Psychic Hearts

I still have the cassette of Thurston Moore's first (and only?) solo album, Psychic Hearts (DGC, 1995). I haven't gotten sick of its hard rock riffs, the hip-hop-influenced beats of Steve Shelley's great drumming and Moore's semi-nostalgic 1970s suburban punk lyrics. The title track has one of the best openings of any rock song, with Moore's snarling verses and the bass & drums setting a desperate & ecstatic mood:

"I know you had a fucked-up life
Growing up in a stupid town"

I surely did. I still recall certain streets and apartments in Tampa where I first listened to these songs. They come to life any time I hear this album, not as nostalgia but as an awareness of how music can relate to place & time in transcendent ways.

In 1995 I was finishing my last year as an undergrad, working as a chef, living in one of Ybor City's cigar-maker houses, reading and writing as much as possible. Two Sonic Youth concerts (both at USF) during that "era" helped me make sense of what poetry might be about. The textures they built live and on albums were always incredibly dense, richly textured and tuneful behind the wall of static and feedback, the closest I could get to an experience of the sublime.

Psychic Hearts is noticeably minimalist compared to Moore's work for Sonic Youth. The final song of the album ("Elegy For All the Dead Rock Stars") does venture into epic soundscapes, probably foreshadowing some of Sonic Youth's more psychedelic & Grateful Dead-ish songs (such as "Hits of Sunshine (For Allen Ginsberg")). But what ties me to this album is its crisp punk melodies, its suburban slang lyrics, and the clean sound that frames every song.

When Sonic Youth opened up for Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the USF Sundome in 1991, Moore hung his guitar off the stage and haphazardly dragged it up and down by its chord. This was during an improvisation, while Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo built up a magnificent wall of static & shrieks. Moore seemed wasted, stumbling at the edge of the stage with his head hanging, letting the guitar scratch against the stage, the strings letting off loud moans and screeches. Neil Young's hippie fans were having none of this avant-garde weirdness and were booing at Sonic Youth. Thankfully, they kept up the improvisation, forcing the hippies to either take a bathroom break or learn something.

Being wasted on stage is nothing new, nor is it an innovative act. But Moore's relatively cliche gesture had a graceful quality that made perfect sense to me.

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