Scenes from suburban lawns
Rockaway Twp - Ben + Vesper
Ben and Vesper start out singing "Rockaway Twp" indolent and familiar, weekend-lazy sprawled across seasoned lawn furniture, plastic tumblers of gin and tonics nestled in the tall grass at their feet, channeling their lethargy at not working. "We're cleaning up this town," they volunteer unconvincingly, like former city liberals long gone to suburban seed, lumping their own half-assed civic ambition with the building of Stonehenge (c'mon! how bad could Rockaway be?). Their accompaniment sounds as undecided -- a languid Motown bassline, loose, clanging piano chords, lots of hopscotching notes plucked, picked and tooted -- like you're catching different radio stations from half-a-dozen backyards. For the first approximately two minutes of the song, you suspect that if animated garden gnomes started playing in the kiddie pool, the (married in real life) couple wouldn't raise a collective eyebrow. Then comes the big sunsplashy pop finish: "I wanna live in the country," they croon, finally energized and finding a sentiment they can really support, an oboe gleefully dancing all over it. It's a gorgeous little moment.
From All This Could Kill You (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace
Box Elder - Pavement
A college friend raised in one of the posh pockets of Marin Country (No Cal) would have anyone who'd listen believe that the great tragedy of his young adult life was his parents up n' moving inland to Stockton. Fucking Stockton, he'd invariably call it, fucking Stockton, as if just having to visit on vacations (from, it should be pointed out, the equally unsophisticated, run-down industrial east coast city where we were attending school) was an imposition. I never heard Stephen Malkmus or Scott Kannberg slag their hometown in interviews, but based on my second-hand knowledge of the place I've always assumed that the town in "Box Elder" is a stand in for Stockton, and the song one of Pavement's rare autobiographical moments.
And yet ... there's something not quite honest about this track. Starting with the fact that while it doesn't directly quote REM, it pretty much paraphrases all of Fables of the Reconstruction -- and rather sarcastically. (In the early years, Pavement was all over The Fall, but you never doubt their sincerity; if anything, the Mark E. Smith idolatry feels embarrassing.) Then there's the way the song is performed: rote-strummed, lazy-drummed, altogether rushed through. It just occurred to me now (sometimes it takes me 15 years) that Pavement plays "Box Elder" like a cover, like a song they want to publicly disclose as an influence but aren't pretending to own. Now this may go back to some ambivalence toward REM (note to the kids: in the early 90s, it wasn't indie credible to be into the major-labeled arena-headliner). But it may also point to some mixed feelings toward Stockton, which, after all, supplied these guys with the means to record (and gloriously muck up) the godhead songs that eventually got collected on Westing (By Musket and Sextant) (Amazon, eMusic). So I think it's safe to say that the track is at least partly a repudiation of that exhausted rock & roll gotta-get-outta-this-town trope. Especially when you consider that the destination in this song isn't New York or San Francisco, but the unprepossessing-sounding Box Elder.
Round the Web:
Exposing the rest of us for the slackers we are, Locust St. has begun another awesome (in every sense) multi-part series of words & images & music. This time out: "The 7 Means of Movement," beginning with walking (mp3s from Muddy Waters, Velvet Underground, Fats Domino, T. Rex, Patsy Cline, The Fall, lots lots more).
Heart on a Stick's got girl garage noise that goes by the cheeky sobriquet Shitt Hottt. Most of what passes for girl group in the 00s makes me weep (srsly, I think of the Crystals and Ronettes and Shangri-Las and I shed actual tears). But the sweaty, sexy "Boxx Damage" and "Tony Danza Dancetravaganza" are delicious.
A good list of overlooked novels. I've only (shameful to say) read a handful, but unreservedly recommend John Lancaster's Debt To Pleasure and Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage. And I just picked up Ali Smith's The Accidental, which I plan to start as soon as I finish Edward P. Jones' The Known World -- this last not on the list.
Finally, The Outfit justifies eavesdropping.