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Some time in the summer of 1981 Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo collided in NYC's Lower East Side and formed Sonic Youth.

At the age of 18 Thurston had travelled from Connecticut to live with his grandparents in the Big Apple. His first couple of bands had come to nothing.

Kim had moved from LA in 1979 as a disillusioned 24 year old seeking fame and fun. She played for a while in a band called Psyche. When the pair first met Lee he was jamming with Glenn Branca…

Why did the author choose past simple for played? Why is it not "had played"? This moment is before Sonic Youth formed so it should be past perfect.

Perhaps Kim was still playing with Psyche at the beginning of Sonic Youth. However I don't think so because the author told us that it was "for a while."
May be the moment she played with Psyche was very close to the beginning of Sonic Youth.

I think this is the reason: she stopped playing with Psyche around 1981 after meeting Thurston and before Thurston and her met Lee.

What do you think of my explanation?

Extract from an article issued in the Totally Wired magazine 26 1997

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  • Native speakers generally don't like Perfect verb forms anywhere near as much as learners do! I suspect that's because the basic rules about when you can use a Perfect form are relatively easy to specify. In the cited context it's acceptable (though completely unnecessary) to use the Perfect for Kim had moved..., because that move came before Kim met Lee. But because native speakers don't much like Perfect forms, it would be far less acceptable to continue using the Perfect for She had played. Look for ways to avoid the Perfect, rather than justifications for using it. May 20, 2023 at 12:27

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I'm not sure it needs "explanation", because "had played" would also be reasonable. I suppose you might interpret the (probably unconscious) choice to shift from past perfect to past tense as marking the start point in the story that the author wants to tell.

At some (probably subconscious) level, the story that this author is telling is "Kim and Thurston as musicians in New York", and that is probably related in the author's subconscious to the fact that they met soon after coming to New York, so her time in Psyche is part of the story, not background information. On the other hand, Thurston had moved as a child, and his first couple of bands (unnamed, not very important) had finished by the time the story starts.

But don't imagine for a moment that the author actually made any kind of conscious decision or had a reason that they could communicate about why they chose past tense instead of past perfect

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    Agreed. People have often commented on these forums that you don't have to go on using the past perfect for every verb if the meaning is clear without it. May 20, 2023 at 8:42
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Past perfect is generally used when you're describing an action that has completed at the time you're referring to. So the article uses it when talking about Kim having moved to LA, because that was completed in 1979, the time the article uses as its starting point.

Then they switch to the simple past to describe an activity that took place starting or after that time. She started playing with Psyche after moving to LA.

They could have used past perfect if they were relating it to the time when she met Lee:

She had been playing for 2 years in a band called Psyche when the pair met Lee.

But the actual text narrates these as independent aspects of her life. In narratives it's most common to use simple past to describe each action or occurrence in order.

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