Pavement – Anthems for the Anti-Art Movement

width=300Compilations usually come with the hits or as an exit commitment by a band / artist to their label. Rarely do they arrive as an affordable gift to the fans. Pavement’s best of collection arrives like a cheap mix tape you made for a new friend in class, the hot gal with glasses answering the phone in the office— if you’re even that (un) lucky to have a job in an office torturing yourself and precious time over. You will all end up fired or laid off. This is our generation’s Merica. Work for somethin called nothin, yawn, whatever. 23 songs jam-packed and perfectly picked and sequenced to scare off wandering ears not in it for the long haul. Being, to discover the amount of goodness you may have missed out on with Pavement between 1990-2000. Their entire catalog now repackaged and remastered abundantly by Matador Records at very affordable prices. Only 1 remains to be re-released with the unearthed goods, Terror Twilight. Due later this year. but first, as every band gets to do eventually, a best of. In the case of Pavement let’s refresh, a perfect mix tape of sorts to scare off, fool, wandering newbies.

Pavement encapsulates the best of everything and nothing, just like the 1990s themselves. Everything they represented between 1990-2000 stood up against everything goin on in Rock n’ Roll. Reasons to feel ‘ok’ if you didn’t feel the awful sadness in the grunge movement. Reasons to care one way or the other about popular music’s descent into depression, or the Doors-like cover bands known as Pearl Jam stumbling in the door with Black Sabbath worshiping foils like Soundgarden. Nirvana’s about it as far as the credible American 1990s mainstream music scene goes and they physically / musically stole the Pixies formula. In Utero is the peak of the 90s grunge movement- and then done, gone. Most everyone else has been copying them or the Aerosmith soundtrack song formula since. The latter, a quarter pounder with large fries, garbage.

Everywhere else in the world didn’t seem to get grunge either, particularly the UK who embraced Nirvana and Pearl Jamz but questioned just about every other band comin’ outta the states until they really messed up in the late 2000s by giving Kings of Leon the keys to mainstream global success. Big mistake, UK, big mistake. When it’s all said and done, The Stone Roses / Oasis / Radiohead / Teenage Fanclub / and Blur would destroy the American grunge movement regarding quality and craftsmanship of the songs themselves, alone, a bloodbath of artistic song sorts.

Meanwhile, somewhere in America towards the end of the 80s, college kids working dead-end jobs hook up to make some anti-rock rock. Why? Because we all can, most of us don’t. The song Here featured on the best of compilation proclaims very early on: I was dressed for success but success it never comes. Am I the only one who laughs at your jokes when they are so bad? And your jokes are always bad. But they’re not as bad as this. Come join us in a prayer… An anthem of some sorts, an indie ballad, a rookie yelp for nothing.

Witty, deceptive, lyrics by Mr. Stephen Malkmus met sloppy disjointed arrangements, brilliant phrasing a la Lou Reed’s handbook and horrid, charming, home recording tactics to get outta the gate. An obvious love for one’s literary & musical influences are very prevalent in Pavement’s earliest recordings, even in their worst recorded presentation, see their debut single, uh 7 hit, Summer Babe, from the recently remastered record, Slanted & Enchanted. One could argue, how do you remaster a great record that was recorded poorly to begin with? Doesn’t matter, it’s about the songs.

Maybe the most important moment in 90s indie rock’s movement occurred with the release of Slanted & Enchanted. Let’s note, briefly, months after, Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque and Nirvana’s Nevermind during the fall of 1991. The release of Slanted & Enchanted on Matador Records could not have occurred without grunge however or again, Nirvana.

width=300Pavement’s marketable success blasted off once the ass-rocking Rush & Boston cover bands, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, took off to their own self-important brand of I’m so depressed rock in the 90s. Let’s be fair, Siamese Dream and Songs from the Vatican are very good 90s records I’ve listened to with pop admiration. But, but, but, but, there are no 2 better pop rock songs featured on one record that should have been astronomical pop radio hits like say Nirvana’s, Smells like Teen Spirit than Pavement’s, Cut your Hair and Range Life. The former says it all, almost a big hit but tooooo smarmy, too smart for the masses, and the latter I’ve mentally masturbated to over and over for almost 2 decades trying to figure out how to write the perfect country rock-or-whatever- love song about life, just life and calling spades a spade whatever road taken.

Let’s worship the lines from Range Life for a bit, nothing paints post-college life in a’Merica like this:

Hey you gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent. Agreed.

Don’t worry, we’re in no hurry. School’s out, what did you expect? Agreed.

I want a range life if I could settle down, then I would settle down. Agreed.

Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, nature kids, uh, they don’t have no function, I don’t understand what they mean and I could really give a f*ck. Agreed.

Malkmus covers it all in this song. The band chugs along like a well-educated country rock band even though they aren’t. There are no open doors after college, that belief that higher education means something more- it doesn’t. In a’Merica, in a small town you come from, it just means you have no job opportunities, a piece of paper and tons of debt. After college in a metropolitan town like say, Rockford, IL means you’re an a*shole- not educated or job worthy. America 101. Malkmus stops to take it all in on the 2nd record, this song, Range Life, is always the highlight of any mix I make for friends and family. There are closed doors where you stand, people changing all around you, everyone telling you what to do with your life now but the open roads to do whatever still lead out.

Having friends in on the same belief is the catch. Malkmus, and founding band partner, guitarist, Spiral Stairs (Scott Kannberg) prove that having good friends on the same path in life, teamwork, can take you a long way. It also helps to have heart and soul like band members, Bob Nastanovich, Mark Ibold and Steve West. The amount of times seeing Pavement live were made memorable by the least musically talented member of the band, Bob, a true performance anti-artist. Even on record, he contributes possibly one of the finest recorded anti-art moments in indie rock answering Malkmus’s lyrical pose simply with, I know him and he does to:

What about the voice of Geddy Lee, how did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy? Malkmus asks on Stereo from the best record Phish never made, Brighten the Corners.

I believe to this day, Nastonovich is the most important reason why Pavement were even able to survive a full decade on the road surrounded by Malkmus’s lyrical wits and Kannberg’s guitar drive. I wouldn’t doubt Bob may be the reason they’re back together over a bet someone lost on a horse race. We won’t talk about original drummer, Gary Young, who was forced out before Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. He deserves his own article or just watch the amazing band history doc available on the Slow Century DVD set.

Malkmus’s abstract songwriting style (think word association games) naturally fine tuned itself as he and the band aged a bit. The studio for Pavement was never more abused than on their manic, all or nothing, masterpiece, Wowee Zowee. English folk, punk, country, classic rock, they tried it all. The band’s validation to play as something more than Malkmus’s band are what makes the great, Wowee, Zowee an even better listen 15 years later. There’s so many songs to talk about on Quarantine the Past: The Best of Pavement including, Box Elder, which sounds glorious remastered, but only one song should sum up any doubts a new listener may have about Pavement’s credibility, Fight This Generation from, Wowee Zowee.

The song stands up against everything and nothing, then and now. It ends the compilation, as it rightfully should. The song’s building guitar, bass, synth, drum, subtle freak out is reminiscent of Sonic Youth as it meets the defeated vocal crys of: …your life is about to come away from the mirror in a rain-shed, generation. Fight this generation. Stop, right. The 10-12-15 times he repeats the song title met by a back seat driver’s assistance while driving through this thing; music, a storm, life. Stop, right. Yes.

For that moment alone defines Pavement on record, as a band, as a group of friends maybe considering going at it alone for awhile but not just yet. That unknown point every band, artist, songwriter hits a bit early on with their musical journey. That’s something to admire, these songs are just beautiful snapshots of a group of friends who stood up and just did something for nothing their way. Little melodic introductions to something larger or smaller, everything and nothing. Start with Quarrantine The Past and dig away at the remastered collection as you must. There’s a nugget of truth in every Pavement song even when they appear to make no sense at first. Some of these lines I still wake up with spinning around while staring at the ceiling, every day.

Fight this generation. I still am.
I want a range life if I could settle down. No thanks.
Did you see the drummer’s hair? I did and it still makes me laugh more than an albino, a mosquito, my libido.

AW |

Pavement - Anthems for the Anti-Art MovementAndy Whorehall

7 comments on "Pavement – Anthems for the Anti-Art Movement"

  1. This was a great read, Dave! We've had many many many discussions about this band, but I think you've managed to shed some new light here. It figures that Pavement is the band that was finally able to pull off a fan-accepted "best of" collection.

    I also wanted to add that, as far as I'm concerned, the "Range Life" video is a perfect 4 minute and 54 second summary of the band's place in their era. I can't get enough of watching Malkmus stumbling backwards through the Lallapalooza crowd, going unnoticed by a generation who would, in part, end up caring WAY more about his band than the bands they came to see that day. Imagine all the dudes who threw mud at Pavement that year who now brag about seeing Pavement to their hipster friends–even though they missed Pavement because they were waiting in line to use the outdoor urinal, afraid of missing Hole and Cypress Hill. Even the horrendous footage of the alterna-girl digging up the nostalgia lunchbox–which was added without the bands knowledge I believe– manages to be poetic. Who wants to watch Slow Century soon?

  2. Wasn't Gary Young in his 40s when they recorded the first record?

  3. Gary Young is quite a character. Anyone else remember seeing his "Plant Man" song on Beavis and Butthead?

    In Perfect Sound Forever he talks about how he thought the whole "slacker" thing was funny because being in Pavement was harder than any factory job he'd ever had. They made it look so free and easy!

  4. Slow Century watchin for sure! He was around age 40- he'd take breaks in sets to do hand stands and eat a sandwich. Kind of admirable in a way : )

  5. jojowrinkles on

    The glue is/was Nastanovich. If I could share beers with one member of this band, it's be him. I mean, he works at a fucking race track when he's not in Pavement! The reunion is fishy, but who cares. Blur gets a pass and so does Pavement.

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