Lee Ranaldo - Biography

Lee Ranaldo, one of the singers and guitarists in Sonic Youth, was born on February 3, 1957 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York—also the birthplace of writer Thomas Pynchon, who, like Ranaldo, grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island. According to Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story (1994 St. Martin’s Press), Ranaldo’s older cousin taught him open guitar tunings and his first chords when Lee was in his early teens. He attended Oyster Bay High, where he started playing guitar in cover bands. After high school, Ranaldo enrolled at SUNY Binghamton as an art student.


Inspired by Television, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ranaldo and fellow Binghamton art student David Linton formed the Fluks in 1977. Ranaldo sang and played guitar and Linton drummed; during the Fluks’ first year, the band also included lead guitarists Steve Burner and Mike Gross and bassist Julian Blade. In 1978 or 1979, the Fluks replaced both lead guitarists with keyboardist Stuart Somer. After Ranaldo and Linton graduated, the Fluks (minus Blade) moved to Brooklyn, where they changed their name to the Flucts and added Danny Hamilton on second keyboard. The Flucts seem to have broken up around 1980. Ranaldo and Linton then got a gig playing with Rhys Chatham that led to Ranaldo joining composer Glenn Branca’s band, with which he toured in 1980 and 1981.


Ranaldo is one of the guitarists on Glenn Branca’s The Ascension (1981 99). Singer and synthesist Truus de Groot formed a new lineup of her Dutch band Plus Instruments in New York with Ranaldo on guitar and Linton drumming. The trio recorded Plus Instruments’ Februari-April ’81 (1981 Kremlin) in New York before touring Europe. Later that year, Ranaldo formed Sonic Youth with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore; Sonic Youth released its eponymous debut, the first of many, many records, in 1982. Ranaldo’s first solo release was From Here to Infinity (1987 SST), an LP consisting of concentric locked grooves that continue to play until the listener lifts the needle. He sings backing vocals on “Little Fury Things,” the first song on Dinosaur Jr.’s classic You’re Living All Over Me (1987 SST).


Like his fellow members of Sonic Youth, Ranaldo’s solo and collaborative releases outside of the band are in the high numbers; this bio only names a few of the more widely available releases. Ranaldo and Kat Bjelland co-produced Babes in Toyland’s Fontanelle album (1992 Reprise) before Ranaldo released the solo album Scriptures of the Golden Eternity (1993 Father Yod). East Jesus [Some Recordings 1981-1991] (1995 Atavistic) is a compilation of Ranaldo’s solo home, live and studio recordings, some previously released and some not. Ranaldo’s improvisations with jazz drummer William Hooker were first documented on the live albums Envisioning (1995 Knitting Factory) and, with harpist Zeena Parkins, The Gift of Tongues (1995 Knitting Factory). Clouds (1997 Les Disques Victo) is a recording of Hooker and Ranaldo’s live set with Jim O’Rourke and saxophonist Gianni Gebbia at a 1997 festival. Ranaldo and Hooker have continued to perform and record together to the present day, sometimes as a duo and sometimes with other collaborators. Both are members of the band Text of Light, formed in 2001, which also includes Alan Licht, Christian Marclay and DJ Olive.


Ranaldo began collaborating with Leah Singer on the multimedia improvisation Drift in 1991, and the pair eventually released a DVD version of Drift (2005 Plexifilm) accompanied by a book. Ranaldo produced Magik Markers’ Boss album (2007 Ecstatic Peace!). Afternoon Saints, Ranaldo’s group with Christian Marclay, Günter Müller, and David Watson, have released a 3-sided LP called The Shirley Jangle (2009 KRAAK). Ranaldo is the author of two books: Road Movies (1994 Soft Skull) and jrnls80s: poems, lyrics, letters, observations, wordplay, and postcards from the early days of sonic youth (1998 Soft Skull).

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