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Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore And The Four Biggest Rock And Roll Breakups

Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore And The Four Biggest Rock And Roll Breakups
By Jaime Lees
Wed., Oct. 19 2011 at 10:33 AM

​Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth have separated after 27 years of marriage and now the future of the band is unknown. Their record label released this statement last Friday:

Musicians Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, married in 1984, are announcing they have separated. Sonic Youth, with both Kim and Thurston involved, will proceed with its South American tour dates in November. Plans beyond that tour are uncertain. The couple has requested respect for their personal privacy and does not wish to issue further comment.

It feels kind of gross to discuss this news. (And not just because the couple requested privacy.) It’s weird to think about their separation because Gordon/Moore were not just the biggest couple of the alternative generation but because they were also the most respected. To the outside world, they had the perfect relationship. They were in love, married with a talented daughter, and together they were one half of the greatest indie rock band in history.

But they never flaunted their bond. They weren’t always holding hands in band photographs or anything like that. In fact, in the beginning of the band, they seemed to make a point to stand apart from one another. Because of the careful, private way they carried their love, they seemed untouchable. And strong. They were held up by admirers as the perfect rock and roll couple, an example of how cool love and marriage could be.

Fans and journalists alike were respectful of their relationship. I’ve interviewed both of them, and I never had the balls to ask either of them about the other. In our conversation a couple of summers ago, Gordon brought up Moore and was very complimentary about him. She also spoke about her daughter, but it still felt inappropriate to ask her too much about her home life. It felt like prying — like if I got her to talk about it that I would be tricking her into doing something that I knew she didn’t want to do.

And, really, there was no reason to ask about her home life. Both Gordon and Moore are prolific musicians, writers, poets and artists. There’s plenty of interesting ground to cover. Together and separately, they are both workaholics, releasing a staggering amount of art in various formats. One of their accomplishments together is the release of seventeen studio albums in the bands 30-year career.

And any fan who has listened to the last few albums could have made predictions of this breakup. It would be a mistake for any outsider to claim that that these songs are autobiographical, but there is a definite story arc from “I Love You, Golden Blue” through to “Turquoise Boy” then “Antenna” and “Massage the History” on the bands last release, The Eternal. The last few albums seemed more somber, more contemplative.

Combine that with the fact that the other Sonic Youth band members, Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo, seemed to be actively building other lives for themselves outside of the band, and the potential demise of Sonic Youth doesn’t seem too shocking. Shelley is all set up as the drummer for Chicago-based band Disappears, and he’s been touring with them for a while. It would be easy to change the category on the Disappears from “other” band to “primary” band. And Ranaldo is suddenly everywhere. He’s started an official Facebook page, he’s making music and his website has become increasingly active- most notably with his photojournalistic endeavors. Ranaldo’s posts his photos on his website and it has become one of the best sources for his on-the-street documentation of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Gordon has been absent lately. Laying low, one would suppose. Moore had a personal blog where he would post his writings, photos of his daughter, tributes to poets he admired, etc, but the blog was deleted over the weekend. Moore is still active publicly, even conducting a thoughtful, funny interview with Henry Rollins about his new book on the day of the announcement.

Yes, the separation is hard on the fans, too. And that’s unfair to Gordon and Moore, but it’s the truth. It’s a lot of weight to put on one couple. Before, fans would think to themselves: Maybe my parents got divorced, maybe I just got dumped, maybe my marriage is a disaster, but Kim and Thurston were still together- so true love exists! Now admirers must accept that Gordon and Moore are just like us. Not an infallible supercouple, but two people who also have to deal with the consequences of unraveling love. (And if you think your ex won’t go away, try being together for 30 years, being known world-wide and having to deal with nosy journalists and fans.)

But perhaps Gordon and Moore can still be our role models. But instead of being part of the relationship that we most glorify, they can be an example to show us how to handle even the biggest, messiest, most heart-breaking of breakups with dignity.

And while they are unique in their place in fans’ hearts, but there have been quite a few other separations between couples who made music together. Below we explore some other famous inter-band rock and roll relationships with breakups and the outcome of each.

4. Jack White and Meg White of the White Stripes

These peppermint-colored cuties hit the scene in the late ’90s as a catchy throw-back garage duo. Back then they claimed that they were brother and sister, which was believable enough given their shared look — alabaster skin and black hair. As it turns out, they were husband and wife. They’d been married for a few years and actually divorced in early 2000, just as the White Stripes were getting super-popular. Jack later said that he invented the sibling story (and a few other fake back-stories) so that the press would focus on their music rather than their relationship. It was the opposite of Fleetwood Mac. Instead of exploiting their relationship, they denied it altogether. This, of course, just made fans all the more curious and throughout their career their exact relationship was the source of much speculation. The White Stripes officially disbanded early this year, but the Whites seem to have an okay relationship. Both had remarried and Meg even had her wedding ceremony in Jack’s backyard. Just this summer Jack announced his divorce from his second wife, model Karen Elson, but relationship downers don’t seem to put a dent his productivity. Jack’s latest band is alt-rock supergroup the Dead Weather and he continues to play with the jaw-droppingly talented Brendan Benson in the Raconteurs.

3. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac

This is easily the most famous rock and roll breakup in classic rock. Fleetwood Mac, as a band, built its whole career on relationship turmoil. The classic album Rumours is a product of that turmoil, and in this case the lyrics were certainly autobiographical. In the band, there were two couples breaking up — not just Nicks and Buckingham, but also Christine McVie and John McVie. This charged atmosphere created some of the best SoCal tunes of the decade. It also resonated with listeners: Rumours has sold 40 million units worldwide. Back in the day, those songs really held a lot of meaning — both sadness and contempt. Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” was particularly harsh on his former lover — it basically called her a slut (Which is debatable, honestly, since she slept with drummer Mick Fleetwood after the breakup with Buckingham). In any case, it was a scathing song that accused her of being a heartless skank. But it was a hit, so Nicks had to sing it on stage with Buckingham every night. Still, once the bitterness blew over, this is the one case where a serious breakup actually aided the longevity of the band. Now, whenever they’ve come together as Fleetwood Mac, they take every opportunity to play-up their former relationship, knowing that their old lady fans just love the sexual tension. Just watch the second half of the video for “Silver Springs” from 1997’s The Dance. The on-stage theatrics are out of control. And the fans love it. Since their heyday, all parties have had varying degrees of success in their solo careers. And if it’s broken down into a competition between Nicks and Buckingham, it’s hard to say who would win. Nicks is more well known but Buckingham is still mighty handsome and talented.

2. Ike and Tina Turner of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue

Ike Turner is credited as one of the inventors of rock and roll. In fact, he’s included in the short list as one of the dudes who (possibly) released the first rock and roll record. Yes, he was also a major jerkburger, but his musical pedigree cannot be stepped to. Ike met and hired a teenage Anna Mae Bullock as a background singer in the late 1950s. He gave her the stage name of Tina and the two began both a very successful career and a shit-tastic marriage. Ike was widely reported to be a controlling, easily angered woman-beater. Tina finally left him in 1976 and the divorce was finalized two years later. Ike got to keep all of the money, and Tina famously asked the court for one thing only: her name. They didn’t make music together again. Following their separation, Ike didn’t really exercise his talent. He spent some time in prison as a result of his drug addictions, and died in 2007 of a cocaine overdose. Tina, however, went on to build an impressive solo career on the merit of her distinctive voice, sexy legs and survivor status.

1. John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Even though everyone always hated on Ono, she was Lennon’s main musical partner in his life after the Beatles. She was also his partner in life. Like it or not, the two of them had one of the biggest, most well-documented romances in rock and roll history. She was an artist before she was even with Lennon, and she brought her vision to what they produced together. Against all odds, their partnership and love flourished. They lived as two halves of one whole, and Lennon wouldn’t do much without her by his side. What people forget, though, is that they separated for a while in late 1973. The couple had been under a lot of stress. Lennon was being skewered in the press for abandoning his nice, blonde, white wife and child for his weird, yelping Japanese artist. He was also facing deportation from a McCarthyist American government, who despised him for having a voice. When he spoke out against injustices or war, people listened, and he was considered a threat to national security. Also, Lennon had fidelity issues.

Faced with all of this pressure, the couple needed a break and Ono requested a separation. Lennon historians call this time period “The Lost Weekend,” but the separation really lasted for nearly a year and a half. During this time Lennon spent some months living in Los Angeles, hanging out with scenesters at the Troubadour and drinking far too much. When he was in LA, he was, by all accounts, a hot mess. Eventually Ono took him back, after which he seemed slightly broken, but happy in his relief. He had shed some of that famous Lennon ego and become a more humble, sensitive man. They were older, calmer, and they finally settled down together. And just when it seemed as though Lennon and Ono would live happily forever together in the Dakota, their time together was ended forever by Mark David Chapman and four bullets. The legacy of this relationship will live on in perpetuum as the rock and roll Romeo and Juliet. Ono has continued her own music career, and was recording an album with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore just earlier this year.

Interview with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

 

Photo by Michael Schmelling. Doodles by JL.

Sonic Youth 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 17.
Live on the Levee, under the Gateway Arch. Free.


Electric Youth: Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon continue to age gracefully with a new LP, The Eternal
By Jaime Lees

In their 28-year career, indie-rock godfathers Sonic Youth have experienced unprecedented success — and had unparalleled staying power. Credit this longevity to the band’s stability: Guitarist/vocalist Lee Ranaldo, drummer Steve Shelley, bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon and guitarist/vocalist/her husband Thurston Moore have launched numerous side projects, completed countless world tours and released copius rarites and studio albums.

The band’s Matador Records-released latest, The Eternal, marks its return to an independent label. (It had been with Geffen since 1990’s Goo.) But Eternal is the perfect extension of the Sonic Youth catalog, a hybrid of resonant guitar textures and jammy, jazzed-out, free-form experimentation. The album evokes Daydream Nation‘s unpredictable explosiveness and the near-psychedelic, extended harmonies of Washing Machine, but it isn’t a musical progression as much as it is a lateral move. That in particular is Sonic Youth’s trademark: Although each new album the band releases might contain heavier guitars, additional harmonies or more noise, they all maintain that nebulous Sonic Youth quality. There’s something special about the dreamy pop blasts that the band creates together; instead of their dueling talents triggering a compromise, it feels as though collaboration enriches the Sonic Youth sound.

As Sonic Youth’s bassist and one of its songwriters, Kim Gordon has long been an inspiration to younger musicians. As one of the few females in a respected, long-running rock band, Gordon is thought of as the cool, MILF-y matriarch of indie rock. But unlike many women, she’s praised as much for her musical input as she is for her good looks and hushed, lusty voice. Her contributions to the band have rarely been as pronounced as they are on Eternal, on which she sings lead on several tracks, and her imposing bass lines sweep boldly through the din.

A prolific visual artist, Gordon is also accomplished in many other disciplines — including painting, drawing, writing, producing and organizing both art and music events. She’s also fronted two successful fashion lines, X-Girl and the new Mirror/Dash, which is sold at Urban Outfitters. On the eve of Sonic Youth’s current tour, we spoke with Gordon about how she balances her multiple interests with life on the road. She has a reputation as being private — even aloof — in interviews, but we found her to be inviting, engaging and downright giggly.

Jaime Lees: You have so many different projects. How do you decide what you’re going to work on? Is it deadlines?
Kim Gordon:
Yeah, deadlines. Exactly. Well, with the art stuff, some things you have to create [on deadline], either projects with someone or sometimes you get asked for a show. I work on ideas and stuff, but when it really comes down to it, it’s all about a deadline.

Do you complete your art first and then look for a show for it, or do you hear about an interesting show and want to create something for it?
It’s kind of a little of both. Right now I’m in this show in Graz in Austria, a group show. I don’t usually like group shows, but this one was interesting. I like the curator [Diedrich Diederichsen]. He’s a writer before he’s a curator. [Along with] my friend, Jutta Koether, who’s an artist, they asked us if we wanted to do a collaboration.

So how can you spend half of your life on the road and still be painting?
Well, this has been a really busy spring, but generally we just tour around a record. We’re not one of those bands that goes on tour for a year or something. We have a daughter, and Lee has kids so, you know, I try and tour around her school schedule. We’ve been gone a lot this spring already, so it’s hard. And I think it’s actually harder for moms to leave their kids. I know some people say, “How come people don’t make a big deal about asking fathers what it’s like to go on the road?” It is hard for them, too, but I think it’s easier if you have one parent at home that’s taking care of it.

Do you bring her [daughter Coco] with you on tour?
Sometimes. But as she’s gotten older she’s been able to stay home with someone. And she prefers to stay home. [Laughs]

When you’re out touring and you get to each new city, do you have something you like to do there? You know, like some people like to find the city’s best restaurant or used bookstore or whatever.
Oh yeah, we’re totally into picking out good restaurants. And actually, Mark [Ibold, of Pavement fame], who is playing bass with us now, he’s really great at looking up food websites, and he always knows about places to try. But when we first started touring, it was always like, “Where’s the good barbecue place?” [Laughs] So when we get to a city, sometimes we’ll get day rooms at a hotel. We usually have a few hours during the day to hang out before we do sound check, and sometimes we have interviews.

So you have sound check and then you go do your dinner thing before the show?
Sometimes. I mean, you have to eat a certain amount of time before the show. Steve, our drummer, won’t eat if it’s less than five hours before our show.

Does he get barfy?
[Laughs] He just plays better. And you do play better if you’re not full. Nothing like a whole lot of barbecue and then having to go onstage! [Laughs]

So do you get any of your other work done on tour? I mean, it’s not like you can paint on the bus…
It’s hard. Some people can do a lot of stuff on tour. I can’t because I have a perpetual state of exhaustion because I don’t sleep on the bus very well. Like, Lee seems to always have little projects he’s working on, but I’m not so good. I’m going to try and seek out, like, yoga classes and things like that to offset the barbecue. [Laughs] It’s a little anxiety provoking, actually, to have to go away for six weeks. In fact, I’m in the middle of packing right now.

I know, like, how many shoes do you bring? Who knows?
Yeah, it’s like, how do I pack all these vitamins? I always over-pack. But you’re basically living out of a suitcase for six weeks. It’s like, you buy all these clothes [at home], but then you kind of have to say goodbye to them. [Laughs] It’s hard to go away during the summer, actually. But it’ll be fun once we get going.

Is it easier for you guys when you’re touring with another band, because then you have more people around to hang out with? Or is that just annoying?
[Laughs] Well, it can be. You’re together all the time, and sometimes you sort of create a distance, because otherwise you would really be irritated all the time. [Laughs] Twelve people on a bus is kind of hard. But anyway, God, it’s nice to be asked other questions than normal, you know? I mean, we get tired of the same questions all the time so it’s going really well so far. You’re doing a good job.

Well, thank you. I’m bored with reading the same questions all the time. So, do you ever have free time? Do you ever have a time where you’re at home, and you don’t have any huge projects staring at you?
Um, pretty much never. But last summer, we only did a little bit of touring, but that was the first time in maybe twenty years where we hadn’t toured in the summer. I mean, it was kind of shocking, actually. But when I’m home I procrastinate about doing things so I can hang out with my friends. Like now, I should be getting my things done, but I’d rather see my friends before I go, so…

So what are you doing when you get back from tour? What’s your next big thing?
Well, Mirror/Dash, the clothing line, is kind of an ongoing thing. But for the next project, I have a book I’m working on, my paintings, and I’m sort of working on another painting series. But we’re going to do a bunch of touring in the fall, so I’m kind of keeping my schedule as open as I can. I don’t want to be too…pressured. But as busy as I am, Thurston has many more projects than I do. I don’t know how he does it, really. But it’s energizing if you get stuff back from it.

  • Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – link
  • reprint in The Pitch (Kansas City) – link
  • reprint in Dallas Observer – link
  • interview outtakes at A to Z blog – link
  • Sonic Youth – website
  • Sonic Youth – Facebook
  • Sonic Youth – Twitter
  • Urban Outfitters – Mirror/Dash
  • Michael Schmelling – website