Sonic Youth

2.24.2008

By Jason Lamphier

So, have you hung up your dresses? Are you done with the crazy stage antics?
For now. [With that], I was never really making a statement. I was always just kind of taking the piss out. People started referring to me as this hideous person, a freak, and my first reaction to that was, 'Do you want to see how much of a freak I am really? Let's play.' I'm intrigued by that: Get a persona and destroy it, and then say, 'Oh, by the way, that persona was meaningless -- that wasn't me.' That's what intrigued me about Bowie.

You don't think that person with the fake blood and dresses is you?
I think that's the kid me, my childhood self throwing a tantrum in its current stifled repressed situation. It was all about the sensation. I don't mean to be sensationalist, but I don't really give a shit if people think that's what it is.

So when you say it's all about the sensation, do you mean it's more the sensation you get?
The evocative sense. Not causing a stir but evoking something for the audience. I was thinking a lot about the abuse I'd gone through as a child, and it was kind of that character -- the abused child. The dress represented my being forced into a feminine role. Not by my parents. Other kids -- neighborhood boys and stuff -- they sexualized me at a very young age.

Do you think you enjoyed playing the feminine role as a child?
I embraced it. In a certain way, my mom and my sister often let me do whatever I wanted. I wanted to wear frilly dresses and high heels and run around the house. That was kind of a big deal when I was growing up because I wanted to go to the grocery store in my dress, and they were like, 'You can do that around the house, but you can't go out.'

Your mother was actually pretty amenable as far as your gender bending was concerned.
There were obviously limits. It's one thing to be interested in experimenting with gender roles at that age. It's another thing to be abused while that's happening. It creates a freeze on your mental development.

But it wasn't your parents who abused you.
My God, no. My parents love me very much and have always supported me no matter what I've done, which is saying a lot because my dad is a conservative republican Christian.

Do your parents think, He's crazy on stage, he's going to be crazy off stage?
There's a big article in The New York Times from when we played at the Mercury Lounge and a photo of me screaming like a lunatic, the mic covered in fake blood, and [I'm wearing] the dress, and I remember walking into the kitchen [at my parents' house] and [my dad] had it taped to the refrigerator door.

Was he proud of it?
He was very proud of it. He was like, 'I don't like what you're doing, but I'm very proud that you're doing it.' That's pretty amazing. He knows that I'm not trying to play games with people's minds. I get e-mails all the time that are like 'I don't know that I'm gay, and I don't know that I'm straight, but I'm attracted to this boy and he doesn't like me back.' All I can write back is 'Good luck,' you know? I would love to have wisdom, and hopefully someday I will have wisdom, but I'm still stuck in the confusion.

Would you say your music is the wisdom you can offer at this point?
It's the best thing I can offer. It's what I try to do -- something therapeutic. I want to create healing music, the kind of records I wanted to hear when I was first infatuated with my best friend and had that love glow -- that feeling that the world is awesome, but then you start realizing that it's imperfect. It's what I'm trying to capture.

Check out Deerhunter's trippy video for "Strange Lights" here.

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