Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth is touring in support of his new (& first full?) solo album, and appeared for a free performance and reading at our estimable local record/music store Landlocked Music. The cool hook of the visit was that it was promised that Ranaldo would do a reading of a poem, ‘Bloomington Indiana Autumn’, that he’d written on his only previous visit to town, in 1990, when Sonic Youth performed at IU.
The store was full, though not a mob scene — I think you may have needed to be on Landlocked’s email list to hear about this one. Apparently a press in Louisville, White Fields Press, don’t know if it still exists, produced this broadside/poster of the Bloomington poem back in 1995, and they had signed copies for sale for $10. Although I’m not crazy about the image of a mid-90s Ranaldo looking broody in a hoodie, I had to buy a copy.
Ranaldo, who’s gone grey in an nicely distinguished way, alternated songs from the new album, with two guys playing along with him*, and some recited poetry. The poems maybe work best as song lyrics, by and large, although I actually enjoyed the recitations, too. I have not listened to the album itself (which Pitchfork kind of panned, I see) but in this context the songs came across as somewhat blurred or abstract songwriter folk. He seems like an unreconstructed Beatnik, in a way. There was a funny bit where he reminisced about a summer when he was 16 or 17 and did a lot of drugs hanging around with friends in a parent’s backyard.
[*did not realize until now that these two guys were Alan Licht and original S. Youth Steve Shelley drummer on cardboard box!]
Since his Bloomington poem includes a reference to Sylvia Plath, I wanted to tell him about the Lilly Library afterwards — he may not realize that the major Plath holdings including all of her juvenilia and a lock of her hair are here in town– but he was chatting with a kind of line of kids afterwards so I decided not to wait. The crowd was young, btw; a few other old-timers like me, but mostly 20-something.
In the bookstore I can barely see/ to let a few words from some page through/
All these words collide/ and jostle one another: Anne Sexton/ I open at random and find “Sylvia’s Death”/ which then bumps against biographical blurbs on Dylan, and Joni.
He said that the poem was written to his wife (then girlfriend) who is back in NYC while Ranaldo explores the college town:
The courthouse square, my head still for a moment/ The breeze scattering jewel-like leaves all at my feet/ Burnt yellow, bright yellow, mottled reds and oranges/ I press a few into my book, why?/ Have you kicked through leaves, in the city?/ Let them come up under your toe?/ Well I have, out here, while thinking of you.