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Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth
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Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  953 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Sonic Youth’s distinctive, uncompromising sounds have provided a map for innumerable musicians who followed, from ’90s groundbreakers like Nirvana and Pavement to current faves like the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. More than perhaps any other act, Sonic Youth has brought “fringe” art to the mainstream, helping spawn an alternative arts scene that prospers to this day: ...more
Hardcover, 422 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Ian "Marvin" Graye
Soundtrack Part I ("Taking in the Sun in an Exaltation to You")

Hey, indie music fans, listen to this (start with the first five minutes, the rest is noise, about which more later), while you read the first part of this review:


"Looking for a Man with a Focus and a Temper"

This 422 page book is jam packed with information about one of my favourite indie bands, Sonic Youth.

Do I need to know all of these facts about Sonic Youth? Of course, I do.

Would I like s
The amount of nerding-out I did over this book was incredible. While there were a few incorrect details that I spotted here and there (and one that stuck out to me so much, I actually sent an email to David Browne - no word back yet, and none expected), overall the writing was incredibly cohesive, and although Browne had conducted interviews with the bands many years prior to taking on this project, his presence in the work was completely invisible. I actually borrowed this book, and have decide ...more
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sonic Youth is one of the last bands I would have expected to be the impetus for an excellent biography. They're arty, obscure and almost entirely free of drama, drugs, angst or any of the other typical trappings befitting a book-worthy band.

All the same, I was in Northampton, Mass. recently, where Sonic Youth's leading couple, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon live (well, former couple - they recently separated after decades of marriage) and I was browsing in this terrific little mom 'n' pop bookst
Feb 16, 2010 rated it did not like it
Very dryly written. It almost hurt to finish.
Tom Choi
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: sisters and nurses

As biographies of musicians and bands go, this one is no "Hammer of the Gods." David Browne tastefully avoids the clichéd hyperboles of rock journalism and manages to present a detailed and well-rounded portrait of that band that everyone has heard of--but perhaps one that not too many people have actually listened. Admittedly, the story of Sonic Youth is rather boring as far as rock and roll biographies go: no sex, no drugs; no punchouts, walk-outs, and black outs; just rock and roll (and somet
Mar 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bs-2, pl, read1
overall, this book reads like a very conventional biography but there are enough back-stories & anecdotes to keep fans of SY interested. "Goodbye 20th Century" does an effective job at revealing the internal dynamics of the band, which are very interesting & unique. it could have easily glossed over later-period SY but wisely does not. comprehensive & informative, but it seems to lack the compelling prose of "This Band Could Be Your Life" & "Rip It Up & Start It Again" or the ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Not unlike one excruciatingly-long wikipedia article. It is upsetting to read the relegation of Lee Ranaldo to the back burner, he is truly the brains behind the band. For such interesting music, Sonic Youth certainly have a boring biography. Maybe it was just the author's take on the whole situation, but this offered no insight. The moral of the story: don't sign with an independent label, the major label will screw you over too, if you try to do it on your own - you will also fail. This book c ...more
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book makes a great counterpart to Alec Foege's now-outdated "Confusion is Next: the Sonic Youth Story." While it doesn't capture the same grimy early-NYC vibe as that book - and frankly, the culture out of which SY sprung is incredibly important to truly "getting" the band's origins - it's significantly more comprehensive as a career overview. No element, tour, record, side project, etc. is slighted, with the exception of Made in U.S.A. and a few ephemeral side projects like the Velvet Monk ...more
Dec 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: about-music
Well put together with serious, intelligent writing. Browne really shows us the personalities of the band members and how their interpersonal dynamics have coalesced over the years. His commentary on their actual music is not exactly deep or revelatory, but he does cover all of it. The first part of the book is definitely the stronger, as it really gives you a sense of how the outsider music scene in new york in the late 70's and early 80's developed and how a group of people managed to create s ...more
Dec 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
There were moments I wished this book had been written by someone less distant and more of a fan, but kudos are due to David Browne for his copious research and meticulous organization. The strongest parts of the book for me are the chapters covering Sonic Youth's formation and early years as well as their more recent projects including everything from their brief collaboration with Jim O'Rourke on. The middle section borders on dull regurgitation of facts, however, there is enough fun informati ...more
Greg Swallow
Feb 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
The major problem with this book is that it dwells on the band's recording career, and what the band could have been (which people are just coming around to). The biographical bits of this book are a minor theme, which I was more interested in.

Overall it's a great read. It's especially fun to steal/borrow/buy the albums as you go along, comparing your impressions of each album with the author's narrative.
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
CURRENTLY READING REVIEW: I'm rating this 4 stars having only read about 50-60 pages. This book NEEDED to be written. I read "Confusion is Next" and wasn't totally thrilled by it because it WASN'T THIS BOOK. I'll be taking this one as slow as the TALKING HEADS book just so I can stretch it out.

READ REVIEW: This is a MUST for any SY fan out there. So much amazing detail outlined in this thing. Every nook & cranny of their career is laid out. Just a long, fantastic read, worth every page turn.
Patrick Brown
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Sonic Youth, anybody who liked Our Band Could Be Your Life
Recommended to Patrick by: the good people at Da Capo Press
Shelves: non-fiction
Like many books of its kind, this suffers from a "then they recorded this. then they recorded this. then they recorded this..." repetition. Still, I loved reading about the early years of Sonic Youth, back when Richard Edson was their drummer (long before he played Vito in Do the Right Thing), when Paul Smith was hanging around the band, and before Kim Gordon became an uber-fashionista. A good read about one of the more interesting bands of my time.
Neil Vanderwerf
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sonic Youth fans, fans of noise rock, alternative rock, experimental rock, indie rock, post-punk and no wave. As someone who spent many years in record stores, talking to fellow fans of the non-mainstream I was shocked to learn how few records SY sold. Immensely influential, perhaps more in terms of attitude than the actual music, Sonic Youth is an IMPORTANT band. David Browne does a great job of taking us from the origins to almost the end of their run (2006's Rather Ripped). Rec ...more
Eric Cartier
May 07, 2011 rated it liked it
"The Sonic Youth saga is the tale of a young couple who meet, start a band, find equally driven and compatible musicians to further their vision, and then proceed on a winding creative journey now entering its third decade."

Any SY fans who have and love at least a few of the group's albums will enjoy this book. Biographer David Browne does a particularly fine job of capturing Moore, Gordon and Ranaldo when they were young, describing the grim atmosphere of New York City in the 70s and 80s, and c
Marcelo F.
A essential complement if you read Girl In A Band
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I thumbed through this book recently at a record store, to kill time while my friends combed through the vinyl section (I don't have a record player). The book had two strikes against it before I picked it up: 1) It'd been at least ten years since I considered myself a Sonic Youth fan, and 2) I already read a book about them when I was in high school (Alec Foege's Confusion Is Next). After skimming through it for a few minutes, though, I was hooked and had to buy it. In a nutshell, this is one o ...more
Apr 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I picked up this book pretty cheap in New York after hearing Sonic Youth being played pretty much everywhere I went in the city. Was a good book to read after being in NY given that so much of the band's history is based there - however, I can't say it was the most gripping rock biog i've read.

Part of the problem was that Sonic Youth don't really have a terribly exciting back story, and to be fair to the author he acknowledges as much in the introduction, stating that "do not expect any sex, dru
Jul 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I was curious to see what this book could be about since Sonic Youth have lead a relatively quiet life in regards to a limelight focused on outrageous antics. So what you get are the goods: the insights on each band member including Bob Bert and O'rourke. You get to read about each album, the studios, the recordings, the tours, all the way up to Rather Ripped. And of course the many many people who have come to revolve around SY. I was especially amused to read about a young Keaunu Reeves smitte ...more
Nov 18, 2010 rated it liked it
A very interesting look at a band I've admired more than loved. A good look into the life and times of Sonic Youth -- spanning more than 20 years. The one thing that kept it from 4-stars is that Browne overloads the first 75 pages or so (detailing the forming of the bad) with a confusing web of names -- many of whom seem largely inconsequential in the larger story of SY -- to the point where it was hard to keep straight who was who and how they related. But the book opens up, and finds it's pace ...more
May 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"A must for fans" one review states and this is definitely the case. The most fascinating thing about Sonic Youth is their music, in real life they are just like the rest of us. So if you want sex, drugs and rock n roll I'd recommend Slash's biog as you won't get that here! Personally I really enjoyed this book. I've been rabid fan since 1998 so it's fascinating to see how they came to be and how albums were put together. It's given me a greater appreciation of their music and as a result of rea ...more
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well.. the reason why I liked this book so much is because I used to be a very big Sonic Youth fan. (I am not sure if someone who is not a fan will appreciate this book as much.) I hadn't listened to them in years until recently, when I stumbled across this title at the library. I have spent the last week or so re-discovering their music.

It also brought back old memories of being in college - I used to be a student living in the Pioneer Valley, and I would have run-ins with Kim Gordon and Thurst
Jun 27, 2009 rated it liked it
As a long time Sonic Youth fan who has never read anything close to a formal biography on them, I think David Browne was successful in capturing the true essence of the band and their story. Seriously, this band never stops! For most SY followers, reading "Goodbye 20th Century" will be a walk down memory lane. It'll probably make you all nostalgic for "those days"--the music, the shows, the albums--but will also serve as a reminder that we're lucky to have even discovered them at all. Definitely ...more
Aug 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Browne's treatment of the *expansive* SY saga is comprehensive, near-exhaustive, and yet not too taxing (admittedly, this may be because I've been a longtime fan of the group and eagerly lap up everything about them). The bio is well written and has a nice narrative feel. Additionally, the photographs included, which spans Thurston's early childhood to the band's very recent past, are a treasure trove in themselves, many of them not previously reproduced in print. Reading this made me want to li ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it liked it
As much as I love Sonic Youth, a 400 page biography on the ins and outs of their musical career was not exactly enthralling material. The book is meticulously researched and well written, and the analysis of the band's recordings is fantastic. The rest of the story is just a little bland; there really just isn't much compelling about the details of their personal lives that flesh out the remainder of the book. If you like the band, however, you'll probably appreciate this.
Nov 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Sonic Youth fans
Not bad. I am not a big fan of Sonic Youth, but I usually enjoy books about bands, especially bands who had as big an impact and lasted as long as Sonic Youth. While the book was interesting, David Browne spent to much time giving song-by-song descriptions of each album....boring descriptions. There was also a lot of time giving in depth backgrounds on minor players in the story; if they were important enough to warrant such treatment the information presented did not support it.
David Macpherson
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am so not the audience for this, not being a big fan of Sonic Youth, but I liked the straightforward writing of the book, the way the late 70s early 80s downtown scene was portrayed. I like how they showed Sonic Youth in the center of trends, though not totally benefitting from them. The only thing is that it ends in 2007, before the break up of Gordon and Moore, like I am missing the last few chapters of the story.
May 19, 2009 rated it liked it
As a Sonic Youth fan, it was interesting to follow the band from its inception and wildy experimental beginnings up to the Rather Ripped album. Given that their new album is due out shortly, I thought I'd read it.
the book was well researched and offered insights into the band dynamic that explained with Lee Rinaldo wasn't more prominent as well as their decades old relationship with puck rock and hardcore.
May 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Finally, the bio Sonic Youth deserves. 400 pages, but it could've gone another 200 and I wouldn't have complained. Browne's writing is breezy and personable, and he really gets into the band's world, from day jobs to apartments to lawyers, making sense of their success in a clear-headed, logical way. More, he gets inside their personalities, even uncovering the tension lines that exist in the band, something most journalists tend to ignore in a utopian-seeming band like SY. Good stuff.
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book only further cements what a great and unique band Sonic Youth is. I found it refreshing to not have a "behind the music" type of history for them. They are just normal people who love music and have found the best way to express themselves. And yes the masses be damned. This book shows that pure things aren't always cherished by the masses.
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