Whether this DVD was instigated at the behest of Geffen or Sonic Youth is unclear. For their first DVD release it only covers the supposedly "sell-out" Geffen years - hence the title Corporate Ghost. It is a charming and alternative look back at the band's uncomfortable entry into the mainstream, riding through grunge, their non-conformance and simplicity, and entering the new century.
"When it comes down to it, sometimes what your general public or MTV wants isn't an arty video. We are just not an MTV band", explains Jim O'Rourke.
Coming from New York and having strong ties to its arts circuit, much of Sonic Youth's activity stemmed from the late '80s / early '90s creative buzz of young people who either lived in or migrated to the Big Apple. This same energy that went into Sonic Youth videos is applied to this jam-packed DVD. It's both a wonderful retrospective and a well researched compilation, and is in itself, a well told story.
Three hours of commentary and 23 videos spanning from Goo to Murray Street will have die-hards in Youth heaven. Sonic Youth videos aren't played that often, and when they are, they're lumped into some irresponsibly hashed '90s greatest videos countdown. That, or 100% which is on overkill on MTV.
For others, much like myself born a few years too late, it's a fascinating insight into Sonic Youth. There's the art-school, performance-art leanings of early videos from Goo, the B-movie crazy kids theme on Mildred Piece and each video's accompanying commentary comes from either the band or director (mostly both). With each commentary there's always something worthy to learn, such as how 100% launched Spike Jonze's directing career, or how Macauley Culkin and Sofia Coppola were roped in for appearances.
The crown jewels are the wealth of extras. Jonze's photo memory montage from the Dirty years nets a web of characters in and around the band. The feelings and mood of the '90s, and the art scene's players follows Sonic Youth with a different set of eyes rather than simply slamming the videos down and acquiring predictable rent-a-quotes from celebs.
Of course a vox-pop is present, but the Youth's friends and collaborators are the ones with the words. Probably the most satisfying element is the DVD's focus on the videos. Past directors and filmographers get a big mention, allowing us inside their heads to learn about their interpretations of Sonic Youth. Interpreting the Youth was an immense, sometimes difficult job. These people were akin to the Youth in regarding videos as art and a communicator, a sacred one which had purpose other than appearing on the MTV Video Music Awards. These would be going out to give fans their own assumptions and interpretations.
The most endearing moment is the fan letter film recorded by Patty Orsini in 1990. Recorded in her bedroom enshrined with Sonic Youth memorabilia, Orsini is a teen fan totally lost in her love of music. Orsini's innocence and sincerity in recording her open letter with the hope of one day meeting the band is warming. Her messy unkept hair,and her name dropping of Jane's Addiction and Twisted Sister may stir a few memories among a few 25-year-olds. It is to the band's credit and Lance Bangs (aka Lester Bangs, director) for giving Orsini a moving final word 14 years on.
Geffen may or may not have pushed for this but Sonic Youth, with the aid of some good friends, have come up with the goods once again.