Few elder statesmen of rock music are as beloved as Neil Young. The ‘Godfather of Grunge’ rendered himself to future generations of musicians by following exactly the path that he wanted to follow, ignoring what any critic or label executive might say. Young even got sued by his boss, David Geffen, when he released the electronica-heavy 1983 album Trans, with Geffen claiming that Young deliberately released music that didn’t sound like himself.
Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon cites Young’s refusal to be buried by Gedden as her band’ was mulling over whether to sign with Geffen’s DGC label. Ultimately, the band decided to sign, and Young obviously felt no animosity towards Sonic Youth, considering the fact that Young brought the band on tour with him during his ‘Ragged Glory’ trek in late 1990.
“Opening for Neil was an amazing, eye-opening experience,” Gordon detailed in her memoir Girl in a Band. “We were all big longtime fans of his, and it felt like our first real brush with the mainstream. Of course, this prompted every music journalist to ask us, ‘So what’s it like to finally be in the mainstream?’ In reply I can say that Neil Young tour proved that Sonic Youth actually wasn’t in the mainstream, and if we were, the mainstream hated us!”
Gordon goes on to describe the negative reaction generated by Young’s older, more idealistic hippie crowd. She also recounts how Young’s tour manager at the time favoured another band who was on the tour, Social Distortion, which subsequently led to Sonic Youth almost never being able to soundcheck. With an arsenal of guitars in a variety of tunings, the job of guitar tech was left to a single friend of the band who couldn’t keep up with demand, leading Thurston Moore to smash his instrument on more than one occasion.
She also recounts how Sonic Youth spent most of the tour hanging out not with Young, but rather with longtime Crazy Horse guitarist Frank ‘Pancho’ Sampedro. One night, however, Gordon and Moore found themselves in Young’s bus, with Moore laying out the history of punk rock. “Neil was lovely. He sat there tuning the sound of a cow mooing for one of his electric train cars,” Gordon remembers. “This may sound lame, or like a total understatement, but Neil was always incredibly supportive of us.”
Gordon ends her recollection of Sonic Youth’s association with Young at the 1991 Bridge School Benefit. Sonic Youth was asked to play acoustically, which they had never done before, and went on stage without the monitors working properly. Gordon subsequently cursed in front of a row of kids and smashed one of her guitars. Backstage, Young’s son Ben came up to Gordon tried to console her by saying, “Everyone has a bad day sometimes.”
Check out Sonic Youth’s cover of the Trans track ‘Computer Age’ down below.