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A voice in the background is telling Thurston Moore to turn left. The muffled command wafting through the static of the cell phone could be anyone, but my inner gab immediately fantasizes Kim Gordon in the passenger seat navigating Moore through New York traffic. That's the thing about celebrity, even on a cult level: The mind tends to meander toward rock-doc aesthetics and always puts iconic duos in the presence of each other.
But this time it's true. Probably. Moore explains that he's en route to the studio to polish the last mixes on the upcoming Sonic Youth album -- the band he shares with his bass-player wife Gordon, guitarist Lee Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley and multi-instrumentalist Jim O'Rourke. Members of the seminal noise-rock group have also been busy otherwise: Gordon and Ranaldo have an art exhibition on display in New York, and Moore's solo work was recently released on a limited-edition split record with avant-garde electro-magnates Cotton Museum. Some of that output may meet the harsh light of live performance when Moore freebirds a co-headlining set with Jello Biafra and poet Anne Waldman this Thursday. The concert is a benefit for Boulder-based nonprofits Burma Lifeline and La Casa de le Esperanza.
"I don't really have the kind of activist literature in my work that Anne and Jello have," Moore admits, "but I think it's important, especially if you're articulate with what's going on and the ideas that you think are potent. Honestly, I'm envious of people who can go out and express that sort of energy. I guess everyone kind of does it of their own accord."
Certainly, Moore and Sonic Youth have charged the political landscape of the mainstream music scene -- if not with outright protest, then by simply ignoring convention. The bandmembers have remained active in independent arts and culture, while musically they've been granted nearly untouchable status by critics. And they've done it all without getting caught in fanatical backlash.
"I always figured that as long as you were aware of what you're doing in the situation, then you should be able to work within the commercial industry and still be ethical," Moore remarks. "Most complaints that I've heard about bands getting ripped off in the record industry was a case where the band wasn't looking out for themselves. And that's what you have to do, and that's what staying independent is all about -- to be independent and work within it. When you work in any other field and there's a possibility to move to a better position, then you take it. I don't understand why the music industry isn't held in the same regard. It's that whole perception that in order to be successful you have to sell a certain amount of records or make a certain amount of money, but I've never subscribed to that. You can certainly be successful without being commercial."
For a man with his own Wikipedia entry, Moore barely notices the value of his own cultish name. "Generally, it's weird to be thought of like that, because I've always been active with what was going on in the underground," he says. "A lot of the new bands and kids that come to the scene will see me and be like, 'Who's that, and what's he doing here?' And I'm like, 'What are you doing here?' Like I'm kind of slummy or something, but I've been here for forever. I just kind of have to swallow that."