Thursday, July 26, 2007

Transport Is Arranged

Brighten the Corners was the beginning of the end to the Pavement we all loved. Members were getting married and moving to exotic locales like Louisville and Idaho. The mid-tempo jams that were hinted at on Wowee Zowee were further developed on this album with "Transport Is Arranged" as a prime example.

It would not do justice to SM's stream of consciousness monologue to dissect it word-for-word, but the tone of the message can be interpreted. (Of course, any interpretation will be put through numerous criticisms, but isn't that what blogging is about?)

The song's lyrics, in tone if not in cryptic meaning, expressed Malkmus' uncomfortableness with the direction of the band and its members. Although the lyrics are not as literal as the tracks "Old to Begin" or "Fin", the feeling of discomfort with maturity is clearly expressed. SM is trying to get out of this predetermined maze that is adulthood which has claimed his band mates, but, in the end, he can't run away and leave it all behind. Even the escape is methodically calculated or arranged.

The song means a lot more to me now as a thirty-two-year-old than it did in my senior year of college. The pressures of home-ownership (moving this weekend) and impending parenthood (babies all around!) are revealing the plan for my life that I did not intend when I was 18, 21, or even throughout my 20's. There's something unnerving about fate, especially when it involves responsibility and maturity.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Range Life

"Range Life" is one of my favorite alt-country farces of all-time (along with the Lemonheads' "Big Gay Heart"). The song describes an aging hippie (I hate hippies!) remembering his days in the limelight and as a skater-punk of the streets. He longs for that slow country life, the range life, so he can settle down.

The interesting part of the song is the third verse in which the hippie calls out the rock gods of the time, the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. Much was made of the Smashing Pumpkins being described as "nature kids" who "have no function". Billy Corgan was so insulted that he supposedly refused to play Lollapalooza if Pavement was on the bill. Whatever. Pavement played the next year at my favorite Lollapalooza (right after a stirring set by Sinead O'Connor!).

Malkmus often inserted other bands into the slots occupied by the Pumpkins and STP when playing the song live. I remember seeing them at Lollapalooza in Columbus, OH. He inserted Royal Trux as the "nature kids" and the Afghan Whigs as the "eligible bachelors". It was a clever nod to two great indie bands from Ohio (although, the Whigs weren't so indie at that time). The Trux recorded on Pavement's old label, Drag City.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

We Dance

As a disjointed acoustic guitar strums and piano keys tinkle beginning 1995's Wowee Zowee, you can hear the sucking sound coming from the executive board room...or was it a gurgling bong? Either way, executives run around frantically wondering what did they just purchase in their new distribution deal with Matador. Pavement was supposed to be the next next next Nirvana that was going to drag Atlantic Records out of the music industry doldrums. Where was the "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? "Jeremy"? "Blackhole Sun"? I often chuckle at this picture of suits loosening their collars, wiping sweat from their male-pattern-baldness, and leaping out of high-rise windows as SM states, "There is no castration fear." There may have been "castration fear" at Atlantic Records HQ the first day they listened to WZ.

"We Dance" begins Pavement's most experimental album that also happened to be their first (and only) release with the distribution advantages of mega-label Atlantic Records. (Of course, Capital later picked up the pieces.) The track sets the slow-to-mid-tempo experimental feel of an album that was ridiculed by critics and fans. It was only after the release of Brighten the Corners did fans finally appreciate the greatness that is Wowee Zowee. (This, coincidentally, was when I realized the "Pavement Factor" existed. The PF basically means that each release by a band is hated in comparison to the band's previous, classic release...until the band unleashes another dud. This may be why Pavement continues to re-release its albums in hopes that their fans will somehow fall in love with Terror Twilight.)

The country balladry that is "We Dance" may have come from their experiences in Memphis while recording WZ at the infamous Easley Studios. The song has this looseness as SM casually offers a dance, praise for your elders, and some Brazilian nuts while the sparse instrumentation sloppily prepares the listener for a new kind of Pavement, a stoned Pavement. It's probably the most soothing song ever penned by SM, but at the same time provides some uncertainty of what's to come.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Baptist Blacktick

B-sides don't get much better than this. "Baptist Blacktick" originally appeared on the "Summer Babe" 7", their only release on Drag City before heading off to Matador. It later appeared on DC's collection of early Pavement singles and EP's, Westing (by Musket and Sextant). That's where I discovered this gem, but I never really appreciated it until hearing the single. My cousin loaned me his copy as he bragged about grabbing it before it was ever placed on the shelf. I still have it and may never let it go.

Coming of age in the grunge era steered me toward more aggressive rock. Songs with great urgency attracted my attention. "Baptist" had that urgency with a large dose of sloppiness. The tempo is way faster than later Pavement material as Stephen Malkmus frantically tries to keep pace with his flat, California drawl.

The metaphor of a black tick (black-legged or deer tick?) sucking the life from our hero always painted a picture of this black-attired Baptist preacher who would ride around the Reconstruction-era South, distributing his own sort of divine justice, sort of an evil religious zealot in Zorro drag. It's too literal, but I thought he'd make a great comic book villain. Either way, he pisses off SM tremendously causing him to break from his deadpan delivery into a painful scream after achingly repeating the chorus. This is one of my all-time favorite moments in indie rock history:

"I'm just waiting, waiting for the Baptist/That fucker...ahhhhhh..."
It may have been the f-word that grabbed my attention, but it got to me. Still does.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Zurich Is Stained

"I can't sing it strong enough/'cause that kind of strength i just don't have"
On March 4, 1945, six US bombers mistakingly bombed Zurich, Switzerland, violating the 96th Article of War. The resulting court-marshal of Lieutenants Sincock and Balides may have been the first addressing a "friendly fire" incident. (Interestingly, actor James Stewart presided over the proceedings.) Seven people were killed as the bombers unloaded over 24 tons of bombs and incendiaries on Zurich.
"What does it mean, a mistake or two?"
Apparently, the bombers were misdirected due to faulty navigation devices. Sincock and Balides were in the lead plane with Sincock as the leader of the group and Balides as his navigator. The case was tossed on account of the mechanical malfunctions.
"You think it's easy, but you're wrong/I am not one-half of the problem."
As one-half of the defendants, Balides undoubtedly denied his guilt since he hadn't ordered any bombs to be dropped. (Both defendants testified, though it was not necessary.) He simply mis-informed his pilot that they were flying over Frieburg, Germany. And besides, he was only one-third of the navigation crew. So, he really wasn't one-half of the problem.
"Zurich is stained and it's not my fault/Just hold me back or let me run."
Since the case was dropped, Balides went on to fly other missions. One such mission was so successful that it resulted in several crew members being awarded medals. Balides was denied a medal due to his participation in the Zurich bombing.

Sources: Wikipedia & "The Bombing of Zurich" by Dr. Jonathan E. Helmreich