Sonic Youth isn’t touring and won’t be anytime soon, but now you can at least go on a Sonic Youth tour of downtown Manhattan.
Jesse Rifkin, a musician who leads music-themed walks around town, just launched a private group tour dedicated to the band that inspired him to move to the city of No Wave in the first place. On Oct. 18 and 20, he’ll offer a public, “pay as you wish” version of his three-hour Sonic Youth tour (normally about $30 or $40 per person) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band’s masterpiece, Daydream Nation.
Rifkin tells us he first saw the noise-rock legends playing songs off of their Murray Street album when he was a teenager growing up in Maryland. “I walked away from that experience understanding it was something I could do, it wasn’t just something Mick Jagger could do.”
He subsequently moved to New York City and played around town with psych/punk acts such as Jane Eyre and Tracks, and more recently as a solo act specializing in “antagonistic disco.” He started leading music tours because others being offered didn’t quite fit with his sensibilities. “There’s all the CBGB worship stuff that’s readily available but that’s not where I’m coming from,” he says. “I played at CBGB a couple of times and it was such a dump. It deserved to close when it did.”
Under the name Walk on the Wild Side Tours NYC, Rifkin launched a post-punk, disco, and hip-hop tour of the Soho area that features locations related to the likes of loft-party pioneer David Mancuso, East Village composer Philip Glass, David Bowie, and Arthur Russell, the East Village composer and cellist who is also the subject of a
separate private tour. Among the Sonic Youth stops on the tour of ‘70s and ‘80s Soho are Todd’s Copy Shop, a coffee and Xerox shop on Mott Street where Thurston and Kim worked and where downtowners like Jarmusch and Basquiat made cheap, experimental copies; Greene Street Recording, the studio where Daydream Nation was made; and the corner of Howard and Crosby, where an interior photo for Daydream was shot.
About a month ago, Rifkin launched a tour dedicated solely to Sonic Youth. It starts in Chinatown and makes its way over to the Murray Street studio from which the band’s 2002 album took its name. Along the way, the tour stops at band members’ former residences, a rehearsal studio they shared with their late mentor Glenn Branca, and other relevant locations, many of which are now pricy clothing shops. The takeaway from Rifkin’s hours of research: “They really were part of a community,” Rifkin says. “They made a lot of their records in places they could walk to from where they lived.”
That kind of proximity is “the key missing piece” in New York’s current music scene, Rifkin believes. “Everything in Brooklyn is so spread out.”
Even the members of Sonic Youth have spread out, as Kim Gordon now makes her home mostly on the West Coast and Thurston Moore is based in London. So is Rifkin on Team Kim or Team Thurston? He has an answer, but we won’t spoil it for you. You’ll just have to contact him through his website and join the tour to find out.