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They Struck a Chord

Sonic Youth’s impossible domestic ideal.

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Illustration by Martin Ansin  

Picture hundreds of thousands of indie-rock fans simultaneously learning that their parents were getting divorced. That’s what it was like last Friday, when news went out that Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth’s chief noisemakers, would be separating after 27 years of marriage. Evidently some of us were subconsciously counting on them to remain a unit—the same KimandThurston they’d been since before anyone was even listening to their band. On Twitter, the very institution of marriage was frequently (and only half-jokingly) declared to have suffered a major blow. Did love hold hope for no one?

Of course, the hopes people took from this couple weren’t about love per se. (We are more than used to watching public figures fall in and out of love; it’s a national sport.) They were bigger and more specific than that, oversize versions of the same aspirations invested in couples (and ex-couples) from long-running bands like Yo La Tengo and Superchunk—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. For instance: that a career in an avant-garde rock band might lead not into penury, instability, and isolation but instead to a place in a perma-cool family living in a nice house in the Berkshires. That committing to being a feminist, punk, or artist would not cut you off from normal people and force you into huge compromises in your domestic affairs but might actually lead you to someone who’d share all of those commitments. That a heterosexual married couple could not only work together but collaborate as equals and throw equally large shadows. What better fairy tale to reassure young people that they don’t ever have to settle? It’s like getting a notarized letter containing three important promises: that your bohemian dreams won’t conflict with middle-class contentment; that maybe the reason your parents’ generation all divorced was that they never found partners cool enough to be in a band with; and that you, as an adult, could do better.

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. (Given that they also worked, recorded, and toured together, I think that might actually count as over 50 rock-years—plenty of best friends and siblings can’t stand each other after five or six years in a band, and they get to go home alone now and then.) But if you were counting on them, or anyone else, as proof that interesting tastes and shared passions could create some version of adulthood and marriage any easier than the one you grew up looking at, then sorry: Your parents were probably right about that part.

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