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Authors: Peter Wild

Noise

BOOK: Noise
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Noise

Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Edited by Peter Wild

Introduction by Lee Ranaldo

For Andrew Wild

Contents

Death to Our Friends
J Robert Lennon

Disappearer
Matt Thorne

Shadow of a Doubt
Rebecca Godfrey

Flower
Steven Sherrill

Wish Fulfillment
Mary Gaitskill

Dirty Boots
Samuel Ligon

My Friend Goo
Shelley Jackson

Protect Me You
Eileen Myles

Kissability
Laird Hunt

Snare, Girl
Catherine O'Flynn

Brother James
Emily Maguire

Swimsuit Issue
Kevin Sampsell

Unmade Bed
Christopher Coake

Little Trouble Girl
Emily Carter Roiphe

On the Strip
Rachel Trezise

Rain on Tin
Jess Walter

Sunday
Hiag Akmakjian

You can get a lot of information out of a song title. A good title says it all, sometimes. Many writers–song or otherwise–begin with a title, some nugget that provides a stimulating point from which to leap off into a void, some road sign that points a way forward. Find the groovy, the hip, the mysterious or enlightening turn of phrase, then grab it and press onwards from there. You might say that the twenty some-odd years of Sonic Youth song titles, taken as a whole, tell a vision of sorts, adding up to their own little cosmology after all these years. A universe willed into existence. Enter thru song title after song title to new windows on the world…

Inside we'll find twenty-one new visions based on Sonic Youth titles, re-purposed to new ends. Aside from whatever empathy the twenty-one authors in this collection have for our music, we can at the very least observe that they have found within our catalogue some titles for inspiration. Do these writings reflect back on the
band itself? Is there some clandestine history of Sonic Youth to be decoded from these pages? A secret map into the heart of the band?

Dots may be connected in many alternating patterns, this way and that, as each eye sees it, until we end up with something that looks like the webs of those spiders in LSD experiments: complicated and chaotic, barely knowable. Unintelligible? Perhaps, but also possibly like music is, sometimes: unable to put easily into words. Midnight on the moon…The diamond sea…Thought-waves on a beach dissolving…

Twenty-one authors are presented here with Sonic Youth as some sort of unifying theory. Are they responding to the music itself? The work ethic? Some epiphany they had at a gig out in a cornfield somewhere, as we played on in the furious distorted bliss of rapturous feedback? Are they pushing against the ‘legend'? Over-familiarity with the brand breeding a sort of contempt? Could it be some inspiration derived from the network of contributors and collaborators that we've presented/befriended/championed/raved about? For in a rather large sense our time as a band has been defined by the community we've fostered, a sense of inclusion that we've hoped to convey.

It doesn't ultimately matter how directly (or not) these twenty-one stories reference Sonic Youth. Somehow the spirit of the band has been inspiring enough to these scribes that they've agreed to participate in this project. Empty pages? Or full of…what?!? Let's turn a leaf and see what they've come up with…

death to our friends
—j robert lennon

What I like about Sonic Youth is that they like to rip it apart and put it back together again. Their instruments, their songs, everything. This is a good way to treat the raw materials of art.

Here is how I found out what I was.

I lived in a dormitory, a college dormitory, in a tiny room with one bed. I shared the room with a room-mate, a girl I hated, because she was mean and made me sleep on the floor and never once looked me in the eye. And every morning I would pretend to be asleep while she stomped around the room, and once she was gone I would get up and put on my clothes and leave for class through the same door, which led out on to the grassy quad. I was so happy, those mornings, to emerge into light and air and freedom–I didn't like living in the dorm, I was so lonely, and it seemed to me like I'd been sleeping there on the floor for ever.

There was a little girl I used to see, in the stairwell. She was black haired, round faced, and always wore a white dress. Maybe she was eight. She sat on the radiator and watched me hurry past on my way to class. I wondered about her sometimes–whose child she was, why she loitered there in the stairwell–but never spoke to her. I suppose I should have. But I was eighteen, and children didn't interest me, and the girl did not seem friendly. I only wanted to leave the dormitory. I wanted the light and air. I didn't want to stop and talk to a chubby little girl.

Then one day I did stop. She was there, on the radiator as always, and I came running down the stairs with my book sack over my shoulder, and she hopped down and on to the landing and stood before me, blocking my way.

I stopped. I stopped and looked into her eyes, and saw surprise there, and triumph.

‘You stopped,' the girl said to me.

‘You're in my way!'

‘Other people don't stop for me.'

‘They would,' I said, ‘if you stood in front of them like that. Now excuse me,' I went on, ‘I have to get to class.'

But the little girl didn't move. ‘What class are you going to?' she asked me.

‘That's none of your business,' I said.

‘But I want to know.'

‘I bet you do.'

‘Tell me.'

Well. There she was, standing in my way. And I was in a hurry. And so I figured I might as well just tell her the answer to her question. But I couldn't seem to bring it to mind. That is, I knew, of
course–I was in a great hurry, and people who don't know where they're going are rarely in a hurry to get there–but for some reason I couldn't remember at that particular moment.

I must have hesitated, because she said, ‘Why don't you look in your bag?'

And I said, ‘No.'

‘Why not?'

Again, I didn't have a good answer. She took a step forward, slid my book sack off my shoulder, and opened it up. I suppose I knew then. I just stood there and watched her.

Stones. Little stones and dead leaves. And other bits of trash, bits of paper, plastic soda-can rings, bottle tops, a toilet paper roll. All dried and dusted. That's what was in my book sack.

‘You're like me,' the girl said. ‘I knew it. I knew you were!'

‘I'm not anything like you,' I said, knowing now, knowing I was wrong. Really, I had known all along. I was just pretending. I looked down at my dress, my filthy torn dry dress, cotton shirtwaist with a convertible collar and roll-up sleeves, and buttons down below the waist. I remembered buying it, with my mother. I was so happy and excited to be going to college! It was 1964. I was eighteen.

I was still eighteen. I would always be eighteen. I would always live in the dorm. I sat down on the steps and the little girl sat next to me and took my hand in hers, and when students came thundering down the stairs they didn't stop, they didn't say excuse me or tell us to move, they just barrelled right through, they went right through us and out the door to their classes.

 

That was fifteen years ago, I think. It's hard to keep track. The girl's name is Annabel. She is the daughter, the only child, of a professor
of history who once lived here as a faculty adviser. Annabel died falling down the stairs–she died on the landing, when the building was still new.

As for me, I killed myself, I'm afraid. I jumped off the Zabriskie Bridge and into Reston Gorge. You'll think that was foolish but perhaps it wasn't. There was something in me that had wanted it my whole life. Most girls, leaving home for school, fantasise about smoking, or drinking, or making love to boys in the privacy of their own rooms. I don't mean to be dramatic, but I think what I anticipated most eagerly was the freedom to die. I had been hospitalised several times when I was in high school, briefly, and once I slit my wrists in the bath. But I had convinced my parents I was past all that. I may even have convinced myself. And then I came here, and the weather was so cold, and I walked over that gorge every morning, and it was so deep, so real. There was a boy, too, of course, something has to set these things off–he said he loved me, then he left me–and at the time that's what I was certain had made me do it. But no, it was me. I wanted it. I had longed for it.

Why did it take me so long to admit to myself what I had done? It was the sense of relief–my body was gone, and with it the despair it had harboured. My head no longer ached, my hands didn't tremble when I met a stranger. My heavy heart no longer made me fall asleep during the day or keep me awake at night. How wonderful life would have been, had it been like this! I lived with whomever wouldn't notice me, which was most people. A few sensed there was something wrong. A few could feel me passing in the hall, saw a flash of motion out of the corner of their eye. One girl could smell the water on me. One heard my bare feet slide
along the floor. Those I left alone. The oblivious I stayed close to. I did what they did. I lived their lives as if they were my own.

But once Annabel showed me the truth, I became her friend. She wasn't a normal eight-year-old girl. She had watched almost seventy years of life go by. She was wise. She introduced me to the others. Some of them were mean, and looked away when I extended my hand to them; others were all right. Either way, no one wanted to be friends, no one but Annabel. There was something wrong with being this way–remaining in the world–and nobody liked to be reminded they were doing it. Socialising must have seemed somehow sick to them. They snubbed us.

But I bucked the trend. I always was different. I didn't mind being what I was, didn't think there was anything strange about it. People are just as stuck up in death as they are in life–at least they are here. Never facing up to uncomfortable truths, always looking down on others. Anyway, Annabel and I were lonely. The fact was, we weren't compatible–we wouldn't have been friends in life. She was too reserved, too serious. But we agreed that we were lonely, and so we started helping things along.

We look for the sad ones, the sad ones who are sweet, and we give them a little push. When they walk over the bridge,
my
bridge, I gently take their face in my hands and turn it, ever so gently, towards the water. When one of them puts a knife away, Annabel moves it back where it belongs, out in the open, to be seen and contemplated. The sleeping pills, the antidepressants that they safely stow away in the cabinet–we take them out. We leave them open, on the edge of the sink.

We don't kill them. We're not capable of that, and wouldn't even
if we were. We just find the ones for whom the only impediment to death is fear. And we give them a nudge. Just a little one.

So far we've failed. Some of them reject us, they move away, or change their minds about life. The ones we've shepherded into death, most of those slip by us–we get a glimpse of them, coming up out of the gorge or getting up from the bed, and maybe we catch their eye, but they can't be convinced to stop, or maybe they're powerless to try. They rise, fade, expand, vanish. They go somewhere else. Maybe someplace better. Maybe not.

And then there are the ones who stay in this world. Most of those are like the others. They reject us. Perhaps they're confused, or disappointed. Some will turn nasty, and some may remain indifferent. And like the others, they may eventually drift off and disappear. Regardless, there is nothing quite like the expression on their faces as the physical world gives way, and they emerge into lightness. The terror, the pain, lingers for the faintest moment, like an echo, and then they're gone. The skin smooths, the scars fade. Everything becomes simple.

Someday we'll find our friend. We talk about this person all the time. Annabel thinks it will be a woman–it was hard for her, watching her mother grieve, losing her to the world, and she has never gotten over that loss. But I believe–I hope–our friend will be a man. He could be a lover to me, after a fashion; and to Annabel he could be both son and father, for she is both an old woman and a little girl. I imagine this man, young and beautiful, miserable and kind–I imagine him standing up from his cold bones and taking my hands, with relief and gratitude. I imagine us walking hand in hand–our friend in the middle, with Annabel and me on either side–out across the quad, and away from this campus, to whatever
it is that lies beyond it. What that might be, I've forgotten. The physical world no longer seems quite real to me any more, beyond what I see every day.

But this imaginary man, he is real. Perhaps he hasn't yet been born, but he is real. He will grow up to meet his fate here, and Annabel and I will be waiting for him, when he emerges stunned and battered out of death, and into the arms of friends.

BOOK: Noise
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