Original art by disturbedByVoices titled "sphinx".

Sonic Youth ~ Kool Thing [199⊘]

LL slowly approaches, checking me out but stopping to talk to friends. I jump up, walk over, grab his hand, introduce myself and say, ‘Can I shake your hand?’ He’s aloof. I marvel how boys who’re tough or cool to cover up their sensitivity keep attracting girls and fooling themselves. LL has honed this juvenile tendency to a skill. It’s the kind of thing white male sex symbols are made of …” [Kim Gordon’s interview of LL Cool J]

Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon was already a burgeoning fan of LL Cool J before approaching Spin Magazine with the offer to interview him for an article, ostensibly to elicit a feminist perspective on the male-dominated world of hip-hop. “I had a thing for male Black Panthers, I also loved LL Cool J’s first record, Radio.” related Gordon from her memoir Girl in a Band. She also loved his music video for “Going Back to Cali” due to “the humorous way it made fun of the 1960s archetypal Southern California sexy white-girl aesthetic,” which in turn likely led her to believe they had common ground. [dangerousminds]

LL Cool J album cover for his album walking with a panther


“Kool Thing sitting with a kitty
Now you know you’re sure looking pretty
Like a lover not a dancer
Superboy take a little chance here”

Formed in 1981, Sonic Youth was Kim Gordon (bass, vocals, guitar), Thurston Moore (guitars, vocals), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals), and Steve Shelley (drums) emerging from the experimental New York “no wave” art and music scene before evolving into a leader in the American noise rock scene. They would be praised for “redefining what rock guitar could do” utilizing unorthodox guitar tunings while preparing guitars using objects like drumsticks and screwdrivers to alter the instruments’ timbre. Disbanded in 2011 with the divorce of Gordon and Moore, they asserted the band would never reunite.

Photo of band Sonic Youth in their 80s heyday.


It was totally ridiculous for me to assume that we had anything in common,” Gordon would later admit. At the start of the interview, she would attempt to bridge the gap between their worlds by explaining how hardcore music (of which she was a fan) would eventually lead to rap in many ways, trying to relate the Beastie Boys to LL with little interest noted. They then briefly disagreed about the “motherfucking” funniness of Andrew Dice Clay before she asked him, “What about women who are so into you as a sex object that they take a picture of you to bed with them and their boyfriends or husbands start freaking out?” “It’s not my problem,” LL responded. “The guy has to have control over his woman. She has to have enough respect for you to know not to do those things. It’s how you carry yourself.

“Kool Thing let me play it with your radio
Move me, turn me on, baby-o
I’ll be your slave
Give you a shave”

“Kim was able to take the disastrous interview and elegantly turn it into something much larger than its parts. … (She) had taken notes and then transformed the experience into a sharp and witty social critique of gender, race and power that you could dance to. ‘Kool Thing’ is more than Kim’s assault on LL Cool J’s ego, but a self-mocking jibe at her own liberal politics. The sarcasm in her voice when she addresses ‘Kool Thing’ (Public Enemy’s Chuck D) in the breakdown is self-mocking — the female voice inflated by privilege and naïveté. It’s a joke at her expense, sure, or so it would seem until she slips us that line, like a kiss with a razor blade under her tongue, ‘I just want you to know that we can still be friends…’ Because that’s what girls like me have been conditioned to say when really what we want to say is Fuck you. That’s what we mean but we can’t or won’t say it. In ‘Kool Thing,’ Kim is writing in code. There’s so much aggression in what would appear to be such a simple throwaway line, and I envy her being able to do that.”

~ Elissa Schappell, Blueprints for Building Better Girls

The song would go on to reach #7 on Billboard’s US Alternative Airplay chart and Spin would designate the video as one of the greatest music videos of 1990. Gordon’s fascination with 60s radicalism would greatly influence the video which full-circle was also stylized after LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” music video. Gordon wanted to wear a beret and carry an Uzi as a self-described “poseur-leftist girl lusting after Black Panthers concept“, but the idea would be nixed by Geffen Records. It might have been an even “kooler” thing.


Sonic Youth PNG logo


Fellow blogger AlternativeMusicBlog is doing a series on Sonic Youth, including this song
Cover Art “sphinx” © 2023 – disturbedByVoices – All Rights Reserved

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