Sex, lies, and hearing Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain for the first time
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In high school, I excelled at the art of the white lie, especially when it came to music. While my friends and I shared a common, geeky sensibility (They Might Be Giants, The Dead Milkmen, the oeuvre of “Weird Al”), there was a great swath of artists and albums that remained foreign to me. I would nod knowingly any time Television was mentioned, chuckle when appropriate during drunken discussions of Kraftwerk, and casually go with the flow whenever Lou Reed’s solo work came up. It’s something we all do—passing ourselves off as smarter or worldlier than we actually are, lying about the movies we’ve seen, the books we’ve read, and the TV we avoid.
Of all the bands I bullshitted my way past, the most unforgivable was Pavement. For whatever reason, the seminal indie-rock group had long occupied a yawning blind spot on my pop-culture radar. When Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain—the acclaimed follow-up to the band’s classic 1992 debut, Slanted & Enchanted—was released in 1994, I was too busy going through a strange period of my life, reeling over a bizarre, white-lie-taken-to-the-extreme incident with my then-girlfriend. (More on that in a minute.)
So, when Pavement announced a Milwaukee stop on its reunion tour, which finally happens Tuesday at the Pabst Theater, I decided to use the occasion not only as a chance to catch up with the band, but to also face my teenage wrongs head on. Clearly, it was a lousy idea.
Listening to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain for the first time a few weeks ago, I was struck by how much of it was already familiar. The nicked Buddy Holly verses of album-opener “Silence Kid” were instantly recognizable, while “Unfair” had apparently burrowed itself deep into my subconscious as a misidentified Pixies B-side. “Cut Your Hair” was unavoidable to any floppy-haired, 120-Minutes—watching teen in the mid-’90s, as was the sublime “Range Life.” Still, no matter how much I enjoyed the rush of unexpected familiarity, a lot of the album left me cold, particularly the band’s forced awkwardness and Stephen Malkmus’ shambling, shaggy-dog delivery. They were emblems of indie-cool I would have eaten up in high school, but now they seemed sloppy and unfortunate, painful reminders of years spent bluffing my friends and bending the truth.
Now, back to that episode with my high school girlfriend: We were in the backseat of my parents’ car, tucked away in a shadowy corner of an empty parking lot, preparing to do the one thing teenagers do when they’re parked in a shadowy corner of an empty parking lot. While this girl wasn’t my first girlfriend, she was my first real girlfriend. Her vitals included the following: She was from out of town, she smoked clove cigarettes, and she had slept with the singer of a local metal band. I was a few months shy of 17, a virgin, and completely terrified.
At some point during our fumbling, it became clear that despite my churning hormones, my teenage body was going to prove useless. That is to say, while my brain was on high alert, a rather crucial part of my anatomy was refusing to cooperate. Mortified at the thought of such base humiliation, dreading the “It happens to everyone” speech that surely awaited, I did the only thing I could think of to get out of my jam: I faked a seizure.
Now, when I say “faked a seizure,” I don’t mean “faked a headache” or “politely excused myself from an awkward situation.” No, I went for broke. My girlfriend flipped out, and before I knew it, she was driving me to the emergency room. When multiple tests came back negative, we left in silence, both of us knowing our brief relationship had somehow been doomed. A few weeks later she shaved off her hair, gave me some of it in an envelope, and dumped me. She was hurt and indignant; I was distraught and ashamed. We both knew I had fucked up.
Listening to Pavement now, I’m reminded of that time in my life and I cringe. Earlier this year, I found myself wallowing in those memories when I shared an unexpected evening with my former girlfriend. She had long since left the area, and we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in more than 10 years. It was a pleasant enough reunion, but our conversation was dominated by her chatty, political-minded friend, and we barely got a word to ourselves. We ended up leaving each other that night in much the same way we had 15 years earlier: frustrated, confused, waiting for an apology. I still haven’t gotten around to that apology—who knows if I ever will?—but I did manage to finally catch up with Pavement. It’s a start.