The Dust Bin: Sonic Youth ‘Titanium Exposé’ (video)
After several years of scraping by, releasing record after record of difficult but often brilliant music, Sonic Youth finally made it to the big leagues when they signed to Geffen records in 1989. Being one of the first acts on the label’s soon to be trendsetting subsidiary, DGC, the band was suddenly being allotted large sums of money to spend on expanding their sound and appeal. While “Daydream Nation” was their first “non-econo” record, 1990’s “Goo” would be over five times the price tag of that gem (estimated costs being around $150,000).
While “Goo” was one of their more tumultuous records in terms of recording process’s frustrating grind, the resulting album would prove to be one of their best. One of the many innovations of this period was the group’s idea to produce a VHS containing a video for every song on the album. It was possibly the first time this feat was attempted, having been followed in the years since by several artists like Beck, Beach House, and Bon Iver.
While DGC split the costs of a few of the clips for MTV play (“Kool Thing,” “Dirty Boots,” and “Disappearer”), the rest of the album’s videos were financed completely by the band, hiring their friends to direct budget videos on their own equipment. Some were cruder than others, but one of the best of the bunch was the Phil Morrison directed “Goo”-closer “Titanium Exposé,” a bizarre tale fitted to look like a ’70s made-for-TV movie.
Opening with shots of drummer Steve Shelley wandering around New York City using a Periodic Table as a tourist map, the dynamic riffing humorously underscores the lack of story which also features guitarist Lee Ranaldo knitting a scarf in front of a fish shop.
The main focus of the video is on indie rock’s leading couple, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, who can be seen lounging around their Eldridge Street apartment, reading TV Guide and playing with Clackers while sprawled out on the marriage bed. Morrison’s purpose for the Moore/Gordon scenes was a means to reflect on the song’s lyrics, like Moore’s “I’ve been lookin’ just to feel that funny feeling,” and Gordon’s “Sugar babe, sugar babe, do it to me” — the meeting of both domestic love and sex.
Further llustrating the point is the video’s climax, where it goes from the couple’s bored despondency to a sight neither the band nor their close group of friends had ever thought they’d see. As the song kicks back into a reprise of the breakneck intro, the couple can be seen passionately making out in front of the fuzzy reception of their TV set. “It was a little embarrassing,” says Moore. “We knew it was showing a side of us we weren’t exhibiting that much publicly. But for the sake of art, we did it” (Watch at 5:03 as he holds back a smirk). Pussy Galore’s Julia Cafritz, who later formed the group Free Kitten with Gordon, was amazed at the time saying, “These people do that? At that point I knew them well enough that I knew they did. But it wasn’t clear to me that they would ever make that clear to anybody else. Everyone who knew them was like ‘Wow.'”
At the video’s conclusion, Shelley’s Periodic Table map eventually leads him to a private show in the apartment played by a faux Sonic Youth while the real band looks on. The video as a whole doesn’t make total sense, but it fits in beautifully with Sonic Youth’s abstract style. Watching all of them, especially Moore and Gordon having such a good time, is also a bittersweet experience, the couple having split up after 27 years of marriage last fall. “Titanium Exposé” may never have even gotten a spot on MTV’s limited Buzz Bin (in favor of the Geffen-funded clips), but it remains an excellent example of a turning point in the music industry and its videos.
References: ‘Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth’ by David Brown