Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on Goodbye 20th Century.
Sonic Youth may stand as the ultimate band for indie hipsters. Long before the early 1990s alternative boom, Sonic Youth led the pack for fans who wanted something different from their rock music. There were not many of those fans, and even in the Ď90s, when the band should have earned a big payday as leaders of the alternative scene, the mainstream still ignored them. Sonic Youth was still just Sonic Youth, adored by some and utterly confusing to everyone else.
Music journalist David Browne has written about Sonic Youth intermittently since about 1990. His appreciation of the band is evident throughout Goodbye 20th Century, but he doesnít let that get in the way of the bandís story. In some ways, as in reviewing the extensive Sonic Youth catalogue, he is too restrained. Whether it is positive or negative, the band requires a stronger reaction to its music.
Browne nails the behind-the-scenes life of the band members. This is not another sex-drugs-and-rock-Ďní-roll book. In fact there is no sex, unless you count a married couple having a child together. There are hardly any drugs. Depending on whom you ask, the presence of any rock and roll is debatable as well.
Every member of the band brings interesting backgrounds and specific artistic quirks, but at the same time they are all highly conventional, even domestic. Sonic Youth are soccer parents.
Goodbye 20th Century is an even-keeled biography about a band that has struggled for nearly 30 years to balance artistic ambition with financial success. Sonic Youth always maintained artistic freedom and somehow managed to do it on major record labels without selling any records. Any other band would be dropped after the second album didnít meet the sales goals. Sonic Youth survived on its credibility. Its presence on the label added a hip quality that other acts could latch onto. The term indie cred may have been invented for Sonic Youth.
Many of the acts that came up under Sonic Youth went on to big financial success. That lack of commercial success is something the band members half-joke about, but it seems to be the one thing they could never make happen.
Browne does a commendable job unearthing the various personalities within the band as well as the characters outside of the band. He also does not rely on digging up the dirt - there is no dirt to be dug. That is a refreshing change from the flood of rock tell-alls that drop all the dirty bits to help push units.