June 10, 1996 12:00 PM

ALTERNATIVE ROCK ICONS KIM Gordon and her husband, Thurston Moore, are accustomed to zealous young fans. But the couple can’t get over one recent visitor to the Memphis studio where Sonic Youth, their ultrahip and influential rock band, was recording a new album. “We’d be listening to mixes, and she’d just get wild,” says Gordon, 43. As the walls rattled with the sound of Washing Machine, the ninth clangorous, feedback-drenched CD the band has released in a 15-year career, the fan “would scream and shout,” adds guitarist Moore, 37. “She’d raise her hands in the air and go, ‘Arrrgggghhhhh!’ ”

The head banger in question is no pierced and peroxided punk, however. She’s the couple’s 23-month-old daughter, Coco Hayley Gordon Moore, who has been hanging out in studios and traveling the world with her parents almost since the day she was born. “We take her everywhere,” says her proud bassist-mom. Which means that infant Coco was along for the ride when Sonic Youth headlined last summer’s Lollapalooza tour and later logged a lifetime’s worth of frequent-flier miles as the band worked its way through parts of Asia and Australia. Now, to promote Washing Machine and a video of “The Diamond Sea,” a single from the album, Coco was airborne again for the band’s just-completed spring swing through Europe. Muses Gordon: “She’ll probably be a stewardess when she grows up.”

Her parents’ decision to bring up baby on the road doesn’t seem to bother the couple’s bandmates. “It’s not like we’ve had to shift gears radically to accommodate Coco,” says Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, 40. (The other band member is drummer Steve Shelley, 33.) “We weren’t out partying till 5 in the morning beforehand. We’re pretty much normal people, not insane drug addicts. But Coco does add another layer of stability.”

Though they have an image as the Godfathers of Grunge and a decidedly high-decibel, avant-garde sound, few groups are as firmly settled as Sonic Youth. They’ve been through a lot together, having struggled for nearly a decade on the punk-rock club circuit before an underground buzz, promulgated in part by such longtime fans as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and the Breeders’ Kim Deal, brought them mainstream notice. “We lived in a tiny apartment for 10 years with no money,” says Moore. Adds Gordon: “We ate noodles every night.” That began to change in 1989 when the band signed with David Geffen’s DGC Records, a deal that resulted in a more varied diet, a larger living space—in Manhattan’s Soho—and a baby to crawl around in it. “We always wanted to have children,” Gordon says. “But I didn’t feel like I was ready.”

Gordon sprang from a very ungrunge home in Los Angeles. Her father, C. Wayne Gordon, is a retired UCLA dean, and her mother, Althea, is a seamstress. Settling in New York City after she dropped out of Toronto’s York University in 1980, Gordon had just begun to play music when she met her future husband at a Manhattan rock club, where he was performing. Moore had grown up listening to classical music as well as rock and roll in Connecticut, where his late father, George, taught music at the University of Connecticut, and his mother, Eleanor, was a home-maker. But he joined the burgeoning punk-rock scene when he moved to New York in 1977. “There was something special about him and his guitar playing,” Gordon recalls.

“I was Beavis, man,” laughs Moore. Then, turning to his wife, he adds, “I thought you were beyond my means.”

Eventually Gordon invited Moore to her Lower East Side apartment. “I finally came over,” he says, “and I never left. We played music together from day one. The relationship developed simultaneously.” The two dubbed themselves Sonic Youth, signed on Ranaldo and in 1982 released their first record, Sonic Youth. By 1985 the couple had wed and drummer Shelley had joined the group, which has remained unchanged ever since. As the band’s popularity has spread—they made an animated appearance on The Simpsons’ season finale May 19—the Sonics have never tried to make their music more mainstream. “They are so eccentric. No one else can do what they do,” says Kim Deal, a fan since 1986, who sings on Sonic Youth’s “Trouble Girl” album track. Nor does the group worry that they are no longer really youths. “We just started to grow up instead of trying to maintain that you have to be like a teenager to really rock out,” Moore says matter-of-factly. “It sort of puts us in this position where we’re the wise older brother and sister.”

Now that they’ve taken on the role of parents as well, Gordon and Moore are expanding the family circle. On their recent European tour, Eleanor Moore was along for the ride. “I brought my mom,” says Thurston, an admitted late bloomer, “for 20 years of birthing me.”

STEVE DOUGHERTY

LUCHINA FISHER, in Memphis

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