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Perfect Sound Forever
The Story of Pavement

Rob Jovanovic

All the members of Pavement talked for this band bio, including drunked, expelled drummer Gary Young, who remembers handing out cinnamon toast to fans lined up for a show. But since main man Stephen Malkmus is as cryptic and reticent as ever, there are more tales of the band's tumbledown early days than insights into the music. Guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg articulates the band's long-noted ambivalence about success and even its own existence, which continued up until Malkmus asked him to update its Web site to say the group was no longer intact—his way of announcing Pavement's end.—Tom Nawrocki, Rolling Stone Magazine, June 10, 2004

Every now and then – and I think this still holds true as we trudge through the vast pop wasteland of 2004 – music has the power to pleasantly shock us, or at least give us an invigorating tap on the shoulder. Perhaps the greatest musical experiences are those serendipitous times when a song, band or album smacks us over the head at exactly the perfect moment in our lives.
In 1993, I’d just moved from Jackson to Dallas to start a new job. I knew a grand total of two people in Big Bad DFW; I’d rented an apartment that was too big for my belongings, which amounted to a boombox, a few milk crates full of books, and a bed. I was probably as lonesome and homesick as I’d ever been in my life.
It was about that time I picked up the cassette of Pavement’s full-length commercial debut, 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted. (FYI, young people: In the audio realm, magnetic tape in the form of compact cassettes was once a popular way of distributing music.)For me, discovering the lo-fi, exquisitely wrecked sounds of Pavement was like finding a signpost in the wilderness that read This Way Out. It was exactly the music I needed to hear – no, it was the music I’d been longing to hear. Slanted and Enchanted was a messy, brash broadside, a sound at once joyous and melancholy, sincere and ironic, literate and tongue-tied ... and, yep, it rocked.
I don’t know what eventually happened to that cassette, but I can tell you that after the first 500 times I listened to S & E, I really didn’t need the tape anymore. Perfect pop anthems like “Perfume-V” have a way of binding themselves to your soul; the despairing brilliance of “Here” still stands as a highlight of the band’s career:
I was dressed for success
But success it never comes
And I’m the only one who laughs
At your jokes when they are so bad
And your jokes are always bad
But they’re not as bad as this
Pavement took the best elements of the entire history of rock and roll, from Dylan to punk to ‘80s underground, and pieced together a monster (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) of a band.
“In the 1960s the Beatles and the Rolling Stones dominated everything and they were like two sides of the same coin,” said producer Nigel Godrich (Beck, Radiohead, R.E.M.) in Rob Jovanovic’s Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement (Justin, Charles & Co.), of Stockton’s Finest. “In the 1990s it was like Nirvana and Pavement – the same thing, the establishment and the antiestablishment.”
Godrich produced Pavement’s last album, Terror Twilight, released in 1999 amid rumors that the 10-year-old band was about to break up. The rumors proved to be true. Author Jovanovic does an excellent job of relating the whimper-not-a-bang demise of the group.
Pavement was co-founded in the late 1980s by childhood friends Stephen “S.M.” Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg in Stockton, Calif. Malkmus was to become the enigmatic band’s lyricist and ambivalent leader; Kannberg settled for the role of the group’s indie conscience.
The band’s first release, a five-song EP called Slay Tracks, was recorded in 1989 at madcap drummer Gary Young’s Stockton studio.
“There’s something empty about Stockton,” Malkmus once explained. “I wanted to convey that in our music.”

Although Pavement was conceived as a studio-only project, the underground success of Slay Tracks ensured that it was only a matter of time before the group became a full-fledged performing entity. “What a party!” concluded the capsule review of Slay Tracks in the December 1989 issue of Spin magazine. “Destined to be a classic or forgotten or both,” was the judgment of the fanzine Lowlife.
As the band’s popularity grew, Malkmus, Kannberg and Young were joined by bassist Mark Ibold and Malkmus’ friend Bob Nastanovich, a horse racing enthusiast who was allowed to join the band as a percussionist because he owned a station wagon large enough to ferry the band from gig to gig on its first tour.
The rigors of recording and touring began to take their toll on Pavement in 1993, when Gary Young left the band. Young, a pivotal figure in the first phase of the group’s career, had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. He was replaced by Steve West, another Malkmus associate. (Malkmus and West once both worked as security guards at the Whitney Museum in New York City; in the liner notes to 2002’s Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe, Malkmus wrote, “Security guards can make it big!”)
As the members of Pavement matured, so did their sound. Jovanovic points to the departure of the erratic Young as a turning point. 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, the band’s second album, produced the near-hit singles “Range Life” and “Cut Your Hair.”
Suddenly, Pavement was in heavy rotation on MTV. The always-fragmented band (throughout the group’s existence, members were scattered from coast to coast when they weren’t playing together) reacted to the exposure with an album Jovanovic calls “not exactly MTV-friendly.”
Wowee Zowee, the 1995 follow–up to Crooked Rain, was panned by some critics and fans.
“When we released Wowee Zowee,” said Nastanovich, “it was the first time in the band’s history where there was an air of confusion and failure surrounding us.”
It took Pavement two more records and four more years to finally unravel. Jovanovic provides an evenhanded version of the events that led to the band’s demise.
For Pavement fans, Perfect Sound Forever is a book as bittersweet as its irony-drenched title. In the end, Jovanovic gives us a fact-based portrait of an outsider band that thumbed its nose at the music business and still left their mark on American music. When it was no longer fun, they quit, but not before they’d left us with more than our fair share of perfect moments. —John Hicks, Planet Weekly, June 2, 2004

"According to the National Word Association of America, 'pavement' is one of
the 20 most pleasant sounding words in the English language," cites Rob
Jovanovich in this biography of one of the Nineties' most important bands.
Fortunately for Jovanovic and the reader, the tumultuous history of Pavement
is anything but pleasant. Pleasant is boring. If boring had an archrival, it
might just be Gary Young, Pavement's original drummer, first producer, and
legendary weirdo. His exploits speak for themselves: making and throwing
cinnamon toast from the stage, greeting fans at the door of the club,
barbecuing food in his living-room fireplace. Mainlining eccentric energy
into the band's amazing early catalog. Not surprisingly, Young is the most
compelling character of this spastically decorated bio/collage. Nearly a
quarter of the book is photocopied press clippings, tour mementos, lists,
and hand-scrawled notes about songs, artfully arranged in manila spot-color.
The story of Northern Cal migrants Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg and
the rest of the cast is a bit less colorful. The nearly accidental way in
which the studio phenomenon turned into a real outfit actually underscores
the "slacker band" tag that Jovanovic tries steadfastly to refute. The real
tale is the band's constant battle to keep Young in line – going as far as
adding Bob Nastanovich as backup percussionist – until he finally quit/was
fired before the release of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The rest of the
story is the Nineties from a different angle: the Lollapalooza debacle, an
ongoing feud with Billy Corgan, the alt-buzz of Crooked Rain and commercial
stagnation of Wowee Zowee, and Malkmus' passive-aggressive (Malkmusian?)
crankiness eventually breaking up the band without anybody ever being told
it was over. Perfect Sound Forever picks up the sugary crumbs of this
spastic ride, packing them neatly on your bookshelf for posterity.—Michael Chamy, Austin Chronicle, May 28, 2004

It’s somehow fitting that Pavement, the banner-carrying indie-rock band formed in Stockton in the 1980s by a pair of young import-record freaks, gets the trade-paperback bio treatment from an English journo. That means the geography may be slightly suspect, but there’s enough train spotting going on to keep the diehard fans happy with obscurities and minutiae. Jovanovic’s writing style is workmanlike, in the way those ghost-written one-page bios that record labels send out to accompany new releases are workmanlike. But he interviewed the band and its associates extensively; this isn’t something slapped together from secondary sources. The result is a somewhat-inside look at the evolution of a band that surprised nearly everybody. Lots of groovy visuals, too.—Jackson Griffith, Sacramento News & Review, May 27, 2004

Dressed for success that never comes, with so much style that it's wasted, Pavement provided their own ambivalent cris de coeur across half a dozen albums and countless however-many-inch whatsits that neatly traversed the '90s. First materializing under the masks SM and Spiral Stairs, with production/drums by dipsomaniacal Gary Young, Pavement painted over paint, playfully milking a denial of signature for maximum mystery. Their songs uncorked flexible noise, narrative whimsy, and a winning way with metapop—namedropkicking the Smashing Pumpkins, annotating R.E.M.'s Reckoning, and we're coming to the chorus now—and topped it off with titles seemingly arrived at by some combination of private joke, back-formation, and sortes vergilianae.

If only Rob Jovanovic had gotten into the inscrutable spirit of things; as it is, adherents will devour and be annoyed by Perfect Sound Forever, his good-natured if workmanlike band bio. The U.K.-based author provides some details, misspells New York town names ("Mamaraneck"), and should be prevented from term-paper constructions such as: "It's been said that the past is a foreign place and that they do things differently there. This is perhaps never more apparent than when looking back at the U.S. music scene at the beginning of the 1990s."

PSF is most fun as it charts Pavement's casual formation and early, covert success, Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg's art-rock conceits bouncing off Young's wild-man antics. After Young quits, the story loses its most colorful character, and the geographically diffuse, affable personnel ("I was perfectly auxiliary," says Bob Nastanovich) can be hard to keep track of as they accommodate the charismatic-enigmatic Malkmus—who by the Terror Twilight tour is calling himself "the little bitch" and putting his coat over his head. The end comes, unclearly—as Nastanovich remarks of the final show: "There was no time to feel sad."—Ed Park, The Village Voice, May 25, 2004

How Pavement Paved the Way
Rob Javanovic's new book sheds much needed light on one of music's most enigmatic bands

Writing about Pavement should be a daunting task for anyone. Throughout their ten year history that wrapped up in late 1999, the band consistently confused- records that were left of center, lyrics that used good old fashion encryption through language, and a passive aggressive relationship with those who wanted to know more about them. That said, it is no surprise that someone would want to write about them. Pavement was Pavement. Scrabble addicts can be rock stars. The educated could find solace in musical outlets besides Weezer. Yet how to you broach the subject of a cult-esque band, a critics band, a musicians’ band, without dumbing down a career that will no doubt influence musical expression for the next twenty years?

Enter Rob Javanovic. Javanovic’s Perfect Sound Forever: The Story of Pavement takes us through an oral history tour-de-force from the band members themselves. Much like Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, readers are ensconced within narratives about everything. The band’s initial inception; recording processes; touring; song choices; “selling out”. It’s all here, straight from the horse’s mouth. Unlike Please Kill Me, Perfect Sound does make the band’s progression come alive through fast paced, straight-ahead storytelling, and utilizes the first person accounts to solidify the truths behind the unknown.

A bulk of the biography details the band’s early beginnings. We learn about the accidental discovery of the band through their limited first release overseas, which ended up providing a cover song for the British band, The Wedding Present. We see the “behind the scenes” account of the decision to axe first drummer/goof-off, Gary Young. We learn why frontman Stephen Malkmus chose indie label Matador over rival Drag City (Matador was located in New York City, where Malkmus was living at the time). We can confirm that the band, indeed, were not afraid to let their dorkish tendencies come to the forefront (they negotiated the organizers of Lollapalooza to cart around a ping-pong table for the entire summer tour).

By the time we reach the recording sessions for Brighten The Corners (1996), the book starts to really pick up the pace, condensing three years into roughly forty-five pages. Hard-core Pavement fans might see this as problematic, especially once the demise of the band is reached. Maybe we expect some sort of blowout, but in the end Malkmus just apparently grew tired. Tired of something. We don’t really know. Regardless, subsequent to reading Perfect Sound, casual and hardcore fans alike will want to dig out their carefully archived back catalog and relive those catchy riffs and thinking man’s lyrics.

What makes Javanovic’s work important though is this: in a day and age where we are constantly reminded of the record industry’s consistent battle between artists, audiences and control over product, readers should be able to contextualize the legacy of Pavement into a framework where the importance of “art for art’s sake” is not such a new phenomenon as current debates seem to forget at times. If taken as a historical account, as told by the band, one can see how creativity in the 1990’s actually flourished. As the end of the century saw a split between what was “mainstream” and “underground” (for whatever those terms might mean), Perfect Sound provides a window into how a band that was once touted by the industry as the next Nirvana, wrestled with mounting pressure to exist in “alternative nation.” And clearly Pavement were aware this was an oxymoronic term, at best.—Michael Ayers, www.stopsmilingonline.com, May 20, 2004

“A satisfyingly focused look at an often slippery and elusive band.” —Jim Derogatis, The Chicago Sun-Times

The 1990s officially came to an end with the publication of Rob Jovanovic's Pavement biography Perfect Sound Forever (Justin, Charles & Co.). Among the revelations in this obsessively researched, pitch-perfect history of the slackers from Stockton, California: the story of Stephen Malkmus' first rock concert (Elton John), various explanations for why Best Western was the band's lodging of choice, and the meaning behind Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain's "Newark Wilder," which has something to do with Mark Ibold seeing a woman pull a string of pearls from a part of her anatomy. With that in mind, we'll spare you the origins of "Best Friends Arm."—SPIN, May 2004

This book sent me back to a time when everything was on the verge of disaster or bliss. I spent the better part of high school and college listening to Pavement, convincing myself that the songs were written about me. This history of the band is great because it provides a lot of information —biography, gossip, music criticism— without infringing on the emotions. I read it in an afternoon. It was almost like listening to music. —Jonathan Safran Foer, JANE, May 2004

The fact that Pavement lasted 10 years was a miracle. What began as the
esoteric hobby of childhood buddies Scott Kannberg and Stephen Malkmus grew
into one of the most intriguing careers in recent music history. For the
most part, Rob Jovanovic's slender biography captures their improbable rise
from four-track pranksters to world-weary touring unit. Jovanovic, a British
Rock journalist -- which likely accounts for some of his more puzzling
observations -- who has written previous books on Beck and R.E.M., presents
the band's story in a surprisingly straightforward manner, light on insight,
heavy on documentation. His spare, lucid prose style is the polar opposite
to Malkmus' cryptic lyrics and the band's often shambling sonic aesthetic.
Filled with rare photos, posters and band ephemera, and laid out in an
equally shambling manner, Perfect Sound Forever is a glorious, if brief,
remembrance of things past, a time when interesting music nearly went
overground. A nice bookend to the 2002 documentary DVD Slow Century, it
successfully (and thankfully) nails early drummer Gary Young's vital
contributions to the band's landmark albums Slanted and Enchanted and
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and reveals Young and fellow rhythmic partner
Bob Nastanovich as the unique characters they were/are. Ultimately, Perfect
Sound Forever tells us what we already knew: It was Malkmus' show. And by
the end he had enough. Even if he never said so. (Jason Gargano) Grade: B—Cincinnati City Beat, April 28, 2004

Perfect Sound Forever (Rob Jovanovic; 2004: Justin, Charles & Co.) -- For a band that never got much in the way of radio airplay or face-time on MTV, Pavement has been massively influential in inciting a generation of overeducated slacksters to pick up guitars and, you know, rock. Whether or not this is a good thing is certainly open to debate, but the quality of Pavement's stellar discography surely is not. From the pioneeringly lo-fi opus, "Slanted and Enchanted", to their slick, tied-with-a-ribbon swan song, "Terror Twilight", Malkmus & Co. have left an indelible mark on the indie-rock landscape. One could argue (if one were feeling especially sanguine) that if Pavement hadn't been around to help continue the DIY tradition forged by Mission of Burma, Fugazi, and Sonic Youth (among others), the nascent indie-rock movement would've drowned in a sea of faux-angsty flannel and Butch Vig productions.
At this point, you might ask: "If you love Pavement so much, why don't you marry them?" Fair question, but maybe you should've asked: "So why doesn't somebody write a book about them?" We can answer that one because someone has. A few people, in fact, but Rob Jovanovic's Perfect Sound Forever is the first to be written with full cooperation from everyone in the band. That's no mean feat considering how reclusive (Ibold) or too-cool-for-school (Malkmus) some of those guys are. Considering the egos at play, and the acrimonious end of this band, this new account of "what really happened" ought to make for a great (dishy) read.—GreenIdeas Blog "Rock and Roll Media Round-up, April 26, 2004

Nirvana may have gotten all the hype, but for ardent indie rock fans Pavement will always be remembered as one of the best bands of the 1990s—until, after five albums and a slew of EPs in a decade, the band’s leader, deadpan guitarist/vocalist Stephen Malkmus pulled the plug. From Gary Young’s garage studio in Stockton, Calif., Pavement was the most unlikely candidate for rock royalty. But a combination of good timing, great songs and an underlying intelligence rare in rock catapulted the band to success at a time when lo-fi and do-it-yourself had become the defining rock ethos. Eschewing typical rock stardom, spurning commercial success and the media, the band left behind a legacy rich in lore but short on facts. True Pavement fans will already know much of the story. But Jovanovic’s (Beck: On a Backwards River) effort is still worthy for detailing some murky key points in the band’s history, such as the firing of original drummer and engineer Gary Young, the making of its records and the final, dysfunctional interactions of the band and its dissolution by Malkmus. Although not terribly insightful and thoroughly uncritical, the book is still a fond retrospection. Given the paucity of information about the band, this account automatically rises to the summit. The book’s quirky design, scattered with pictures and handwritten notes, can be both annoying and appreciated. With a remarkably comprehensive discography, this volume serves as a useful tool for fans unable to keep pace with the band’s myriad releases.—Publishers Weekly, April 26, 2004

“PAVEMENT stand as the finest rock band of the ‘90s.”—Robert Christgau, Village Voice

“PAVEMENT have evolved from garage-rock pranksters to the most surefire band on the planet.” —Rob Sheffield, Details

“[Stephen Malkmus of PAVEMENT] is the Grace Kelly of Rock.”—Courtney Love

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