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Everything I Know About Love I Learned From... Pavement
Insights on romance from the recently reunited indie legends.
By Ray Rahman
My favorite band from adolescence reformed this year after a decade-long hiatus. In retrospect, for a musical guide through my teenage years, Pavement was a strange choice. Every girl I knew hated them; for every mixtape I gave to a crush, I would watch them fast-forward through "Summer Babe" or "Gold Soundz" to get to whatever dumb Modest Mouse song I'd put next. In fact, girls I didn't even know yet hated the band; by the time I got to college, all the cool chicks would be into harsh noise bands (Black Dice, Wolf Eyes) or trendy bands with repetitive names (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, !!!). Pavement, it seemed, was for a specific breed of dude, the type clueless enough to admit to still liking '90s indie rock. Yet I still maintained a satisfying love life. Why did my love life survive? Possibly because as an obsessive Pavement fan, I gleaned these invaluable tips about love and dating:
1. You gotta grow up.
At their noisy beginning, Pavement was a group of snotty, over-educated punks. On Westing (By Musket and Sextant), a compilation of their earliest material, the subject matter ranges from punching dudes in the eye ("Debris Slide") to lying about being STD-free ("She Believes"). But after the success of Slanted and Enchanted, the band got serious. (Just ask Gary Young, the rowdy, alcoholic drummer who was kicked out of the band around that time.) The music got mellower, and songs about Volkswagens ("Passat Dream") and secretaries ("Type Slowly") prevailed. "I never had any children, and I never wanted them/ But now, now I'm getting older, maybe I'd like to fuck a woman and make one," Stephen Malkmus sang in 1993's "Same Way of Saying." And though it took twelve more years, he eventually did just that.
2. Don't dumb yourself down.
If Nirvana was the Harry Potter of the '90s, tortured and insecure about its stature, then Pavement was the decade's Hermione Granger. Their cultural elitism ("Range Life"), famous Scrabble skills, and general uppityness annoyed some (Courtney Love called Malkmus "the Grace Kelly of indie rock"), but who likes settling for less? When Cobain and company were busy dropping out of high school and covering the Pacific Northwest with "God is Gay" graffiti, the Pavement lads were attending a college founded by Thomas Jefferson and working at the Whitney Museum of Art. I'm not saying one path is better than the other, but I am saying that one will win you a hotter girlfriend.
3. Stop talking about yourself.
Pavement's songs are often obtuse, impersonal riddles, and the band was (and still is) tight-lipped about their own mythology. A smart move, since there's definitely something appealing about mystery (and something unattractive about people who never shut up about themselves). "Well, my heart is not a wide-open thing, I know," Malkmus admits on "Ann Don't Cry." And while too much distance will inevitably result in relationship problems, you still need to know when to keep things to yourself.
4. Own it.
Pavement never tried to be anything besides Pavement. The albums, from track titles to cover art, feel like inside jokes, and the band's nonchalant preppy style stood apart from the ambitiously disheveled grunge that was hip at the time. The members never dyed their hair or wore rose-tinted sunglasses or even disavowed their upper-middle-class background. One listen to "Cut Your Hair" (or, frankly, most of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain) will reveal their distaste for such rock-'n-roll posturing. Thank goodness, too, because it turns out that posers are not sexy.
5. Know when to end it.
Pavement could've kept grinding out mediocre albums for another decade. They were poised to be "the next Radiohead," an odd association reinforced by the fact that Radiohead engineer Nigel Godrich produced Terror Twilight. But the band wasn't having fun anymore; at one show, Malkmus hung handcuffs from the microphone stand and proclaimed them a symbol of his time in the band. That show, thankfully, was their last. There's nothing worse than a relationship dragging on longer than it should. Right, Modest Mouse?