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Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth Reacts to ‘Goo’ Memes: ‘Nothing Is Sacred’

In a photo circulating two weeks ago, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un were seen driving a Russian-made limo in Pyongyang, North Korea. The image of these two dictators was unsettling but also sparked a wave of internet mockery. A meme quickly appeared, referencing the cover of Sonic Youth’s album Goo.

Released in 1990, Goo was Sonic Youth’s first record on Geffen Records’ DGC label. Despite moving into the major-label world, the band retained its underground roots. The album cover featured a drawing by artist Raymond Pettibon. The artwork was a hand-drawn recreation of a mid-Sixties photo from England showing Maureen Hindley and David Smith heading to testify in a murder trial involving Hindley’s sister.

“The audacious correlation of criminals hitting the road and a rock & roll band hitting the road seemed like an edgy gesture at the time," Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore explained. The image, combined with Pettibon’s text, gave the cover a rebellious touch.

The first homage to Goo appeared in 1991 with the single Spoo by the Ohio indie band Prisonshake. "We liked the simplicity of it, the black-and-white aspect," said Prisonshake’s Robert Griffin. The band’s drummer and artist Scott Pickering modified the original figures into scary monsters.

Since then, Goo parodies have become a staple for Generation X, akin to the iconic Beatles’ albums covers of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. Memes and T-shirts have replaced the original figures with a wide array of characters: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad, Snoop and Dr. Dre ("Chronic Youth"), Han Solo and Princess Leia, and even cartoon characters like Bart Simpson and Milhouse Van Houten.

“These memes take on a life of their own,” Pettibon noted. He added that any attempt to analyze them might be futile and could "break the spell."

Spanish artist Paula Garcia contributed to this trend by incorporating characters from Stranger Things. Her goal was to parody the cover due to its iconic status and the opportunity it provided to narrate a story directly on the cover itself.

Lewis also joined the trend with a mashup featuring Steve Carell’s character from The Office. "It’s like a movie still or a comic book panel," commented Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo. He credited Raymond Pettibon’s art with having a "devilish undertone," contributing to its wide applicability in different contexts.

The parodies aren’t always playful. Nicole Aline Legault created her own version to honor Breonna Taylor and Isaiah Lewis, both fatally shot by police. Her version replaced the original text with a message about the police killings, capturing the intensity and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Reflecting on Legault’s and the Putin/Kim Jong Un versions, Ranaldo noted that these parodies could be timely and political, providing a way to tell current news stories. Steve Shelley, who handles Sonic Youth’s archives, estimates that there are "hundreds and hundreds" of Goo parodies. The band has even considered compiling these into a coffee table book.

Despite the continuing tributes, the members of Sonic Youth are still somewhat mystified by the enduring appeal of the Goo cover. "I don’t think either Raymond or Sonic Youth thought that the image would be replicated to the extent it has," Moore remarked. He added, “Seeing such demagogue clowns as Putin and Kim Jong Un enter into the stream makes me groan, as I’d rather not give any energy to those warmongers. But like anything in our punk rock universe, nothing is sacred.”

Source: Rolling Stone, PMC