Feel like a dose of Sonic Youth without the eardrum-battering assault of Thurston Moore’s guitar? Then pick up a copy of Noise, a brand new anthology of short fiction inspired by the band’s back catalogue, with an introduction by Lee Ranaldo and contributions from the likes of Mary Gaitskill and Shelley Jackson. Unfortunately, it will not be sold at Starbucks. (If you haven’t done so yet, enter here to win your copy.) And don’t miss our latest print issue, which includes an exclusive excerpt from Noise: a Tom McCarthy short story, “Why I Want To Fuck Patty Hearst,” which was inspired by the track “Kool Thing.”
We chatted with series editor Peter Wild about the shadowy quality of Sonic Youth, the inspirational powers of Britney Spears, and how the book project came together like a productive train crash.
Can you describe how this series initially came about?
A long time ago, maybe five or six years ago, I had an idea for a novel that incorporated songs by The Fall as chapter headings. I didn’t plan to mention The Fall in any other way. The plan was just to have them there as a sort of secret signifier. That lingered in my head for a wee while and then another idea, the idea of an anthology of short stories inspired by a particular band, hit that first idea. Think of it like two trains piling into one another at an intersection. The songs would no longer be secret signifiers; the songs would be the touchstone from which everything sprang forth! Subsequent to that metaphorical pileup, I planned out a wee series, in which there would be three English bands and three American bands.
You write that there’s “something quantum” about Sonic Youth’s sound. What other qualities does the music have that makes it so ripe for inspiring fiction?
I think the music has to have a kind of a shadow, an intent behind it. There has to be something about the people producing the music, some thought, some intellect, some agenda, some grand thing they want to get across. Sonic Youth are a nexus for all different kinds of artistic action. You have the music, of course, but you also have to factor in the inspiration they have provided to countless other artistic forms over the last twenty years: poetry, fashion, installation art. Individual members of Sonic Youth seem to me to be forever asking themselves, ‘what can I do now, what can I do now, what can I do now?’ In writing songs, the band draws inspiration from other areas, what they see, what they read, what they hear. Figuratively speaking, Sonic Youth generate spaces, ambivalent gaps in which you can explore whatsoever it is you think you can hear. In a way, that’s what Noise is all about…
How did you first approach Sonic Youth about this project? Did they need convincing?
I fired an email off to Steve Shelley via his record label and he put me in touch with Lee [Ranaldo] and Kim [Gordon], both of whom were really into the idea and tremendously supportive. Kim fired me a list of possible contributors that included the likes of Mary Gaitskill, Rebecca Godfrey, William Gibson and Bret Easton Ellis. I got Mary and Rebecca, obviously. William Gibson did not respond to any of my messages, although I am prepared to admit messages may not get through when you are working along a network of publicists and editors and different publishing houses. I met Bret Easton Ellis when he came to Manchester, England about three years ago and though he said he loved Sonic Youth and was friends with Kim and Thurston, he was in the middle of something and was not all that comfortable writing short stories to begin with and that was fine. Subsequent to all of the commissioning, I kept in pretty close contact with Lee and he offered support and advice throughout the process. And obviously he fashioned an introduction to the book, which is great.
Are there plans to extend the series with additional bands, and can you shed a bit of light on that? [Note: U.S. publications plans, with the exception of The Smiths, are not fully confirmed as of yet].
The plan is to produce six books, starting with The Fall, then Sonic Youth, then The Smiths, The Ramones, Joy Division and The Velvet Underground. The first three are completed and either published or set for publication shortly. The last three are in the process of coming together right now. The last three will be slightly different from the first three in that, along with short stories there are also going to be graphic contributions from the likes of Peter Bagge, Cole Johnson, Leah Hayes, and Andrej Klimowski.
Do you think talented fiction writers would be able to spin gold from even the most uninspiring musical source? In other words: would “Fiction inspired by Britney Spears” ever fly?
Contradicting what I said earlier a little bit, I do think inspiration can strike from the most unlikely of sources. There was a book published earlier this year by Continuum about Celine Dion, one of the 33 1/3 series [Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson]. The guy was sort of negatively inspired by Celine Dion. That is a great book and would seem to answer yes to your question. As for Britney Spears, who wouldn’t want to read a story called “Hit Me Baby One More Time… ”? Or “Oops, I Did It Again”? Or “I’m Not A Girl”?