Half a Life . . .

Indie, uncoincidentally, acts like choruses might have rabies or herpes or cooties. The songs, instead of returning to the same soapbox every 45 seconds, would rather amble from Alaska to Japan to Sarasota, as Malkmus does along the spongy and sweet melodic route of "Phantasies." In indie utopia, a good distance from the big rock chorus mountain, across the river from boogie wonderland, everyone would be walking around bemused and bespectacled, and there would be no will-to-power rangers.

A form of this fantasy makes plenty o' indie mediocre: apathy disguised as a social program. Other times it takes the form of the infuriatingly absurd: the Affect of No Affect, wherein some Lou Barlow type acts like songs aren't stylized performances at all, he just happens to be singing right now and hey, that guitar fell into his hands by accident. But sometimes, the whole deal seems legitimately humble.

Humility goeth before some funny history. Handed rock's center stage by Kurt's death and Guyville's breakthrough (her producer Brad Wood: "There's no chicks in Pavement. That had a lot to do with it"), indie stumbled out of the spotlight like a librarian leaving a frat party. It was the strange spectacle of young ironists meeting an irony 20 times their size—Pavement had the strange timing to be poster children for a movement that didn't want everything, and got it. Suddenly they couldn't win for winning.

Wryly laconic, showily ironic, ironically laconic.
photo: Moses Berkson
Wryly laconic, showily ironic, ironically laconic.

The appeal of Stephen Malkmusis how eloquently, in the midst of other stories, it sings the ambivalence of moments lost, failed, evaded. "Church on White," an elegy for a friend, offers also an unresolved account of indie itself. Extremely pretty, ambitiously sentimental, and with a stumbling chorus to boot, it bears the terrors of the living. "Promise me you will always be too awake to be famous, too wired to be safe," he asks.

It's a hopeless request to make of a dead man, but of course it glints also with the mirror flash of self-reflection. Elegies are the saddest form of talking to yourself. "Carry on, it's a marathon, take me off the list, I don't want to be missed." The gap between what it means to be the self-negating sort in life, and to have literally negated yourself, yawns here; here fatality enters. The chorus begins "All you really wanted was everything plus everything." How Not Indie. And rather than renouncing that position, Malkmus apologizes for his own reticence: "And the truth I only poured you half a lie." Or something.

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