It’s important that she likes me, and that I like myself, and that the things we like overlap. It’s important that we find the places where the things we like overlap. If those places don’t exist, it’s important that we invent them. Can we really invent them? Yes.
I’m driving from one end of the state to the other. The state is mostly forested suburbs, long two-lane roads flanked by trees, where sunlight breaks in and makes complicated shadows on the pavement. You have to let yourself be open to coincidences, I hear in my mind, and judge things honestly. I’m driving to see her. She and I don’t know each other well — in fact, we don’t know each other at all — and we live far enough apart that the drive is a drive, a phase unto itself. That means I have time to dive into something.
She had suggested I dive into Pavement. Pavement is a band I know about in the most general terms — they are raucous and irreverent in a typically ’90s way, if you know what I mean, they sing in disaffected punkish voices that imply a middle finger to conventional singing, their lyrics suggest once having read Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, John Berryman, they had a lot of influence on what came after them. Other disaffected punks obsessed with puzzling over the grime of life.
It’s important that I like Pavement. Why have I never listened to Pavement? I’ve tried before — when I was a teenager, scouring the local library for CDs, I came across Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and thought the album cover looked horrific. Not bad, not unlikable, it just looked like the score to a horror movie, and I didn’t like horror movies. I gathered I wouldn’t like them and moved on. Later, a friend insisted that I listen to them, and I did — not loud enough, or not in the right circumstances, maybe walking through the hallways of high school, or driving home in a huff for one reason or another. I didn’t like them. They sounded thin and lazy.
What’s changed since then? Everything. Ten years have passed. I’ve studied music and written music and spent hundreds of hours analyzing music. I’ve considered how music impacts you on a gut level — the first grain of “like,” when it comes to music, is whether it satisfies something instinctual, not intellectual, in you. Are intellect and instinct separate? I think so. Intellect is the command center, instinct is the engine. The irony, then, is that I’ve used what intellect I have to comprehend music — to make it something that satisfies my logical appetite; analyzing lyrics, turning chord progressions into math equations, developing a kind of cultural radar, to determine what specific musicians mean to the world — the worlds they came up in, and the worlds that followed. How many worlds are there? There are as many worlds as there are human beings.
I’ve also endured a crash course in likability. No one liked me in high school — or maybe I didn’t like anyone, or maybe both. In college, I learned that the trick of liking people was to not mind that you liked them. How can I explain this? Before, I felt it was a monumental investment to like someone — friend or crush or any kind of ally — and then after, I felt it was simple to like someone, that if I could perform the necessary rituals in my mind, I could like someone, anyone, no problem. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. But I’m referring to something that actually transpired.
What’s in the name “Pavement”? I can think about how pavement (the material) is conveying me from my house to hers. If you live in a city, pavement is your fundamental element — it surrounds you at all times, it’s the ground you walk on, even if you’re in a park, you get the sense that pavement is somewhere under all the grass and dirt. Pavement (the band) is a city band, you can feel that, and I read something once about the four of them going to some hip show in a derelict New York City warehouse, and sitting bored at a booth, which is what is required of disaffected punks. Pavement (the material) is inert, lifeless, manmade; it’s a crude collation of stone, an unrighteous carpet, sturdy and gray. Calling your band “Pavement” means you identify with the urban essence, and it means you’re an affront to nature. You ride on top of nature and suffocate it.
True enough. I’m driving across the state, from my place to hers, and I’m listening to Pavement, and I want to like them. I have a history of dislike to contend with, but I can convince myself that the earlier dislike was the error of an underdeveloped brain. I can know that I had none of the right allies back then, because I made too much of liking people, and therefore made too much of liking music, which was my substitute for people, because I had no people. I can know that that dislike-person is still inside of me somewhere, but he is accompanied by other like-people too, who learned how to like without crisis, who accepted even pop music into their hearts — pop music, the phrase blisters. But yes, even pop music.
It’s nearing twilight, and all these natural elements are suffused with light, and the light is gradually becoming more and more golden. Leaves and tree trunks seem to possess some inner fire, and the blades of grass in long, open fields grow more defined in the intensifying shadows. Is this a reflection of you? Why not. I ought to possess some inner fire. I ought to have a fully defined shadow — I can feel my shadow with me, always.
I can like Pavement. I realize this. In one song the guitar is a banshee, and the singer swears loudly in the lightly melodic refrain, and the song ends quickly. All of the songs end quickly. This is Slanted & Enchanted, came out in 1992, their first album. The music has an idea — this is why I can like it. A lot of the time, the only idea in a person or a band is that we have to become somehow ecstatic, no matter what — the idea is that release is what matters. I never think so. Release is part of a two-part system that clenches up again when the song ends. What’s the idea in Pavement? Nasty, brutish, short — their songs end before dissolving into ecstatic romps. Their songs don’t promise you that life can be made peaceful and constant. I don’t think it can either. I like this.
But there’s also something I don’t like. Maybe I notice this as the sun dips entirely below the horizon, and light will soon be absent from the sky, and the world will be dark. I don’t like how heavy with irony everything is — the singer’s intentional amateurishness, the few, impulsive words, and most disturbingly, the reliance on pop song structures. I realize that Pavement is pop music that has rolled around in the mud. Is this dishonest? The singer drips with disdain for pop music, he believes nothing truthful ever came out of a commercial product. His product, however, is commercial, even if it’s gone weeks without a shower.
I’m minutes from her place. I’ve listened to nearly all of the album, and measured the extent to which I like it. I can like it, and I think about how there was an earlier version of me, in some alternate universe, that loved it, unconditionally, unwaveringly. I will tell her that I liked it, and I will try to find a way to tell her what I couldn’t like, the wall of irony I came up against. Will admitting to liking it less make me less likable to her? Will it make her less likable to me? How deeply do I want to be liked, and to what end? Is “like” the means, or the end? What is the value of “like,” and what becomes of “like”? I feel sure that I want it, when I look fully inward — how much do I want it?
She is waiting in front of her house, and she takes slow steps across the pavement to greet me.