The past couple of weeks I have secluded myself into my multimedia dungeon to meditate on Sonic Youth’s music video collection, Corporate Ghost. Besides being illustrious noise makers, Sonic Youth have far exceeded their tenure in the underground art world with a career dedicated to providing visuals to accompany their shifting sound. The collection spotlights material that was created between 1992 and 2002, a decade whose music culture still celebrated the music video and MTV.
Both the band and the director share their commentary on the making of the videos which occasionally dispels the mystery of the artisan purveyor’s concept and technique. Other times, it sounds like the band is rambling on about inside jokes and their awkward experiences being the stars of the video.
Corporate Ghost displays the juxtaposition between Sonic Youth’s sincere punk rock ethos and their presence as mainstream label street slickers. At times, their work is DIY in nature, low-budget using hand held cameras or a boom box to supply a crinkled backdrop for lip-synching. For other videos, the quick flashes of high-definition, big money and top of the line camera work is utilized.
I was quite impressed to find that every song from Goo had a music video. Many during this era were intensely lo-fi; homemade on scratchy super 8 video cameras. One of my favorites is “Tunic (Song for Karen)”. The song is centered around Karen Carpenter, who passed away in 1983 due to her battle with anorexia – and sort of serves as a farewell note from Karen herself. It’s primitive neon marshmallow set reminds me of the intro to an early Nickelodeon kids show, Clarissa Explains It All, that is, if Clarissa was having a really terrible acid trip. I guess during its the video was pretty high-tech for director Tony Oursler to use a green screen and project images onto the faces of rather frightening stuffed animals. In fact, many of the videos found on Corporate Ghost should be viewed as artistic portals shared between each director and Sonic Youth.
I also enjoyed “Mote”, for filming a static television set, fast-moving images and the songs with a rare vocal performance by guitarist, Lee Renaldo. The frequency and shifty camera movement may hurt the eyes after a while but the chaos also details the emotional capacity of the song. Towards the end, Sonic Youth sprawl into one of their noise-fucked jams, a stoic landscape of feedback accompanied by blurred images of the bombing of Hiroshima and distorting the image of the band to look like Lego man tyrants, swinging their guitars against layered images of a man who is either drifting into the outer reigns of consciousness or sexual transcendence dissected by aliens. It is seriously one of the best low-budget music videos ever made.
“My Friend Goo” is way more light-hearted in it’s primitive creativity. The band basically films Kim Gordon singing over the track being played on a record player with a hilarious guy who looked like he could have walked off of the Singles set, flailing in the background. The video was clearly videotaped in a fun environment and Kim Gordon’s fantastic pink one piece jumpsuit is a reason to watch the video in itself.
Many of the videos feature people who would continue to flourish within their career after being invited into the band’s orbit around the indie world (such as Kathleen Hanna, Sleater Kinney, Sofia Coppola, Chloë Sevigny and even Macaulay Culkin!). Some videos make some sort of sense with a loose narrative other times the images are as layered and abstract as the music itself. Tom Surgal directs “Disconnection Notice” off of Murray Street in a very post modern style. Instead of the music leading the narrative, the video is a one-act scene between fictional band members stuck in a van listening to the song while they dish out tour drama.
I highly recommend this collection for any Sonic Youth fan or those who are simply interested in exploring their work. I think their music is best enjoyed with the video art that goes hand in hand with it throughout Corporate Ghost