Breaking Up Is Hard to Do


Amy Phillips’s review of Sonic Youth’s new album, Murray Street, in last week’s issue, in which she proposed that the group break up, prompted a large reader response. Some of the letters follow.

Hey, where did you find Amy Phillips? I haven’t read such vapid prose since I stole my sister’s Seventeen magazine for the bra ads. So Amy’s been into Sonic Youth since 1995, huh? Ever since she started high school? Wow, what a history she and Sonic Youth share. I can see why she’s upset—seven years later and she realizes they’re old and not cool anymore. It is a sad day for music when someone who claims to love Sonic Youth (I know, I know, she thanked them in her yearbook; it’s precious beyond belief) also mentions “suffering” through SY’s side projects and B-sides. Was she in love with the music or the critically cool cachet attached to their name? In either case, Phillips seems to have outgrown them, just as she outgrew Kurt Cobain. I’m sure she’ll send us another breathless dispatch from homeroom when the luster begins to fade on that Dirty Vegas CD.

Mark Harper

St. Louis, Missouri

Amy Phillips’s review of Sonic Youth’s album Murray Street is way off base. First, the author criticizes Sonic Youth for changing their sound radically from what it was in 1995, and then for not changing their sound since 1986. This seems to be mostly about Phillips bemoaning the fact that she isn’t in high school anymore. Maybe when she stops having what is apparently an early-twenties life crisis she can review albums more objectively.

Dustin Janes

Halifax, Nova Scotia

How about if just Kim Gordon quits Sonic Youth? Then they can just play music instead of having tuneless rants in the middle of their albums.

Speaking of tuneless rants, why doesn’t Amy Phillips quit reviewing records? Then maybe she could spend more time with her Free Kitten EPs—or maybe she could take Gordon’s place in Sonic Youth.

James Wagner

Boylston, Massachusetts

“What do you do when your favorite band starts sucking?” asks Amy Phillips in her callow review of Sonic Youth’s latest. Might I suggest that Phillips consider the possibility that Sonic Youth doesn’t suck?

Phillips’s confessional is easy to read as a reflexive rejection of her teenage self while she searches for a more adult identity. Probably once she reaches maturity, she will be more embarrassed by this review than anything she wrote in her high school fanzine. Unfortunately for Phillips, Sonic Youth don’t feel like rehashing 1992’s rewrites of 1990’s rewrites of 1988’s indie rock anthems to come up with a single that’s only going to get a couple of plays on MTV. Instead, they have given us two recent records (especially nyc ghosts & flowers) that testify to an honest acceptance of their status as middle-aged arty bohos. This self-effacement gives them a groundedness that is all the more impressive for evoking something organic out of the jungle of New York and its bohemia; in addition to which the records are straight-up beautiful. Here’s hoping that Phillips will understand what I mean someday.

Eric Barry


Thank you for Amy Phillips’s review. How long can anybody remain Sonic “Youth”? Maybe they should just admit to the ravages of age, rename themselves Sonic Geezer, and hit the casino circuit playing raging guitar medleys.

Cathy Camper

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Is it my imagination or is Amy Phillips’s review a rewrite of a Gina Arnold review from four years ago? Phillips’s review shares the same general tone of a woman wronged by her youthful enthusiasms. Although what the fuck this has to do with anything other than the writer’s youthful enthusiasms is something of a question. Because to my ears, someone who came to Sonic Youth during the Washing Machine era doesn’t have much ground for aesthetic carping about Murray Street. Surely there is a better tack to take when approaching a Sonic Youth LP.

Byron Coley

South Deerfield, Massachusetts

Congratulations to Amy Phillips for having the courage to tell her idols the truth in the nicest possible way. When one of your most ardent fans says publicly that it might be a good time to pack up the amps and move on, you know it’s time to listen. Life’s not over. Life’s just changed.

Mara Marich

Sydney, Australia

Amy Phillips’s review of the new Sonic Youth album is perhaps the laziest, most arrogant waste of Voice space I’ve ever encountered. Phillips apparently overheard the record playing in a nearby dorm room and decided that she would write slack, contradictory paragraphs upon her penchant for star worship, and make money off this by pissing on the shoes of New York’s most respected rock musicians and including a truly pathetic nostalgic streak in her review. Music fans who actually have to pay for their records deserve better treatment.

Zachary English

Orlando, Florida

I loved Amy Phillips’s review. I’m older than she is (44), but it’s been rough seeing my favorite acts (the Replacements, the Pixies, Lou Reed) dry up and die, though I kept buying their albums. Sonic Youth were great. I saw them play in Southern California way back before Daydream Nation. But they should break up.

Bret Falk

Oakland, California

I’d hate to think there might be readers who’d be dissuaded from supporting the work Sonic Youth is currently doing because this reviewer can’t get her nut from their records now like she used to in high school. Do we really have to argue for the right of musicians to have their work respected when they try to move out of the box an adolescent put them in at age 14?

Brian Prager


Many thanks for Amy Phillips’s Sonic Youth review. The other day I went out and bought the new CD after reading some fantastic reviews in British music magazines. As with the last five or so SY albums, my disappointment was great. Sonic Youth have become the Toto of art rock—which is pretty sad.

Björn Lindgren

Stockholm, Sweden

In Amy Phillips’s review, she makes statements such as “Your appearance on The Simpsons was, like, the highlight of my life” and “you covered John Cage and beat up pianos and shit.” I speak that way when I’m being lazy, but usually manage to leave out the “like” and the “and shit” when I write. Maybe an editor could help out with this. Maybe such prose is supposed to sound youthful and vital, but it’s really just a pain.

John K. DiPaolo