From the very first chords that almost reluctantly emerge from Thurston Moore’s guitar, “Teen Age Riot” has me hook, line and sinker. Kim Gordon’s sultry opening vocals lure you into the song’s grasp like a moth to the flame. Yet the song’s hesitant and brooding intro gradually gives way to a youthful energy that will not be denied. “You better look it/ We’re gonna shake it up to him / He acts the hero / We paint a zero on his hand.” We’ve all gone through that phase in our life when we’ve decided “I’m gonna do what I want, wear what I want, listen to what I want, go where I want and I don’t give a fuck what you think about it.” It’s called being a teenager. That ‘Fuck You’ free spirit is what this track is all about. We’re gonna play our tunes as hard as we can and we don’t care if you want it or like it. The older we get the harder it becomes to hold on to this feeling. Other things tend to get in the way and cloud our vision- jobs, careers, mortgages, families, the overbearing expectation that we need to settle down and become respectable members of society. These are important things to be sure but if it comes at the cost of losing that youthful energy and passion then it’s too high a price to pay. If you let it, “Teen Age Riot” can be the spark to a sense of urgency that you hadn’t even realised you’d lost. “Teen Age Riot” will electroshock your apathy and reawaken your willingness to throw yourself into the fire, to hell with the risks because life is just too fucking short.
“Got a foghorn and a drum and a hammer that’s rockin’/ And a cord and a pedal and a hammer that’ll do me for now.”
Of course there’s a few downsides to being a teenager- school sucks, you’ve got no money, everyone suspects that you’re a criminal and all the cool venues tell you to keep moving. You’ve got to make your own fun with whatever you can find, whether it’s a beat up guitar, a skate park or a football. More than any other time in your life it’s what you make of it that counts. Luckily your imagination will never be more fertile then when you’re a teen. Sonic Youth can testify to that. In their embryonic stage in New York’s burgeoning underground art-rock scene Sonic Youth would collect cheap, broken, out of tune second hand guitars wherever they found them and experiment on them to create new sounds that pushed the boundaries of what a rock band could sound like.
“Teen Age Riot”, the lead single off the magnum opus Daydream Nation, would propel Sonic Youth from indie scene darlings into mainstream rock icons. Over more than twenty years, Sonic Youth have consistently produced a staggeringly high number of quality releases. Though their sound has morphed and evolved over the journey, the youthful vigour and carefree spirit so celebrated in “Teen Age Riot” has rarely been surpassed.
Here’s to the elusive freedom and hope of youth. We waste it when we have it and we forever lament its loss after it slips out of our grasp.
Sonic Youth’s fifth studio album, Daydream Nation, was released in October 1988 on Enigma Records.