Daydream Nation 33 1/3

August 9, 2007

I bought this book on a whim mostly because I have always felt that Daydream Nation possesses powers that seem to elude me. It’s not that I don’t realize it is a good record. Just listening to it, I can hear the quality of the music, and I can also hear the influence that it has had on music ever since it came out. No question, Sonic Youth’s fingerprints are on a lot of my favorite bands and their albums, silently and subtley. But at the same time, I just never quite enjoyed many of the sounds that the album has to offer, and parts of it I simply don’t understand the appeal of. So I bought this book. Other entries to the series, the Loveless book and, to some extent, the 69 Love Songs book, have served me well, so I figured if I were to buy a book for an album that I really feel like I need to understand, the payout would be fairly high.

To some extent, it was. I think the biggest issue I had with this book was how much it reads into individual songs and themes. What I didn’t like at first about the Loveless book was how it didn’t give individual songs enough attention. I kind of wanted to know what pedals they used for a song, or what was going through the musicians heads while writing the songs. But what I realize from reading this 33 1/3 book is that the song by song comprehensive review really means nothing. It tells me some reasons that one might like some of the songs, and it might also bring some of the albums details and secrets to the surface, but I really didn’t have to remind myself that I don’t really care how much Matthew Stearns likes Rain King and why, or why I should even concern myself with these opinions.

That is not to say that the book doesn’t have some value of education. Stearns is a very articulate writer who knows how to get information across in style. That’s the first step. It’s an easy book to read and it is also fun. But you learn a lot from it as well. Daydream Nation is a musical puzzle if I have ever seen one. The first step in understanding the album is that it is bound to disturb and detriment just as much as it elates. Stearns main point in the writing seems to be that Daydream Nation is all about contrast. This might just be true. But broad, vague interpretations aside, there are also many details that I missed out on through the countless times I have listened to the album that the book brought to the surface. I didn’t even notice all of the sexual dialog in Silver Rocket. I also didn’t know that Hey Joni is about Joni Mitchell, Eliminator Jr. is a throwback to a ZZ-Top song, or that Providence is essentially an answering machine tape of Mike Watt of the Minutemen played over a dying amp. Also, the author gives the reader a rather comprehensive view of the New York rock scene of the 80s, the history of Sonic Youth, and the musical psyche of it’s members through excerpts of recent interviews and long, detailed explanations.

But a lot of what this particular 33 1/3 is about is mindless praise. And it’s exactly the kind of passion I was wishing for in the first place. But if one spends one hundred fifty odd pages relentlessly praising an album, it must be good, right? Yeah, but on it’s own terms. No question, Daydream Nation is a great album that rearranged the face of rock and roll for years to come. But these people are not gods. Part of what makes the album so interesting is that, for all intents and purposes, the members of Sonic Youth are just regular people with an artsy flair. Every guitar effect does not need to be justified as having some kind of meaning.

And lyrical analysis… Oh god. The lyrics. Part of the mystique of Sonic Youth’s lyrics is that more often than not, no one knows what the hell they mean. One part of the book that I found completely ridiculous is the detailed analysis of the lyrics of Eric’s Trip. Okay Matthew, there is something here you really NEED to understand. Every line of words does not have to possess some deep meaning. Sometimes punk rockers just say what sounds good and rhymes. I feel like all of the songs have specific meanings, but these don’t carry in every line. I can personally imagine that when Lee Ranaldo was scrawling out the lyrics to the song, he probably just thought the lines “I was the door and you were the station” sounded cool. Or maybe I’m hallucinating and every line does really mean something very deep, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I think if these words do hold a very deep, sophisticated meaning, their previous mystique was stronger.

This year, Daydream Nation turns nineteen and the ideas that spawned it turn twenty. It’s a completely appropriate time to release the Deluxe Edition of the noise masterpiece. This edition is remastered and contains a wealth of bonus tracks to make the experience that much more enjoyable. If you haven’t heard Daydream Nation, you really should, because it honestly is a great album and there is no better time than the present to take advantage of the re-release as well as the bands tour in support of it, but you probably wouldn’t want to pick up this book to accompany the purchase. Although it is a very well written edition to the 33 1/3 family, I just put the book down upon finishing it feeling like not a whole lot was gained, and what was gained was almost regrettable. To be honest, you don’t need to buy this book to understand the album. If you want to understand Daydream Nation, simply buy the album, crank it up, listen two or three times, and maybe take a closer look at some lyrics sheets, no more no less.

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