I do a thing, and I don’t know if anybody else does it, mostly because I don’t talk to people about it: I will decide, spur of the moment, to get into a specific genre. I did this with emo (not the kind you’re thinking about; I even started a website based on this), dubstep (the kind that Brits are making in their bedrooms for dark basements, not the overblown kind), and, when I was younger, lo-fi. At the time, I was a member of a music message board (I don’t recall which one), and I asked a humble question: where do I start with lo-fi music? I got two answers that stuck with me, though they are part of two different stories. The first of which was being told to listen to Mountain Goats, and the other was a very simple response: “Pavement <3.” So, I went to Amazon and looked to see which album had the most tracks on it (a thing I did a lot – this will come up at another time), and downloaded it. This album was the deluxe edition of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I burned a copy of it, labelling it Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain (because I am slightly dyslexic), and listened to it exactly once. It wasn’t for me. So I put it on a shelf.
Several months later, I lost all of my downloaded music. Our hard drive crashed, and with it, a couple years worth of being best friends with Soulseek went out the window. What I was left with was stacks and stacks of CD-Rs, burned and forgotten, to give a chance to. Or, at least, that was my plan. When searching through the stacks (probably for White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan or Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight), I came across Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain. I listened again. And then again. And a month’s worth of times more.
Living in the internet age means that the best thing about getting into Pavement at the beginning was gone. I never got try and learn all I could about S.M. and Spiral Stairs, I only ever knew Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg. I could listen to everything Pavement had ever made, whenever I wanted. But for me, it was all about that one record. In that record, I was a 90s kid; I burned copies for everyone I could think of. I gushed about it to everyone. I made friends because I met people and thought they would enjoy it. When I gave a copy to my classmate, and he didn’t like it, I told my English teacher (who was the kind of guy who wouldn’t let me live down that I’d missed seeing Arcade Fire the last time they were in town) what he had said, and he sighed, saying, “He doesn’t like Pavement? What a douchebag. They were the best band of the 90s.” I gave my closest friend my copy of Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain, and he became enchanted by the mystique of that record. There was something magical in that disc, and none of us could figure out why, but it was not the kind of thing we wanted to go away.
Pavement were the kind of band that you put on for road trips, for mowing the lawn (I imagine – I haven’t had a lawn to mow since I was 12), for gardening, for doing the dishes, for every single occasion. To this day, I still haven’t managed to connect with any other Pavement record like I did with that one – even Slanted & Enchanted, the other Everyone’s-Favorite-Pavement-Record. It was like a child to me, and I could never part with it. My friends and I would obsess over the most pointless details: how silly the song “5-4=Unity” was as an instrumental breakdown, how the line “‘Cause you sleep with electric guitars” in “Elevate Me Later” gave us goosebumps, and how insanely funny the delivery of the line “I’d like to invite you to taste of my chalice / it’s a special one / it’s made of gold” on “Filmore Jive” was. I learned to play “Cut Your Hair” and would play it when we hang out, and would put “Unfair” and “Gold Soundz” onto countless mixtapes. It was such an amazing record to us, it seemed wrong to not share it with everyone around us.
When I sat down to write this story, I thought about the profound effect it had on my life, and all of the wisdom I gained from it. But then I remembered the fact that I didn’t get any of that out of it, at least nothing that could be marked. The effect has been gradual, rather than violent and immediate. I realized all of the charms in jangly guitars, and slacker singers, and lyrics that didn’t make any sense. This was a time when I was steadily learning to be a social human being, and it showed me that there was a different way to go about it: you don’t have to care, and you don’t have to pretend you do, and if you follow that, things will fall into place. Stephen Malkmus might be my favorite rock band singer, not because he is especially good, but because he sings like he’s a slacker. He was the kind of hero that I didn’t need, but still found, at that age: when asked about the songwriting on their next record, Wowee Zowee, he responded “I was on a lot of grass back then, but they sounded like hits.” To a kid who was drowning in hormonal angst, he was exactly the kind of cool that I wanted to model myself after.
I never did, though, because fat Jews from Seattle aren’t very good at playing the Cool Gangly Slacker From Stockton angle. But it never changed my perception of the perfection in that copy of Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain. One of our other friends accidentally shattered that CD, and we gave it the funeral it deserved. I bonded with a lot of people because of that record – and I still do. I still think S.M. is one of the coolest guys around – even if, when I told him how dorky I felt for being so grateful for his record, he told me that he felt like a dork being so grateful for all of his fans. It’s as if he was proving his superiority to me by not being superior. It was crazy to me.
I got the opportunity to see Pavement back in 2010, on their reunion tour. The first thing Malkmus said when he walked on stage, to a hillside covered in rapt, adoring fans, was this: “You never thought this would happen. Pavement! Playing at Edgefield! I went to a wedding here once. It was a good wedding. Though I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bad wedding.” It was just silly enough that nobody could help but remember exactly why we were all drawn to his band in the first place. Everyone in that amphitheater likely experienced the same love of that band that my friends and I did, and singing loudly in the early-September heat to “Gold Soundz” made the whole thing perfect. They closed the set with “Range Life,” featuring the line that was always so evocative of the band: “Don’t worry / we’re in no hurry.” In that moment, hearing S.M.’s signature drawl spill that line out, 10 feet from me, I remembered how wonderful it was to be 16 and in love with the idea of a band changing the world – even if it was only your world.