Thurston Moore delivers a moment

One of my favorite records from 2010 is The Radio Dept’s Clinging to a Scheme. Even thought the Swedish indie band has been around since 2003, that record was my intro to them (they subsequently released a singles collection last year that’s provides a nice overview). Anyway, there’s this great sample playing at the beginning of track 2 of Clinging to a Scheme [see below] while the band plays the harpsichordy intro. It’s the voice of a serious-sounding, academic who says, “People see rock-and-roll as youth culture and when youth culture becomes monopolized by big business what are the youth to do?  Do you have any idea? I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture.” Cue poppy, jiggling guitar.

It’s not quite as powerful as the Iggy Pop sample at the beginning of Mogwai’s “Punk Rock.” but I always got behind it and figured it serious.

So the other night I’m watching 1991: The Year Punk Broke, which is a real trip down memory lane. The last time I saw it, it was played on an 1980 RCA VHS machine, I was just entering high school, couldn’t drive, and imagine I was scheming for a way to get my parents to drive me to Toronto to catch Lollapalooza 1993. All could recall from it is that there’s tons of raw footage of mostly Sonic Youth and Nirvana (and occasionally Dinosaur Jr. and other sludgy grunge acts) playing and goofing during an early 90s tour of Europe. Nirvana was about to release Nevermind and Sonic Youth was between Goo and Dirty (judging from the songs played on film, it looks like they barely started writing Dirty if they started it at all). Anyway, relatively early in the film there are plenty of random shots of Thurston Moore yelling into the mic, goofing around on the streets of Ireland or Germany, and apparently riffing on Madonna’s tour documentary, Truth or Dare.  And this happens:

The sample! It was fucking Thurston Moore? Although he criticizes record companies at the end of the clip (omitted from the Radio Dept song), SY had just released Goo on Geffen (now owned by Universal Music) a year earlier and would go on to release many more (along with labelmates, Nirvana).

I had moments like these throughout my listening life, usually when I listened to hip-hop. It would start with something from NWA, and then years later I’d be listening to Gang Starr or James Brown or the Beasties and have that moment of realization of the original source. While not entirely profound, the moment reminds me of how there is still an aura, even in a copy. It also reminds me that context is essential to meaning. Tracing, tracking a sample’s ecology raises questions, too. Is Moore just fucking around? Is he serious? Can it be both? No doubt folks who know SY’s history better than me will have interpretations here, but I thought about that moment and wondered if they happen more frequently in a remix culture, or since originality is always suspect, those moments have always happened, just differently.