Sonic Youth’s album, released as Ciccone Youth at the time, is now available on Bandcamp. The members of Sonic Youth recorded the album as a one-off in the ’80s, combining covers of Madonna songs, sonic experimentations with samplers and drum machines, and even a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love.”
The album also includes a song recorded by Mike Watt not long after his bandmate and best friend D. Boon died in a tragic car accident in December 1985. The Bandcamp page for the album includes extensive liner notes written by Watt, detailing in his own spiel style the background of recording his contribution to a 7″ the band released with his demo version of “Burnin’ Up” on one side and the Sonic Youth members doing “Tuff Titty Rap” and “Into the Groov(y)” (a cover of Madonna’s “Into the Groove”) on the other.
Watt was taken in by Sonic Youth while they were recording their album EVOL on the East Coast and he was traveling across the country with Kira Roessler (ex Black Flag bassist, Watt’s Dos bandmate and for a time wife). The band helped him grieve his loss of Boon who died in a car accident, having him record bass on some of the songs on the album – in the liner notes he says that was the first time he picked up the instrument since his best friend’s death. The rest of The Whitey Album was recorded by the Sonic Youth members and Watt had no involvement in the rest of the tracks besides “Burnin’ Up.” J Mascis, the guitarist and singer of Dinosaur Jr. makes an appearance on the record, performing guitar on “Two Rock Chicks.”
One of the founding members of the band, Lee Renaldo, also released his own project on Bandcamp. Renaldo released a previously recorded cover of John Lennon’s song “Isolation” on his personal account on Bandcamp back in May. mxdwn reporter Peter Mann comments on the covers saying, “…pays homage, as it is faithful to its source material. The songs both share the same striking piano melody, though Lennon’s more subdued soft rock approach varies slightly with Ranaldo’s heavily reverbed guitar strings. To Ranaldo’s credit even his vocals complements well with Lennon’s and that is a respectful feat not easily achieved.”
In March, soon after the pandemic caused many shelter-in-place orders for American’s, Sonic Youth released their eleven show recordings on Bandcamp. The band has done fifteen show recordings, leaving only a few of the other show recordings out of the release. From the show recordings that the band did decide to release, the recordings date back to the 80s and stretch to the early 2000s.
Sonic Youth unfortunately, was part of the group of bands who’s recordings had been lost in a fire at Universal studios back in February. It was confirmed that recordings from Sonic youth and other bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, had lost recordings in a fire at Universal studios.
Read the entirety of the liner notes by Watt below:
“…years later, I find myself writing this just as I finish a four-hour shift behind the wheel of the van, coming back to my town (San Pedro, CA) having completed yet another hell-ride. The eleven-hundred-mile Denver to Pedro drive is still better than the twenty-three-hundred-mile Pedro to Miami but I guess you could say maybe “relatively” better. Coming home tops sallying forth almost always. All told, we did over thirty thousand miles this time. Even though it was my twenty-second tour, it was for me a strange tour, the way it divided itself into two parts: first totally under the weight of my own endeavor and then finding myself at the whim of others, respected yet in fact but a pull-toy. Now please know these circumstances came by my own choice, mind you. In no way am I trying to paint myself as a victim. A life is made up of many days: the sun rises and the sun sets, either with or without you. This duality of the tour however, brought out strange similarities in my experiences regarding this piece of work in which I’m about to relate to you.
The first part of the tour, the period when I held sway, worked like this: seventy gigs in seventy-three days planned by me in my little pad here in Pedro. I designed a tour that would take us through and have us play every state in the Union except Alaska and Hawaii (the lack of Interstate making those really tough drives) plus three Canadian Provinces. Fiftyone of the gigs were in a row: over seven weeks without a day off. I planned this tour for months. All my previous tours had prepared me and I had no lack of vision for the feat. When it came time to execute the plan, I then grew scared and fearful but was hurled ever on by the momentum of my will, in which, with discipline, I had conquered hesitation. The gigs came and came. I did likewise: against the current, with it, down the rapids, over the falls, into the slough and stuffed in the mud. Dealing with what got dealt me, defining my shortages, exploring my hunches; me measuring my distance between both my points of reference and points of position. I forcing myself from thinking these towns I pass through are gas stops for my tour. I am the layer of peel that forms around their life in order for me to breathe deeply. I kind of do a version of the trance I have to work myself into in order to do gigs: the measurer who is too close to the thing he is trying to measure to do it accurately. Trading accuracy for a stab at meaning. Using the human drama to talk about units of measurement as if there could be a justice unto them, empirical crucifixes hung with the double whammy of both beyond and within.
That’s what I call my kind of gasoline, Watt-grade kerosene with all kinds of crap floating in it – I never go below a 1/4 tank because the motor might start sounding like it’s sucking shit through a soda straw and that’s when you know real is about as real as it wants to be and not the other way around, dig? We don’t make the law, we just give names to the big foist that seems to involve us somehow and in some way. Now, if you can get someone to agree with you then you must have a reason which is outside your reach, more of a stepladder for someone who you would claim is “much less involved” but none the less coincidentally planted firmly in the center of your “discovered” universe. To move through the ocean by swimming in it? What else is there? I could swear the pier bobs as I stand on my fast and sturdy deck. I guide my boat using stars that swim themselves, it’s only natural. What is weird is me fucking my machine to get paid, that is mystery.
The second part of the tour had little of my doing. I was doing some of the same towns but this time I was the confused actor. Trying hard to assert whatever I had gathered in my fist, I decided to violate myself and fuck with my own image. Proud fool was I as off came the flannel and Levi and back on went the cheap new wave suits I bought the day before stage two began. White shirt underneath strung up with a skinny tie bound by safety pins, I played my trump on my left sleeve. An armband celebrating one of my favorite group of artists: the Germs. So, into the summer heat I suffered that goddamn outfit until I played it up to such a frenzy that by the time of the last gig, I was able to have my beard (tour beard, I don’t shave when I’m on tour), take all my clothes off onstage, put on my flannel and Levi (after a month of going without!) and feel alright about it. So much for self-induced hysteria.
I think I bounce off people. Man, it’s weird how I will stumble into someone and internally debate if I’m nothing without them. It’s like I just happened to meet the dude with all the keys to my pad, my safe, my van, my mota and of course I will have a great “change” in my life by being seemingly transformed by the act of making my “muse and mentor” an accessory to my prized collection of tribute and irony. The guy from navy housing grows up to be the guy who grew up in navy housing! You got to shovel shit before you can bag it and sell it! Soak some rags in alcohol and tie them around your ankles so you’ll keep the ants off your candy ass! The ridiculous things that will come out of my mouth and for why? I don’t know, all I can say is that I can detect some similarities and I can detect some differences. Let me waste not another word now and discuss this piece of work.
Truth be it known, I have only one tune here. OK, I’ll back up and explain things a little. Kira was the first person who turned me on to Madonna maybe in the spring of 1985. She was playing bass for Black Flag and the guys in the band wanted her to dress up since she was confused for a boy in previous tours. This tour, the “Loose Nut” tour, would be special. Well, it happens that the Minutemen did a week in the Southwest with Black Flag that May and I learned about Madonna. Kira was putting herself through UCLA while she was in the band and I respected her very much. The symbols that were going down were so intense and new to me, I succumbed. The spaceman had invented his tether without knowing such things are discovered and not invented. Anyway, as Kierkegaard said “Faith is like a telescope, turned upside down” and so I went about “understanding” my universe in terms that were more like food words or something. Someone said something bout “role model” and Kira laughed, like shit now days could be that fucking simple or stupid. How about a fist in the air, lawgiver?
However, death is not mocked and my big man D. Boon was killed December 11, 1985 in a van crash. I was tiny and stopped wrestling my bass, wouldn’t touch it. Kira had to do some internship at Yale so I drove her to Connecticut. I stopped in NYC and stayed with Thurston and Kim for a week. Staying up late on the couch with a blanket on just talking and talking. Talking about everything, even silly band names out of Flipside like Sarcastic Orgasm. I must have drove them crazy. But it really helped me get over that hell of D. Boon Dying, I really owe them all I’ve done since the Minutemen. They were recording EVOL for SST Records and made me play bass on it. The first bass I played since D. Boon getting killed. They were great people, Lee and Steve, too. One night after recording, me and Thurston got to talking about the best bosses and stuff like that and I said: “hell, I want to laugh again” and Thurst said “let’s do it like a band and make a record!” Then I told him damn right I was going to do it like a band. I was very intense and fired up. I wailed on it at my pad and made a four track of what I wanted to do in the studio. I sent this to Thurston. What I had done was taken my background in Blue Oyster Cult and married (well, to my sensibilities) to the only voice of the 80’s that could challenge the Animal House/White House hip smugness of them days. Like Humphrey Bogart or something, I couldn’t really understand it but I did know that I was alive and feeling like it. We went on to release a seven-inch with me doing “Burnin’ Up” on one side and them guys doing “Tuff Titty Rap” and “Into The Groovey” on the other. This came out on New Alliance Records and is the first Ciccone Youth record. It was later released in England as a twelve-inch single on Paul Smith’s Blast First Records. But you know, Thurston always did like that demo I made him. It would be that little passion bundle (in the form of a tape) that would make it to the “White Record.” I went on to meet Edward (well, he just showed up at my house) and put together fIREHOSE with him and George Hurley. I had once again gotten caught up in the sound of my own engine and dove right in where the rubber meets the road.
Meanwhile, from what people tell me, The Whitey Album was recorded. I can tell you no more about what went down than I can tell you about today’s special relationship between television audiences and television performers (i.e. today’s scene)! I served no other purpose except for the obvious inspiration one can give when on they are so enamored yet driven. My song, although authentic, is sort of like that second part of this last tour. I can not know where I have not been. I can guess but is there not some greater glory? My “Burnin’ Up” riding that big tsunami on the back of the big surfboard Sonic in the name of Ciccone, the Mother of All Bosses! Does one who sails a boat have the right to know where the winds come from? Better yet, does it matter? Maybe that wind started out as a breath, a gasp for life! The gift of going down swinging, swinging for the fence – fanning up a gust so heavy that even those people in NYC might get blown? Shit, hitting the ball would only slow my bat down, keep me in that box all dressed in some other man’s clothes, some uniform. No dream talk to describe the terrors of the gaps and comedies of the connects all balled up in a punk chorus of “What We Do Is Secret.” What we do is not secret anymore.
I have great respect for the guitarist on “Two Rock Chicks” (J Mascis). I accidentally spit food all over him as I praise him but still keep my fist in the air in a non-fascist salute. It is the Sonic Youths themselves who are this record, I have tried to relate my part in both fact and theory. If I know anything, then for sure time is here to keep events linear and parallel simultaneously. I am proud to have served with this unit. Back then, I put a picture of Madonna on my bass because I thought it looked much better there than in an issue of Spin or Rolling Stone. Punk went good with Madonna. I wanted to make her look special and important, someone or something you had to deal with and maybe decide who you are. You know, return the favor. Maybe one day someone might say: “Watt looked up to Madonna because he did.” Maybe I’ll feel peace for the briefest of moments. This is a good record but it’s also kind of scary… Mike Watt, 1993”