Concert Reviews

This is what a writing class with Thurston Moore is like: A look at his notes from Naropa

There is no way to stretch the word "poet" to fit into something I am even remotely interested in, but when you find yourself in the position to take a poetry/writing workshop from Thurston Moore, you're willing to break out of your cage a little. When Moore took on the task of teaching a workshop at Naropa University for its Summer Writing Program, most were skeptical but still interested in what he'd do. In this case, it was poetry noise, apparently.

On the morning of July 4, twelve of us wandered into an auditorium for a class with the innocuous title of "In Silver Rain With a Paper Key." Nobody, myself included, had any idea what to expect from this. We knew Thurston Moore the Rocker, but nobody really had an idea who Thurston Moore the writer was -- or if he actually existed. It turns out, he has a poetry journal he runs off his record label called Ecstatic Peace, and in a slightly overrun, rambling, three-hour introduction, he revealed that when he initially moved to New York in the '70s, it was not to make music, but rather to be a writer.

It's no surprise that Moore came out on the first day in the defensive position. He was teaching a class full of MFA students who had worked with a wide variety of writers over the years, and who, like myself, mostly took the class because, well, why not?. During his three-hour diatribe, he talked about his history with writing, the poets and authors he'd read over the years, who, by loose proxy or direct contact, influenced Sonic Youth. He was, for the most part, running on autopilot, reciting excerpts from Our Band Could Be Your Life. Then day one was over.

Day two was a bit more like what you'd expect from a class with Thurston Moore. We wrote down short stories and poems, then recited them into a cassette deck while he played guitar. Then he screwed around with them and made -- in his words -- "some sick poetry noise" while we stood around and watched.

It's funny, because when you go to a noise show, you kind of assume there is a difference between the amateur and the professional. You think a band like Sonic Youth, or Thurston Moore, or whoever, is better at it than anyone else. But there is no trick: Moore, like every noise band in Denver and beyond, just layered distortion over the cassette, wandered around the room with cassette decks and created feedback loops. For what it's worth, the look on his face was pure gold: This was his element far more than a writing workshop, and it should have probably been the primary goal of the class from the start.

Day three was more talking, but with the class loosened up a bit, it turned into more of a dialogue then a monologue. It was interesting in a way that was only intriguing for those of us there, but a few gossipy tidbits came out of it. For instance, did you now that Kim Gordon had a texting relationship with James Franco? That Stephen Malkmus hates slam poetry? Or that even after years of being out of print, Moore's list of ten essential free jazz records he wrote for Grand Royale was still brought into record stores (Twist & Shout and Wax Trax included)?

In a later conversation outside, I asked him how deep into Scientology Beck was, and it turns out, it was never mentioned in the time Moore was staying there recording his latest album. That's not to say Moore wasn't worried about it coming up; he was, and he seemed a bit thankful it wasn't an issue. It wasn't so much a writing workshop at this point -- it was more of an interview -- but it was interesting in a lot of ways, despite its flaws. It was full of goofy gossip about Sonic Youth, Richard Hell, Neil Young and plenty of others.

The final day was spent finishing up the recording, putting together an issue of Ecstatic Peace featuring all of our ridiculous ramblings and preparing for a performance of the "poetry noise." It was interesting to see Moore working as a producer and a director instead of a musician -- telling people where to stand, how long to speak, how to speak, and fine-tuning the noise and feedback to a level he thought was perfect. When he was in his element, he did a better job of teaching than when he was pretending to be a lecturer.

Moore seemed impressed with what we did and what we churned out over the course of the four days, but not enough to bring him back. "I probably won't do it again," he said. "Naropa is the only place I've ever accepted an invitation, because they asked me as a writer, not a historian or a musician." It's funny, then, we got so much history out of it.

There was a bit more to it than everything above. Click through to find the rest of the exerpts from his notes on the class, which might help illuminate what he wanted to do with it, even if many of those ideas weren't exactly executed.

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Thorin Klosowski
Contact: Thorin Klosowski