ready to go but until I knew that Moore was cool for me to do it – I couldn’t have started. I had the lists ready of who I wanted to go after; I had an ever-evolving discography spreadsheet which had initially started as something I had been using for a few years when planning music-shopping expeditions and online-purchasing, then became the guiding text of my existence throughout 2015-2016. Every time I turned around during those years, I would find yet another song contributed to a compilation; another collaboration; another record Moore had chipped into on some obscure label out there in the world. It was a source of constant wonder – and sometimes made me feel I was chasing a moving target.
That’s, luckily, where the logic of writing a book took over: there needed to be boundaries, it needed to have pace and readability, it needed to have repeating themes but also shift focus often enough it would keep interest, and it needed to end before it became repetitious. It felt right to stop when it did; to not cover certain songs or releases; to finally halt while the excitement involved in its creation was still so powerful the long nights felt like a pleasure.
4 thoughts on “We Sing A New Language: Where did the Thurston Moore Book Begin?”
Would you mind clarifying a statement you made near the end of this post please?
When you wrote, “It felt right to stop when it did; to not cover certain songs or releases;”, did you mean there are non-SY Thurston releases you are aware of, but have chosen not to include in this oral discography?
I’m asking because if that’s the case, it seems curious to me, since my understanding is that the book’s main focus is his discography and therefore I’d think one would want it to be as complete as possible.
Hi Gary – Thurston’s discography outside of Sonic Youth features upward of 600 items including individual songs, random appearances, one song where he’s credited with ‘hat’ (but doesn’t actually perform.) Ultimately this is about participants telling the tale, so how many times would the words “he dashed it off in his basement,” be exciting or worthwhile? Then it would no longer be a story of his musical development, it’d simply be a very unreadable manual. Fan though I am of completism, I wanted this to be read with excitement from beginning to end. I believe covering over 200 releases and forming an actual tale with them is comprehensive enough – everything else is in the extensive (and huge) discography at the end of the book which is for collectors (like me) who just want to tally what they have/don’t have. There are many songs where even Thurston doesn’t remember recording them so there’s simply no story to be told.
Thanks for responding Nick, that makes perfect sense! Part of what I was getting at was my concern of whether or not there would be a complete discography at the end for the collector’s like us. Knowing now that there is, I’m doubly excited to get your book!
A very fair question indeed fella! 😉 Heck, I should have covered it properly in the post.