Friday, October 26, 2007

Starlings of the Slipstream

A slipstream is that area behind something moving through fluid (air, water, etc.) where the pressure is reduced. It's sort like when you wave your hand through water and there's this absence of liquid in your wake. Birds, like the starling, travel in flocks that help create these slipstreams. Mostly we think of geese flying in a V formation, but some birds just fly in a tight flock for the same effect.

The absence of pressure in this slipstream is the primary focus of this Pavement song. Think of the band as the starling. Pavement came along after many bands and indie labels cut a path through the music industry to make room for more eccentric, artistic styles. Bands in the early to mid-nineties were relieved from the pressure of selling millions of records, because a market had been created that allowed many musicians to quit their day jobs, release some records on Matador, and hit the road. I, for one, am thankful for this slipstream.

Pressure tends to ruin anything that's enjoyable or stimulating, not always, but often. The fact that Pavement could make interesting, timeless music and make money doing it, is a testament to this slipstream in the music scene.

The song doesn't have to be about indie rock, but it's one example. As people break from conventionality and do for themselves, the space they create becomes their own slipstream. I look at blogging, documentary film making, half of Portland and realize people all over are creating their own slipstreams. I know it's cheesy, but sometimes just the idea that we have some agency to do and create what we like makes me feel better.

One more thing...Does anyone else conjure up an image of Revenge of the Nerds during the second verse? (I put a spy-cam in a sorority/Ah-oo darlings on the split-screen)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Summer Babe

One of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest songs, "Summer Babe" leads with an ode to Vanilla Ice's "Ice Baby" and continues with some of the most absurd lyrics ever put to tape. Eating her fingers? Mixing cocktails with a cigar? What's a protein delta strip?

The absurdity of SM's lyrics are only augmented by the tune's acidic guitar solos and outbursts. Even more ridiculous is the conventionally steady beat with high-hat accents and equally regular bass line. The only things the song is missing is some falsetto chorus lines and off-tune trumpet flourishes.

Thankfully, Pavement doesn't go overboard. The band creates a perfect pop song out of a playfulness missing from so much pop music over the past decade-and-a-half. The lo-fi production helps maintain the band's indie cred while the dramatics of drum play and SM's long note near the end make the song an epic piece to the indie rock canon.

"Summer Babe" was originally released as a 7" before appearing on Westing (by Musket and Sextant) and opening Slanted and Enchanted (as the "winter version"). Later, a live version was released on the re-issue of S&E. I only wish they'd release it again so that more people can understand what challenging, thoughtful music should feel like.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Stop Breathin'

I always thought this song was about a poor soldier coming to his end while fighting in the trenches of World War I, then someone suggested that it had more to do with losing a tennis match. Now, I don't know what to think.

That first volley could be a bombardment from the enemy that leaves our hero's corps depleted and running for cover. The protagonist does not make it out, but is somewhat thankful to not have to deal with the endless rounds of artillery dropped on his position. He's given up as he feels his life fading. The song even has this lullaby feel as if to see the dieing soldier is drifting off for the last time.

Then, suddenly he fights the medics as they struggle to keep lead character alive. He doesn't want to go on; he wants it to be over.

The other theory is that it's a similarly slow death only this time it's a tennis star losing an important match. He's tired of the endless play. He wishes his defeat would just come already. After he loses his final match, like the soldier, he will be forgotten, left alone to live out his days without the pressures of a professional tennis career to weigh on his conscience.

Either way, the protagonist just wants to be left alone to wallow in his own misery.