Sonic Youth: “Brother James”

I dug up an old tape this morning of SY’s “Hold that Tiger”, a live show (bootleg?) from Japan in the late 80s. The vinyl copy is still in my mother’s basement with about four-hundred other choice albums from my collector days. The tape is scratchy, the sound quality sucks, but there is a song on it called “Brother James” which has always appealed to me. I don’t think they ever put it on any studio album.

It was something of a live favorite of theirs since 1985 or so, way before I or anyone really cared or knew who they were. The first time I heard them – thanks, Joe! – I thought it was utter crap. I was still into the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1989-90. Then something clicked and I fell geekishly in love with this band. Their music was the soundtrack for my first year in college. Since “Brother James” is ostensibly about a trip to hell, I figure it captures perfectly the mood of those few years.

*I didn’t bother uploading one of SY’s 80’s performances of this song because the quality is normally awful. This version, at the height of their “selling-out” period, captures the particular dynamic of this song well. It’s all about Steve Shelley’s primal drumming and Kim Gordon’s indecipherable yowling anyway. The rest, as they say, is noise.