Album: Daydream Nation
. . .
Like Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, Sonic Youth’s 1988 literal landmark Daydream Nation is a double album that snapped everything into place for me with a band that I’d previously not been fully into. And like Zen Arcade, it’s usually their top-ranked album whenever anyone makes GOAT album lists, though neither album is my favorite by that artist.
That said, having your head rearranged is never a small thing, and with Daydream Nation, I can pinpoint the exact moment it happened.
We’re nearly two minutes into side 1 track 1 — the awesomely titled “Teen Age Riot” — and after a lazily dreamy opening where Kim Gordon chants “spirit desire” (she chants other things, but that’s the one that sticks out to me) as the guitars float all around her. After about a minute, just when you think the whole song might just be this weird cool atmospheric thing, “Teen Age Riot” stops for a second, whereupon the guitars of Lee Ranaldo & Thurston Moore roar to life, kicking out an opening riff while drummer Steve Shelley clacks his sticks together while refusing to go straight into a full beat.
It’s a weird cool tension — the guitars pushing forward while the rhythm section is holding back — that lasts for only a short time, as the guitars end up winning, and as “Teen Age Riot” takes off, guitars still in their weird tunings just like always, but also somehow lovely, angry and fuzzed out, it killed me. Just the sound of the band. Oh. This. They can do this? Oh my god.
And just like that, every reservation I ever had about Sonic Youth was gone.
Everybody’s talking ’bout the stormy weather
And what’s a man do to but work out whether it’s true
Looking for a man with a focus and a temper
Who can open up a map and see between one and two
The original working title of “Teen Age Riot” was “J Mascis For President,” which is prescient, as he hadn’t even released “Freak Scene” yet. But Sonic Youth knew.
Everybody’s coming from the winter vacation
Taking in the sun in a exaltation to you
You come running in on platform shoes
With Marshall stacks to at least just give us a clue
Ah, here it comes
I know it’s someone I knew
Teenage riot in a public station
Gonna fight and tear it up in a hypernation for you
Setting up the sci-fi themes that ran through Daydream Nation, “Teen Age Riot” was about an alternate universe where — according to Thurston Moore in the Daydream Nation reissue — they made Mascis the “alternative dream president.” And yeah, in 1988, he definitely would have been a better choice than either of the jokers who ran that year, a state of affairs that is infinitely more true nearly 35 years later. And so as guitars chum and churn relentlessly while Gordon and Shelley navigate tricky little stops and starts throughout, Moore continues to offer his thoughts about the scenario, climaxing with my favorite verse.
It better work out
I hope it works out my way
Cause it’s getting kind of quiet in my city’s head
It takes a teenage riot to get me out of bed right now
Because “Teen Age Riot” has so many words, the instrumental section is a little bit shorter than in some of the other songs, and also, instead of taking the song in a completely different direction, they actually go back to the main riff build-up section that opened the fast part of the song; a pop (or “pop”) move if there ever was one, and as thrilling to me near the end of the song as it was in the beginning.
In any event, I loved “Teen Age Riot” from the moment I heard it, and I clearly wasn’t the only one, as it was the first Sonic Youth song to chart anywhere, making it to #20 on the Billboard Alternative chart, and the final song they played at their final show in 2011. But more importantly, “Teenage Riot” turned my head around on Sonic Youth, beginning a journey that led to them being one of my all-time favorite bands.
“Teen Age Riot”
“Teen Age Riot” (Official Video)
“Teen Age Riot” from 1991-The Year Punk Broke
“Teen Age Riot” live in Germany, 1996
“Teen Age Riot” Live in France, 2005
“Teen Age Riot” live in Eurokeenes, 2005
“Teen Age Riot” Final Performance, Brazil 2011
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