Born in 1981 and amicably calling it quits in 2011, Sonic Youth were one of the coolest rock bands to name drop if you wanted to impress your friends. They were the band that was never quite entirely mainstream (maybe except flittingly during the 90s) but chic and hardcore enough to appreciate their crazy experimental noise rock.
Some notable Sonic Youth songs that repeatedly get a good work out on my stereo are Brave Men Run (In My Family)’ from Bad Moon Rising (1985), Schizophrenia from their fourth studio album Sister (1987) and Bull in the Heather from 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star. The latter, in particular, is one of my favourite Kim Gordon songs, where her murky marriage of spoken-word overlaid with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s quirky heavenly guitars, strikes the right balance, making it instantly recognisable as one of their poppiest songs ever.
I’m not sure whether it was their intention to give it such a commercial makeover, but it accessibility, as the sole single released from their 1994 album, undoubtedly won them over a legion of new fans, especially with the exposure the hilarious accompanying music video released on MTV.
Perhaps, in hindsight, it’s easy to say now yeah sure that music video did wonders for the song in placing it in a lofty position high on the charts. In my mind, there is no doubt that its success is attributed to Kim Gordon asking feminist activist and riot grrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kills to strut her stuff for the video.
For those who are unfamiliar with Kathleen Hanna, she is often attributed as the woman who scrawled “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall, inspiring the song’s title that would eventually appear on Nevermind.
The interesting thing about Hanna was her extraordinary infectious presence and her resilience and voice in speaking out against sexism and violence against women. In a lot of ways Kim Gordon was a pioneer herself in a music scene predominately surrounded by men. Moreover, her feminist values mirrored Hanna’s unapologetic critique of male hegemony. Though to see the two of them having a little fun in the music video for Bull In The Heather is pure gold. In fact, Gordon, but more so Hanna, plays the perfect foil in mocking sexism in rock. Just try to take your eyes off Hanna dressed in pigtails and tights, flirting with Sonic Youth, even kissing Gordon; in what just might be a very cheeky thank you to Gordon, for helping inspire Hanna and the early 90s Riot Grrls movement to reclaim the stage for themselves.