Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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The Measure of My Devotion

In my mind, my memories of leaving the San Francisco Bay Area are indelibly marked by my realization that my favorite band Pavement was no more. Although the evidence of a break-up had been apparent since the release of their final album Terror Twilight in June, 1999, it wasn't truly official until 2000.

This is why the solo records of the band's co-founders Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg have been so important to me in my exile here in the desert. It also explains why I have approached each one with mixed feelings. Divorce is harder on the children than the parents, they say, and the same seems to hold true for fans when a group they care about disbands. The Beatles are the most famous example, but there are hundreds of others.

I've tried many times to write about both Pavement and its members' post-Pavement projects, but always seem to fall short of the mark, perhaps because it's too painful. That sounds dramatic, I know. But, given the fact that I am more likely to experience emotion in a displaced than an immediate form, it's also true.

When Stephen Malkmus's first solo album came out on April 24th, 2001, I actually drove all the way to Tower Records in Mesa -- over a hundred miles from here -- to buy it, because my limited knowledge of Tucson had me convinced that I wouldn't be able to score a copy of it on the first day of its release in these parts. That belief seems risible now, like so many of the other conclusions I reached in my first year or two here. But it's better to cop to our past confusions, however silly, than to pretend that they never existed.

Yes, I eagerly purchased the 45 RPMs of Anne Murray's "Shadows in the Moonlight," Dr. Hook's "When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman," and Robert John's "Sad Eyes," as well as far more hip-seeming records like Nick Lowe's "Cruel To Be Kind" and the 12-inch version of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." And, yes, I once believed that you had to leave Tucson in order to do serious record shopping.

Actually, you sort of do have to leave Tucson to do serious record shopping unless you're searching for a new release by a reasonably well-known artist. But, to paraphrase something once said to me on a long drive back from Sacramento's Phoenix Theater, that's neither here nor there. The point is, I headed down to Zia tonight so that I could purchase the new album by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks on the precise moment of its release.

These days, I suppose my single-minded errand seems more like a measure of my devotion to an antiquated content delivery system -- an actual disc sold at an actual store -- than to the post-Pavement music of the members of Pavement. But I'm fine with that. As I've written here and elsewhere on other occasions, I believe in honoring the ritual of the release date for the same reason why I would disapprove of Cadbury selling its Creme Eggs the whole year round.

As you may have noticed, this is not a review of Real Emotional Trash, which sounds like the sort of music a person smoking up the fun would enjoy hearing through high-quality headphones in a darkened room. I'm too invested in Malkmus's work to pretend any sort of objectivity. While I suspect that some critics will classify the album as a "return to form," while others -- Pitchfork's Matt Le May, for one -- will consider it a transitional record pointing the way toward better records to come, I will listen to it so many times over the next few weeks that it will become an involuntary reflex in my soul.

Still, the fact that I am already certain, on only one hearing, that I will be able to play it as much as I have played every other record Malkmus has put out, both with Pavement and as a solo artist, must mean that I do not regard it as a disappointing break with his artistic precedent. Provided that you have a soft spot for skewed psychedelic slow burners, you will probably wish that some of that fun being had was filling your consciousness with second-hand smoke.

I'll close by providing you with two songs to hear. Or, to be more precise, with two different versions of the same song. The first, recorded live at Plush here in Tucson on 1/9/07, a concert which marked former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss's tour debut with the Jicks, sounds like an early draft, before Malkmus had settled on the lyrics. I have heard a number of bootleg concerts from Pavement's early years that include rough sketches that would end up on Wowee Zowee or Brighten the Corners. Although the song might not have been finished, though, it sure sounds great. Indeed, I may even like it better than the album version on Real Emotional Trash, though that is also pleasing to me. It's nice for Malkmus to release what sounds like a pop single for once. Anyway, enjoy. I'm going to go dream of my evening at Portland's Music Fest Northwest back in 2006.
Tags: autobiography, music

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