Tuesday October 1, 2019

We need to organize. I mean organize on many levels: from the desktop upward. Do we want to “arrange” life? And if so, into what: something more? Or do we want a “range life,” as Stephen Malkmus of Pavement used to sing. What was that song about? There were times in my youth when it felt anthemic. I used to drive around a lot playing it on the car stereo. Yet where are we now? What would I hear if I listened to it today? After singing of his want of a range life in the song’s chorus, Malkmus follows the line with an echoey, oddly haunting if-than proposition: “If I could settle down, / If I could settle down, / Then I would settle down.” Is “range life” country-western? Is it a life of aim and ambition? And how does it relate to “settling down”? Biographically, the song was written in the midst of the band’s performance at Lollapalooza 1994. The music video—always-already a time capsule (the whole thing framed as if found in a lunchbox on a beach)—shows tour footage of the band wandering bemusedly among festivalgoers.

It’s like watching a home movie shot by visitors at a grunge-themed World’s Fair. Malkmus sneers somewhat haughtily from indie-land at the major-label acts sharing the bill, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, his voice drifting off into the clouds of a dream during the song’s finale. These topical references are enjoyable reminders of a particular historical moment. Yet today they interest me less than the song’s sentiment. Youthful arrogance, maybe, mixed with exhaustion and a sort of wistful melancholy about a life of crime. Was Malkmus feeling wearied by the festival, wishing he could settle into a home? I struggle with the song’s verses. They don’t quite cohere for me into a consistent narratorial voice, resembling instead a range of romantic-bohemian characters and personas: skateboarders, druggies, members of the Gen-X “doom generation,” some a bit pulpy, some a bit self-absorbed. Maybe I’m just singing this song to myself after too many meetings, wearied by work. Maybe the song just rehashes in advance plot-points overheard in the minds of tour-goers, kids raised on MTV.