Thurston Moore has been part of the New York music scene for three decades, and he's still going, proving to be a rare example of lasting independence in the music industry. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
He's an influential musician with more than two dozen albums, most prominently with his former band Sonic Youth. That's what makes the following admission from Thurston Moore somewhat surprising.
"I can't play in a cover band," he says. "I don't know how to play real music."
For his admirers, his music is very real.
Sonic Youth's days may be over, but Thurston Moore is still at it, on the road in a van with a new band, Chelsea Light Moving.
"One part of me doesn't really want to be doing this again, but another part of me is just sort of like, 'Well, why not?'" he says.
Moore is still pushing musical boundaries, experimenting, defying categorization. He scored the music to the film "Street" by artist James Nares, now an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"I never really learned how to play traditional guitar so much," he says. "Punk rock started happening, and seeing bands where the guitar players were very rudimentary at best, but they were complete geniuses when it came to the creative mind."
In 1981, that inspiration led to the creation of Sonic Youth. The band enjoyed growing popularity throughout the '80s, eventually touring with and inspiring none other than Nirvana, giving concerts around the world.
It started in the East Village, where Moore arrived in the late '70s drawn by the music, the poetry and the energy. He's lived elsewhere, but in a sense, he's never left the East Village.
There's a favorite old record store.
"Usually, the proprietor will throw up the heavier items on the wall," he says.
There's a bookstore that satiates his love of hard-to-find, rare works of poetry.
"I sort of came to New York in the '70s to sort of get involved with the poetry community," he says.
There's also his beloved St. Mark's Church on the Bowery, a haven for writers and performers as the home of the poetry project.
"This is where I come to really sort of be inside of the New York mind," he says.
Moore is understandably romantic about the old neighborhood.
"I moved here in the late '70s, and it was still sort of, at that point, it was just like as if the apocalypse already happened, to paraphrase Lydia Lunch," he says.
But he is appreciative of the new, safer neighborhood.
"I feel much less stressed out on these streets than I did," he says. "I don't run home anymore."
As Sonic Youth became more prominent in the '80s and '90s, much was written about Moore and Kim Gordon. They were bandmates, husband and wife, raising a daughter, the so-called First Couple of Indie Rock.
So it's not surprising that when Moore and Gordon announced a separation in 2011, there was more media attention about their personal lives.
"I don't dignify it with a response even though I feel like writing a screed about it, This is what you need to know. You don't need to know that," Moore says. "To talk about my personal life with family? No, that is so private."
"A lot has to do with narcissism," Moore says. "I'm as narcissistic as the next person. I'm a Leo, and I understand what that is. But I do draw the line."
Thurston Moore grew up around music in the small town of Bethel, Connecticut. His father played classical piano. his older brother brought home Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records. As a teenager, he started coming into the city to hear punk and new wave bands.
"I remember being stunned the first time I sort of saw a band in a New York club," he says.
The band was called Suicide. Moore knew he was no longer in Connecticut.
"Dripping white pancake makeup with scars on his face," he says. "It was demonic, and it was incredible. It was completely life-changing in a way."
Moore wanted to return, and quickly. So he came to the city after high school, renting a walk-up on East 13th Street.
"I remember hearing lots of alcoholic fighting going on," he says. "The streets were pretty crazy."
The neighborhood also had plenty of new artists and energy. It also had the history.
"You could get up and walk to the local Polish restaurant, and Alan Ginzberg would be eating in there with Peter Olaafsky, and you just sort of knew you were in the right place because of that," Moore says.
He was your basic starving artist, playing in a band, working as a foot messenger. But unlike many of his friends who came from afar, Moore could go home to Connecticut.
"I could escape," he says. "I could go to this little rural area of Connecticut where my mother lived, and it was not that hard to get to."
It took a few years, but eventually, the buzz about Sonic Youth started to grow.
"My mother came to CBGB and she saw how the audience reacted, and she said it completely touched her in such a way that she knew this was really special," Moore says.
The band eventually played around the world, and developed legions of admirers.
Moore says mainstream success - radio play - was never the goal. But when Sonic Youth toured with Nirvana in the early '90s, Moore got a front-row seat to the effects of mass popularity.
"It really did change for people who were younger and coming up and seeing that as a standard of success, and that was something you could appeal to," Moore says. "I thought that was a bit of a distortion of what your agenda should be as a musician or an artist."
Moore has worked with some of the musicians who initially drew him to New York, such as Patti Smith, but he says he is most thankful for the interactions with his audience.
"When I'm at my downest, when I'm just sort of like, 'What am I doing? Where is my life going? What have I done?', somebody will come up to me and say, 'Hey man, I just want to thank you for all you've done, for those records and for getting me through college,'" he says.
Yet, in his mid-50s, touring with a new band, apart from much of what he's known personally and professionally for the last 30 years, there is still a feeling of searching.
"I haven't really started yet," he says. "I always feel like I'm waiting for the apprenticeship to be over so I can really sort of get into the real game."