A Musical Journey with Nicklas: Part 4 – Sonic Youth – Death Valley ’69 single/ep – 1984/85
The day after the Daydream Nation experience I went back to my record dealer, still in a trance, begging him for more not unlike a junkie, desperate for another fix. Music is funny like that. It is as addictive as heroin, if not more so, and the high well … having never actually tried heroin I can’t really compare it but the high I get from music is like travelling through the astral waves of universal energy, an altered state of consciousness that change not only perception but also conception and the very inception of sur/reality. I left with the Death Valley 69 single and ep and also with the albums EVOL and Sister. I was probably still entranced by the noisy energy of Daydream Nation and the energy crackling from the records under my arm was tickling my skin.
Why review an almost 30 year old single?
Well the answer is quite simple in the context of Sonic Youth. Death Valley ’69 was and is the business end of the six stringed weapons of aural reconstruction they brought to the world. It marked a change and ushered in a new era so to speak. It is almost like a new band emerging once more, out of the incinerated dust that remained after Kill Yr Idols. This can perhaps be said about most of Sonic Youth’s early production but in the case of DV69 It’s like the storm before the calm before the STORM. It is like a signal of intent as to what was to come with the recording and release of EVOL and the change of drummers from Bob Bert’s more tribal like drumming to Steve Shelley’s generally more straight forward but harder and more energetic style.
What’s even more important here though is the context in which I first heard this, i.e. directly after Daydream Nation and I’ll tell you this much: If Daydream blew me away then DV69 finished the job and sent me into orbit, still not sure around which celestial body though, not even sure it was in this solar system or even this universe.
It was the single I had played first and I kept repeating it over and over completely stunned. It was so raw and bleeding with the desperation of a dream crushed quite literally into dust. Now the single version is in fact merely a working demo and that’s the reason for it’s very lo-fi sound. The actual finished version doesn’t arise until it kills the Bad Moon Rising album. Due to better production and reworking this version packs even more of a punch as I was soon to discover. After having played the single a few times, the ep version (which is the same as the lp version) still blew my mind. The main difference is those clicking drumsticks at the beginning which act sort of like a countdown to the insane screaming at the beginning of the song.
The song is a collaboration with post punk icon Lydia Lunch from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Beirut Slump and 8 Eyed Spy and Lydia’s sexily desperate girlish voice embracing Thurston’s is a large part in what makes this song an almost instant classic.
And looking back at the political climate in which DV69 came out; well … Ronald Reagan had just won the election and was about to start his second term in the white house. What better time to release a song about “the junction where hippie idealism met the cold hard world–where Woodstock met Altamont–Death Valley, Charles Manson, Brian Wilson, musicians, murderers, heros and villains.” – Lee Ranaldo, 2006.
In the context of Death Valley 69 and what it refers to (ie the loss of innocence of the American dream) it is an interesting fact that the label on the flip side has a photograph of Susan Atkins a.k.a. Sadie Mae Glutz, a prominent member of the Manson Family.
What is even funnier is that just a few weeks before I had for the first time heard Don McLean’s monumentally apocalyptic American Pie which deals with the same issues of crushed dreams except back then the president was Richard Nixon. As contents go though the two songs are eerily alike.
The other song present on the single is Kim Gordon’s Brave Men Run (In My Family) which ended up as the first song on Bad Moon Rising (after the intro with which it is often paired)
To view the official video for Death Valley ’69 directed by Richard Kern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw5Vy8fKpYI
Brave Men Run (In My Family): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoUWrMChpX8
Av: Nicklas Ekström i Landskrona