(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

Steve Shelley and Thurston Moore. (Photo: Daniel Maurer)

When we dipped into Thurston Moore’s new book of lyrics and poems yesterday, we noted that Stereo Sanctity, just released by Thurston’s own Ecstatic Peace Library, finally lays down the real lyrics to Sonic Youth songs vs. the ones we’ve misheard a hundred times. (In “100%”, for instance, it isn’t “Piss off, the chick is mine,” it’s “the zoftig chick is mine.”)
Thurston’s vocal delivery has always been a lot more lucid — almost drawled out — compared to contemporaries like Kurt Cobain, and lyrics like “I believe Anita Hill” aren’t exactly that hard to decipher. Still, he revealed last night at Rough Trade that he gets misheard quite a bit — which is part of why he published the book. Speaking with his longtime bandmate Steve Shelley to an intimate gathering of a few dozen people, Thurston said it all started with Sonic Youth’s first song, “Burning Spear,” which opens with the lyrics “I love the speed, I trust the fear.” (There were titters from the audience as Thurston consulted Stereo Sanctity in order to remember the lyrics.)
“We were playing some show,” Thurston recalled. “It was one of the first live reviews we got and it was in some — I forget where it was, but — the journalist said like, ‘Oh, musically it was just chaos and there were these pretentious lines about like, ‘I take lots of speed and I drink lots of beer.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa!’ I was just like, ‘That is so not what I was talking about!'”
Less easy to shrug off were the errors in the 33 1/3 book about Daydream Nation. “The guy who wrote that book got the lyrics wrong and he’s critiquing these lyrics that he misheard. And I was like, but you’re critiquing something that doesn’t exist,” Thurston said.
In 2007, when the book came out, Thurston pointed out some of the gaffes on the 33 1/3 site. Among them was a lyric in “Total Trash” that the 33 1/3 author, Matthew Stearns, heard as: “It’s a guilty man / that increased the crack / it’s total trash / sack ’em on the back / with a heavy rock.” Thurston noted that it was actually “It’s a guilty man / that can grease the crack,” and that the lyric had “nothing to do with the ‘increased’ crack cocaine epidemic of the time as deduced by Stearns I’m afraid. The lyric has more to do with record company boys trading butt-licks.”
Stearns later told an interviewer that he wrote Thurston an apology email. “His reply was consoling and he even made mention of the book ‘standing up past [its] complications,'” Sterns said.
Misheard lyrics have creeped into Sonic Youth album reviews, as well. “I’ve noticed when we would do a record and you send out the CD-R or whatever to preview the record to journalists — and then when the record comes out, sometimes a lot of the reviews would be misheard lyrics, and they’d be talking about these misheard lyrics. That would just drive me crazy. It’s just like… ‘I didn’t write what you’re talking about!'” Eventually the band started sending lyric sheets along with the press copies, but “even that didn’t matter,” Thurston said.
Still, Thurston admitted he’s not above mishearing lyrics himself. As it turns out, the title of the song “Society Is A Hole,” off of Bad Moon Rising, was based on his mishearing of Black Flag’s “Rise Above.” At some point Thurston looked at a lyric sheet and saw the words “Society’s arms of control.”
“I was like, oh he’s not singing ‘Society’s a fucking hole.'”