Call us generation Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!?
The recent Brooklyn Heights park memorial to late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch compounded our collective bum-out over revelations about another woman in the 2011 separation of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. We’ve re-opened a fresh wound.
It’s a reminder that the perpetual youth of punk ends in death, divorce, and sometimes bad museum exhibits. The generation of people who grew up listening to the Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth does not know a world that celebrates the second-annual “MCA Day,” and doesn’t include the marriage of Kim and Thurston.
Some friends are seriously starting to sound like our parents with sentiments like, “I can’t believe he’s gone,” “How could he do that to her,” and, “Thank goodness Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan are still together.” After three decades of redefining music, art and culture, Kim and Thurston are now redefining their post-punk, post-parenting golden years.
People are definitely not perfect, but our role models for working in creative fields have been these very people whose perfect punk rock résumés have assumed pedestals for over a quarter century. We thought we could trust these over-30s to model a lifestyle we could get into, that would veer away from such clichés.
They had shown us how to diversify our creative endeavors through independent media, business and culture. They built their own record labels, fashion houses and captured audiences with unique sounds over decades. We all want(ed) to be them, to emulate such creative and independent success that didn’t stink of the red herring label that bifurcated music in the ‘90s: the sell out.
So how to handle it when Thurston, our cultishly cool punk rock icon, who led us to push the boundaries and question and create, cheats on his wife? And also doesn’t seem to want to stop?
Some have chosen the methods of the establishment, like shaming the other woman. Then there is Kim Gordon’s advanced sexuality publicity tour, kicked off in Elle. The spread is super hot, but Kim is also more than that, which doesn’t come across so much in a glossy photo spread in a chic onesie. What comes across is the battle of the sexes – the age-old story of broken vows – the implied stereotype about Kim’s age and Thurston’s midlife crisis.
It’s like watching John and Yoko turn into Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. It’s way easier to mourn a guy cut down too early, than to watch a guy derail his legendary creative partnership with his wife, one that seemed to be immune from such human error as deception. Better to burn out than to fade away. On a long enough timeline… anything can happen.
A full 877,000 couples got divorced in 2011, the year Kim and Thurston separated, and the reality is 1 in 4 couples over 50 get divorced these days, citing longevity and less stigma as reasons to move on out of unpleasant or unwanted situations.
What to make of it then, when so many fans and observers seem flabbergasted at the split, when the reality is that over the last 20 years baby boomers have doubled the divorce rate for couples over 50?
I can say from personal experience that the enlightened-intellectual-male-feminist brand that Thurston built for himself, through his art and music – by marrying Kim, by having songs like Thurston Hearts the Who written about him by feminist icons Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill – is something that I, in hindsight, hung my hat on as an aspirational quality for my own male partners. How disappointing to think that even someone like him could do something like this, right?
Thurston said in 2010, “Eva [Prinz] solicited Kim to do a book in the early 2000s, and Kim was intrigued but told Eva that I was completely involved with … book lust … and that she should talk to me. Eva had me come up to her office—but I had no interest in doing anything with a corporate publisher.”
Until he did. Women, hold on to your husbands!
Not that I want to wade too deeply into the waters of other people’s personal business, but I have hung out with Eva, Thurston’s alleged “other woman,” and attended Ecstatic Peace events. I know it’s not going to be popular to say this, but Eva runs in a network of super interesting and creative people, and there’s a reason for it – she’s brilliant, talented and yes, beautiful. She is also the kind of woman who many women don’t like because she is liberated and seems to have it all, and very easily. Let’s not make her the punk rock Monica Lewinsky – everything is more complex than it seems.
Thurston and Kim were in a creative and sexual partnership for 30 years. Could it make sense, in a way, that if he was starting to create a new phase of his creative career, particularly chasing his “book lust,” as Kim put it, that his sexuality might also become involved in building that endeavor, as per his previous experience of marrying the woman with whom he writes songs?
I assume when writing this that many people will choose to ignore the complexities and believe that I am placing blame. I don’t mean to blame anyone, my point is the opposite – it’s to ask, how are we all handling this situation? Are we just creating easy-to-pin-down reasoning for why it happened (penis wants vagina), and is it that simple? I’m uncomfortable placing blame on the other woman, which shames her with sexual guilt and perpetuates the establishment’s search and destroy punishment mechanism – mostly endured by women.
Let’s deal with the disillusionment we feel by finding new ways to look at what this all means. Cynicism is easy, especially when hero figures akin to “cool” parents, let us down. But it seems even more unconventional that anyone would think a 30-year creative partnership and long-term marriage didn’t last long enough in the business of rock n roll. Don’t we or haven’t we always expected rock n’ roll relationships to burn out and not fade away? It’s a sign to me that the punk rock establishment has become the parental establishment and old practices die hard.
One of the things that slid into the shaming piece on Jezebel a few weeks back was that Eva’s marriage is “open.” Again, it’s not our business, but could it be that there’s plenty of open flaunting of marital vows across creative partnerships and that the problem here might have just been selfish deception and denial on Thurston’s part? Not the classic wife/whore martyr dichotomy that women have endured since the beginning of (patriarchal) time.
This is something that sexual sage Dan Savage addressed at the Brooklyn Book Festival last year while speaking in a church about monogamy, video below.
“The lie that is propagated by the Oprah-Industrial-Complex,” Dan offered, “is if you are in love, and you’ve made a monogamous commitment, that you will not want to fuck anybody else, because being in that kind of romantic love and making that kind of monogamous commitment means you don’t want to fuck anyone else. This just wasn’t the case. It didn’t take me long to realize this was bullshit – that being in love and making a monogamous commitment might mean you would refrain from fucking other people, but you would still want to fuck other people quite desperately.”
Is it just a matter of being honest about it? Especially after you’ve been together for 30 years? Am I not a feminist for asking that? What occurred when Kim and Thurston announced their separation was a shattering of our conception of this brand of monogamy that is a romantic punk rock creative kind of love, as we had heard about in a 2008 SPIN interview with Michael Azerrad.
You have a famously great marriage, which is virtually unheard of for a rock star, particularly when the spouse is also a bandmate. What’s your secret?
There’s no secret. We’ve never sold each other out on anything. I can easily follow the allure of wanting to go out and be with the boys, and play industrial noise and smoke pot and drink, but nothing replaces the reality of our relationship. I can’t trade that for anything. I can’t think of how or where I’d be without Kim’s influence. And we’re like any couple that’s been together for close to 30 years. There’s a genuine psychophysical connection. Sometimes I feel things happening in me, and I know that something’s going on with her. When you’re married and you have that kind of connection, you become really spiritually, psychologically connected. We grew up together, in a way.
By that logic, sounds like what happened next was that Thurston sold Kim out. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!?
Dan had made an interesting point at the Book Fest last September, that when monogamy is considered successful, that means never having sex with other people, when perhaps, he suggested, it’s more like sobriety and falling off the wagon, and if you only do it once or twice that’s not terrible (compared to Don Draper, sure). His term “monogamish” deciphers social monogamy from sexual monogamy as is more common with gay men, adding, “straight men would do everything gay men do, but straight men can’t because women won’t.”
For good reason, right ladies?
But Dan added, “We have constructed a definition of love, commitment and monogamy that undermines love, commitment and monogamy by putting it in people’s heads that attraction to others is evidence that your primary relationship is dead, it has collapsed.”
Perhaps it had for Kim and Thurston as is true for many couples, again, not my business, but maybe there comes a time to see other people, not necessarily end the marriage, and maybe it’s close to impossible to do that outside of the construct of the classic midlife crisis affair? In any event that’s what is happening now for this couple, but with the painful addition of breaking up a marriage, family and a bond of trust. How to explain this all to the kids?
It sounds so cliché, right?
Here are more maybes. Maybe the feminist movement doesn’t have any way to address non-monogamy in fighting off a powerful reign of Don Draper types? Maybe for empowered straight women it’s easy to lord it over straight men that their sexual desires tend to be more innately connected with the physical needs, while women trend towards emotional needs? Maybe there is a time once your kids are grown where you start to get selfish about your own needs in the face of aging and after a long time of putting family first? Maybe it’s okay to do what you want to do as long as you are honest about expectations and commitments to others? Which, clearly Thurston was not.
In an increasingly individualized society, with a growing life expectancy, and under personal and public surveillance, we might also consider that it isn’t really possible to lie about cheating anymore without getting caught eventually, so maybe it’s time to take a step towards honesty if that’s how people are going to roll.
So what is the conversation that we need to be having about monogamy and marriage, especially as we expand the definition of who gets to legally marry and monogamy (mythical or not) is increasingly not a given? Will the non-monogamous lifestyle – usually attributed to gay men – merge with our traditional definition of marriage? Is non-monogamy the next sexual revolution?
Anecdotal evidence suggests a few interesting trends: women over 50 are leading the spike in divorce rates; swingers enjoy strong marriages; and that recently the over-50 population has seen a surge in STDs. In a study of patients in the Netherlands, “55 percent of the diagnoses for chlamydia and gonorrhea occurred in swingers, versus 31 percent in gay men.”
I want to believe that the man I partnered up with will share with me the enduring decades-long genuine psychophysical connection that Thurston referred to having with Kim. But if we find a connection with another person along the way, does that negate the deep connection we first, and perhaps continue to feel with each other? Can two things be true at once? What is important to sustaining our creative, sexual and social lives? And maybe whatever that is, it’s ok – if we’re honest.
As Dan says in the clip, “I am not the enemy of monogamy, I am pro-making relationships work.”
The complexity of all of this is certainly getting me down. But as Rob Sheffield wrote in Rolling Stone upon hearing news of Kim and Thurston’s separation in 2011, “Like everything else about Sonic Youth, their relationship challenged our ideas about what was possible. And we should all be so lucky as to spend the best day of our lives doing anything as great as what they did every day for the past three decades.”
Amen to that – especially since life is so short.