Thursday, February 12, 2009
Confusion Is Sex
I was in high school when DGC Records started re-issuing old Sonic Youth records. By that point, I was already a fan. My sister had made me a tape of Goo in late 1990 and I was pretty much hooked from that point forward. But it wasn’t until those reissues hit the streets that I began to get an honest feel for what Sonic Youth was all about.
The Sonic Youth I fell in love with while spooling cassette tapes in Jr. High was a cleaned-up, almost listener-friendly form of a band that used to peel paint from the walls with shimmery waves of feedback in the ‘80s.
When those reissues came out, it felt like DGC was working backwards, starting with less-scary stuff like Daydream Nation. It wasn’t until 1995 that their full-length debut, 1983’s Confusion Is Sex, came out. I was in summer school, being a bad kid.
No, I wasn’t in summer school because I was a bad kid. I was just being a bad kid. I was in a program that promoted extra classes throughout the high school years so that I’d be more likely to take AP classes for college credit as a senior. What it really led to was lots of time off my senior year and as much theatre as I could legally take.
But the summer of 1995 was still “A-Game Time” to everyone around me, so I played along. I wore winter clothes all summer long. I was frustrated. I was 16. I punched a guy. I did inappropriate things I can’t really talk about. Ever. And Confusion Is Sex was my soundtrack. I listened to it, to and from school, all summer long. I went out of my way to walk both ways, just so I could listen all the way through.
Confusion Is Sex is just about unlistenable. It’s so lo-fi and tuneless that it’s borderline atonal, and that’s a large part of its charm. It’s like someone took a handheld mic and placed it just outside the window of a room a very young Sonic Youth was rehearsing in, and then tried to mix it using a broken compass and a 4-track recorder.
It’s just the sort of album a teenager shouldn’t listen to. If anything, it fed my adolescent psychoses. Every so often, on nights like tonight, I pull it back out of the collection and give it a spin. And I try to remember just what it was that I felt in those days. Just what it was that made Confusion Is Sex so monumental to my upbringing.