Wassup Rockers



Ian MacKaye + Thurston Moore @ St. Francis College (Brooklyn Book Festival 2008).

Today was the Brooklyn Book Festival and one of the more unexpected panel offerings was a Q & A with Thurston Moore and Ian MacKaye.  I’ve already seen Ian speak before and I’ve already seen Sonic Youth live, but I wasn’t gonna pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  So I queued up as early as I could to make sure I would get a ticket for this.

Johnny Temple, who used to rock out but now publishes books at Akashic, introduced the two and sat back as people interrogated Ian and Thurston.  Before he gave up the mic, he did state that not a single author at the festival was getting paid to be there, which was amazing to hear, because they had some incredible “gets” (Walter Mosley spoke at the venue right before the Ian & Thurston panel, I saw him exiting the place).  I think only five or six people got a chance to ask questions, mostly because the two dudes had a lot to say.  The introduction by Johnny was really great because he gave out a warning that all panelists should give out at Q & A sessions: don’t ask stupid questions.  Johnny Temple reminded us that Thurston and Ian have been interviewed a gazillion times, so if we had any basic questions we should just Google the information.  I was pleasantly surprised by the level of questioning from the crowd, which mostly consisted of younger (college age?) people.  I just wanna give props to all the people who got a chance to ask questions because they were great.  Even though we were at a book festival, they understandably asked a lot about music and business, like about the “pay what you want” model à la Radiohead, or how bands these days are quick to align themselves with corporate brands that have nothing to do with music in the first place.

Even before anyone asked any questions, Ian just had to rant about how we shouldn’t use Google as a verb and speak of personal music-listening devices instead of iPods and to stop talking about YouTube and refer to them as video streaming websites.  He was crazy serious and he absolutely had a point that we shouldn’t use brand names so mindlessly but I couldn’t stop laughing because before the panel started, my friends and I jokingly bet that Ian would talk more (moore??) than Thurston.

But Thurston got his say, too, such as when he declared his fetishistic love for LP records, and how he and Steve Shelley have had plenty of arguments whether to “sell out” their music for products that are totally unrelated to music.

Above all, I thought Thurston and Ian were hilarious as a pair, in a comedy duo kind of sense. Just picture them.  There’s this one really tall dude with floppy hair and another kinda short dude with hardly any hair. Ian definitely played the straight man, carefully considering the questions posed and giving long answers with lots of anecdotes, while Thurston mostly sat back and looked cool, offering occasional witty comments.

As Ian is wont to do, he told stories about when he was younger and he did so very eloquently.  He spoke of the shock of hearing a mix tape for the first time, how it had never occurred to him that an(y) individual could choose which songs to put into a tape and even draw a little cover for it.  The weird thing is that this story veered into how the person who showed him this mixed tape was some druggy European dude who was a friend of a friend (or something) and how Ian had met said druggy European dude on a ride to see the Ramones in New Haven in 1979.

“What year did you say it was?” Thurston asked him.
“1979.”
“Dude, I was there!”

Those are not direct quotes.  There was this whole exchange with Thurston asking whether Ian did coke with the druggy European dude and Ian bursting out with a resounding HELL NO.  Thurston said he didn’t remember Ian at the Ramones show, but that he sure remembered Ian’s druggy European friend, haha.  I’m not sure if Thurston was just pulling Ian’s leg about being at that Ramones show.  This suspicion was exacerbated by the fact that, nearing the end of the hour-long discussion, when they seemed to forget about the Q & A and just started throwing out respectfully bromantic comments at each other, Thurston spoke about one of the first times (the first time?) he met Ian.  Sonic Youth were playing at the 100 Club in London and Ian was just chillin’ in the audience and then Thurston approached him and was all like, “Yo wassup” and they started talking and how all of a sudden Nick Cave made an entrance and Ian* was “three sheets to the wind” and started bugging out about Nick Cave being in da house and la la la (here Thurston began a priceless impersonation of Nick Cave, except I was laughing too hard to be paying close attention)–which prompted Ian to reply with “That is such a lie!!”  And then Ian started talking about how it wasn’t the first time that Thurston had lied about Ian, except by that point I had completely lost it with the unexpected Nick Cave cameo in Thurston’s anecdote.  When I left the auditorium I was still howling with absolute joy.

To be hyperbolic about the whole shebang: this was one of the most rewarding hours I’ve spent in my life, if only because it was bitchin’ humid outside and it was so delightful to spend it with Ian MacKaye and Thurston Moore in an air-conditioned auditorium with pretty sweet acoustics that allowed everyone to ask questions clearly without a mic.

I’m sure some of those present will read this and say “This is a completely inaccurate breakdown of the event” and I agree.  I didn’t take notes on purpose because I imagined it would be one of those wonderful experiences that I’ll allow to become tainted in my memory with the passage of time.

The rest of the festival, minus the insufferable weather, was fun, too.  Somehow I ended up subscribing to The Dirty Goat, a lit mag that features a lot of non-American authors both in their original language and in translation.  At least… I hope they send me the issues.  I paid good money for the subscription, haha.

EDIT: The One Story posse was at the festival, too, and they just posted a story that various passersby wrote collectively.  It’s kinda sorta hilarious.  I really wanted to get a subscription to One Story but I had to resist their allure because I was short on dinero.  I’d ask my parents to buy me a subscription, but I’m planning to ask them for new bookshelves as a combination birthday/Christmas present this year, and that’s already asking for too much.

* ANOTHER EDIT: Ah shit, my token 90s friend told me that Thurston was referring to Nick Cave as “three sheets to the wind,” which makes a lot more sense.

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