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Thurston Moore: Twilight of the Idol

The Sonic Youth saga continues today, with Thurston Moore speaking publicly for the first time about his 2011 split from Kim Gordon. He made the comments in an interview with UK magazine The Fly; you can read the whole interview here, but perhaps the most apposite and depressing point is this quote: “I’m in a really romantic place with [new girlfriend] Eva [Prinz]; we’ve kinda been a couple for close to six years. A lot of those years nobody was very aware of it except us. The cat’s been out of the bag a while now, that’s kinda where I’m at.” Six years? Six years?!

For a certain generation, the Kim ‘n’ Thurston romance was a sort of rock ‘n’ roll fairytale, an aspirational love story intertwined with the history of one of the best bands ever to grace a stage together. Just as crucially, it was a repudiation of conventional rock ‘n’ roll mythology — it proved that you didn’t have to choose between burning out or fading away, that there was a third option: doing neither, and instead going on to lead what looked for all intents and purposes like a normal life.

The latter point was, I think, particularly resonant with men who looked at Sonic Youth and saw something to aspire to, something to relate to. So much of our culture tells you that you demonstrate your manhood by fucking as many women as possible — the flip-side of the gender dichotomy that demands promiscuous men be venerated as studs while promiscuous women are condemned as sluts. To question this relentless sex-positivity generally flagged you as a nerd or a wimp or a softcock or somesuch, as a man who wasn’t really a man.

For so many years, Moore stood as a living counterargument to this. He was married to someone who was quite possibly the coolest woman in the world, he was cool as fuck, he was part of a band whose best days never really seemed to be behind them. And yet, at the same time, he was relatable. He proved that you didn’t have to be a heartbreakin’, groupie-shaggin’ alpha male to be cool. There’s a great anecdote in David Browne’s Goodbye 20th Century about the one time the band scored coke and tried to snort it, only for the wind to blow it away before they got the chance. It seemed a beautiful illustration of the fact that Sonic Youth weren’t Mötley Crüe, leaving a trail of zombie dust and broken hearts as they laid waste to the music industry. They were people like us, and they were awesome.

Clearly, none of this is their fault. The whole cultural-icons-as-role-models idea is very much overplayed in our society, and really, these were just two people living their lives, two people who never asked to carry the hopes and aspirations of a bunch of people they’d never even met. It was, in Nitsuh Abebe’s phrase, an “impossible domestic ideal” — as Abebe, among others, pointed out at the time, “the hopes people took from this couple weren’t about love per se…they were bigger and more specific than that, … hopes that revolve around what you might call ‘life opportunities.’ In Gordon and Moore, you could imagine empirical proof that a lot of things you feared were true about life — things your parents always warned you about — did not necessarily have to be that way.” And, as he also pointed out, it’s not like the whole thing was a disaster: “Gordon and Moore were together for three decades and raised a child to nearly the age of majority, which is far from a failure of anything.”

In this respect, the veneration of Kim ‘n’ Thurston was illustrative of a wider and more pernicious contradictory message that’s ubiquitous in our culture: that you are going to meet The One and stay in a happy relationship with them Forever. Even though that idea is weirdly utopian and only applies to a tiny minority of real-world relationships, it is nevertheless presented as something that everyone needs to aspire to. In the real world, people change, and relationships change, and what was right a year ago, or five years ago, or 25 years ago, might not necessarily be right now. So it goes. No one should be judged for the way in which their feelings take them.

If you’ve ever been in the situation where your heart is telling you that the relationship you’re in is no longer the one you should be in, for whatever reason — that your and your lover’s lives need to go in different directions, or that your feelings have changed, or whatever else — you’ll know that it’s a godawful situation to deal with, and one from which it’s almost impossible that no one is going to come out unscathed. There are, as they say, no clean getaways. In this respect, you can totally see why Moore told The Fly this:

In your 40s and 50s things can change in ways that upset the order of things that have been established over 25 years-plus of marriage. It’s really distressing. You have to work through it, it’s very personal and I don’t really talk about it so much.

One can only imagine how hard it must be to decide that your marriage of 25 years is over, and clearly, only Moore and Gordon really know what went on in their relationship. But still, it’s not because Thurston Moore has turned out to be human that this whole sorry business is disappointing; it’s because it looks suspiciously like he turned out to be a dick. It’s that, by the sounds of it, he was cheating on Gordon for years, and seems to feel the need to tell the world about this. It’s that by his own timeline, he may well have already been getting it on with his new love when he and Gordon appeared in Bust’s annual Love Issue in 2007, talking about how great their marriage was. And so on.

I don’t know how he did it. I really don’t. Not for years on end. If you’ve ever cheated, you’ll know how rotten it feels, how dirty, how duplicitous, how disgusting. If not, well, maybe this is the last thing you can take away from whatever remains of Kim ‘n’ Thurston: don’t learn that lesson yourself. It’s something you’ll regret as long as you live.