Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of cigar stands and incandescent guillotines

I envy anyone who gets to hear Pavement for the first time. This reminds me, despite Mallory's claims, that they were a lot like their detractors said they were, and a great deal more besides. Warming to them around the time of Brighten The Corners -- whose title remains the straightest joke Stephen Malkmus has ever told -- I situated them in the tradition of Tom Verlaine, the Go-Betweens, Al Green, David Byrne, and Bryan Ferry as another group of wise-ass young men, reeling from the impact of feminism, using their instruments and dubious poetry to figure out that sex = confusion = sex. In an era when Liz Phair and Amy Rigby were reclaiming the tradition of demotic speech to illumine their own experiences dealing with guys less smart and minty-fresh than Malkmus, Pavement seemed a throwback, almost Joni Mitchell-esque in their commitment to gelded lyricism and full-throated, luverly singing (Malkmus was actually funnier than Joni and seemed as incapable of self-importance as he was to wearing Timbalands). Writing those lines about cigar stands and lovely blue incandescent guillotines distanced Malkmus from the sex wars by making a quasi-symbolist joke of them, yet, in their one-of-a-kind spontaneity delivered by a frontman who's clearly having a great time singing them, reaffirmed his commitment to fighting those wars anyway. Malkmus, like Bernard Sumner, was my kind of guitar hero: too knowing to ever that last noun without scare quotes, capable of self-abasement when he got up to the mic and saw all those people.


John C. said...

I like the Joni Mitchell comparison, but it leaves me wondering why, if I don't usually care about lyrics and have little time for the likes of Dylan et al., I consider both Pavement and Joni among my all-time favorites. It certainly helps that the music is attractive, but I can also sing from memory large portions of "A Free Man in Paris" and "Stereo," cherishing each dense, tumbling poetic line.

John C. said...

I guess I shouldn't have said "wonder why," since I know for a fact that my love for Pavement as a teenager had a lot to do with lyrics that avoided the straight-forward and/or platitudinous and that were rich with the love of language and its possibilities (see also Beck, Soul Coughing, Cibo Matto). And even with Joni, what I respond to is less the content of her words than it is the use of euphonious phrases like "wreck my stockings in some jukebox dive." Maybe "marvel at" would've been better.

kiss out the jams said...

I never thought of those "jumble" groups like Pavement or Soul Coughing transmitting their confusion of sex and such literally as junk-prose, but I like it. I picture Phair in 1993 being all come-hither to a gaggle of indie dudes so shaky their hormones have them shouting things amonst each other like "forty million daggers!" like hipster Tourette's or something.