Pavement – Introductory Page

Pavement

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I’ve never understood why people love weed so much. I mean, smoking weed can be fun, don’t get me wrong, but why are some people so obsessed with it? Certainly there are far worse things to be obsessed with that plenty of people get all freakazoid over—off the top of my head I can think of Twilight, Madonna and Big Macs—but really… why? Do people really love giggling, eating Cheetos and falling asleep in front of the TV that much? Seriously, drink some beer. It’s a much better high, it’s much tastier, and although you’ll probably have to pee a lot more, you’ll be more likely to engage in fun activities. If you become obsessed with weed, you’re less likely to engage in anything besides smoking more weed. I guess people like it because it chills them out, while I’m already pretty chilled out so toking up isn’t a particularly big leap for me. But I still don’t quite get the massive draw.

Basically, weed generally makes people unproductive. But some people are freaks of nature. Like Stephen Malkmus. That guy probably smoked as much weed as anybody in the world during the 90’s, and yet somehow managed to create one of the most influential oeuvres in rock music of the past twenty years. Imagine the biggest stoner you know… or better yet, imagine James Franco in Pineapple Express. Then imagine him secretly being perhaps the best pop songwriter of his generation. There’s something of a cognitive dissonance there, huh? Well, it happened. And as proof, we have Pavement’s mighty discography to enjoy.

Originally begun as a goof-off recording project for Malkmus and childhood friend Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kanneberg (I’d love to get the scoop on that nickname), Pavement formed in the late 80’s in Stockton, a city smack dab in the middle of California that I picture in my head to be much like the town portrayed in the classic Nickelodeon cartoon Rocket Power, only without the beach and the freakishly athletic 10-year old children… in other words, BORING. Malkmus and Spiral Stairs sang, wrote and played guitars. The band soon expanded to a full lineup, with Gary Young on drums, Mark Ibold on bass and Bob Nastanovich acting as sort of the band’s equivalent of a hype man… he would just jump around and yell and play the tambourine and stuff. He seems like a fun guy. Young was like this crazy old hippie and got kicked out of the band after the release of their much-loved debut album Slanted & Enchanted for trespasses like not knowing how to play the songs and not being a very good drummer, and was replaced by Steve West, who remained with the band for the duration of its existence. They broke up in 1999 for the usual reasons – Malkmus allegedly becoming control freakish and Spiral Stairs getting pissed that he wasn’t getting enough of his songs on albums… no amount of weed can contain rock musician pettiness.

Everyone loves Pavement now, and it’s easy to see why – just about everything that’s been done in the past 20 years in guitar-based “indie rock” was done by Pavement first and, usually, better. For instance, Malkmus’ questionably in tune, ironically delivered Lou Reed-y vocals and lyrics that amounted to a hipsterly grab bag of nonsense word association. You hear that all the freaking time now, don’t you? What you rarely hear from Pavement’s disciples, though, are songs as good as these, though it may have been a bit hard to tell on their early records. See, Pavement sort of spearheaded the whole “lo-fi,” DIY indie movement of the early 90’s, so they would take Stephen’s brilliant pop songs and bury them under sloppy waves of ugly distortion and intersperse them with 90-second goof-off tracks. If as many bands tried to emulate the high quality of Malkmus’ (and Kanneberg’s, occasionally) songwriting as have tried to copy their whole lo-fi “slacker” aesthetic, the world would be a better place. But we can’t have everything.

I love Pavement, and I think Stephen Malkmus is among the most talented songwriters (not to mention, as it turns out, guitarists) of the last couple of decades. Pavement are indie rock, to me. Or, more accurately, Pavement are better than indie rock.



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